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Black Country Challenge launched

Schools Minister Jim Knight launched the Black Country Challenge at the New Walsall Art Gallery and announced a Student Awards Competition to celebrate pupil success with prizes that money cannot buy.
The Black Country Student Awards, in partnership with BBC WM, will include working with the Birmingham Conservatoire, making a film with Iceni Productions, spending a day at the National Physical Laboratory, and the Express and Star, while Royal Shakespeare Company actors will perform the winning script from the Drama category. These illustrate the support, inspiration and aspiration the Black Country Challenge (BCC) brings beyond the financial investment.
Through the Black Country Challenge, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) is supporting schools in the region with around £28m. Working in partnership with Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, its target is to see a sharp drop in underperforming schools, particularly focusing on English and mathematics, more outstanding schools, and significant improvements in the achievements of children in challenging circumstances. This will be part of the wider regeneration that is happening in the region. It will also support the National Challenge – the Government’s ambition for no school to have less than 30 per cent of its pupils achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and mathematics, by 2011.
Schools Minister and Minister for the Black Country Challenge Jim Knight said:
“I see the Black Country Challenge as the catalyst needed to achieve the best education for all children. It is the local authorities, schools, their staff, pupils and parents - supported by the expertise the BCC can harness - which will bring about change. This team effort is worth more, so much more, than the extra £28 million investment the Government is putting into the Challenge. This is symbolised in the new awards for student achievement in the area, that offer unique prizes that money alone cannot buy.
“Since we announced the Challenge for the Black Country I have been impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm shown by those providing education in the region to work with us to improve educational outcomes in over 400 schools. The existing partnership between the four local authorities is an enormous strength that will help boost what can be achieved and has contributed to the positive start the Challenge is making. We now need to extend that partnership to schools, parents and pupils. I hope many schools will today take the opportunity to log on to the Black Country Challenge website to hear the speeches, see the premiere of a film made with local children and listen to the questions fellow pupils will ask me at the launch.
“Education here is improving. The proportion of pupils getting five good GCSEs has increased by 11 percentage points since 1997. But it is not improving fast enough and one of our focuses will be to increase the number of pupils gaining five good GCSEs including English and mathematics. There are also wide variations between schools and one of the benefits the Challenge can bring is at a very practical level - to share what works and build on this.
“It is the responsibility of us all to make sure children get the best start in life, and that we unlock their potential and raise their aspirations. I look forward to working with the local authorities, schools, parents and pupils in the Black Country to play my part in achieving this.”
Chief Adviser to the BCC Professor Sir Geoff Hampton said:
“As Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Wolverhampton, I know how important it is for all young people to have high and achievable aspirations to succeed as adults. In my role as Chief Adviser I will work to deliver the targets of the Challenge. As a local person I know the potential of the Black Country, and this investment will help release it to give our young people the chances they need and deserve.
“We have been set some tough objectives, but with the programmes we are putting in place, and the support of local authorities, schools, parents and pupils, I am confident we can achieve these.
“We have already started work, and since January, 32 Black Country primary schools have been providing additional English and mathematics support for 1000 pupils who will move to secondary school in September. Since March an additional 78 schools - 41 primary and 37 secondary - have received a total of £500,000 to offer school booster classes and Easter schools for those taking exams this summer.
“It is exactly this targeting of resources to programmes that have been found to work elsewhere and which are then adapted to meet the needs of the Black Country that will bring success. I look forward to the challenge ahead.”
To coincide with the launch a leaflet explaining the Black Country Challenge and what it means for those involved is published. It sets out what the Challenge intends to achieve by 2011:
  • Increase the number of 5 year olds who are ready to make an effective start to their education.
  • Cut by half the achievement gaps which exist between Black Country children and their peers at ages 11, 14 and 16.
  • Have no primary schools in the Black Country in which fewer than 65% of pupils achieve the national expectation. (Currently we have 25).
  • Have no secondary schools in which fewer than 30% of 16 year olds achieve 5 A*-C including English and Maths. (Currently we have 28).
  • Double the number of primary schools in which 90% of pupils achieve level 4 in both English and mathematics. (Currently we have 29)
  • Double the number of secondary schools in which more than 60% of students achieve 5 A* - C including English and mathematics. (Currently we have 7)
  • Have no schools judged by OFSTED to be in Special Measures. (Currently we have 6)
  • Reduce the percentage of post 16 students who are not in education, employment or training.
In addition the following programmes are planned and will be introduced shortly:
  • Pathways to Achievement - this is a bespoke programme for 30 primary and 30 secondary schools facing challenging circumstances. Schools will work with expert advisers, often former heads, who will help build schools’ leadership teams and improve teaching to raise pupil aspirations and achievement;
  • Black Country-Wide Leadership Strategy – this will be delivered by the National College for School Leadership with the four local authorities and include coaching of less experienced heads, a “teaching schools” programme where high performing schools are deployed to offer school to school support, training programmes to help develop the next generation of leaders and programmes to meet specific local needs;
  • Recruitment and Retention – aimed at encouraging more teachers to come and work in the Black Country and to ensure that those that do, stay;
  • Data – Families of Schools is a data tool for primary and secondary schools which allows them to compare themselves against other schools with similar pupils and to share best practice.

Further information

This press notice relates to 'West Midlands'
1. The extension of the Challenge Programme to the Black Country and Greater Manchester from 2008 was announced on 10 June 2007. It builds on the success of the London Challenge launched in 2003.
2. The Black Country Challenge now has its own website which goes live today at Further information on the Student Awards can be found here. The Award categories will include Music, Science, New Media, Drama and Writing for the Media.
3. National Challenge is a £200m national strategy for all schools to learn from each other and will raise standards in secondary schools, especially those where pupils are low-attaining at GCSE. Announced in March 2008.
4. The Greater Manchester Challenge launched on Tuesday 6 May at the Lowry Gallery in Salford. Beverley Hughes is Minister for the Greater Manchester Challenge.

For more information please contact the Media Relations Office on 01902 32 2736 or 01902 518647.

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