THE man in charge of education in Essex says his number one priority is to help Basildon’s young people improve their shocking exam results.

The percentage of pupils gaining five A to C grades, including maths and English, at GCSE level in the town’s secondary schools is just 36.5 per cent, well below the national average of 57 per cent.

However, just a few miles away in Billericay and Wickford teenagers do remarkably better, achieving an average of 63 per cent.

Further afield, 64.9 per cent of pupils in Southend gained five A to C grades, including maths and English, last year.

Stephen Castle, Essex county councillor responsible for education, said Basildon is now his top priority and he wants to see results improve.

Mr Castle said: “I look after 600 schools across the whole of the county, so it’s a big job I have on my hands.

“After doing a lot of work in Canvey and Harlow, Basildon is my number one priority and we need to raise aspirations in the community.

“There are lots of issues which we need to tackle and lots of the problems begin in primary schools. We need to raise attainment so children have the basic skills when they get to secondary school.

“The results are not good enough and there are two things we need to improve.

“We need to get parents a lot more involved with their children’s education and improve the leadership of our schools.

“We need to be getting in good governors and making sure schools have strong leadership teams.

“Basildon should not be below the national average for GCSE results. There’s no reason for it. The borough is not a severely- deprived area.”

In 2011, pupils at the Basildon Upper Academy in Wickford Avenue, Pitsea, scored an average of just 33 per cent and De La Salle School, in Ghyllgrove, Basildon, achieved an average of 34 per cent.

Pupils at Billericay School, in School Lane, achieved an average of 65 per cent, as did Beauchamps School, in Wickford.

The Basildon Academies, which is now in special measures, opened in 2009 with a £50million revamp and the joining of Chalvedon and Barstaple schools.

The school came bottom in the Basildon district for its GCSE results last year and Mr Castle said he had real concerns about performance, but has limited powers because it is an academy.

He said: “I have raised these concerns with the school and the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, on several occasions.

“As the local authority, we have limited powers to intervene, but we can highlight areas of concern and offer support and advice to the academies.

“Essex County Council now expects the Department for Education to use its powers to address weaknesses at the school, while we continue to offer constructive, but challenging, advice and support.”

Mr Castle has also been appointed to an education advisory body which is drawing up plans on ways to improve relationships between local authorities and academies.

The results of the inquiries will be reported back to Mr Gove.

Mr Castle said he hoped, under new rules, councils would have more powers over academies.

He added: “James Hornsby School in Basildon is looking at becoming an academy and working with King John in Benfleet to share resources.

“I have no problem with schools wanting to become academies, as long as they have a strong leadership team at their head. This pairing is a good example of an outstanding school coming alongside another school to try to do as well as they can.”

PARENTS have been accused of treating Basildon’s schools as a babysitting service, according to the council leader.

Tony Ball, a Conservative councillor, said parents needed to appreciate schools in the borough and start ensuring their children used them properly.

He also said driving up attendances was a key area in improving standards.

He spoke out as the disparity between the GCSE achievements of students in the town, the wider borough and elsewhere in Essex was fully revealed.

Mr Ball said: “Low attendance is a massive issue, which I frankly find striking.

“Parents and the children need to take ownership of the school they are in and appreciate it. Some people use schools as a babysitting service. There is no excuse not to go to school or not care about what your child is doing in school.

“You have children in Africa who walk miles each day to go to school and there are lots of people here in the borough who don’t appreciate what we have got.

“We all have to work together, especially parents and the community, to raise aspirations and attainment.

“There are issues with children going to school who have not been fed properly. Schools are such an asset to our communities and it’s a privilege to be able to go to one. ”

He also said headteachers needed help to get on with the job of improving pupil attainment. He added: “The leaders in our schools need to be showing parents and the community the way.

“If you look at the Ofsted reports, there is one common feature in most and that is inadequate governorship in many of the schools.

“This means that headteachers often have to deal with lots more issues which governors should be dealing with and its simply not fair.

“Therefore, this combination creates poor standards and, ultimately, gives poor outcomes for some of our students.”