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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 17:06 GMT
Blair shakes up London schools
There needs to be a transformation, Mr Blair said
Plans to overhaul schools in London's worst-performing boroughs have been set out by the prime minister.

Announcing details of plans for five London boroughs, he acknowledged that some parents were shunning inner London schools.

It was "absurd" that there were not more great schools in London, he said.

New schools will be built and heads will be encouraged to form federations, with pupils sharing lessons.

Within three years, Tony Blair said all of the secondary schools in the five boroughs would be specialist schools.

Details of the changes were given by the Prime Minister at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic school in Camberwell, Southwark, which has seen a remarkable improvement in results at GCSE/GNVQ level.

Southwark is one of the boroughs being targeted by the government, together with Islington, Hackney, Haringey, and Lambeth.

News that schools in those areas were to be overhauled was first announced in May.

It is absurd that in this huge and vibrant city that we do not have enough great schools
Tony Blair
In these boroughs, only four out of 10 pupils achieve five good GCSEs, and at the worst 40 schools, less than a quarter of pupils do so.

Tony Blair said there had been progress in the five boroughs, but it was time for a radical approach.

"There are some truly excellent schools in London, like this one we are in - but if you look at the 400 secondary schools in London, there aren't enough which are improving.

"It is absurd that in this huge and vibrant city that we do not have enough great schools so that parents can decide that they are going to send their children to a state school.

"There are parents - still too many - who feel the schools in their area are inadequate or there are too few of high quality, but there are increasing numbers of parents, including middle-class parents who see their children well-educated within the London state system."

Under the plans, there will be at least 10 brand new schools across the five boroughs, seven of which will be academies - independent schools funded by the state that use new ways of teaching and the latest equipment to try to raise standards.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair announced the changes at a London school
The city academies will be built with at least 2m of private-sector sponsorship.

In addition, there will be at least seven new sixth forms set up at schools and academies across the five boroughs, and more sixth form provision in colleges.

In each borough, all secondary schools will be what are known as "extended schools", offering extra activities and services to the community.

Three in each borough will go further down this line, offering health and social services on site.

Existing schools in the five boroughs will get extra money for rebuilding and renovations.

You can tell there is an election coming up
Tim Yeo, shadow education and health secretary
In the past, private companies have been brought in to run schools in four of the boroughs.

In Islington, education services are run by Cambridge Education Associates.

Results improved there this year, but the group was fined for not reaching some key targets.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke said: "This thorough package of support and resources for the five most challenging London boroughs will see standards change in those areas forever, and is a vital part of our work transforming education in the capital.

"We must break the link between disadvantage and underachievement, and have been working with the local education authorities to do just that."

'No impact'

Earlier this month, the Labour MP Diane Abbott provoked much debate about inner London schools when she gave her reasons for sending her son to an independent school rather than her local secondary school in Hackney.

Tim Yeo, the shadow secretary of state for health and education said: "You can tell there is an election coming up when the government sees fit to rehash previously announced initiatives.

"The Prime Minister said six years ago education was his number one priority, today's relaunch of old news must ring hollow with parents in London unable to make the sort of choices Diane Abbott and the Prime Minister himself were able to make."

The Liberal Democrats' schools spokesperson John Pugh said: "Until now, government initiatives have made no impact on exam results in London schools.

"It is difficult to see why pupils, parents and teachers should have confidence in Labour's latest 'big idea'."

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