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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Q&A: Inner-city schools
The government's 800m programme to improve education standards in inner cities has had only mixed success, a report shows.

GCSE and other exam results are still far behind those of most of the rest of the country.

What are the initiatives involved? What effect have they had? What else is happening to improve inner-city schools?

What has been done so far?

Soon after the Labour government came to power in 1997, a white paper called for a dramatic improvement in inner-city school standards.

The first result was Education Action Zones.

Under this scheme, schools, local authorities and local businesses were asked to get together to discuss ways of tackling the problems of under-achievement in deprived areas.

Clusters of secondary and primary schools were encouraged to set up partnerships, with the aim of developing innovative ways of working.

In 1999, the Excellence in Cities initiative started. It provided "mentors" to see children through their personal and educational development.

It also ensured provision for disruptive and gifted pupils.

Now, 1,104 schools in 58 local education authorities are covered by the scheme. The total cost has been 800m.

Have the schemes worked?

A report by David Bell, chief inspector of schools for England, says results in inner-city schools remain "stubbornly" behind those elsewhere.

The picture is distinctly mixed.

Pupils are still around half as likely to achieve five GCSEs at grade A* to C, but the number achieving no GCSEs at all has fallen.

Results in tests taken by 14 year olds have improved faster than the national average, but still lag behind.

And, on any given school day, more than one in 10 children is not in lessons.

However, since EiC was extended to primary schools in 2001, the results achieved at age 11 have improved markedly.

This has given hope to education staff who say children must be reached early if attitudes to schooling are to get better.

What else is going on?

Another initiative brought in by the government is that of City Academies.

Under it, sponsors provide 20% of the start-up costs of an academy, up to a maximum of 2m. The state pays the rest.

The sponsors then run the academy, which is funded by the taxpayer.

The academy is not able to charge the state pupils any fees and must choose its intake from across the community.

It is thought those who know the community best will know what its children need.

Several companies, including private schools, have shown an interest in running academies.

The government has also given some more successful schools "beacon" status. These are intended to show the way to greater success to others in their areas.

Also, specialist schools, which focus more on a single subject, such as science or music, are meant to have a similar effect.

Tony Blair famously said they would have a more beneficial effect on the inner cities than "bog-standard comprehensives".

Is anything special happening for London?

Last month, Tony Blair promised to get tough, with an "unremitting focus" on improving standards in five boroughs.

Schools there face an intensive programme of investment and monitoring - with the threat of closure for those that fail to improve.

The rescue plans for Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Lambeth and Southwark include new schools, cheap mortgages for teachers and a "zero-tolerance" of bad behaviour from pupils.

It also calls for 290 more specialist schools.

What is the outlook for the inner cities?

With so much going on, it is unclear what to expect.

But, as the Liberal Democrats have commented, the under-achievement seems deep-rooted in poverty and related social problems.

The government has identified a need to tackle these. Whether it will succeed, only time will tell.

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