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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 September, 2004, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
City academies open for new term
Bexley Academy
Bexley Academy saw its GCSE results improve this summer
As pupils return to school for the new term, the government is set to open five more of its flagship city academies in England.

These state-funded schools, with more independence than mainstream schools, are intended to tackle underachievement in inner-city areas.

One of these new academies, in east London, has had more than three applications for each place.

The new school year will also see a majority of secondary pupils attending specialist schools.

With speculation that there could be a general election next year, there will be pressure on the government to make this a year of delivering results.

Specialist expansion

In education, this will include showing parents of secondary-age pupils that there is now a greater range of schools - with this diversity helping to push up standards.

What were once labelled as "bog standard" comprehensives are now a shrinking minority.

Almost two-thirds of secondary pupils in England will now be going to specialist schools - which have an expertise in a particular subject area, such as technology, modern languages, the arts or sport.

While overall exam results have continued to nudge upwards, there has been concern at the persistent underachievement in schools in deprived areas.

And the city academy scheme, with the strong political backing of Prime Minister Tony Blair, has been designed as a way of jump-starting what has been slow progress in raising standards.

The government wants 200 of these schools, which will promote a strong ethos and push for high academic standards.

Inner-city underachievement

In inner-city areas, where there has been a longstanding cycle of educational failure, these new academies are intended as a way of providing more choice for families.

This new term will see academies opening in four London boroughs - Lambeth, Hackney, Hillingdon and Barnet - and one in Northampton. This will mean that there are now 17 across England.

Critics of the schools have claimed that these generously-funded academies are draining resources from other schools - and that they will cream off the most able pupils.

Proposals for a 32m academy in Peterborough have been described as the country's most expensive ever school.

But so far academies have proved popular with parents looking for secondary school places - with reports of high demand.

Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, which will open this month, had 600 applications for 180 places. In response to this demand, the intake has been increased to 210.

The first exam results from city academies appeared with this summer's GCSEs - and this included considerable improvements, but often from a very low base.

For example, at Capital City Academy in north west London, the proportion of entries awarded grade C or higher was 28%, compared with 12% when it was Willesden High School last year.

And at the Bexley Academy in south London, 35% of the entries were awarded A* to C grades. The school replaced Thamesmead Community College in 2003, where the proportion had been 20%.

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05 Sep 03  |  Education

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