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Thursday, 15 June, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
How city schools beat the odds
Good teaching and high expectations feature strongly
There is no single recipe for driving up standards in schools in England's most disadvantaged areas, according the inspectorate, Ofsted.

And many are not "being caught by the rising tide of educational improvement", it says in a report.

Common features of success
strong management
good teaching
well-focused curriculum
close monitoring of pupils
communication with parents
But there are common ingredients for success, exhibited by those schools which are doing well against the odds.

"At best, all the energy of the school serves the same end: raising standards," says the report, Improving City Schools.

Ofsted surveyed 20 primary schools and 20 secondary schools out of a group serving disadvantaged areas - the definition used being that at least 35% of their pupils were entitled to free school meals.

Poor basic skills

In total there are some 3,000 primaries and 457 secondaries that fit that definition, almost all of them in urban areas.

The 40 chosen schools were doing better than others in similar circumstances.

Many of their pupils have poor basic skills when they come into the schools, and many have special educational needs.

Good teaching coupled with high expectations, discipline, "a culture of hard work" and a determined effort to involve parents are common themes.

"Teachers know every lesson counts," the report says.

"There is no deviation from the demand that pupils give of their best."

Funding concerns

Ofsted repeats the complaint about the wide variations in funding that was made by the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, when he issued his annual report in February.

One of the primary schools studied had over twice the income per pupil as one of the others.

Income was "only loosely related to need and there is too much reliance on bidding for short-term grants", says the new report.

The best schools are good at getting funding from a variety of sources and using it efficiently, but the report says: "Some of the schools do not have enough money to do the job."

Arts emphasis

Although there tends to be clearly focussed on the curriculum it covers all the required subjects and a key feature the report identifies is work in arts subjects.

The range of dance projects, for instance, was considerable "and the quality of work, including performance, was on occasion remarkable".

Several schools had ambitious music projects - one working with the London Sinfonia to give a concert at the Barbican centre.

A draft of the Ofsted report was published to accompany a one-day conference in March, and the final version takes account of feedback from head teachers there.

Ofsted says the achievements of the schools in its survey deserve acknowledgement - the best acknowledgement being for others to learn from their experience.

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See also:

12 May 00 | Education
Schools' struggle to raise money
08 Feb 00 | Education
Call for fairer funding for schools
08 Feb 00 | Hot Topics
Some of the best schools
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