Leading Article: All children need help, not just the most able

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The Independent Culture
THE LATEST scheme from the Downing Street Sunday Headlines Unit is a worthy proposal for the brightest tenth of comprehensive school pupils to be selected for extra tuition in their best subjects. But even from a government whose policy-making processes are exceptionally driven by the need for favourable press coverage in mid-market newspapers, this is thin stuff. You can just imagine Mr and Mrs Range-Rover deciding to send their offspring, who they fondly believe are Oxbridge-bound, to the local state school because, though most of the lessons are rubbish, they will be studying rocket science on Saturdays.

The plan may help a few pupils, who are either highly motivated themselves or whose parents push them, to recognise that extra tuition is the passport to higher education and its rewards. Many middle-class parents, especially in London, already buy private tuition to top up the education provided by even relatively good schools. But it should not be necessary to add time to an already bulging timetable. This scheme merely tries to make up for the fact that far too much of children's time at school is wasted - a lot of it in trying to follow an over-prescriptive national curriculum.

This Government is, of course, doing much else in its busy flurry of ideas for raising standards. Many of its policies, for taking over management of failing schools and bringing in private companies, are bold, and a welcome advance on the sterility of the previous administration. But it could go even further. In attacking the central problem today's announcement is intended to solve, namely the relative failure of some state schools in urban areas, the Government has not yet matched the laudable urgency of its rhetoric with the zealotry of its actions. In a system that allows parental choice, schools with a poor reputation will quickly spin down a negative spiral. That spiral needs to be disrupted at the earliest stage by decisive intervention - or closure. Today's scheme will make a small contribution to targeting resources on the schools that need it most, but a bigger overhaul is needed - and one directed at more than just the ablest 10 per cent.