Bishops' poverty warning

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Poverty is a key factor dragging down the GCSE results of inner-city schools, according to a Church study.

The report by leading Catholic bishops and educationalists once more highlights conflict between church figures and the Government over education policy. The Struggle for Excellence concludes that the position of schools reflects an unequal and divided society, with those in "urban poverty areas at a serious disadvantage", yet managing some success "against great odds".

Inner-city schools are suffering under government moves to encourage competition for pupils and parental choice, as able youngsters are lured to schools in wealthier areas, some headteachers reported.

The report, based on consultation with 27 schools in some of the country's poorest areas, uncovers a bleak picture of schools operating amid backgrounds of high unemployment, crime, drugs, gangs and broken families. It uses tables provided by the schools' watchdog Ofsted to conclude that a link exists between poverty and exam results.

The bishops recommend a series of measures to help close the widening divide, including more flexible funding "to take account of human need" and changes to exam league tables to recognise the "value added" by urban schools.

The report, published yesterday by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, follows a warning by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, about the danger of "easing off on the moral and spiritual side of education" under the pressures imposed by league tables. He said: "We want people who leave school to be good citizens and good neighbours, not just stuffed heads and effective contributors to the economy."