Bad results spark government drive in rural schools

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The Independent Online

Rural schools are to be focused on by the Government because nearly half of Britain's worst-performing secondary schools are in country areas.

Rural schools are to be focused on by the Government because nearly half of Britain's worst-performing secondary schools are in country areas.

A study of this summer's exam results from 530 schools where less than one GCSE pupil in four got five good passes dispels the myth that under-achieving schools are confined to inner-city areas, Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister, said yesterday. A series of measures designed to turn round inner-city schools would be extended to rural areas over the next year, including an experimental scheme in which successful schools work with those that are sub-standard.

Ms Morris told a conference on the swapping of ideas between specialists from Britain and America on turning round failing schools: "If anybody ever thought underachievement existed only in urban areas it's just not true. Sometimes the nation almost expects underachievement in our urban schools. It expects it, and looks to it to happen, and that means low expectations of pupils. Sometimes it does not actually expect to see underachievement in rural areas. I think there has often been a failure to acknowledge poverty in rural areas."

Ms Morris agreed many of the worst-performing schools served challenging communities. But she said: "Whatever school a child goes to, there must be the opportunity to achieve. We cannot allow exclusion from society because of failure of the education system."

The Government has mounted high-profile efforts in inner-city areas, with initiatives such as education action zones and the Excellence in Cities programme, designed to improve education for bright and gifted youngsters.

But Ms Morris will outline examples of schools in difficult areas that have succeeded against the odds with a "can do" attitude, schools the Government insists prove that improvements are possible in all areas of the country.

In a separate initiative, 50 senior teachers from schools in difficult areas would be offered scholarships to visit America to study how schools coped with similar problems across the Atlantic. She said: "We need to learn from each other if we are to build education systems fit for the 21st century. We know other countries face similar challenges and are finding ways of improving their schools."

Ms Morris said there was also underachievement in some of Britain's most affluent areas. Education action zones, which channel additional funding and business sponsorship into schools, had already been established in Gloucestershire and Weston-super-Mare.

She launched an internet service to link teachers in Britain and America, giving more than half of secondary school teachers their own e-mail address. Internet in-trays for headteachers, designed to reduce the paperwork sent to schools, and a new web-based guide for headteachers and senior teachers will also be available in schools from today.