Failing comprehensives get grants to lift standards

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The Independent Online

A national drive to raise standards in the country's worst-performing secondary schools will be launched by the Government next week.

A national drive to raise standards in the country's worst-performing secondary schools will be launched by the Government next week.

Annual grants of up to £70,000 a year will be ploughed into 530 schools where fewer than a quarter of pupils gain five good GCSEs.

The schools, identified as the lowest performers in league tables last month, will be subject to regular inspections and will be encouraged to twin with more successful schools facing similar problems.

Initial details of the programme emerged at a briefing for heads of selected schools in London just before Christmas. The full proposals will be outlined by Estelle Morris, the School Standards minister, at the north of England education conference in Bridlington, Humberside, next week.

Ministers are aiming for at least 25 per cent of pupils at all schools to pass at least five GCSEs at grade C or above by 2006. Experts from the Government's Standards and Effectiveness Unit have been drafted in to help raise results.

The schools will have to draw up "raising achievement plans". Inspectors will try to identify specific problems and examples of good practices elsewhere that may help to improve the schools.

An Ofsted spokeswoman warned that inspectors would take action if standards continued to slide. "A downward decline must not be allowed to happen," she said.

The list of schools includes many serving deprived urban and rural areas that have been passed by Ofsted inspectors, prompting criticism from headteachers that exam targets fail to acknowledge their problems.

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "These plans are fine as far as they go, but whether the cash on offer is enough to attract good quality ... teachers to these schools is questionable.

"All the extra cash, inspections, and twinning in the world cannot substitute for high calibre heads and teachers."

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