Heads 'are foiling plan to stretch gifted pupils'

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The Independent Online

Head teachers in some of the most deprived inner-city schools are thwarting a government plan to stretch the brightest pupils, inspectors say today.

Head teachers in some of the most deprived inner-city schools are thwarting a government plan to stretch the brightest pupils, inspectors say today.

A report by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, says some headteachers are taking government cash intended for their most talented pupils but are not spending it on them. According to Ofsted, they believe it is "divisive" to single out the brightest pupils ­ and are spending the money on new programmes that benefit all pupils instead.

Today's report, on the Government's Excellence in Cities programme for primary schools, says: "Schools that believed that the provision for gifted and talented pupils was inequitable diluted the allocated resources."

One headteacher told inspectors: "The gifted and talented initiative is divisive and, at this stage in my career, I don't feel threatened by league tables and targets. I am concentrating on the whole child."

Under the programme, schools in tough urban areas can get extra cash for master-classes for their top 5 to 10 per cent of pupils, mentors to help struggling pupils and schemes to improve behaviour. The programme benefits 1,159 schools in 74 local education authorities.

The report says the programme is helping pupils in disadvantaged areas escape the cycle of poverty. The number of pupils reaching the required standard in English and maths national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds is improving at a faster rate than the national average. It has also improved attendance rates at five times more than the national average.

However, it warns that teachers in one in seven of the participating schools are reluctant to accept that higher academic standards are attainable. This is the second attack on teachers by Ofsted this week. Yesterday a report said poor teaching was to blame for thousands of primary school pupils failing to learn how to read by the age of 11.

According to the report: "The additional focus [in these schools] on higher-attaining pupils was perceived as inequitable and, in a minority of schools, there was a pervasive culture of blame. In these schools, the head teachers attributed low standards and challenging behaviour exclusively to the pupils' home circumstances.

"In one school where there were low expectations, the headteacher suggested that the high level of deprivation was the main reason for the pupils' poor attainment in national tests at age seven and for their unsatisfactory progress between ages seven and 11."

David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, said: "Pupils in disadvantaged areas face poverty, exclusion and low expectations." Overall, he said, the programme was helping to secure "a brighter future" for many.

The report urged local education authorities to ensure the money for gifted pupils was used for its intended purpose and that its impact on their attainment was measured by schools.It added that schools should also "ensure the principles that underpin the gifted and talented strand are understood fully and embedded in the work of the school".