Inner-city schools project under fire

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair's flagship project to improve inner-city schools was called into question yesterday by a leaked report of Ofsted inspectors.

The Excellence in Cities programme (EiC) has cost £800m since it was launched by the Prime Minister in 1999. But while the programme has successfully reduced bad behaviour, expulsions and truancy, its impact on pupils' results has been less marked, the Ofsted report says.

Next week, David Bell, the chief inspector of schools in England, will release the report and it will be deeply embarrassing for ministers who have invested huge sums in the programme, which covers a third of secondary school pupils.

The Department for Education and Skills immediately launched a robust defence, saying any suggestion that EiC made no impact on standards was "ridiculous". A spokes-woman said: "The figures speak for themselves. Standards in EiC areas have improved faster than elsewhere in the country." She admitted improvement was varied, saying: "They have improved most in areas where they have had EiC the longest."

The Ofsted report also said improved classroom standards were evident among younger pupils in primary schools but less visible among secondary children, although the programme has been running longest in secondary schools. It covers 1,000 secondary and 1,000 primary schools in six conurbations covering 24 local education authorities.