Leading article: Hard lessons of cities report

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The Independent Online

There is, it seems, still work to be done to convince some teachers that a pupil's background is not necessarily a deterrent to achieving excellence.

The report by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, into the Government's two flagship inner-city initiatives - Excellence in the Cities and Education Action Zones - contains some food for thought for ministers, local education authorities and teachers alike.

As far as ministers are concerned, the inspectors showed particular appreciation for the more targeted approach of the EiC initiative - welcoming its success in reducing exclusions and improving attendance. Much of the credit for this is down to the employment of mentors who have helped to raise the self-esteem of disaffected youngsters. It also notes that the percentage of pupils getting at least five A* to C grade passes at GCSE has risen faster than the national average.

It is not so complimentary about EAZs, however, saying that in some areas standards have gone down instead of up. In addition, far from being the radical, cutting edge of education that they were trumpeted as, many have floundered through a lack of clear sense of direction about what they are trying to achieve. The scheme is yet another example of the fact that, while calling in the private sector to run education can work in some circumstances, it is not a panacea for improving standards.

As far as local education authorities are concerned, the report shows that some targeted funding from the top - for mentoring, for instance - can be beneficial. The findings are also an argument against a belief that seems to be developing that all initiatives should be put on hold for a year while the money used for them is diverted to paying teachers' wages and staving off redundancies. That would be short-termism in the extreme.

Teachers have some lessons to learn from the report, too. The EiC plans aimed at helping gifted and talented pupils show that - at least in the primary sector - they have provoked substantial resentment for being too élitist. Worryingly, too, ethnic minority pupils have been under-represented on projects and teachers in one in three schools continue to have unwarrantedly low expectations of what their pupils can achieve. There is, it seems, still work to be done to convince some teachers that a pupil's background is not necessarily a deterrent to achieving excellence.

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