About 100,000 pupils from inner-city comprehensives will be offered master classes at nearby specialist colleges in subjects in which they excel. The aim is to keep middle-class pupils at inner-city schools as the gap between the best and worst schools widens and ambitious parents shop around.
Proposals to be announced today by David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, will also help the slowest pupils. No details were available, but early leaks concentrated on the benefits for the top 10 per cent.
Earlier this year the Prime Minister infuriated teachers when he said that some inner-city schools were so bad he did not blame parents for "making other arrangements" for children. He opted to send both his children to schools six miles from their Westminster home, at the London Oratory in Hammersmith and nearby Sacred Heart girls' school. He also backed Harriet Harman, who sent her son to St Olave's grammar school in Bromley rather than the local comprehensive.
Yesterday John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "This is a vote of no confidence in inner-city schools, many of which are doing a superb job. Teachers at these schools will go into work tomorrow feeling that the only way their bright kids can get a good education is by getting out of them. We need a package in inner-city schools for children of all abilities."
Mr Blair and Mr Blunkett see the scheme as part of their promise to "modernise" comprehensive education. About 450 schools will be involved in the three- year programme to divert pounds 100m to schools in London, Birmingham, Merseyside, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Rotherham.
Pupils will attend their local schools for most lessons, but will receive extra tuition in the growing network of schools specialising in science, technology, languages, the arts and sport.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said: "If this hare-brained scheme is designed to reassure the middle classes, it will not succeed. Desperate middle- class parents can usually afford extra tuition. Their real concern is social. They don't want their children mixing with rough children in schools where bullying is rife."
Schools in the programme will have to name a teacher to co-ordinate it. Estelle Morris, the school standards minister, will be given an extra role as minister for inner-city education.
A national team of adviserswill include Professor Tim Brighouse, who last week resigned as vice-chairman of the Government's standards task force after disputes with Chris Woodhead, Chief Inspector of Schools.
Professor Brighouse told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend that there had been a flight from inner cities in Britain and north America. "We've got to reverse that. The starting point must be to get behind the efforts of the staff in inner cities and introduce more education."
He said he did not believe the initiative would benefit only the 10 per cent of children "because I know the Government is totally committed to success for the many rather than the few, and that would be the few."
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