Ministers' disclosure at the weekend that they were planning "master classes" for 100,000 bright pupils in inner-city comprehensives attracted widespread criticism from teachers. Yesterday, ministers announced that an extra pounds 350m for inner-city education over the next three years would also include help for the least able.
But headteachers said they remained unpersuaded of the Government's commitment to all inner-city children. The Conservatives accused ministers of imposing one form of selection by ability for master classes while threatening the existence of grammar schools.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, defended themselves against charges of elitism and attacked the "doom and gloom merchants" who argued that inner-city children could not be expected to achieve. Tony Blair told pupils and teachers at St Paul's community school in Bow, east London: "We shall be attacked from the right by people who want to return to a selective system that condemned 80 per cent of our children to failure at age 11 and from the left by people who say all children should be treated in the same way - and if they are born into poverty there's nothing you can do about it."
Eight hundred mentors, either teachers or youth workers will be appointed in 450 target schools at a cost of pounds 17m. They will guide pupils towards extra help and tuition when they are falling behind. The first schools to benefit will be in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield.
All secondary schools in the designated areas will also have access to a "learning unit" for disruptive pupils - one for every three schools. Some schools already have pupil referral units or "sin-bins".
Mr Blunkett said in the Commons: "We cannot allow a disruptive pupil to wreck the life chances of others. Excluded youngsters miss out on education and often turn to crime."
Extra lessons for the brightest 10 per cent of pupils will take place in new specialist schools in arts, technology, sport and languages set up under the Conservatives and backed by the Government. The number of beacon schools, which receive extra money to spread good practice, will also increase.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said, "the stream of initiatives on virtually a weekly basis might be good politics or even good public relations" but it still fell short of a desperately needed, coherent strategy for the inner-cities.
David Willetts, the shadow Secretary of State for Education, asked why selection by ability was being imposed for master classes when the Government was threatening grammar schools and abolishing other forms of selection by ability. "Are ministers seriously suggesting more able pupils should be bussed to other schools? If it is Monday, it is history in Highgate and if it's Tuesday it is maths in Merton."
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