The city that lets down its pupils

Manchester crisis: Oftsed inspectors criticise authority for neglecting duty by losing track of excluded children
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ONE OF England's largest local education authorities has failed in its legal duty because it has no idea what happened to 140 excluded pupils, according to a highly critical inspectors' report published today.

In response, Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, told Manchester City Council to take urgent action to protect some of its most vulnerable children.

Inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education found that the city, which has a statutory duty to ensure that all its children receive schooling, was unable to say what education was being provided for 140 excluded pupils. Yet there are 12,000 surplus places in Manchester which cost the authority about pounds 2m a year.

The report, the first in a programme of local authority inspections carried out under new powers introduced last year, catalogues a series of failures. While there is "glamour and affluence" in the regenerated city centre, that is not matched in struggling districts where some of the poorest people in England are concentrated.

Inspectors say:

t Too many pupils are truanting too frequently;

t School budget deficits are pounds 6.2m, the highest in England;

t Exclusions are running at 10 a day with one school temporarily excluding 782 pupils in three years;

t Standards of achievement are low;

t The duty to meet the needs of children with special educational problems is being breached.

Despite recent improvements in its schools and teaching standards which are higher than the national average, the city was 110th out of 132 local education authorities last year in English tests at 11 and 127th for GCSE performance.

Attendance is running at 84 per cent in secondary schools, nearly 7 per cent below the national average, and too many truanting pupils are simply removed from school rolls.

Mr Byers said: "There are 70,000 children being educated in Manchester schools. They need a far better deal than they are getting." He demanded a report within a month on how the authority intended to meet its statutory responsibilities.

But senior government sources pointed out that the report was less damning than last year's on the borough of Hackney in east London.

Inspectors note that there is "no mistaking the political will for change and improvement" in Manchester". They also paint a stark picture of social problems in a city where 40 per cent of children are in households where no one has a job.

Richard Leese, the city council's leader, said they would respond positively but added that the report "wold not win any prizes for the quality of its research". He added: "Exclusion is not a problem unique to Manchester. It has been identified as a major problem by the Government and the Prime Minister has committed himself to helping local education authorities tackle the problem."

the worst schools

How Manchester's worst three state schools fare in terms of: number of pupils; % of pupils with 5 or more GSCEs at grades A*-C; and truancy (% half-days lost).

North Manchester High School for Boys Pupils - 696; GCSEs -8%; truancy - 0.1%

Moston Brook High Pupils - 494; 6%; 4.1%

Spurley Hey High Pupils - 697/6%/6.1%

Manchester average

GCSEs 26.3%; truancy 2.9%

National average GCSEs 45.1%; truancy 1.0%

(Source:1997 performance tables)