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Beacon schools battle to cope with success

Schools selected as England's elite have become victims of their own success, overwhelmed with calls and ostracised by their local authorities. Many so-called beacon schools live in constant fear of failure and are struggling to cope with the pressures brought by their elevated status, say their heads.

"When everyone is looking at you, you know they are looking to trip you up," complained Margaret Leese, head of Cunningham Hill school in Suffolk.

"We can all see the nightmare headlines. Beacon school fails OFSTED," said Sue McEldon, deputy head of the Park community school in Devon. The pair were speaking at a conference of beacon schools in London, organised by the Department for Education and Employment.

Last year, 75 schools were given beacon status on the basis of an excellent inspection. Under the scheme, beacons receive an extra pound;30,000 a year to spread their good practice to less successful schools.

However, despite fears that other schools would be hostile, many beacons have been so inundated with requests for help they can barely cope with demand.

Many staff now spend so much on time on beacon activities and out of the classroom, they fear losing the teaching skills that made them so successful in the first place. Many of the schools, which were also grant-maintained, have accused their local authorities either of ignoring them or seeing them as a threat. Others claim LEAs have used the beacons as a "sticking plaster for every local problem". A government spokesman admitted there had been teething problems.

He said: "Beacon schools are the front-runners in a major new initiative and this has obviously led to a lot of demands on their time." Later this month, another 125 beacon schools are expected to be named and heads at the conference are to produce a leaflet outlining the pros and cons for the incoming schools.

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