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Blair puts schools at heart of his mission

Good teachers can turn a community round, says the Prime Minister in today's TES

TONY Blair has placed schools and teachers at the centre of his mission to tackle poverty, crime and unemployment and regenerate some of the most deprived parts of Britain.

Writing in today's TES, the Prime Minister says: "Schools are the one institution in a neighbourhood that can really bring the community together. There is plenty of evidence that success or failure at school is not just about poverty. Good teachers can create the dynamic force which can turn round not only schools but whole communities."

Next week Mr Blair's Social Exclusion Unit publishes its third report, Bringing Britain Together - A National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, focusing on the worst housing estates.

The Government will be announcing 17 Path Finders, local authority areas which will bid for a share of pound;800 million, over three years.

In each area, consortia, centred on estates and made up from partnerships between schools, community groups, churches, health centres and businesses, will put forward action plans to turn round their neighbourhoods.

Teachers, together with other professionals, for example, doctors, are expected to be pivotal in the attempt to tackle the low esteem, truancy and drug problems that dog these areas. A range of inner-city, rural and edge-of-town estates will be selected, where up to 70 to 80 per cent of households have no one in employment, and there are large numbers of lone parents.

According to a source close to the unit: "This is not just about giving buildings a lick of paint, it is about trying to systematically tackle all the problems the estate faces, from lack of employment to poor transport. It is experimental and very exciting.

"The whole point is to get the community fully involved. If the community is not part of the solution it is doomed to fail."

Schools will be expected to open all hours, offering breakfast clubs, after-school study sessions, child care and adult education.

Mr Blair said: "Often the key is getting parents interested in their children's education. That can have the knock-on-effect of getting parents back into learning and help their chances of getting a job as well as giving their children a better start."

The Path Finder areas will link with other Government initiatives, for example education action zones and Sure Start schemes for under-fives.

Mr Blair said there would be maximum flexibility on what the money can be spent on. "There will have to be maximum community involvement and a chance for new groups - including schools - to take the lead," he said.

Such deprived areas can often be flash points of violence and riots. And it was the disturbances such as those on the Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford, and in St Paul's in Bristol that prompted the Social Exclusion Unit's report.

Judith Mullen, president of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "I am glad to hear the Prime Minister recognises the important role that teachers can play. However it is on such estates that teacher morale is often low and recruitment difficult. These are the schools that find themselves at the bottom of exam tables and top of truancy tables."

* Tony Blair, page 21

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