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A case of cash for the cities

At last a commonsense acknowledgement from the Office for Standards in Education that urban secondary schools have a tougher job and need extra funding ("City schools need boost", TES, November 21).

The potential 5-6 per cent funding rise for 2004-05 will not meet our needs if it also has to cover the 2.5 per cent teachers' pay rise and workforce reform.

In my challenging school, which inspectors in 2001 said was fast improving, we lost pound;150,000 at a stroke because of changes to the Standards Funding 2003-04.

Despite 45 more students on roll over six years, our budget has been appalling. We set a deficit budget of pound;42,000. This is now rolling towards pound;80,000 through no fault of our own.

Here at Firth Park we will jump through any hoop to get extra resources to meet the needs of our excellent and increasingly aspirant pupils. Indeed I am immensely proud of our successes and progress and would highlight schemes that have helped us make a difference: Excellence in Cities, specialist performing arts status and "extended" schools.

Yet we cannot do it on our own. Regeneration strategies, decent housing, helping community members with lifelong learning, employability support, giving people a reason to get out of bed in the morning and a feeling of belonging, self-esteem, and self-confidence go hand in hand with school success.

The chief inspector David Bell is, of course, right in his analysis. So please fund urban schools in a way that recognises their challenges.

Consider reforming admissions so all schools share challenging pupils.

Allow us enhanced funding to do the job we wish to do and reduce all the action plans, short-term funding projects and control-freakery.

I also believe that effectively-led improving inner-city schools have much to offer more advantaged neighbouring schools, by helping them develop. Yet we are portrayed as their poor relations.

With effective stable funding, and the freedom to be creative and take risks, we can, and will, make a difference to the life chances of our students.

Yet I have no confidence that the budget settlement for 2004-05 will allow us this freedom.

Mo Laycock Headteacher Firth Park community arts college, Sheffield

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