Commons guide to the inner cities

Geraldine Hackett

Regular inspection is not enough to prevent inner-city schools sliding into a spiral of decline, according to MPs on the all-party Commons education select committee, writes Geraldine Hackett. The committee's latest report on city schools' performance seeks the strengthening of local authorities' inspection and advisory services so that failing schools can be detected earlier.

According to Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Thornton, chair of the committee, inspection every four years is not enough. The report suggests LEAs should monitor schools and take action where they notice a marked deterioration in exam results, a fall in the school's popularity or discontent among the staff.

During their visits to schools in deprived areas, the MPs were also struck by the stress on teachers dealing with children from poor or unstable backgrounds. One teacher in North Tyneside told the MPs she spent 45 per cent of her time dealing with social issues. "There have to be measures taken to allow teachers to spend more time dealing with the academic achievement of pupils," said Sir Malcolm.

The report was produced with the agreement of Conservative and Labour MPs, but Graham Riddick, who joined the committee in April when the inquiry was under way, made it clear at the launch that he was unhappy with the promotion of local education authorities. On the casting vote of Sir Malcolm, the committee had rejected Mr Riddick's proposal that the report should have included a plea to the Government to increase the number of grant-maintained schools. Mr Riddick told journalists he believed inner-city schools should be encouraged to accept greater responsibility by opting out.

The committee agreed that the Government should be pressed to increase nursery provision and encourage experienced teachers to work in disadvantaged areas. The report also expresses concern that the Government has not continued funding Reading Recovery.

Performance in City Schools: third report of the House of Commons education committee, is published by HMSO, paper HC(94-95)247-I.

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