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Curse of initiatives strikes yet again

Excellence in Cities adds to list of 'glossy' schemes accused of promising far more than they delivered. Michael Shaw reports

THE Excellence in Cities programme will next week become the latest flagship Government initiative to be criticised by inspectors for failing to improve exam results.

A report from the Office for Standards in Education will say that there is little evidence that the pound;800 million project has achieved its aim of raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils in inner-city areas.

Inspectors found that the scheme, which has been launched in 58 local authorities since 1999, has led to drops in truancy, a reduction in exclusions and noticeable improvements in pupil behaviour.

But the report will conclude: "The impact of the programme on achievement is more variable." The scheme is the latest initiative to be criticised for failing to meet key aims, following Education Action Zones, Fresh Start, specialist schools and Curriculum 2000.

Chief inspector David Bell warned in his annual report this year that evidence was unlikely to be found to show a link between the cities scheme and improved attainment because local systems for monitoring improvement were not good enough to provide the required data. The scheme funds programmes for gifted and talented pupils and learning mentors But a source at Ofsted said the verdict was mixed: "Improving exam results was not the only objective of Excellence in Cities. It has improved the behaviour of very difficult pupils and its key successes have included its use of learning mentors and learning support units. It would be premature to write the whole programme off as a failure."

Education Action Zones, which have cost pound;218m, are expected to be criticised as part of the EiC report, also for their variable impact on attainment. The Government decided to phase out the zones programme and merge existing ones into EiC schemes after Ofsted reported in 2001 that the zones had not been innovative enough.

Four of the six zones which inspectors examined showed marked improvements in their key stage 2 English and Maths results, but only one zone saw better GCSE scores.

Another school-improvement scheme which the Government has backed away from is the pound;79m Fresh Start scheme, where schools closed and reopened with a new name and headteacher.

A TES survey in 2000 found that GCSE pupils did better in only one of 11 revamped schools.

Meanwhile, Ofsted has criticised specialist schools for failing to share their advantages with other schools, and warned that the Curriculum 2000 switch from A-levels to AS and A2s has failed to broaden the curriculum.

Damian Green, Conservative education spokesman, said the catalogue of disappointment showed that Government was better giving money directly to heads than spending it on "glossy initiatives".

But a DfES spokeswoman said areas that had run EiC since it began - such as inner London - had made GCSE result improvements double the national average. "It is ridiculous to suggest that EiC has had no impact," she said. "Standards in EiC areas have improved faster than elsewhere."

Opinion, 23


Initiatives which have disappointed the inspectors include:

Excellence in Cities:

"The impact of the programme on achievement is variable."

(DfES spending: pound;500 million so far, a further pound;300m planned.) Education Action Zones:

"Not often test-beds of genuinely innovative action."

(DfES spending: pound;218m.)

Curriculum 2000:

"Has achieved much less than was intended. The range of subjects taken has not broadened significantly, and the scope of teaching within subjects has narrowed." (Extra government spending: pound;163m.)

National Literacy Strategy and Numeracy Strategy:

"The standstill in the test results in England shows that we are right to call for a review of the elements in the NationalLiteracy Strategy."

(DfES spending: pound;560m.)

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