Some of the money spent on raising standards in schools in deprived areas is having little noticeable effect, ground-breaking research for Government inspectors has revealed.
The research discloses that time, energy and cash is being invested in projects with unclear aims, vague criteria for success and no outside control.
The research, commissioned by the Office for Standards in Education, reveals widespread concern about education in deprived areas, but has criticised the "scatter-gun approach" to the use of time and investment in the search for improvement.
While it reported impressive attempts to raise standards, the study reveals that up to 15 per cent of initiatives were not hitting the target. It also disclosed that while the desire to help was evident, the scope and range of projects did not always coincide with the extent of urban educational need.
And Professor Michael Barber of Keele University, which carried out the research, said: "It is a waste in terms of what could have been done with that money."
The research follows last year's damning report by OFSTED - Access and Achievement in Urban Education - which disclosed that many children never recovered from early failure at reading and writing.
The study will form part of a discussion paper on how to help schools in deprived areas which will be published by OFSTED next year. Carried out by the Centre for Successful Schools at Keele , the research is based on evidence from local education authorities, training and enterprise councils and higher education institutions involved in teacher training in England.
It discovered that schools, local authorities, TECs and universities have linked up in powerful partnerships to improve exam performances, staying-on rates, attendance and increase parental involvement.
But the study said: "There appear to be, among the projects surveyed, a number where a great deal of time, energy and money has been spent with the best intentions, but to little demonstrable effect.
"While such projects may be marginally beneficial in the sense that doing something is usually better than nothing there is no doubt that the same levels of investment could have brought far greater benefits if the initiatives had been more carefully structured."
The study looks at 60 initiatives ranging from improving exam results in Barking and Dagenham to countering bullying in Kent, raising reading standards in Lewisham, youth work for young people at risk in Cambridgeshire, truancy in Devon and working with pre-school children in Teesside.
People involved with almost a quarter of the initiatives studied said they had clear evidence that they were achieving their goals. Another quarter had perceptions of improvement.
"The overall picture emerging from our survey is a positive one," said the researchers. However, they warned that some projects seemed unclear about what they were trying to achieve and said that clear measurable targets were essential.
Professor Barber said: "Targets are crucial for the upward spiral.It is easy to get caught up in your own success. A detached view helps convince a sceptical public that you are doing a good job and not just talking up your ownproject."