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Exam aid for toughest schools is scrapped

Ministers axe scheme for low performers despite its success, report Stephen Lucas and Warwick Mansell A Government scheme which pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds into some of the country's toughest schools has seen exam results improve - but is still being scrapped by ministers.

The three-year experiment ends next month and there are no signs that it will continue despite improvements in GCSE results in seven of the eight schools involved.

Heads each received up to pound;300,000 a year and were allowed to spend the money as they wanted, for example slashing class sizes, giving teachers extra training and recruiting more support staff.

The cash - pound;4.5 million in total - went to schools in very challenging circumstances, where exam results were low but management was good.

At the start of the "Octet" project in 2001 fewer than 15 per cent of GCSE candidates at each school got five Cs or better. The scheme aimed to develop innovative teaching with a view to raising attainment and appeared to be a radical departure from previous policies, which concentrated on closing struggling schools and re-opening them.

At the Ridings school in Halifax, the proportion of pupils getting five Cs or better jumped from 13 per cent in 2001 to 25 per cent in 2003. At Phoenix high school, west London, the figure rose from 11 to 25 per cent.

The Channel school, in Folkestone, Kent, was the only one to show a decline, from 9 to 8 per cent.

At Pennywell school in Sunderland the proportion of pupils getting five A*-C GCSEs rose from 13 to 21 per cent. Six teachers have not been replaced so that two assistant head positions which the scheme funded can remain open and Octet-funded staff training and pupil tracking can continue.

At Campion Catholic high in Liverpool, where the five A*-C percentage rose from 11 to 24 per cent, interactive whiteboards, and management training were also funded. Tony Phillips, headteacher, said: "It has proved that pupils in low-attaining schools can show remarkable rates of improvement."

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said it was a shame the scheme was ending.

But a Department for Education and Skills spokesman said it had been clear from the start of the project that it would have a finite lifespan.

He said an evaluation report by Cambridge university was not due until the end of the year and that he could not say whether aspects of Octet would be adopted in other schools.

The Government's main programme to turn round failing secondaries is the creation of academies.

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