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Failing schools and dying cities;Inner Cities

Decay can quickly turn to desolation when ambitious families abandon urban areas that offer their children little in the way of education. Stephen Hook on a new report from the LSE

UNDER-performing schools are accelerating the process of urban decay as aspirational families turn their backs on poor urban neighbourhoods.

The reputation of schools with low pass rates plays a crucial role in the cycle of decline which has led to whole areas of some of Britain's biggest cities being abandoned, according to Anne Power and Katharine Mumford of the London School of Economics.

"A shrinking population, high population turnover and high levels of deprivation all impact on schools. In turn, school performance affects neighbourhood prospects," says their report.

"The poor academic performance of schools in poor neighbourhoods has a strong deterrent effect on potential residents. It also leads to families with high aspirations moving away."

Speaking after the report was published, Ms Mumford, an LSE research officer, said: "There are a lot of grounds for optimism. We hope the report will be considered by the Government's social exclusion unit and its urban task force."

The report, entitled The slow death of great cities? Urban abandonment or urban renaissance, was launched this week after 12 months of field work in Newcastle and Manchester - cities that have lost 20 per cent of their population in 40 years. A sixth of properties in the areas the report looked at were empty.

Professor Power said: "The speed with which streets or blocks shift from relatively well-occupied to nearly half-empty is alarming.

"This creates instability and reduces the level of informal social control, leaving a vacuum that eventually tips a highly localised low-demand area into rapid abandonment."

Ministers are increasingly alarmed about the plight of deprived urban areas: the evidence to date is that inner-city schools are failing to share in the national rise in attainment.

Research published in last week's TES from the universities of Exeter and Plymouth suggested that rich and poor schools are drifting ever further apart, both socially and academically.

Inner urban primary schools have made much less progress in maths and English than those in more affluent localities - a failing that may even threaten the government's targets for 2002.

The full report is published by York Publishing Services Ltd, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ. Tel: 01904 430033 or Fax 01904 430868. Price: pound;16.95 plus pound;2 postage and packing. ISBN 1 902633 11 3.

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