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Failure flourishes in the countryside

Excellence in Cities cash will miss many of the secondaries most in need. Warwick Mansell reports.

ALMOST half of England's struggling secondary schools are in rural areas, government figures reveal this week.

School standards minister Estelle Morris revealed that more than 200 of the 530 secondaries where fewer than a quarter of pupils achieved five or more good GCSEs this year, were in country districts.

The findings, which were reported at an Anglo-American education conference in Washington this week, confound the widely-held belief that only inner-city secondary schools have serious problems, said a government source.

Ministers have been concentrating on urban areas with their multi-million pound Excellence in Cities programme.

The Government is looking at the findings, said Ms Morris, and rural secondaries would be included in a scheme to "twin" the 530 struggling schools with more successful partners.

The Washington conference is the first joint US-UK summit on turning around struggling schools. The minister was expected to highlight Norham community technology college in a disadvantaged area of Tyneside as the first school in Britain to reach the national Investors in People award finals.

And St Malachy's school, Liverpool, was also to be sigled out for progressing from special measures to beacon status in only five years.

Meanwhile, 50 teachers are to be selected from struggling schools in England to travel to the US to witness how the Americans are tackling secondary-school failure.

Senior staff from secondaries at the bottom of national league tables will be given a chance to spend several weeks in American high schools which have been turned around. The scheme, to start next year, is part of the pound;6 million initiative offering up to 5,000 British teachers research opportunities.

It is the latest sign of closer educational links between the two countries, illustrated by this week's conference, which drew around 50 headteachers, academics, government aides and local education officials from both sides of the Atlantic.

The British Government was approached about the Washington summit by US education secretary Richard Riley after President Bill Clinton said his country's schools needed more international links.

However, one announcement by Mr Riley illustrated that differences persist.

"Only" 3,523 American students were expelled in 1998-99 for bringing guns to school. Mr Riley said this was a move in the right direction, given that three years ago the figure was more than 5,700.

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