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Firms ready to support improvement with cash

Businesses will hand out around Pounds 300,000 to schools who improve educational standards in Northamptonshire over the next three years, writes Clare Dean.

Two companies and the county's Chamber of Commerce, which has merged with the training and enterprise council will each provide funding annually for a project designed to produce a highly skilled workforce for the future.

Schools stand to receive around Pounds 10,000 and the Department for Education and Employment is supporting the scheme this year with Pounds 10,000 through the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative.

Northamptonshire was 58th out of the 109 in Government league tables of pupils gaining five or more top grade GCSEs last year.

Fewer than 40 per cent of pupils in the county gained five or more grades A to C at GCSE compared to the national average of 43.3 per cent according to the tables.

"There is an issue in this county about low achievement, particularly at GCSE. It is a fact and we recognise it, " said Val Carpenter from Northamptonshire's chamber. "As a county we have improved quite dramatically over the past five or six years, but the East Midlands as a whole tends to underachieve."

The chamber has now brought together the local education authority, Weetabix and RCI UK and Ireland, which are both based in the county, for a project called Raising Standards.

It aims to raise educational achievement as part of an overall strategy to secure the long-term economic well-being of the county.

The local authority is working with schools to define achievement targets, while inspectors and advisors are providing support and expertise. Likely exam results to be achieved by pupils will be assessed alongside activities aimed at moving grades upwards from Bs to A and Cs to Bs.

Eight out of 29 schools have so far submitted successful bids for cash through the scheme, which is open to both local authority and grant-maintained schools.

They are The Ferrers, Huxlow, Kingsbrook, Lings Upper, Mereway Upper, Moulton, Rusden and Wollaston schools.

Schools have to a send a submission to the chamber and enter into a contract with it. Mrs Carpenter said: "The emphasis will be on targets and delivery. We wouldn't take money away from schools. We are offering it on the basis of milestones reached. We pay the school as it reaches the target."

"If a school reneges on its contract with us we wouldn't pay them."

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