Talented pupils from the inner city who want to benefit from extra coaching promised by the Government will first have to pass new "world-class tests".
Pupils would be expected to achieve results comparable with those of the brightest 9, 13 and 18-year-olds in high-performing countries such as Singapore and Switzerland.
The tests, initially in maths and problem-solving, were unveiled as part of a pound;350 million package to raise standards in 450 comprehensive schools in six major cities.
The initiative, Excellence in Cities, will more than double the number of specialist and Beacon schools, introduce education action zones to improve small clusters of schools and provide 800 learning mentors to recruit an army of volunteers for schools.
Only the brightest children will take the "extremely demanding" but voluntary tests which give the top 5 to 10 per cent access to a range of new opportunities.
The top inner-city pupils will be able to attend university summer schools, masterclasses at local specialist schools or at independent schools during the holidays.
The tests are to be piloted next year for general release in 2001. They are intended to combine successful testing strategies from other countries plus a problem-solving paper similar to IQ tests.
Meanwhile, under-achievers are to be supported by 800 school-based learning mentors at a cost of pound;17m - teachers, youth or welfare workers who will recruit voluntary mentors particularly from the world of business.
The scheme will be based in inner and north London, Manchester, Leeds, Salford, Liverpool, Knowsley, Birmingham, Bradford, Sheffield and Rotherham.
Inner-city schools will be expected to set pupils by ability for maths, science and modern languages unless they can demonstrate they are already outperforming similar schools without using setting.
The Beacon-school programme is to be expanded from 75 to 1,000 schools by 2002, with one in four to be in inner cities. From now on, all Beacon schools will be legally required to work with a specified inner-city school.
The number of specialist schools is also set to rocket from 365 to more than 800 by 2003. Inner-city schools are to be encouraged to apply thanks to new, lower sponsorship requirements. They are also promised help from existing specialist schools.
Learning centres will be established in inner-city schools or further education colleges to provide extra courses and facilities including language laboratories, arts facilities or cyber-cafes.
This network will provide support for a group of partner schools and will use information technology to spread best practice. The first 30 centres will be established by September 2000.
Special units for disruptive children are to be set up in one in three of the target schools. Dubbed "learning units" they aim to to prevent exclusions by keeping children in school while stopping them from disrupting their classmates' education.
EXCELLENCE IN CITIES. MAIN POINTS
* expand specialist and Beacon school initiatives
* launch special programmes for best-performing pupils
* launch new network of learning centres
* encourage setting in schools
* introduce home computer loans for pupils and teachers
* boost governor recruitment
* increase the number of units for disruptive pupils
* provide "learning mentors" for pupils who need them
* introduce new, smaller education action zones
Leader, page 16