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Inner-city schools to be reborn as zones;Exclusive

UP to 50 of the worst-performing inner-city secondary schools are to become small education action zones in the drive to regenerate the country's most deprived areas.

Draft government documents reveal that ministers are planning to pour pound;250,000 into each school annually for up to five years - more than pound;62 million in total - to allow "a more intense focus in the most difficult circumstances".

An extra pound;50,000 would also be available to each school if they raised the same sum themselves.

The move is part of Labour's pound;350m Excellence in Cities initiative which promises mentors and support for children who need help as well as masterclasses and "world-class tests" for talented pupils. The push for small education action zones is a break from the previous thinking, where bids have been based on groups of 15 to 25 schools.

Now the Government wants zones centred on a single school. These are likely to be the struggling secondaries, with their associated primary schools.

As with the larger zones, they will focus on raising standards through improved teaching and learning. Zone status not only brings in extra money but enables schools to disapply the national curriculum and national pay and conditions regulations.

Civil servants said there was potential for the project director of a small zone to become, in effect, the line manager of the heads of individual schools. Senior staff and curriculum leaders could also have a role across the zone.

The exact location of the new zones has not been decided but the 25 councils involved in Excellence in Cities are likely to get two each.

Excellence in Cities proposes a number of schemes including developing new tests for 18-year-olds in place of the S-level, according to the draft documents. Summer schools open to 5,000 16 and 17-year-olds are to be run in science, the arts and humanities, and social sciences.

The documents also reveal that Labour plans to shelve the need for schools to raise pound;100,000 before they can become specialist schools. "There is a limit to the amount of sponsorship we can expect schools to raise," officials admit.

Christine Whatford, president of the Society of Education Officers, doubted whether the initiative on its own would raise standards. But she said: "It is new money and that is welcome."

Martin Rogers, from The Education Network, an advisory organisation for local authorities, said: "It is a bold attempt to put some solutions in place, but possibly before some of the problems have been fully analysed."

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