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Inspectors accused of ignoring poverty link

Failing schools are overwhelmingly those in deprived areas, according to research from Durham University.

A study commissioned by Channel 4's Dispatches programme found that 59 of 83 failing secondary schools had to cope with poverty levels which were twice the national average.

In these schools more than 35 per cent of the pupils were eligible for free meals, the main indicator for deprivation. The national average is 18 per cent.

In a further 21 schools, the free meals level was between 22 and 35 per cent. None of the failing secondary schools was in an area that could be described as prosperous.

The research was carried out by Mark Wightman of Durham University's curriculum, evaluation and management centre.

Mr Whiteman said that the Office for Standards in Education appeared to take little account of schools' deprivation: "Some of the failed schools are actually doing slightly better than you might expect. OFSTED seems to be punishing schools for a whole range of social evils that they can't do much about."

Paul Lashmar, the producer of last month's controversial Dispatches which investigated OFSTED, said "If the failing schools are in socially deprived areas then OFSTED faces a big problem. It's obviously a resources issue, yet OFSTED tries to load the blame on teachers. It is very reluctant to discuss resources."

The figures also suggest that OFSTED has not in fact been able to pick out failing secondary schools in more affluent areas.

This is despite substantial evidence that many middle-class schools are underperforming, a situation which the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, recently highlighted in his annual report.

A recent study conducted by the Audit Commission found that some schools in more affluent areas were only performing at the level of schools beset by inner-city deprivation.

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