TONY Blair may insist that deprivation is no excuse for poor results, but his own inspectors have found that few schools are able to escape the poverty trap.
They have discovered that only 25 primaries, out of a thousand of the country's most deprived schools, achieve English and maths results around the national average.
In a report due to be published in the spring, the Office for Standards in Education will attempt to explain how a few exceptional primaries, like the Church of England School of the Resurrection on the outer rim of Manchester, break the mould.
Inspectors have identified a number of primary and secondaries that could provide an insight into the problem the Blair Government is determined to tackle. More than half their pupils are eligible for free school meals and they are in the 5 per cent of most disadvantaged electoral wards. They all have English and maths results around the national average.
While the Government insists that poverty and disadvantage must not be an excuse for low standards, statistics show that the schools with that number of children eligible for free school meals score well below their more affluent neighbours.
The School of the Resurrection in Beswick has 60 per cent of children eligible for free school meals. Its results this year are on a par with schools in prosperous suburbs with 83 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching the required standard in English and 92 per cent in maths.
Inspectors have also been to the Hague primary in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. More than 90 per cent of the pupils are Bangladeshi and two-thirds are eligible for free meals. Its results show 90 per cent of its 11-year-olds reached the required standard in English.
The Government's own benchmarks suggest the median score in English for schools with more than 50 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals is 50.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The number identified seems very pessimistic. I am sure there are more schools. Such a study will be useful, but I'm absolutely certain they will find it is down to the quality of teaching."
This year's tables show many schools in inner-city areas have improved standards in English and maths. And the annual report of the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, due next month, is expected to attribute the overall improvement to the literacy and numeracy strategies. A leaked draft says that teaching in over a half of primaries is now good.
And he makes the controversial claim that the most successful part of strategies is the insistence on teachers taking the class as a whole, with the children using shared texts.
Teachers have been told the daily literacy hour and maths lesson in primaries should start with a session in which the children are all taught together. The rest of the time is spent in group work.
Mr Woodhead may also step into the political minefield of school funding. The preliminary draft of his report notes that a primary pupil is funded at two-thirds the level of a secondary - and says there is an unacceptable variation in funding, even between schools with similar numbers of children with special needs.