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London formula to be tried elsewhere

SCHOOLS THAT underperform in Greater Manchester and the Black Country are to receive intensive support through a pound;160 million extension of a scheme that turned around education in the capital.

The London Challenge is to run for three more years from 2008, when it will be replicated in 14 urban authorities in the North West and West Midlands.

The news came as official research suggested that, contrary to stereotype, inner-city secondaries are better at raising standards than rural equivalents. Academics at the London School of Economics have concluded that the denser the urban area a school is in, the better its pupils are likely to progress when its background factors are taken into account.

"Although pupil attainment in dense urban places is low on average, this is not because urban environments disadvantage pupils but because disadvantaged pupils with low average attainments attend the most urbanised schools," the researchers said. They suggest greater competition or co-operation between schools that are closer together could be an explanation.

The researchers used a statistical model to remove factors such as gender, ethnicity, family background, innate ability, peer influence, language skills, special educational needs and any extra resources, which revealed that a 10 per cent increase in the urban density of a school's neighbourhood raised a pupil's academic performance by 0.2 per cent between the ages of 12 and 16.

Last year Ofsted found that improvements in London's lower performing schools were outpacing similar schools in the rest of the country and that the London Challenge scheme had played a big a part in the success.

Now the formula - intensive support from experts, pupil coaching and mentoring, extra teacher training and leaders of successful schools working with those in weaker schools - will be introduced in two other regions: the Black Country Challenge will receive pound;25m over three years, while the Greater Manchester Challenge will get pound;50m. London will get pound;80m over the same period.

* LSE research:

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