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No time to lose heads

TO LOSE one Fresh Start superhead is a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness, but to lose three - out of 10 - in a single week is something of a calamity for the Government. It is, after all, only a fortnight since David Blunkett was suggesting that dozens more low-achieving schools would be subjected to the Fresh Start treatment unless they bucked up their act.

Government officials insist that this policy remains unchanged. But after this week's resignations the idea of asking superheads to supervise up to five struggling schools - in addition to their own - looks even less plausible.

The latest variation on the Fresh Start theme that Mr Blunkett announced on Wednesday - City Academies run by business, voluntary or religious groups - also evades many of the real issues, and in any case will be on too small a scale to make any substantial impact.

Much more interesting is the innovation to be recommended next month by Number 10's social exclusion unit: Scottish-style community schools which would also offer health and social services. They could be a more serious proposition, and a rare public acknowledgement that education alonecannot remedy all of society's ills.

As we have often said, David Blunkett's determination to provide the best possible education for disadvantaged children is commendable. He is also right to argue that it is more sensible to revitalise schools than send in the demolition men. But the "naming and shaming" makes it harder for stigmatised schools to revive their fortunes. (Anyone who doubts that should read the letter from teacher Ruth Simpson on page 20). Of course, schools can be renamed after their humiliation - but do we like the Sellafield nuclear plant any better since it changed its name from Windscale?

The Government's rhetoric must be backed up with additional, targeted funding for the dysfunctional communities which surround many of these schools. Already, there is a surfeit of education initiatives. Introducing more and more begins to smack of desperation.

What we need now is a period of calm evaluation and reflection - followed by an even more determined effort to press ahead with the numerous Government policies that are bringing about genuine improvement. We know there are no quick fixes. And so does everyone else.

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