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Ofsted finds little action in city zones

Partnerships between schools and firms to raise urban attainment failed to cut truancy or raise test scores, say inspectors. Michael Shaw reports.

EDUCATION action zones have failed to lower truancy or raise most test results, according to inspectors.

As previewed in last week's TES, the Office for Standards in Education reported that the impact of the zones and the Excellence in Cities programme on pupil attainment had been "variable".

But there were some benefits from the programmes, aimed at raising inner-city achievement and which have cost a combined pound;718 million so far. Inspectors reported they had helped teachers to meet the needs of disaffected young people.

However, they found that attendance had worsened or remained static in most of the action zones, which are government-backed partnerships between schools, businesses and communities.

The inspectors examined 25 out of the 73 zones in the country and concluded the scheme, which has now been scrapped, had been unfocused and over-ambitious.

Although the standards in key stage 1 rose in most of the schools, only two zones saw improvements in the KS2 tests and the achievements of pupils in KS3 gave "continuing cause for concern". The proportion of pupils gaining five Cs or better at GCSE rose in just one zone, went down in two and remained the same in the others.

Inspectors were more positive about Excellence in Cities which helps around 1,104 schools.

Although the improvement in students' average GCSE point score had been below average, the rise in the proportion getting five Cs or better had been in line with the rest of the country for four years running and exceeded the national improvement rate between 2001 and 2002. Results in KS3 English and maths tests have improved faster in Excellence in Cities areas than the rest of the country in each of the past four years.

But the inspectors concluded that EiC programmes still needed to concentrate more funds on improving test performance and stressed that the scheme was not the sole reason for improvements.

Improvement was also patchy. "Trends in performance mask the rapid improvements in some schools and the disappointing progress made in others," the inspectors said.

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