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Poor borough proves first among equals

TEENAGERS in one of the poorest areas in Britain are succeeding against the odds, say inspectors.

GCSE results in most secondary schools in Knowsley, near Liverpool, are better, on average than those of similar schools nationally, according to a new report from the Office for Standards in Education.

Life in the Merseyside borough is hard. To describe it as an authority with considerable deprivation understates the bleakness of the environment and the challenge facing schools, says OFSTED.

Last year 24 per cent of Knowsley pupils achieved five or more top GCSEs - half the national average.

However an OFSTED analysis comparing Knowsley's results with schools with similar socio-economic characteristics showed that they were better - or very much better - in eight of its 11 secondaries.

The remaining three schools were broadly in line with counterparts in similar areas.

However, 14 per cent of pupils got no GCSEs and inspectors criticised the council for not challenging its schools sufficiently.

The report, compiled jointly by OFSTED and the Audit Commission, said Knowsley feared it would rock the boat and harm its current excellent relationships with schools.

Peter Wylie, education director, said: "OFSTED has an agenda about naming and shaming. Knowsley tried that 10 years or so ago and two things happened - results got worse and morale plummeted. We are not going down that road again.

"Schools in Knowsley don't regard the authority's approach as unchallenging but it's supportive and challenging rather than critical and challenging and that is what makes the difference."

According to inspectors, Knowsley's strengths outweighed weaknesses but they said the council should ensure target-setting was rigorous and that schools were challenged when necessary.

Knowsley lies to the north of Liverpool and includes the town of Kirby. According to the inspectors, educational aspirations among the mainly white population are low.

The number of children living in households where no adult is employed is more than double the national average, as is the proportion in one-parent households.

Only 5.3 per cent of adults have higher education qualifications compared to 13.1 per cent nationally and more than twice as many households receive council tax benefits compared to the average for all councils.

The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is double the national average in primaries and three times at secondary, while the number with statements of special needs is way above the norm.

Children's performance on entry to school is generally below average but results and pupil numbers decline sharply after key stage 2 corresponding with a net loss of more than 14 per cent of pupils to schools out of the borough at age 11.

HOW KNOWSLEY WAS RATED

Good...

* corporate approach

* co-ordination of action between agencies

* consultation arrangements

* appointment of new heads

* management services

* help offered to struggling schools and governors

* support for early years, literacy in primary schools, and pupil behaviour

l success in gaining external funding Not so good...

* targeting of resources to need

* special needs provision that neither meets needs in full, nor adheres to the authority's policy of inclusion

* target-setting

* monitoring of schools by link advisers

* management of pupils' support services

* support for attendance in secondary schools

* support for development planning

* support for ICT

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