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pound;64m to shore up at-risk schools

New funding will help the weak pay bonuses to staff in shortage subjects, report Sarah Cassidy and Karen Thornton

Schools which could face closure unless their exam results improve are to share a pound;64 million package allowing them to pay staff bonuses in shortage subjects, schools minister Estelle Morris will announce today.

As revealed in The TES last week, all schools where fewer than 25 per cent of pupils get five A* to C grade GCSEs will receive up to pound;140,000 over the next two years.

The programme, due to be announced today at the North of England Conference in Bridlington, will enable these schools to pay bonuses to recruit staff in shortage subjects and employ learning mentors to tackle discipline problems.

In return, the 500 eligible schools will face more frequent inspections and must follow a raising achievement plan, to be agreed with the Department for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit.

Each of the 500 will be twinned with a successful school. Ministers are also considering seconding deputy heads from successful schools to work in weaker ones.

Ministers believe the extra money is needed if schools are to meet their challenging new targets for secondaries. All must have one in five of their pupils getting five good GCSEs by 2004, rising to 25 per cent by 2006. Schools which fail to achieve 15 per cent in the three consecutive years leading up to 2003 could face closure.

A government spokesman said: "Schools most likely to have difficulty in recruiting nd retaining staff tend to be the poorest-performing schools. This new money will enable these schools to pay bonuses to recruit staff in shortage subjects and have the flexibility to spend the money according to their individual needs."

Most of the measures announced today were presented to heads at a pre-Christmas conference (see TES, Dec 29). One delegate said heads had been told not to spend the additional money on staff bonuses and incentives because of its short-term nature.

But ministers appear to have repackaged proposals for "challenging" schools in response to the concerns raised by headteachers about recruitment problems.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The promise of additional funding is welcome. But it has to be on a longer-term basis and built into budgets so schools can plan and recruit a high quality team over the longer term."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"Apart from the additional money, which is welcome, it seems to be a continuation of the existing pressures on these schools, with increased inspections and use of inappropriate measures of their success."

Schools in education action zones and Excellence in Cities areas will get pound;20,000 a year for at least two years. Schools outside these areas will receive pound;70,000 to enable them to introduce some of the ideas from these initiatives. The money will go into school budgets this September, via local education authorities.

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