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Pounds 100m to be spent on standards

Government links cash to inspections in effort to turn around failing schools. Clare Dean reports. The Government is planning to spend more than Pounds 100 million on schemes designed to raise educational standards and rescue failing schools.

The initiative, expected to be announced by the Education Secretary Gillian Shephard next week, follows growing concern about low standards which has put pressure on the Government to act.

Last week a leading academic who has been advising the Labour party on a strategy for raising standards, claimed that up to 3,000 schools - one in eight - are struggling to provide an adequate education. The school inspection service, OFSTED, has so far identified 50 schools which are "failing".

Mrs Shephard is seeking to reinforce the link between inspections and school improvement by switching cash from other educational programmes to schools which provide a satisfactory action plan to raise standards.

Proposals drawn up by civil servants, and obtained by The TES, reveal that Mrs Shephard is proposing to put at least Pounds 30 million next year straight into schools. The money will be tied to the inspection cycle and will be available only to newly-inspected schools.

"This will provide schools with additional resources, in the crucial period following inspection, to take the initiative in addressing the key issues for action identified by the inspector, especially standards of teaching and learning," says the draft circular. "The grant is intended to encourage independent self-improvement."

Local authorities will also be given a major role in making schools in their area more effective and are likely to be given at least Pounds 25 million to target at schools with serious weaknesses.

At least Pounds 45 million will also be shared between schools for the purpose of raising standards. It will be distributed on a per pupil basis.

The money, 40 per cent of which will come from LEA budgets, will be channelled through the Grants for Education Support and Training programme - the Government's key method of targeting cash on what it regards as priorities.

The money will be redirected from projects such as training and support for local management schemes, mentoring for heads, governor training and appraisal.

The draft circular makes no mention of opted-out schools, which have their own special grant for development which is allocated on the basis of Pounds 42.50 per pupil.

The initiative was expected to have been announced this week but is now likely to be launched late next week.

Last week in the annual TESGreenwich lecture Michael Barber, an influential adviser to David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, claimed that up to 3,000 schools were failing or struggling to provide an adequate education. So far OFSTED has verified that 50 schools are failing - 19 secondaries, two middle, 26 primary and three for children with special needs. It would be asked to evaluate the use of the grant.

The initiative has the tentative backing of chief education officers who have met Mrs Shephard and senior civil servants, but there are worries about tying it into the inspection cycle. Chief officers believe that raising standards is a continuing business, with the inspection just a snapshot.

Local authority leaders who met Robin Squire, the junior education minister, this week were concerned about cash for training being given to schools which have problems.

"Why should the money for training go to schools that have bad management, " said Graham Lane, chair of the education committee of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.

There is also unhappiness about money being taken away from existing training programmes and that the cash will be available only for one-year projects.

* Primary heads from the South-west have told the Chief Inspector, Chris Woodhead, that they have had to put appraisal on hold because they cannot afford to pay supply teachers for staff cover.

Start-up funding from the Department for Education under the GEST budget ended in September, although appraisal is still statutory. Schools are now expected to find the money from their own budgets.

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