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Single-minded teachers help to beat the odds

Inspectors insist that poverty is an excuse. Call for extra funding for schools in deprived areas undermines Education Secretary's hardline ultimatum.

INSPECTORS have acknowledged the scale of the challenge facing teachers working in the poorest parts of Britain.

The latest draft report from the Office for Standards in Education, Improving City Schools, spells out the conditions that make it difficult for them to help pupilsget decent exam results.

These schools take children from families on low incomes, living in poor housing and with little experience of education beyond compulsory schooling.

In some cases families are exceptionally troubled. Communities are marked by poor health, dislocation and disaffection and by high levels of alcohol and drug abuse. Trouble can wait, literally at the school gates. And sometimes it comes through them: one school had 274 burglaries or break-ins in one year.

In studying the schools that succeed in such conditions, inspectors visited 20 primaries and 20 secondaries. No magic formula emerges. The schools had strong management, teachers, and systems for monitoring progress.

"What is distinctive is the

single-mindedness of their approach: the clarity, intensity and persistence of the schools' work and the rigour with which it is scrutinised," they say.

Te schools had a very high proportion of teaching that was at least satisfactory. Considerable stamina is required, say inspectors, to deal with classes where pupils have poor powers of concentration and where some pupils are disruptive.

"The attention to improving teaching on the part of the headteacher and senior managers, combined with commitment and teamwork of the staff, were consistently identified as key factors."

A significant feature in almost all the schools was the skilful use of support teachers or support assistants to create flexible groupings and to target groups of pupils for intensive support.

The schools tended to have more effective procedures for dealing with poor behaviour and attendance. In many, pupils have been involved in devising and reviewing codes of conduct, sometimes through school councils.

Careful records of individuals and classes are kept and steps taken to separate disruptive individuals. Permanent exclusion is used for only the most serious misdemeanors. The more effective schools excluded more pupils than the national average, but fewer than other similar schools in similar settings.

The draft of Improving City Schools was produced for this week's OFSTED conference for heads on the subject. A final version will be published in the light of views expressed.

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