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Solutions for the strong and weak

THE Government's pound;350 million inner-city strategy is more than an attempt to reassure the middle classes by offering masterclasses for the brightest pupils.

Special provision is to be made for 5 to 10 per cent of high achievers, but there is also to be a mentoring scheme for those with a history of truancy and exclusion.

The schemes announced by the Prime Minister - no stranger to the hard choices faced by inner-city parents - were drafted by advisers in the Department for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit working with Number 10.

They found that only about a third of inner-city pupils manage five or more higher-grade GCSEs, compared with a national figure of just under 50 per cent.

In some of the targeted schools, a quarter of pupils get no qualifications - a much higher proportion than elsewhere. Urban areas also have far more schools which are failing or have serious weaknesses.

The unit's solutions range from the detailed - a six-monthly check of data from the 200 schools with the lowest exam results - to the promise of world-class tests.

The task of selling the project to teachers has probably been made easier by the appointment of Professor Tim Brighouse, director of education in Birmingham, as special adviser to David Blunkett and Estelle Morris, the standards minister, and since Monday, minister for inner-city education.

"We are only at base camp," said Professor Brighouse. "It is tremendously important to harness the energy of the community in the inner city. There is a delicate balance between providing broad guidelines and allowing people to shape their destiny.

"The issue for me is whether we have got the whole-hearted commitment of the staff in schools."

Sally Power, senior lecturer in policy studies at the Institute of Education, said strategies designed to attract teachers to inner cities are likely to have an impact. But she warned that other aspects, such as encouraging high achievers to attend classes in specialist schools, could be counter-productive.

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