Gap widens between rich and poor pupils

8th October 1999 at 01:00
While standards are rising elsewhere, three of the country's most deprived areas are falling further behind. But there are some signs of improvement. Geraldine Hackett reports

SCHOOLS IN three of the most deprived areas in the country have poor results and are not keeping pace with improvement elsewhere, according to inspection reports from the Office for Standards in Education.

In the Labour strongholds of Newcastle and Middlesbrough in the north and the London borough of Haringey, inspectors say standards are not rising as fast as the national average, particularly at GCSE.

Newcastle and Haringey are criticised for delegating less to schools than any other local education authority.

However, inspectors praise the chief education officers and say strategies are in place to raise standards.

Inspectors say Newcastle's CEO David Bell, who is leaving to become chief executive of Bedfordshire county council, inherited a legacy of poor management. While inspectors say the city's schools have yet to sort out boys' underachievement, the results at the lower end of primary are improving faster than the national rate.

The city has above-average unemployment and 90 per cent of pupils are eligible for free school meals in some schools.

Inspectors found school buildings were in need of repair and criticised the local authority for not removing surplus places.

Haringey's new director, Frances Magee, has been in the job for 18 months, but inspectors say decisions by councillors

have exacerbated a culture of mistrust between schools and the local authority.

According to the report, councillors this year took a last-minute decision not to fund the growth in pupil numbers and some schools were left with budgets lower than the previous

year.

Overall, the report says Haringey has had too little success.Haringey has high numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals; a high proportion of refugees and asylum-seekers. Almost half the population is from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Ministers have told Labour councillors to tackle the divisions in the local education authority.

Standards minister Estelle Morris has given the council 30 days to draft its action plan for dealing with the problems identified during the inspection.

In her letter to the council, Ms Morris says she is concerned the report is critical of the failure of councillors to communicate their commitment to education and at the cutlure of mistrust.

Middlesbrough has been a local authority only since April 1996 (it was previously part of Cleveland) but inspectors say it has made less progress than might have been expected in that time.

Part of the problem was the decision to re-structure all council services after less than two years as an education authority.

The report suggests councillors have not always adopted consistent policies or emphasised education sufficiently.

However, inspectors say the new corporate director of education and leisure, Dr Cheryle Berry, and the senior management team have made impressive progress.

The impact of the education authority has been limited, says the report, by the turbulence inflicted upon it during its short history. The council is now providing consistent support.

The area has undergone profound change, with the loss of much heavy industry, and unemployment remains high. Spending on education, particularly at primary level, is low.

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