A new network of specialist units in deprived areas aims to guide disruptive pupils back into mainstream education. And ministers are expecting families to help them succeed. Clare Dean reports
PARENTS of the most disruptive pupils in inner-city schools are being enlisted in the drive to use education to help regenerate the country's most deprived areas.
They will be expected to play their part in motivating their disaffected children as part of the pound;350 million Excellence in Cities initiative.
Ministers believe it is vital that families get involved in promoting education if their youngsters are sent to new learning support units. Learning mentors, another part of the initiative, will also have to work with parents.
The Government intends to spend pound;22m setting up learning support units for disaffected and disruptive youngsters in 10 of the country's most deprived areas over the next three years.
The units, which will take pupils from several schools, will offer short-term individually-tailored teaching and support.
The aim is to minimise the disruption caused by these children without excluding them from school and to get them back into the mainstream as quickly as possible.
Pupils will also be schooled in the social skills and attitudes they need to behave acceptably and the units will insist on high standards of conduct.
Civil servants insist they are not pupil-referral units - the current destination for many difficult youngsters.
The move has been greeted sceptically by Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which has been involved in high-profile industrial action over the issue of difficult children.
"It's a worthy cause but a tall order because in 99 per cent of the cases, the parents are the root cause of the problem," he said.
The Government is also to spend pound;45m on the most able 5-10 per cent of children - particularly those from poor backgrounds.
By the autumn ministers want all schools in the target cities to have a co-ordinator for gifted and talented children as well as agreeing in detail on how to teach them.
And by next spring all targeted cities will be running out-of-hours sessions for the brightest pupils.
As a condition of getting a share of the pound;45m available over the next three years, there will have to be an audit of what is already on offer. This will take into account performance in key stage 3 tests, and qualifications taken at age 16 and 18, socio-economic background, gender and ethnic mix, and the value added to performance by schools. Civil servants say that work with gifted children depends crucially on spreading good practice between schools.
The beacon and specialist school initiatives are to be expanded and ministers intend to turn 50 of the worst-performing inner-city secondaries into their own action zones.
One school will be identified as a centre of excellence and may go on to acquire beacon or specialist school status, become one of the new city learning centres or form the basis of a new, small education action zone.
Each small action zone will receive pound;250,000 annually for up to five years to allow "a more intense focus in the most difficult circumstances". An extra pound;50,000 would also be available to each school if they raised the same sum themselves.
Thirty city learning centres will also be set up in schools providing state-of-the-art computing facilities for both on-site and distance learning by September 2000, followed by a further 50.
Mary Marsh, Opinion 15. FE Focus, 34
* EXCELLENCE IN CITIES
The pound;350 million initiative is the Government's vision for inner-city education.
What does it involve?
The programme has seven key components * specialist schools
* learning support units
* learning mentors
* gifted and talented children
* beacon schools
* education action zones
* inner-city learning centres
25 councils in 10 target inner-city areas - inner and north London, Manchester, Leeds, Salford, Liverpool, Knowsley, Birmingham, Bradford, Sheffield and Rotherham.
The London councils involved are Hammersmith and Fulham, Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth, Westminster, City of London, Newham, Haringey and Waltham Forest.
What happens now?
Ministers are working to a tight timescale on Excellence in Cities. Schools will appoint co-ordinators for gifted and talented children by June this year. This autumn sees the start of the programmes for gifted and talented children and learning mentors. The first 30 learning centres will be open by September 2000.