Parents see inner cities as disaster
Professor Michael Barber, the former education chairman of inner-city Hackney, who sent his own youngest daughter to an private school, told MPs that changing parental perceptions of education in urban areas was one of the biggest challenges facing the Government.
He said that in many cases this image was not accurate - but conceded that bringing about real change in deprived areas would amount to a "social revolution".
Addressing the first session of a House of Commons select committee inquiry into underachievement in deprived areas, Professor Barber talked about the problems of a "perception gap".
He said: "What we have to do is not only to promote the excellent work that very many teachers are doing, but also to identify challenges and tackle them."
Professor Barber said that parents were particularly reluctant to send their children to urban secondaries. Whereas 95 per cent of inner-city parents sent their children to local primary schools, the figure for secondary schools was only 91 per cent.
He talked of the need to raise standards in deprived areas, and to reduce and, if possible remove, the "long tail of underperformance existing in manyschools".
Early indications were that the Government was making inroads by launching the Sure Start initiative, the national literacy and numeracy hours, education action zones, Excellence in Cities and the Green Paper on teaching.
There was evidence, he said, that national literacy and numeracy projects improved pupils' progress, that fewer children were being excluded, and of falls in both the time taken to turn around failing schools, and the numbers of schools on special measures.
The Government had also targeted for improvement 204 secondary schools in which less than 15 per cent of pupils were getting five or more top grades at GCSE.
Professor Barber added that Sheffield's education action zone had reduced its exclusion rate by 75 per cent since its inception in January - one of the first indicators that the zones were proving successful.
The committee is also launching an inquiry into the role of private companies in state education services.
Next Wednesday, Stanley Goodchild, managing consultant of the 3E's Enterprises, which is behind the first private takeover of a failing school, Neil McIntosh, chief executive of CfBT Education Services and Kevin McNeany, chief executive of Nord Anglia Education, will give evidence.