Take the money...;Leading Article;Opinion

26th March 1999 at 00:00
Now that the dust has settled, it is clear that the Government's new policy document Excellence in Cities is, in the main, A Good Thing. Most of the initiatives contained in it will bring much-needed support to struggling schools. What a pity, then, that the spin so carefully orchestrated by Number 10 for Sunday Times readers raised teachers' hackles, by over-emphasising middle-class flight from state comprehensives.

After all, the vast majority of middle-class children do go to comprehensive schools. Fewer than 8 per cent are in the private sector, and the 150 or so much-lauded grammar schools are a drop in the ocean of 4,000 state secondaries. Most of these schools are not in the inner city, and most of the children who are "let down" by their schooling are not middle-class.

Anyway, do we really know that bright, motivated middle-class pupils fare badly in urban comprehensives? Such skimpy evidence as there is suggests not; for example, the state-educated offspring of the professional and managerial classes are just as likely to get to university as their contemporaries in the private sector. Indeed, the middle-class parents who agonise most about secondary school choice are probably those who need to worry least. The unspoken truth is that much agonising has to do with the peer group their children will be mixing with, not exam results.

We know that the children who are seriously under-achieving in urban comprehensives are, overwhelmingly, working-class and from certain ethnic minorities. The Blairite slogan "we are all middle-class now" obscures the fact that, statistically, half of us are not.

In considering these latest proposals, Britain's long-suffering teachers need to avoid defensiveness. However galling it may be to suggest that your brightest pupils could gain from supplementary education, the truth is that many of them lead lives which are impoverished in every sense of the word. They desperately need life-changing experiences which are rarely available on their bleak estates and city streets.

The bottom line is that pound;350 million is on offer for mentoring, study support, summer schools, twinning, master classes, extra computers . . . to be used in 450 of the most deprived schools in the country.

If you teach in one of these, seize the day. This money can be spent creatively to improve the chances of all your pupils, whatever their ability.

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