Tales of the city

24th March 2000 at 00:00
What makes schools succeed against the odds?

Tackling social exclusion is high on the Government's agenda, and the Office for Standards in Education's report, detailing how schools in deprived areas have succeeded against the odds, could help point the way.

"Their achievement in circumstances where improvement is harder won than elsewhere calls for particular acknowledgement," says the soon-to-be-published report, Improving City Schools, but the number of successful schools needs to grow. The report is based on data from nearly 1,000 schools (including 800 primaries) and in-depth visits to 40.

Like all good schools they have strong management, a well-focused curriculum, good teaching, close monitoring and effective support for teachers, along with clear communication with parents.

"What is distinctive is the single-mindedness of the approach: the clarity, intensity and persistence of the schools' work and the rigour with which it is scrutinised."

These schools are led super-heads, who are able to motivate, focus, inspire and raise funds from anywhere and everywhere. "The income of the schools in the survey shows a wide range. It is only loosely related to need and there is too much reliance on bidding for short-term grants. Some of the schools do not have enough money to do the job."

OFSTED asserts that schools in disadvantaged areas need greater consistency in funding. The Inspectorate now intends to analyse the costs of meeting educational disadvantage and to produce an index on which to base dditional funding to individual schools.

he damning 1993 Ofsted study, Access and Achievement in Urban Education, complained that many schools focused on the care of pupils at the expense of learning. In the new report HMI say successful schools strike the right balance. "It is not a matter of working on behaviour and personal development before, or instead of, getting down to improving attainment. Basic to the schools' thinking is that pupils will respond positively to high expectations about work."

One eight-year-old told the inspectors he liked his school because of "hard work, loads of it".

In the most effective schools, high priority is given to basic skills, "but with no compromise to the provision of the full national curriculum" - many emphasise the arts. There is detailed planning, teamwork and good use of support staff.

Since teachers in these schools "often meet needs which teachers elsewhere do not encounter" teaching has to be well-planned, systematic and incremental.

The report says, "The schools visited know the effects of disadvantage but they are aware of the dangers of making too much of the effects."

Improving behaviour is linked with improving commitment to learning. "The challenging behaviour of some pupils is not easily managed, but good discipline is promoted through clear policies understood by all, through the reinforcement of responsible behaviour and through the development of pupils' belief in themselves, respect for one another and loyalty to the school."

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