Headlines: October 3rd, 2003

Ofsted has praised three initiatives designed to sweep away the barriers which prevent achievement by pupils in disadvantaged areas. Inspectors say the schemes are producing promising work, but better monitoring and evaluation are needed.In three reports Ofsted inspectors say they found encouraging work in Excellence Clusters and City Learning Centres – two initiatives under the Excellence in Cities programme. They say, too, that progress is being made in addressing difficult issues in Education Action Zones but they also say the programmes are not yet consistently meeting the key objective of improving achievement.

The reports, “Excellence Clusters: the first ten inspections”, “Excellence in Cities: City Learning Centres” and “Education Action Zones: tackling difficult issues in round 2 zones”, come after a report earlier this year that found that overall the programmes were having many positive benefits, though their effect on attainment was uneven.

The report on Excellence Clusters found that most had made a positive start, though the rate of change brought about by their activities was often slow. Overall, inspectors found provision in schools in the clusters had opened a broader and richer range of opportunities to disadvantaged pupils. The clusters, the report says, are helping to raise attainment, but it was too early to see widespread or substantial improvements in examination results.

The Excellence in Cities document says management of centres was at least satisfactory and often good, but there were weaknesses in strategic planning in half the CLCs visited. On Education Action Zones, the report says inspectors found effective and sometimes highly effective work and that the zones had made significant investment in the appointment of specialist staff. But inspectors also found that most of the 48 second round zones were not focusing on difficult issues directly and deliberately enough, progress in raising attainment within zones was often uneven, and in secondary schools it was slow.