Budget ‘boost to failing schools’

Despite a projected tight round of public spending, the chancellor is expected to make extra money available to tackle failing schools.

The prime minister has already said no school should be failing by 2012, threatening schools that do not have 30 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs with closure.

The Guardian has learnt Alistair Darling will make funds available to help failing schools turnaround by extending the existing London Challenge programme.

The scheme, which the government claims has been found to raise standards faster, uses headteachers’ advice to improve schools, recruits heads with high skills to problem schools, gives deprived pupils access to opportunities and advises schools on how to handle a high turnover of staff and pupils.

Last year the government made £80 million available to expand the programme, as well as £50 million to launch Greater Manchester Challenge and £5 million for Black Country Challenge.

It is expected funds will be made available to expand the programme to other areas of the country.

But the Liberal Democrats dismissed the extra money as “tinkering”.

Schools spokesman David Laws said the government needed to radically reform the way it funded education, rather than targeting those schools “cherry picked” by ministers.

“Ministers are over a decade away from meeting their inadequate and ineffective target to raise the funding awarded to state schools to private school levels,” he said.

“The government could assist all schools in challenging areas right away by introducing a pupil premium that would attach extra funding to children from disadvantaged backgrounds and ensure they get the extra support they need.”