I am delighted to be with you this morning to announce further progress in our Excellence in Cities programme. It is a particular pleasure to congratulate La Sainte Union on becoming one of the beacon schools designated today. This is a tribute to the achievements of staff and pupils, and the strong parental support behind the school. You have demonstrated how excellence can be achieved in the inner-city. We need far more schools like yours.
The aim of Excellence in Cities is simple. It is to bring real urgency and purpose to the task of transforming standards and aspirations in the inner-cities.
Yes, inner-city schools face tougher challenges than many elsewhere. And yes, we have a duty to provide proper support for teachers in meeting these challenges. Excellence in Cities does precisely this, with a ??350m package of special support over three years, building on the practice of successful schools like this one.
But we are uncompromising in our belief that parents in the inner-city have a right to the same high quality education for their children as those elsewhere. Working together - government, schools and local communities - we need to generate a rapid step-change in standards and aspirations in our major cities.
Excellence in Cities is a strategy for modernising our comprehensives. Our ambition is to liberate the potential of young people through the expansion of beacon schools, specialist schools, help for gifted children as well as for those who are struggling. It will deliver excellence for the many, not the few.
Today David Blunkett and I are announcing new programmes to take place through Excellence in Cities.
We want all secondary schools to give the best possible education to all their pupils, including the most able.
Every inner-city secondary school will have a new focus on stretching their most able pupils. We need to ensure that they have the highest aspirations, both to achieve at GCSE and A-level, and then to go on to university.
For families and schools without a university tradition, this requires significant encouragement, to demonstrate to young people that university is for them and that further study is the natural thing to do after sixth form or college. In the past we have provided to little help of this kind.
Some inner-city schools have good university links. But many do not and need support. Too many talented youngsters in inner cities have been written off as failures because of where they come from or what school they go to. They have never been given the opportunity to excel.
We are therefore launching a university summer school programme as a key part of Excellence in Cities. Starting next summer, 5,000 16 and 17 year-olds will benefit from this ??4m initiative to raise students' aspirations by giving them direct experience of higher education.
We are delighted at the enthusiastic response of universities. Universities hosting summer schools next year will include Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, Birmingham, Sheffield, York, Nottingham, Southampton and Bristol.
Summer schools can be valuable for younger pupils too. This year saw a pilot of 34 summer schools for gifted and talented pupils aged 10-14; next year there will be well over 500 summer schools nationwide.
We are also expanding the beacon school programme and targeting it on the inner cities. The aim is to develop a substantial network of beacon schools, giving all inner-city schools the opportunity to learn from the experience of successful schools and teachers.
David Blunkett is today designating 50 new beacon schools, focused on inner-city areas, bringing the national total to 250. Our target is to establish a national network of 1,000 beacon schools by 2002. We will also be announcing more specialist schools later this week.
Equally important to Excellence in Cities are measures to help headteachers and teachers tackle the problems they too often face with truancy, disruption and disaffection. We will help teachers struggling to deal with classroom disruption by using welfare officers and on-site pupil referral units, giving teachers the freedom to teach.
The Excellence in Cities programme will provide:
* 800 learning mentors, 160 of them already appointed - school-based welfare officers removing barriers to pupils' learning, helping to reduce truancy and exclusion and allowing teachers to concentrate on teaching;
* More than 250 learning support units, providing intensive teaching and support programmes for pupils who are disrupting mainstream classes.
There will also be up to 50 small Education Action Zones by September 2000, each focused on a single secondary schools and their main 'feeder' primaries. This is in addition to the City Learning Centres previously announced - 32 of them operating from September 2000 - providing state of the art IT-based learning opportunities for pupils, teachers and the wider community.
This is a radical and coherent package. It is not a substitute for initiatives by schools themselves, or for other parts of the standards agenda. On the contrary, by giving headteachers and teachers better tools for the job, we expect schools to be able to raise standards and opportunities across the board.
I am glad that Excellence in Cities has been widely welcomed. It is a prime example of government setting ambitious targets - as we must, because parents rightly demand it - but working closely with partners in schools and local communities to ensure success on the ground.
But let me be clear. The real test of Excellence in Cities is the difference it makes to standards school by school. We have the strategy and funding in place. Significant progress has been made in turning this into specific and worthwhile policies. The challenge now is to deliver on the ground.
As a government, working in partnership with teachers and parents, we have gone a long way towards transforming primary school expectations. But no less important is the task of transforming the culture and standards of education in our major cities. Excellence in Cities is a major step towards doing so.