The Government is to inject £28 million into West Midlands schools in a bid to rescue pupils from under-performance and create an educational "renaissance".
The three-year programme aims to reverse the Black County’s decline from one-time industrial powerhouse by boosting standards and performance in its schools.
It aims to improve leadership, create booster classes and one-to-one tuition for struggling pupils, and team up successful schools with low-attaining ones.
The Black Country Challenge is based on a similar intervention programme in London which is credited with turning round performance at inner city schools in the capital. Schools Minister Jim Knight will visit the region tomorrow to launch the drive being led by former Black Country head teacher Sir Geoff Hampton – one of the first teachers to be knighted by New Labour after it came to power in 1997.
It will focus on schools in Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, and Sir Geoff said it was "critical" for the region's future.
"What is needed is nothing less than a renaissance," said Sir Geoff, who is now pro vice-chancellor at the University of Wolverhampton.
"We have to use this as a catalyst and a key component of a much bigger regeneration to make people both cherish the region we are in and celebrate a direction of travel that is taking it forward rather than backwards.
"We already have some outstanding school leaders across the system.
"Part of it is to cascade that across all schools. We are linking with the National College for School Leadership, we are looking at succession planning, we are trying to value the leaders we have in terms of enhancing their skills by exposing them to further best practice not just within the region but beyond."
As well as leadership, recruitment and retention of teachers will be another priority along with intervention work to identify and help struggling pupils, improving teaching and learning and a focus on boosting numeracy and literacy skills.
The London Challenge was a five-year £40 million scheme providing extra help to schools in five inner city boroughs in the form of learning mentors, special advisors, revision clubs and other measures.
Average GCSE results in the five key boroughs have improved by 10 per cent since 2003, compared with six per cent nationally.
The key priorities of the Black Country Challenge will be to:
? reduce the number of under-performing schools;
? increase the number of outstanding schools;
? reduce the gap in educational outcomes for disadvantaged children.
Mr Knight said: "Over the three years we are going to invest £28 million to reduce the number of under-performing schools.
"There are some really good things going on in Black Country schools. This is not about wanting to label them as failing but they are performing below the national average as a whole.
"We want to work to rebuild performance."
He said the London programme had resulted in impressive improvements and turned a culture of poor educational attainment into one of "particularly good attainment".
"We want to increase the number of outstanding schools and narrow the performance gap. Before London Challenge London schools were performing below the national average. They are now performing above the national average," said Mr Knight.
"We will give tailor-made support for the individual schools. It is not just about taking everything that worked in London and assuming it will work in the Black Country.
"It is about raising the ambition and aspiration of pupils, parents, teachers and employers, the whole set of people involved in education, and raising standards across the area."