'STARK inequality' between deprived Oxford pupils and their peers is being fed by a 'crisis' in schools, it has been claimed.

City councillor Marie Tidball sent strongly-worded letters to education leaders yesterday, calling for action after The Oxford Academy and neighbouring St Gregory the Great Catholic School were rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted.

She said problems at the schools are a 'microcosm' of the city's 'endemic' divide, between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged residents.

The disabled Oxford University academic has written to the regional schools commissioner (RSC), who oversees academy schools, as well as Oxfordshire County Council's director of children's services.

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Dr Tidball wrote: "Although Oxford has world-class universities, the attainment gap for those receiving free school meals, for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and those receiving SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) support across the pre-higher education stages are unacceptable in a city like ours.

"The stark inequality shown in these areas should be a cause for great alarm.

"It seems clear that there has been serious inaction in addressing the role of poverty in negatively affecting the education of children in Oxford."

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Marie Tidball. Picture: Ed Nix

She referred to the situation as an 'education crisis' and said 'urgent and decisive action' is needed.

The Wadham College research associate is the city council's member for supporting communities, and represents Labour in the Hinksey Park ward.

Although the county council has responsibility over education, not the city council, Dr Tidball does not feel enough is being done collectively to tackle the problem.

All-through school St Greg's in East Oxford was rated 'inadequate' in December, for the second time in a row.

Secondary school The Oxford Academy, in Littlemore, was downgraded from 'good' to 'inadequate' in January.

Both schools serve some of the most disadvantaged areas of Oxford and have a high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals, which means their families are in receipt of benefits.

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Ofsted said SEND support at the Littlemore school was 'weak' and 'disadvantaged pupils achieve far less than they should'.

The school's new interim academy board - a team drafted in to guide improvements - said changes to staffing, structures and discipline have already seen improvements.

In a joint statement yesterday, the board added: "The Ofsted report and the inadequate rating reflect the school as it was, but things have definitely moved on since then.

"People living in Oxford should be assured that the poor Ofsted report and the problems that led to it are part of the school’s history."

They said the school's team is 'working flat out to make sure the school's future is brighter'.

The statement continued: "It is right that local politicians and local people are concerned about the state of education in their city.

"We are as passionate as they are about Oxford’s young people getting the best start in life."

The sentiment was reflected by Paul Concannon, a director of the Dominic Barberi Multi Academy Company, which runs St Greg's.

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He said he did not disagree about the need to tackle the attainment gap in Oxford, and that the school was seeking additional funding to bolster support for pupils in need.

Mr Concannon said a child's background can affect their behaviour, but that with enough intervention and support, schools can make a difference.

He said funding is key and that St Greg's is 'determined' to make improvements.

A council report last month revealed that, in Oxfordshire, disadvantaged pupils have fallen 21.5 months behind non-disadvantaged pupils by the time they sit GCSEs.

Dr Tidball called for 'more wide-ranging action and leadership', adding in the letter: "With our increasingly centralised education system, accountability is remote.

"I fully recognise the local education authority [the county council] lacks both the authority and the financial means to make significant interventions in academy trust schools."

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She said the RSC, councils, universities, health services, private and voluntary sectors need to unite to 'take assertive action'.

The equality champion also called for more government funding to ensure schools have the resources needed.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail yesterday, Dr Tidball added: "We have got children and families who deserve better.

"It is absolutely possible to change the prospects of these schools, but they are going to need support and there needs to be financial backing from the government."

Oxfordshire County Council's education scrutiny committee has also shone a light on the attainment gap, releasing a report earlier this month on the topic.

It noted that Oxfordshire is in the worst quartile when local authorities' attainment gaps are listed, despite having one of the smallest percentages of disadvantage at secondary school level.

Last month Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds wrote to Nick Gibb, the minister of state for school standards, raising concerns about The Oxford Academy.

She said the 'enormous failure' of the Ofsted report had been enabled by the academy system.

Academies are typically run by multi-academy trusts rather than local authorities, and all but one of Oxfordshire's secondary schools are now outside of council control.