SCHOOL leaders in York are redoubling their efforts to stop poorer children falling behind their better-off peers.

The city's "attainment gap" has faced a set-back this year, with the levels children from deprived backgrounds could achieve in school falling further behind other pupils.

The city's schools overall perform very well, against both neighbouring areas in Yorkshire and places like Chester and Warrington which have similar demographics. Only around 300 children in York schools qualify for extra "pupil premium" funding, which helps schools who teach children from deprived families - just eight per cent of the school community and lower than the national average.

However, the gap between their attainment and their classmates' is bigger in York, and figures show that in 2015/16, the situation worsened by as much as six percentage points in the key early years stages, and by smaller but still significant levels in other groups.

City of York Council's assistant director for schools, Maxine Squire, said the attainment gap results this year had been "bumpy", but added: "We and the schools' community are not compromising on this. It's our one priority that we close this gap."

A change in the way school results are recorded and published mean it is hard to know exactly what the situation is, she added, but a move away from looking at A* to C grades could mean schools don't concentrate so hard on children stuck on the C-D borderline for grades, and instead try to help more children keep their grades up.

Lower down the school ages, new government standards mean more is demanded of children's abilities in English and Maths, and results show that some schools have not done as well under the new criteria.

To tackle that, Millthorpe headteacher Trevor Burton is leading a team of four - made up of primary heads from Dringhouses, Burton Green and Haxby Road - to come up with the city's own "Pupil Premium" plan. They want to find out what projects have worked at narrowing the attainment gap, and make it easier for good ideas to be shared.

By September 2017, they hope to have plan ready, and want to get headteachers working in pairs to bring in improvements at both their schools.

Projects that have helped so far range from the "Spirals of Enquiry" initiative to help children tell teachers what their career ambitions are so they can work towards them, to recruiting lunchtime supervisors to listen to children read.

Ms Squire added: "The greatest thing schools have done to close the gap this year is ensuring they are doing the basics well. Making sure they are embedding the key things before moving children forward."

Meanwhile, the slow pace of house-building in York is causing problems in school place planning, it has emerged.

The city council's placement predictions rely on knowing where big housing developments will be, assistant director for schools Maxine Squire said, but with continuing delays on the Local Plan and on large developments staff cannot say where and when new schools will be needed.

Ms Squire added: "Some developments are taking longer than expected, for example British Sugar. We know it will need a new primary school but we are still not sure when the first spades are going in the ground."

In other areas, new homes have been built but have not produced the school demand expected.

The council had planned for at least 30 new reception places to be needed in the Southbank in part because of the Terry's development - soon adding up to a whole new school - but because homes there are more expensive than anticipated they are not attracting as many families with young children, she added.

An initial plan for a split-site extension of Scarcroft Primary schools has already been scrapped in the face of local opposition, and now the council looks likely to stick with a smaller "remodelling" plan that will create 15 new places in Scarcroft's existing building.