Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Ridings

Teachers at the Ridings in Halifax have voted to take action over problems with school discipine and the head’s failure to deal with disruptive pupils, this will almost certainly propel the school into special measures.

In 1996 the school, fell into ‘near-anarchy’ with the media camped outside the school amid allegations of pupils running amok, smoking in class, and fighting in front of inspectors. Teachers threatened to go on strike and Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, sent in a “hit squad” to rescue the school.

The Ridings’ fate was seen as a critical test of the incoming Labour government’s ability to rescue failed schools. The government put in place a rescue plan led by two “super-heads”, which eventually cost some £6m. In 2001, Tony Blair visited it during the general election campaign and praised its achievements as “truly uplifting”. He cited it as an example of how failed schools could be turned around.

But since then, results and discipline have collapsed. The state of the comprehensive, which has 740 pupils, was highlighted last month by league tables which ranked it fourth worst in the country on its GCSE results and third worst for truancy.

Of course Ofsted claim that by giving some schools a good beating it helps to straighten them out – a similar argument is advanced for corporal punishment. However, the House of Commons Education Select Committee noted that failure could send schools into a spiral of decline. Some 43 schools judged to be in serious weakness in 2001/2 had declined further and were placed in special measures the following year. They noted that some schools were, “unable to attract high-achieving pupils or well-qualified staff, making improvement more difficult.” Of those schools placed in special measures between 1995 and 1997, 40% subsequently closed.

In 1997 Peter Clark was parachuted in as temporary Head to try and ‘turn round’ the Ridings, as now they were competing against two faith schools and a grammar school. The intake of children was unbalanced, 75% had below-average reading levels and 40% of Years 7 to 9 had reading ages three years below their chronological age.

This year's league tables show that seven out of the 10 worst performing schools on the new index - which records GCSE maths and English passes - are in authorities with selective schooling. Less than 10 per cent of their pupils achieve five top-grade A*-C passes including maths and English. The figures are all the more stark when set against the fact that only 15 councils in England still have fully selective education systems. The authorities with the largest number of schools in the bottom 100 in the country are Kent and Lincolnshire - both of which have a fully selective education system. Kent and the Medway Towns - which were part of the Kent authority until the 1990s - have 10 schools in the worst 100.

There were some ‘wonderful’ grammar schools but many awful secondary modern schools - in the 1950s 1 in 8 of children from grammar schools went to university but only 1 in 22,000 from secondary moderns.

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