Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Ridings

Sad to see that The Ridings School in Calderdale is to close, you don’t regenerate a community by closing its school down. The Ridings came to national prominence in 1996 when teachers threatened to walk out on strike over poor behaviour, an Ofsted hit squad was sent in and it was labelled, ‘the worst school in Britain’.

The Ridings was battling to succeed against almost impossible odds-

· The locality where it draws its pupils from is one of poorest in England
· It was competing against two grammar schools and a faith school
· The school was formed from an amalgamation of Ovenden Secondary School and Holmfield High School

The closure is further proof that the blunt club approach of Ofsted doesn’t work. 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. Of those schools placed in special measures between 1995 and 1997, 40% subsequently closed.

The Ridings was temporarily rescued when Peter Clark was parachuted in as head teacher, he subsequently wrote ‘Back From The Brink – Transforming the Ridings School’. When he arrived he found that 75% of pupils had below average reading ages and 40% of the Year 7 to 9 pupils had reading ages more than three years behind their chronological age. He swiftly solved the discipline problem because Calderdale Council seconded almost every Education Welfare Officer (EWO) to patrol the corridors.

After further ‘super-heads’ were appointed results improved, the 2003 GCSE results showed that the proportion of students gaining at least five good GCSEs or the equivalent had risen from 7% to 25%. But despite the attempts to ‘turn the school around’, the last published results, from summer 2006, showed that only 4% of pupils achieved the benchmark of five good GCSEs including English and maths. The local authority's figures for 2007 indicate that the number will have risen to 13%.

The problems remained, in particular the school found it difficult to attract teachers and after being branded ‘the worst school in Britain’ it is only half full. The closure of the school is a sad comment on our fractured society, who would have thought decades after selective education ended that through the remaining grammar schools, faith schools and academies we have an even more pernicious selection system?

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