Leading article: The Ridings offers a lesson for all schools

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The Independent Culture
YESTERDAY THE Ridings school in Halifax was told it had improved enough to be taken from Ofsted's "failing schools" list. This is no mean feat. Only two years ago the "worst school in Britain" was notorious for its performance. As an amalgamation of schools, encircled by grant-maintained rivals which attracted the best local pupils, it received barely literate students and inadequate resources. Between them, staff, pupils, governors and the Calderdale education authority had produced a school where teachers found violence so prevalent that it was unsafe to work or learn. In 1996 it closed after teachers planned a strike to have some 60 pupils excluded.

So the turnaround, in just two years, is remarkable. Inspectors report better exam results: first-ever A-level successes and 80 per cent of students with some GCSE passes. Staff morale has soared, and more children are enrolling - they even throng to chess and rock-climbing classes. Anna White, the new headteacher, has rightly been praised. But could lessons from The Ridings be learnt elsewhere?

Increased spending helped to produce this success. But the head was also given licence to expel warring pupils and sack bad teachers. Just as important, the school environment changed. Teachers learned an attitude of "zero tolerance". Excluded children who sought readmission had to pledge to follow language, behaviour and uniform codes. Regular inspections, plus efforts to get parents to be responsible for children's behaviour, helped to motivate staff and students. Crucially, the local education authority was pushed into action. These measures should be repeated elsewhere, even without comparable increases in funding.

Nationally, though 2 per cent of schools are failing, inspectors hint at generally better standards. After 10 years of a national curriculum, with new regular inspections, tests and league tables, a structure exists to encourage better teaching. And schools are likely to get more funding. Teachers should be pleased.

But teachers themselves are the greatest concern. Well trained teachers are necessary - 18 new ones were introduced at The Ridings - but they must be led well. As this case shows, headteachers must be trained to motivate, reward and even punish teachers - a point the Government recognised this week. Further, teachers need to know how to build a good rapport with students, and students must learn a sense of responsibility from their parents. Then teachers can get on with the rewarding and important work of educating, educating, educating.

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