Analysis: Why there will be more sink schools

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The Independent Online
There will be more Ridings Schools. The Halifax comprehensive, closed after assaults on two teachers, is a warning for the future. Politicians' devotion to parental choice, first espoused by the Government and taken up by Labour, has polarised schools. Middle-class schools are becoming more middle-class. Schools like the Ridings are having to cope with growing numbers of difficult children.

All the research shows that choice helps to create sink schools. A study from Edinburgh University shows that in Scotland where parental choice was introduced earlier than in England the result was to concentrate the most deprived pupils in particular schools.

Comprehensives in Britain, far from ending social class divisions, have increased them. Middle-class parents who choose to remain within the state system simply pick schools with plenty of other middle-class children. Recent research from Caroline Benn and from Clyde Chitty of Birmingham University shows that comprehensive schools are less comprehensive in their intake than 20 years ago.

That is not simply the result of a new emphasis on parental choice. Government policies encouraging schools to compete for pupils, to pit themselves against each other in examination league tables and to select more of their pupils all increase the difference between haves and have-nots. The Ridings School has to compete for pupils with two grant maintained grammar schools

Yet there is more to the collapse of the Ridings than politics. There are inner-city schools with dozens of difficult pupils which do not have to be closed. There are also - as the union demanding the expulsion of at least 20 pupils might note - similar schools which expel only one or two pupils a term and where more than 7 per cent of pupils get five or more top GCSE grades. The notion that pupils at the Ridings are uniquely awful won't wash.

Nor is it likely that the change of head will, by itself, solve the problem. Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, refused to comment on the Ridings earlier this week. But he did say that in other schools boring and ineffective teaching was often responsible for indiscipline.

As for Calderdale Council, the local authority, it has twiddled its thumbs for far too long. Local authorities cannot hide behind the excuse that the Government has stripped them of power to intervene.

Part of the trouble is undoubtedly financial. There are not enough special schools or pupil referral units to take pupils who are unmanageable.

Part lies in the determination of teachers, undervalued, even reviled by a succession of politicians and the public, to assert their rights by refusing to teach the most unruly pupils. They have had enough and their anger is understandable.

The danger is that they and no one else will become the sole arbiters of which children can be taught in schools.