Fresh Start school will be closed for good

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The Independent Online

The first "Fresh Start" school is facing closure two years after it opened, plunging the Government's controversial policy into further disarray.

Newcastle City Council announced yesterday that Firfield Community School will close if parents who send their children there agree. It has a budget crisis and empty places.

The school was renamed and given a new head and new management under the Government's Fresh Start scheme for turning round failing schools. But last term its head, Carole McAlpine, resigned to take up a new job in a Norfolk education action zone. She was among three of the 10 superheads of Fresh Start schools to resign last term. Ms McAlpine tried to operate a policy of "no exclusions" but had to expel two pupils after teachers threatened industrial action.

Only 50 new pupils have put the school as their first choice for this autumn, though there is room for 100. Firfield, which featured in a Channel 4 documentary series, has places for 700 pupils but there are only 433 on roll. It also has a budget deficit of about £200,000 because of falling pupil numbers. The school's exam results have remained poor. The proportion of pupils awarded five good grades at GCSE fell from 10 per cent in 1996 to 9 per cent last year. And a former teacher told The Independent in March that pupils' behaviour deteriorated after the school reopened.

Parents received a letter from the council yesterday, describing its plans to close both Firfield and West Denton, in the west end of the city. They would be replaced by one new school either in an existing building or on a new site. Council officials are to meet officials from the Department for Education and Employment to discuss the schools' future later this week.

Phil Turner, director of education and libraries, said: "It is no secret that both schools are facing problems and we are determined to fulfil our duty to parents by providing a solution which offers the best possible education for their children."

A Department for Education spokesman pointed out that decisions about school closures were taken locally. The spokesman said: "There are 10 Fresh Start schools. Most of them have been around for less than a year. The oldest three opened in September 1998, of which Firfield was one.

"It is a challenging job to try to turn around a school which needed a fresh start but the department has been keen to provide as much help as it could to these schools with the aim of raising the standards of education in inner-city areas."

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