White Paper: 'Divisive' changes disappoint teachers

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The Independent Online

The head of a Stafford comprehensive whose school was labelled "bog-standard" by the Government condemned the education reforms announced yesterday as "divisive" and "disappointing".

Sue Kirkham, of Walton High School, accused ministers of failing to understand the extent of the staffing crisis and funding problems in schools.

The school is a traditional comprehensive with no specialism or beacon status. It is not a church school and, because it is not in a city, does not qualify for extra funding under the Excellence in Cities programme. In fact, it is just the sort of school that the Prime Minister's official spokesman said that the White Paper would get rid of when he announced the "end of the bog-standard comprehensive" earlier this year.

"I am very disappointed. When I listen to the Secretary of State [Estelle Morris] I really feel we are not operating on the same planet or even the same universe," she said.

"You cannot begin the improvement agenda if you are not fully staffed," Mrs Kirkham said. "I am lucky in that we are a successful school in a low-cost housing area. But even we have one vacancy that is proving impossible to fill. I do not have the feeling that ministers fully understand the crisis facing us.

She added: "There is a real desire for school improvement among school leaders but we are frustrated that the things that are stopping us are not being tackled – teacher shortages and lack of funding."

Despite boasting two excellent Ofsted reports and GCSE results that are higher than the national average, Walton High is now planning to apply to become a specialist college – arguing that is the only way to get the funding it needs.

"We have many reservations about applying for specialist status. I am concerned that the specialist tag gives schools the opportunity to select pupils," Mrs Kirkham said.

"In an area with specialist schools, beacon schools and City Academies, a school with none of these labels will inevitably be seen as second-best by parents, which will only add to its difficulties.

"Every school already has its own distinctive ethos – we do not need divisive labels to achieve that."