Failed school to be shut down

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The Independent Online

Hackney Downs, the first school to be forcibly removed from council control, cannot be turned round and should close, a Government-appointed team of experts said yesterday.

The final decision about the London comprehensive rests with Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, who said she was minded to accept the recommendation. It is the first time central government has intervened in the closure of an individual school under new powers which allow the Government to send "hit squads" into failing schools.

The report from the first education association which was sent into the school found very poor teaching, low literacy and numeracy, bad management and boys out of control.

It blamed poor management by the local authority and the school, and a culture of low expectation among teachers. Most classes "were subject to constant disruption by a few disruptive boys whose loud, often coarse and occasionally foul-mouthed comments ensured little or no education took place".

Teachers gave high marks to scrawled, inaccurate and obviously rushed work and boys in their GCSE year struggled with simple arithmetic such as 168 divided by 12.

Richard Painter, the association's chairman, said: "Many of the staff appear to believe the school is uniquely disadvantaged. This is clearly not the case. There are many other schools in similar circumstances in Hackney and in the inner city elsewhere which provide a better quality of education." The state of the buildings was so appalling, he said, that pounds 3m was needed to repair them.

But in many ways the school was generously financed. Because only 200 boys remain in a building for 1,000, pounds 6,486 was being spent on each pupil compared with a national average of pounds 2,400 for pupils in grant-maintained schools. The pupil-teacher ratio was 8-1, just half of the national average.

The report says the remaining pupils should be transferred to Homerton House, a boys' school a mile away. The 40 staff would be made redundant but would be able to apply for jobs at Homerton House.

The team could have decided to take over the school which would have become grant-maintained, if it believed that big improvements were possible.

But the report says the school's difficulties are so fundamental and long-standing that it is questionable whether any school could recover from them without complete re-organisation.

Professor Michael Barber, one of the six association members, said: "It has had a long history of decline and conflict, poor relationships within the staff, poor relationships between the staff and the local authority and extreme union influence."

Pupils' anger, page 3

Leading article, page 18