Inspectors go in to `unruly' Ridings school

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Inspectors will begin work today at the troubled Ridings School in Halifax, where teachers are threatening to strike unless 60 disruptive pupils are disciplined or excluded.

The members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools have been ordered into the comprehensive by Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, after allegations that order in the school was breaking down.

Pupils at the school will arrive back from their half-term break after a week of intense media coverage of their alleged faults. Members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), who account for 35 of the 40 staff, could strike in two weeks' time if their demands are not met.

They say there have been three serious assaults on staff in recent weeks, and that pupils have been guilty of throwing stones and fireworks. A small but significant minority of the 11-16 population of the school have completely rejected its system of discipline, they claim.

Announcing that she was sending inspectors to check up on teaching standards and management as well as behaviour, Mrs Shephard said she had not been satisfied by the local authority's attempts to deal with the school's problems.

Calderdale council had had two years since the school was created from a merger to make it work, she said, and it had been apparent for several months that things were going wrong.

The school first made headlines earlier this year when staff threatened to strike over the case of 13-year-old Sarah Taylor, who was permanently excluded after a fight with her boyfriend in which a member of staff was pushed. The girl's mother won an appeal on her behalf but decided to withdraw her rather than risk a teacher walk-out.

The council and the school's governors have said they will work with the inspectors, but have added that they are disappointed at not being given more time.

They have been working out a package of measures which will provide more resources and support for the school, which is due to be finalised at a governors' meeting tomorrow night. However, they are planning to make a statement on the situation at the school today.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, has said the strike could go ahead despite the inspection. The ballot result is due tomorrow.

"These children should be referred to units and special schools. They would tolerate a far higher degree of indiscipline and disruption than teachers in a normal school," he said.