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Labour implements its first closure

The Government yesterday approved the shutting down of the first school on the ailing list to be closed since the general election.

St Richard of Chichester Roman Catholic Secondary School, in Camden, north London, has been under special measures with little sign of improvement after failing its inspection three years ago and plans to shut it were due to be approved by Gillian Shephard, the former secretary of state, for education when the election was called.

The school will not close until the end of the summer term next year, but most of the 254 pupils will be sent to neighbouring schools in September. Those currently on GCSE courses will stay to take their exams in a year's time.

Camden local education authority cited unacceptable educational standards and rapidly falling rolls at the school when it sought government permission last January to close.

The Schools' Standards Minister, Stephen Byers, yesterday said the school had failed to make the necessary improvements in standards of pupil achievement to restore it to health, and had lost the support of the local Catholic community over the past five years.

Camden LEA and the school inspection agency Ofsted felt the closure would help to raise educational standards throughout Camden, Mr Byers said.

Government approval just a month after the election showed ministers were prepared to act "with the utmost rigour" to ensure that all children received a high-quality education. "We shall not maintain schools simply for the sake of it," he said.

"Persistent failure in our schools cannot be tolerated and there is clear evidence that St Richard of Chichester has let its pupils down. It has failed to raise standards through three years of drift. The closure of this school will allow a better education for all its pupils because they have only once chance of a decent education."

Camden's director of education, Bob Litchfield, welcomed the clearance for closure, saying the decision removed a "cloud of uncertainty hovering over the school." The authority would continue to provide parents with support, help and advice in finding places in other schools in Camden and surrounding boroughs, he said.

Camden invested substantial extra funds in St Richard of Chichester, spending pounds 500 per pupil more than any other secondary school in the borough.However, pupil numbers fell from 633 in January 1994 to 400 in September 1996, only to plummet further by this summer.