My sympathy goes out to the parents, says head

JOHN HUDSON, an Islington headmaster, has great sympathy for parents who feel forced to turn their backs on state education in the borough.

He has reversed the slide in standards at Holloway School, the north London comprehensive rejected by Claudia Corbyn, who separated from her husband, Jeremy Corbyn - the left-wing MP for Islington North - after choosing to send their son to a high-performing grammar school.

Inspectors are due to arrive at Holloway in July and are expected to confirm that the 700-strong boys' school will come off the failing list after three years of "special measures".

Mr Hudson's aim is to turn the school into one that will appeal to parents from across the whole community.

Nineteen per cent of boys left with five or more good GCSEs last year. But the results are improving quickly: in 1995, the figure was 10 per cent; a decade ago, it was 2 per cent.

Holloway School occupies a mixture of Victorian, 1950s and 1960s buildings in Lower Holloway, surrounded by affluent neighbourhoods. But 60 per cent of its pupils have some form of special needs and about one-third need help with languages.

Mr Hudson, who took over at the school in 1997, said: "I have great sympathy for parents. It's very important that children have the best possible opportunity and it's an important responsibility for parents.

"Before league tables started and people were not quite so aware of the differences there were more people locally coming to schools such as this. We can do it again; we can demonstrate that we are a good school."

Mr Hudson has praise for the local authority official assigned to advise the school as part of its special measures. Islington is also investing pounds 4m in a project to renovate the site.

"What we need to do is make sure we have a school here with teachers who are good enough to meet the challenge. There are challenges but we have staff who are prepared to tackle those challenges. We have people who leave very late and get in phenomenally early.

"The lovely thing, however, is that it is a very multicultural school and children get on together. It's a huge strength because that's what life in the inner city is like. Islington seems to be there for people to have a go at and that's desperately unfortunate."

A mile and a half away, Highbury Fields School is the borough's best-performing secondary. More than a third of the 140 girls who join each year have a reading age of nine or younger, yet 43 per cent left with five or more good GCSEs last year, a whisker below the national average of 44.4 per cent. Ann Mullins, the school's head, has seen the figure rise from 25 per cent when she took over five years ago.

Some girls get straight As, and one sixth former is looking forward to a place studying medicine at Oxford in the autumn.

The 1920s building is bright, well-maintained, and has been extended, most recently only two years ago. The green-tiled corridors are lined with posters, children's work and ranks of traditional school photographs, dating back to 1919.

Highbury Fields is surrounded by grand brick and stucco terraces and is a short walk from the borough's fashionable heart. Girls are drawn from no more than a mile away, but the school's catchment area covers council estates and areas of high deprivation.

"We have to make the most positive and successful way forward we can ..." said Mrs Mullins. "Eggs are going to be broken in Islington. From the schools' point of view, it's important that they manage to make a decent omelette."

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