New head for troubled school

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The Independent Online
A new headteacher is to take over within the next few weeks at the Ridings School in Halifax where teachers are threatening to strike unless at least 20 pupils are excluded.

The new head, who has not yet been named, is likely to be David Scott, head of nearby Calder High. Mr Scott was promoted from deputy to head five years ago. Councillor Stephen Pearson, prospective parliamentary candidate for the Calder Valley, said that he had improved the school's exam results and won pupils' respect.

Meanwhile, Karen Stansfield, the existing head at the Ridings, remains in charge. She has resigned, saying she is exhausted. Yesterday, a group of children followed her into the building making indecent gestures at her. "They have upset a member of my staff," she said as she chased after them. She also suspended an 11-year-old boy for 16 days for talking to the media when he should have been in assembly.

Today, inspectors will arrive at the West Yorkshire school for an emergency investigation into its discipline problems.

Ian Jennings, Calderdale's director of education, said: "The local authority accepts that there is a relatively small number of pupils whose behaviour is unacceptable and who disrupt the work of the school." The new headteacher, he said, was "highly regarded and has the skills and experience to offer clear, decisive leadership". An associate head would be appointed for the rest of the school year.

Mr Jennings said that the local authority wished to record their gratitude to Mrs Stansfield "for her total professionalism and dignity during the course of the last two weeks". He said it was untrue that she had a policy of not permanently excluding pupils: a small number had been expelled.

Sheridan Walton, of Illingworth, who has a son and a daughter at the school, said of her: "She's a nice woman but the Ridings is a dream that died for her. I think the school was too strong and too big for her."

Another parent, Linda McDermott, whose two sons Dennis, 13, and Stephen, 15, had both been excluded, said: "The staff don't have a clue how to treat children . . . If the children had some help with their homework rather than be told to go to the back of the class and fall asleep they might achieve something."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, whose members at the Ridings are threatening to strike over disruptive pupils, said he had advised his members to work professionally with the inspectors. If inspectors find that the school is failing, it could be taken over by an education association or team or experts who could decide to close it. Mr de Gruchy said that the teachers were well aware of the seriousness of their threat but they were "at the end of their tether".