New Ridings head says he needs help to save school

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The Independent Online
The battle to restore order to two troubled schools continued yesterday with the resignation of the head of governors at one and the appointment of a "trouble-shooter" headmaster at the other.

Eileen Bennett quit as head of governors at Manton Junior School in Nottinghamshire. The school was shut on Tuesday when teachers went on strike over an allegedly violent pupil, Matthew Wilson, 10.

Mrs Bennett resigned during an angry meeting between governors and parents. When she announced her decision there were loud cheers from the parents. She refused to discuss her resignation with reporters as she left the meeting, saying only: "It's not my problem."

In Halifax, Yorkshire, Peter Clark, appointed yesterday to what many see as the most difficult job in education - the headship of the Ridings School - said he was "no Messiah" and could not turn round the school on his own.

Calderdale council closed the school on Thursday after two members of staff were assaulted. One, a French supply teacher, had a breast fondled by a 15-year-old boy.

Mr Clark, until now head of Rastrick School, a grant- maintained establishment near the Ridings, refused to say whether he would agree to making expulsions, which the striking teachers say must take place before they will return to work.

He appealed to journalists to leave the school alone so that he could restore a normal routine.

"This is the last chance for the Ridings School," he said. "I don't really want to make any comments on exclusions because I don't know who should be excluded and who shouldn't."

He said later that his job would be to restore the morale of everyone in the school.

He rejected the idea that the school was close to anarchy: he knew there were many good staff and said that most of the pupils were well behaved.

Stephen Pearson, a Liberal -Democrat councillor and former Rastrick governor, described the job at the Ridings as "the biggest professional challenge in secondary education" but said that Mr Clark had successfully turned round his present school. Four years ago 36 per cent of pupils there got five good GCSEs. This year the figure was 49 per cent.

He had got rid of failing teachers, set up a motorcycle group to keep pupils off the streets and had won funding for new playing fields from the lottery.

Senior inspectors who visited the Ridings this week will deliver their report to Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, on Tuesday. If they say it is failing, she could order a team of experts - an education association - to take over the school.

The appointment of a grant-maintained school head by the Labour council led to speculation that the authority might be hoping to avert the school's takeover.