School that was a lesson in failure

Inspection report blames teachers, governors and local authority for the Ridings decline into anarchy
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The Independent Online
It was the school where GCSE pupils took a whole French lesson to draw a table and write "la table" under it, where a religious studies lesson consisted of drawing a church.

It was the school which did not know where many of its pupils were, and where they used the corridors as a racing circuit, unchecked by teachers.

It was the school where up to three-quarters of pupils were absent in some lessons and where senior teachers had stopped trying to improve to bring about improvement.

It was also a school of stark contrasts. An orderly class was taught well next door to a classroom in which chaos reigned.

The inspectors' report on the Ridings School, Halifax, in West Yorkshire, closed for four days after assaults on teachers, yesterday pronounced it a failure. Mike Tomlinson, an inspector for 18 years who lead the inspection, said: "It is the first school I have been in where order has visibly broken down." All the factors which caused schools to fail - poor teaching, weak leadership and governors and an inadequate local authority - had converged in one school, he said.

Teaching in more than two fifths of lessons was unsatisfactory, says the report. Four out of 10 pupils left school without a GCSE. Behaviour of some pupils was "completely unacceptable". It went on: "A lack of effective supervision around the school, particularly at breaks and lunchtimes, allowed the poor behaviour of some pupils to get out of hand."

Attendance registers were left open until midday so that the school did not know where its pupils were. About a third of GCSE-year pupils were regularly absent from school.

Leadership and management were weak and there were "deep divisions within the staff on a number of key issues". Governors do not know what was going on in the school.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, gave the governors until the end of the month to produce an action plan to put the school in order. Calderdale local authority has until 6 December to produce its plan.

She accepted that the school had a minority of very disruptive pupils. "But where teaching is poor and teachers' expectations are low, pupils get bored and behaviour deteriorates," she said.

Chris Woodhead, Chief Inspector of Schools, said the report was unequivocal that other schools in similar circumstances with children of similar abilities were doing much better. The 23 per cent of pupils with special needs was "not an exceptional proportion". He pointed out that only 2 per cent of schools had failed inspections and that most were calm and orderly.

Members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers announced that they were calling off their strike. They had demanded the expulsion of at least 20 troublemakers.

On Tuesday, Peter Clark, the school's new acting head, expelled 12 and suspended 23.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, said his members' courage had achieved the expulsions but estimated there were another half dozen schools where similar action might be necessary.

He said: "No teacher, not even those considered by pupils to be `boring', should have to suffer physical assault, intimidation and still less sexual abuse. The expectation of inspectors that children have to be constantly amused and entertained as well as educated regardless of their behaviour, despite the appalling poverty of the school buildings and environment is fundamentally unrealistic."

He accused Mrs Shephard of "passing the buck". The Government had contributed to the problem by setting up independent appeal panels which could overturn heads' and governors' decisions about expulsions and by encouraging competition among schools.