Shephard to act on crisis pupils

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The Independent Online
Government inspectors will be asked to draw up an emergency report on the troubled Halifax school where staff say 60 pupils are out of control, the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, is expected to announce today.

Mrs Shephard is due to make a statement on the school accompanied by senior officials from the schools inspection body, Ofsted. A team of Her Majesty's Inspectors could be in the school as early as next week, preparing a full report on an apparent breakdown of discipline there.

Calderdale council has already sent a report on the school to ministers, but last night its chairman of governors said he had been given no indication that an announcement on its future was about to be made. He said he feared that the governing body might be suspended.

The school, which was opened less than two years ago after a merger, had been facing increasing discipline problems since the beginning of this year.

In March, 13 year-old Sarah Taylor was excluded for pushing a teacher who tried to stop her from fighting with her boyfriend. Her parents appealed against the decision and won, but were forced to withdraw the girl after staff threatened to strike if she returned.

Last week a further crisis blew up after teachers complained of no fewer than three serious assaults by pupils. Talks between unions and governors brought no solution, and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers is now balloting on strike action.

Staff say that up to one in every ten of their 600 pupils is "unteachable" and that some drastic action should be taken. They believe that if more children had been excluded from the school at an earlier stage the problem might have been contained.

The head , Karen Stansfield, has resigned along with one of her two deputies, complaining of disappointment and exhaustion. They are expected to leave at the end of term.

The local authority, the school governors and unions have continued to negotiate, and yesterday the governors said a number of measures were being proposed to alleviate the situation. The council has promised extra resources and more support for the school.

Last night the chairman of governors, the Rev Stan Brown, said he would be disappointed if the press were informed about the decision before staff at the school had been told. "We have been working with the local authority to put together a package of measures. Whether Mrs Shephard has taken into account what is being suggested before making a judgement I would be interested to know".

"It may well mean that the present governing body is suspended," he said.

Brian Garvey, regional executive member of the NASUWT, said that staff at the school would welcome any help they were offered.

"We don't want people going in to see what's happening. We have told them what's happening. We want people to come in and tell us what to do. If Gillian Shephard wanted to roll up her sleeves and sort things out the staff would cheer her through the door," he said.