Staff shun schools on failure list

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The Independent Online
Schools branded failures by the Government yesterday claimed the bad publicity had blighted their efforts to recruit new staff, leaving them struggling to reverse a spiral of decline.

Candidates applying for vacancies at some schools on a list of 18 deemed by ministers to be improving too slowly immediately withdrew their applications or failed to turn up to interviews, a survey by The Independent revealed.

In one central London primary, headteachers from neighbouring successful schools tried to poach nursery teachers, enticing them to leave with reminders that they faced losing their jobs if the school closed.

The named schools also acknowledged that, in order to attract new staff, they will be forced to offer higher salaries and other inducements to persuade candidates to apply.

Although David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, has emphasised that schools on the failing list will be offered extra help to aid their recovery, the threat of closure still hangs over them if they do not make significant improvement by the end of September.

Naming the 18 schools was an early, controversial move by the new Labour government, and drew opposition from teaching unions.

The school standards minister Stephen Byers, unveiling the list on 20 May, said all those identified would be given support by so-called Special Measures Action Recovery Teams, or SMART teams. The teams, made up of experienced heads and other experts, would act as "help squads" rather than hit squads, he said.

However, the 18 schools, which are still waiting to hear details of how the help squads will work, say the teams will not ease their staffing problems.

At South Benwell Primary School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, nine candidates were shortlisted for two jobs on the day the failing list was published. Four have now pulled out and the headteacher, Alan Johnston, expects more to follow. He said: "One of those withdrawing was very straight and said she didn't want to be rude but it was a bit too much of a gamble going to a school which the government might close in six months. The frustration is, I can well understand that point of view, but how am I now meant to get the good staff this school needs if it is to improve?"

Upbury Manor Grant Maintained School in Gillingham, Kent, was due to interview for two posts, a departmental deputy and a modern languages teacher, later in the week of the failing schools announcement. Not one candidate turned up.

Only one applicant out of five due for interview for a history post arrived at Kelsey Park school, Bromley, the day after the school was named.

Tim Joiner, a local councillor drafted on to the governing body of St Mary of the Angels primary school in Westminster last December, said that after appearing on the list the school now expected to have to pay more to attract new staff.

Mr Byers last night said that most of the schools named had regarded the exercise as very positive.