`The council needs a kick up the rear'

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The Independent Online
THE PUDDLES were deep and wide on the approach to the school. Its flat roofs were heavy with rain water.

"We leak and we flood whenever there is a downpour like the one we had today," said head teacher Phil Taylor.

"The roofs are the responsibility of the local education authority and if money for the repairs has already been spent, it's gone, unless we find it ourselves," he added.

Mr Taylor, 54, has been head of South Manchester High School in Withenshaw for 10 years. He heard the news of the damning school inspectors report on how Manchester City Council runs its education service without any obvious surprise. "Whenever a school is deemed to be failing the head is usually forced to resign. Perhaps council officers and politicians should be considering their position now. And why not?" he asked.

His own school, with 450 pupils and a budget of about pounds 1m, has a glowing Ofsted report, recording good progress in all classes, that was earned, he said, against all the odds.

More than a third of his students have special needs. For example, 94 per cent of pupils who enter the school have little or any of the expected reading ability of that age. Truancy was a problem, he said, but it was one that could not baldly be blamed on the school.

"Schools are held responsible for attendance, but the reasons for absenteeism are often beyond our control, such as poverty and unemployment. A lot of absenteeism is condoned by parents, who will keep a child at home because they need help in the family, maybe because of sickness or to look after the younger ones."

But exclusions are rare. "We have a code which sets down the boundaries of behaviour accepted by students and parents," said Mr Taylor. "It works well and when we first launched it, we had 200 enquiries from other schools, including some from abroad."

The school faces amalgamation with another small school because it has surplus places. "One good thing about being half-empty is that is gives us room to move about if we have trouble with flooding or a leak," added Mr Taylor.

But intake is up by 40 per cent for next year because of their latest Ofsted report, said Mr Taylor, which highlights good classroom relationships, teachers' trust and respect for pupils, and students in turn feeling valued and having a sense of self-worth. Parents' response to the Government's verdict on the city's education service has been almost wholehearted agreement.

Linda Fleming, 43, who has a son Ryan, 11, who is about to go to secondary school, said the council needed a "kick up the rear". She added: "I'm concerned that so much money can be spent on a place like the new Arndale Centre and yet so many of our schools are in such bad condition."

Beverley Dore, 41, said she was concerned for the future of her eight- year-old son Scott. "I am worried about what there is for him at school if it can't manage the problems of truancy and exclusions."