The Ridings gets back its good name

Education standards: The school condemned last year as Britain's worst wins a vote of confidence from parents
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PARENTS are flocking to send their children to the school branded the worst in Britain just 18 months ago.

More than 120 parents made the Ridings school in Halifax their first choice in a remarkable vote of confidence in the teachers who have turned the school around.

Last year, just 33 families made the school the first choice for their children in the month after the Ridings became the most notorious of Britain's failing schools.

Inspectors were called in during October 1996 after the school sank into chaos, following the merger of two rival secondary moderns the previous year.

Truancy and bad behaviour were rife. The school had to close for several days after demands that around 60 children be expelled. Karen Stansfield, then headteacher, resigned because she could no longer cope with the situation.

Last summer, in the wake of the crisis, just six per cent of pupils left with five or more good GCSEs.

Today, everything has changed and parents are putting their trust in the school once more. Ridings head Anna White is expecting 130 11-year- olds to start in September - more than 20 per cent more than last September's intake of 97 and more than enough to secure the school's longer term future. Every new child will bring in funding of pounds 1,200.

The Ridings has invested pounds 1.3 million in a new sports hall, and more in new science labs and an arts block.

Mrs White has brought in a primary school teacher to teach children who cannot read, and runs a school-wide literacy hour to help the 40 per cent of children who lag behind in their reading.

She hopes this year's GCSE results will be better and expects inspectors to lift the school's failing status in the next few months. From September the school will have a 62-strong sixth form.

Mrs White said: "I have made one permanent exclusion in the 18 months I have been here. Fixed-term exclusions have fallen by 50 per cent since the inspectors came, but they are still running high. We are changing what we offer students and attendance is rising.

"When parents visit the school, they say they are amazed there is no graffiti and by how quiet it is. I know what they mean - we are a normal school now."

Mrs White was brought in as associate headteacher under the so-called "super-head" Peter Clark, who was drafted in to the Ridings to restore order when crisis overwhelmed the school.

Now Mr Clark has gone, Mrs White's regime is under constant watch from Her Majesty's Inspectorate. The school has had many visits from the inspectors in the past 18 months, but after the latest inspection watchdogs declared that all lessons were now satisfactory at the least.

Mrs White said: "They are picking up the fact that the teaching has improved considerably, although the children's learning still needs to get better. The inspectors will come again on 6 July and we are hopeful we can continue to make progress."

The children are no longer voting with their feet to stay away. Attendance at the school was running at just 73 per cent 18 months ago. The figure is now 82 per cent.

The Ridings is making progress with its most important task - teaching. When Mrs White arrived at the school, 40 per cent of pupils had not reached the expected reading standard for their age. Many had reading ages of six or seven. Others fell off the bottom of the scale. Now the reading standard of 70 per cent of pupils is up to scratch.

Local primary schools are now prepared to support the Ridings in its battle for a future. Jean Rhind, headteacher at the nearby Lee Mount school, said parents had decided to stick by the Ridings.

"Parents want to support their local school," she said. "The problems put the whole future of the school in jeopardy, but now the whole school is obviously improving."

Most of the children at nearby Moorside Junior School are going to the Ridings in September. Headteacher Shirley Stoker said: "Our children are keen to go. A lot of our children's parents went to the Ridings themselves and there is a strong community in this area, but it's plain that the school has moved forward.

"The local community wants it right, and the vast majority of parents wants the Ridings to succeed," she added.