Damning reports expose two schools to take-over: Patten ready to send in government-appointed rescue teams if proposals to improve standards fail to win approval

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The Independent Online
TWO SCHOOLS are facing the possibility that they could be taken over by government-appointed rescue teams after being the subject of damning inspectors' reports.

Crook Primary School in Co Durham and Brookside Special School in Derbyshire are both failing to provide pupils with an acceptable standard of education, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of schools says. Both have 40 days to produce action plans for improvements, and if John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, is not satisfied he can recruit 'education associations' to take over from the schools' head teachers and governors.

The schools are the first to fall foul of the 1993 Education Act, which aims to raise standards in failing schools. If the associations, which might include respected former head teachers or advisers, take over the schools and turn them round, the establishments will be removed from local authority control and become self-governing. If they fail to make significant improvements, they could be closed.

Crook Primary School lies on the outskirts of Durham and has 369 pupils. Brookside Special School is in Breadsall, near Derby, and has 47 pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

The inspectors found that Brookside was failing to meet the demands of the national curriculum, that it was not meeting proper health and safety standards, and that the use of physical restraint on pupils was 'a serious cause for concern'. Two compulsory subjects under the national curriculum - music and religious education - did not appear on the timetable and history was not taught to pupils aged 14 and over.

Although staff worked hard to create good relationships with pupils, too often the pupils were excluded from school for bad behaviour. Attendance in some classes was below 50 per cent, and pupils could opt in and out of the school's boarding accommodation at will. The school caters for all abilities, but none of the 16 pupils who were aged 16 last year was entered for GCSE examinations.

At Crook Primary School, the inspectors found that children were failing to fulfil their potential in every one of the 10 national curriculum subjects. Most of the pupils were badly behaved, they said, showing little care for their surroundings or for others, and a small number were aggressive. Pupils were under-achieving in two-thirds of lessons seen by the inspection team, and teaching quality was unsatisfactory in six out of 10 lessons.

Mr Patten expressed his 'very serious concern' over standards at the two schools.

'All our pupils deserve nothing less than an acceptable standard of education,' he said.

Privatised teams will carry out all school inspections in future, but in the current academic year, HMIs are still responsible for special schools and primary schools.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said yesterday that the schools' problems would be compounded by the fact that they had been 'publicly pilloried'.

'This will undermine morale among staff and disrupt the education of pupils, causing unnecessary distress to pupils and parents,' he said.

Senior staff at Stratford School in Newham, east London, an opted- out school whose head, Anne Snelling, was accused of racism last year by two of the school's governors, were expecting to be told yesterday that they were to be the subject of a critical report from schools inspectors.

The inspectors, who spent a week at the school at the end of last month, will explain their findings to governors at the school on Monday. Its GCSE results were among the lowest in London this year, with just 4 per cent gaining five or more A to C grades.

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