Richard Vaughan

How Knowsley became a case study in how not to tackle underachievement

The North-South divide in school performance is back on the agenda, with outgoing Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw even suggesting it contributed to the vote for Brexit and calling for a minister for the North to remedy the situation. But as Richard Vaughan reports, for Knowsley in Merseyside – an authority that has spent more than a decade at the bottom of the secondary league tables – the supposed cures for low results have often made matters worse. He looks behind the headlines at a borough beset by poverty, which has become a case study in how local and national policy consistently fail to tackle underachievement

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“The kids used to call it the ‘wacky warehouse’,” Bill Leyland, head of Kirkby High School, says, gesturing at what is now a very non-wacky arrangement of classrooms.

Before Leyland took over at the Knowsley secondary, all the science and design and technology lessons were conducted in a vast, open-plan “warehouse” with no walls.

“You would have up to six groups all in there at once,” Leyland adds. “Some would be doing a science test in silence, and in the same place there was heavy machinery going: sawing, planing, hammering. Believe me, I witnessed it.”

Kirkby High’s formerly “wacky” ...

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