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Absence high, marks low

The emergency inspection report on the troubled Ridings School was published this week by OFSTED. Below is an edited extract.

Pupils' achievements at GCSE are poor. Only 8 per cent of pupils gained five or more grades A*-C in 1996 and only 48 per cent gained five or more grades A*-G. Both figures are well below average for secondary moderns. Four out of 10 pupils left without a GCSE award. Levels of attainment in the national curriculum assessment tasks taken in Year 9 are also well below expectations in English, mathematics and science. The school has not devised strategies for improving pupils' overall achievement. Skills in oracy, literacy and numeracy across the curriculum are weak. The low level of achievement is linked to poor teaching and a poor rate of attendance.

Pupils' attainment was satisfactory or better in only about half the lessons. Across both key stages attainment was variable, but far too often was unacceptably low.

QUALITY OF TEACHING: satisfactory or better in less than three-fifths of lessons. These lessons were characterised by sound planning and effective strategies to maintain discipline and sustain pupils' attention. The good practice seen shows what can be achieved and should be disseminated more widely within the school.

Teachers' expectations of pupils vary across and within departments. Some set challenging tasks and expect intelligent, thoughtful work. Others are content with mundane activities. For example, in a lesson on weather, Year 7 pupils were asked to draw and colour a snowman. Similarly, in a Year 8 English lesson pupils were tracing or copying the cover of a novel.

Assessment and marking vary from conscientious to weak, and there is no consistent implementation of the school and departmental policies where they exist.

The response of pupils was satisfactory or better in three-fifths of lessons. Pupils made satisfactory or better progress in only half the lessons observed. Many of the pupils were willing to learn, but the behaviour of a small minority disrupted both teaching and learning.

Leadership and management of the school are weak. The senior management team does not have a shared vision of the school's future and fails to engage in strategic planning. The head has tried unsuccessfully to promote the development of management support and collaboration within the staff team.

The school has not established effective management structures. There are, moreover, deep divisions within the staff on a number of key issues, such as management of behaviour. The school lacks a corporate identity. There is no commitment to collective responsibility among senior managers. Communication at all levels is poor.

The governing body does not fulfil all its statutory obligations. The implementation and effect of policies on the life and work of the school have not been monitored.

Staff with executive powers and responsibilities have not been held accountable for their actions. In many cases governors have not sought or had appropriate training and are not sufficiently aware of what is going on in the school.

The work of the school is not monitored or evaluated systematically; consequently good practice is neither identified nor disseminated. Staff development has not focused sufficiently on key areas, such as behaviour management, raising achievement and the development of teaching skills. Individual teachers, and the school as a whole, have derived insufficient benefit from recent in-service education and training.

Mechanisms for financial decision-making are neither secure nor well-established. The total expenditure per pupil (Pounds 2,800) is in excess of national unit costs. The pupil:teacher ratio (l5:1) and contact ratio (0.7) are low when compared with other secondary schools. There were sufficient resources in the lessons seen to deliver the national curriculum, but the accommodation for science, technology and physical education restricts work. The school does not evaluate the consequences of its spending decisions and as a result offers poor value for money.

BEHAVIOUR: This is very good in well-taught lessons, but in other classes and in public areas it was, at times, completely unacceptable.

The disorderly conduct of a small but significant minority continually disrupts many aspects of school life. In particular, the outrageous and unchecked behaviour of a few pupils at breaks and lunchtimes creates a hostile atmosphere leading to outbreaks of disturbed behaviour.

The school introduced a behaviour management scheme over a year ago. Although all teachers were inducted in its use, the project has not been well managed. There were approximately 150 exclusions in the school year 199596, an unacceptably high number. The school urgently needs to review its policy and practice for exclusion.

Pupils' attendance is poor at 73 per cent for Years 7 to 11 in the first half of the autumn term 1996. Over a third of Year 11 pupils are regularly absent from school; more than 20 Year 11 pupils have not attended school on any day since the beginning of the school year; approximately 50 have attended school for less than 75 per cent of the sessions.

The Ridings School, reference 8296SZ, available from OFSTED Publications Centre, PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ, tel 0171 510 0180.

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