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After the PM has gone...

Michael Shaw returns to the school where Blair held a 'cheesy' manifesto launch in 2001 to find how it has fared under Labour

Launching his party's manifesto at the start of the 2001 election, Tony Blair picked upon a bunch of smiling, hymn-book-clutching school girls framed in stained glass windows as his backdrop.

The publicity stunt at St Saviour and St Olave's in Southwark, south London, was widely criticised as one of the low points of the campaign. It was slated by the press as "shameless", "toe-curlingly tasteless" and "cheesier than a Wotsits factory".

But how has the girls' school fared since its visit from the Prime Minister?

In many respects it has continued to meet Labour's vision of the ideal inner-city school. Last month the Government listed it as one of the 100 fastest-improving schools in the country for key stage 3 results.

And the proportion of pupils getting five good GCSEs has risen from 40 per cent in 2001 to 57 per cent last year, which is above the national average of 53.7 per cent.

Formerly a beacon school, it has become a leading edge school working to help others, for example on a behaviour project with Aylwin girls' in Bermondsey. And, ticking all the boxes, it became Southwark's first specialist science school last September.

However, not all has been perfect for St Saviour and St Olave's since 2001.

It was badly hit by the national funding shortfall two years ago. Irene Bishop, the headteacher, was forced to lay off five staff on short-term contracts because the school faced a pound;600,000 deficit.

Mrs Bishop said: "It was an extremely stressful time and nobody seemed to believe us. If you'd asked me how I rated the Government then I'd have given them two out of 10.

"Luckily that year turned out to be a blip. I would give the Government an eight now because they have put their money where their mouth is."

But staff have also been unimpressed by Labour's drive to involve private firms in schools.

Education services in Southwark were outsourced to Atkins Education in a Pounds 100 million five-year contract in 2001. But the company pulled out of the scheme in 2003 and was replaced by Cambridge Education Associates.

Mrs Bishop had complained about Atkins' work before it quit. "We didn't want it (the council schools service) outsourced in the first place," she said.


FE Focus 2

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