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Christians hope to be saviours

Can conversion to a pound;20m faith academy transform a troubled Lincolnshire secondary? Stephen Lucas reports

Immingham school, where Soham murderer Ian Huntley was a pupil, is a maze of run-down buildings, lying in the middle of an estate of prefabricated homes and council houses.

Nineteen per cent of pupils are on free school meals and 28 per cent have special needs. Dozens of staff have been driven away by the children's behaviour and the school, the only secondary in Immingham, near Grimsby, was put into special measures this month.

But a new head, Stephen Carey, is stopping the rot. He has persuaded staff to return from sick leave and new teachers to join. Now, a Christian charity hopes to build on his improvements by turning the school into a pound;20 million academy in 2008.

Mr Carey was drafted into the 950-pupil school in April by North East Lincolnshire education authority after the previous head, Steve Aveyard, left to head Albion high school, Salford. Mr Carey had been head of Joseph Ruston technology college, Lincoln and saved it from special measures after inspectors gave him a year to turn the school around.

The Government sees Immingham as ripe for a make-over. The controversial academies scheme, which brings in private sponsors and creates independent state schools, is the Government's big idea for regenerating education in poor areas. The Prime Minister wants 200 academies in development within five years and has made the scheme's architect, Andrew Adonis, his education minister in the House of Lords.

Immingham's sponsor would be the Oasis Trust, a Christian charity. If the trust gets the go-ahead its plans include a new theatre, cinema and library.

The prospect of new investment and the leadership of Mr Carey appear to be moving Immingham in the right direction already.

Mr Carey, 54, who sings in a rock band, said: "I've persuaded two members of staff who were off long-term sick to return. Behaviour was one of the things that caused them stress. Nothing seemed to be being done with children who were kicking off."

He and Julian Lowes, his deputy, go on the school bus with pupils at the end of the day. He also insists they stand when he enters a classroom and gives out detentions for lateness and poor behaviour.

In Mr Carey's first week 400 pupils were late. That was down to just one on Tuesday when The TES visited. He has excluded two pupils since he arrived, one for assaulting a technician and one for threatening other pupils.

David Stephenson, 57, head of key stage 4 vocational education was assaulted by a Year 7 boy in January: "He was excluded for four days and then he was back and I was expected to teach him. I was going to go part-time in September. I'd had enough. Children who were misbehaving were not being dealt with. I have decided to stay on full-time in September because things are getting better."

Last year 41 per cent of pupils got five Cs or better at GCSE but, given their KS3 results, pupils are underperforming.

The Reverend Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Trust, has said that, if the academy gets the go-ahead in September, it will be open to children of all faiths and none.

Mr Carey, a Methodist with a divinity degree, will apply for the job of head. He aims to encourage Christian values such as patience and respect.

Liz Abe, head of music, saidmost staff were looking forward to the academy though there was apprehension about the Christian element.

Sarah Howkins, who has two children at the school said: "There are a lot of behaviour problems and maybe the Christian ethos will help to change that.

I hope so." But Sue Haynes, who has a son in Year 9, said: "If children are not religious why should they have a faith shoved down their throats?"

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