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Closure looms for troubled secondary

Michael Shaw reports on a school that has seen off four heads in five years

A TROUBLED secondary in Brighton has been told it faces closure, days after appointing its fifth headteacher in five years.

Parents and pupils at East Brighton College of Media Arts (Comart) were due to be informed today that the council is considering shutting the school in the summer of 2005.

The news comes after the appointment of the college's new, part-time headteacher, Mark Whitby. He will become executive head of Comart from September but will continue to act as head of Brighton's Alternative Centre for Education.

Comart's former head Jill Clough retired in March because of ill health.

The Fresh Start college came out of special measures last year but is still considered one of the country's most challenging schools with a serious truancy problem. Its fast turnover of leaders has not helped.

Only 17 per cent of pupils got five Cs or better in their GCSEs last summer and the school has become increasingly unpopular with parents, leaving classes half-empty.

Brighton and Hove council fear Comart's problems recruiting teachers and pupils will worsen and plans to start public consultation on June 9 on whether the college should close or change.

Mr Whitby, 38, put a brave face on talk of closure. "I believe a wide-ranging discussion about options for the future of Comart is in the best interests of everyone in east Brighton," he said.

The former engineer said the Fresh Start school needed to go "back to basics" after focusing too much on new initiatives such as gaining specialist status. "When a school has been through such a roller-coaster it can lose sight of its core aims," he said. "What pupils want isn't more excitement, bangs and whistles. They need better opportunities for core learning: for reading, writing and numeracy."

Mr Whitby was invited to Brighton three years ago to run the Alternative Centre after successfully turning round a special school in Bournemouth.

Ace, which is based on five different sites, educates children who cannot be taught in mainstream schools because of learning difficulties or their behaviour.

Vanessa Brown, education spokesperson for the Conservative opposition on Brighton and Hove council, said the fact that Mr Whitby would be part-time was "not ideal" because the school needed stability.

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