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College's rich seam of spirit

When the last pit closed, a Yorkshire school decided it was going to make a difference in the community it served. Alison Brace reports

THE West Yorkshire mining community of south Elmshall, near Pontefract , saw the last of its three pits close in 1992. The local school, Minsthorpe community college, hit rock bottom about the same time.

Only 13 per cent of pupils were gaining five or more GCSEs at grades A to C. Rolls and attendance were falling and behaviour problems had soared.

As one of Britain's first purpose-built comprehensives, Minsthorpe had symbolised a brighter future for children when it was opened in 1969 by the Duke of Edinburgh.

But, by the early 1990s, Minsthorpe was a reflection of its depressed community, said principal Richard Brown. "We weren't doing anything about that; we were just taking the blows that the community was taking."

Today, the school could not be more different. It has 1,700 pupils and is oversubscribed. The school's best-ever key stage 3 and GCSE results were achieved last year.

More than 2,000 adults now take part in 70 classes throughout the week and mothers and toddlers attend playgroups in the school's Family Learning Centre.

There is a training and conference centre and another for health and fitness, both of which earn funds for the school.

All this is down to staff realising in the early 1990s that the school should be at the heart of the regenration the area so desperately needed. Their determination has now been recognised with a glowing Office for Standards in Educatoin report which describes Minsthorpe as a good community college with "outstanding features" and giving "good value for money".

"From 1992-3 we began a determined effort to turn the school around," said Mr Brown. "Creating a culture of achievement, hope and expectation is what we have been about in the 1990s."

Since 1996 the school has had pound;7 million spent on it - half of which Minsthorpe has raised through successful bids for government and European funding and lottery cash.

The school is open 50 weeks of the year. It provides breakfast, and in the evenings there are childcare facilities, homework clubs and courses. The college has been given an award by the Basic Skills Agency for its extensive work with the community. It also has a Chartermark for excellence in public services and a Sportsmark for quality sports provision.

This year 42 per cent of pupils gained five or more GCSEs with grades A* to C and there is now a 92 per cent attendance rate, with just 0.2 per cent unauthorised absence.

"We have a long way to go," said Mr Brown. "My aim is to hit national averages for GCSE results in the next few years. That will be a major achievement given where we have come from.

"It seemed like a ridiculous hope a few years ago but now it is a real prospect to us."

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