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Couldn't do better with one pupil...

GOVERNMENT inspectors have devoted four days, Pounds 1,500 and a 30-page report to a school with barely half a pupil, writes Nicholas Pyke.

Nine-year-old Tom Fosten turned up at Holy Island School only on days when the mile-long causeway to the North-east coast was beneath several feet of seawater.

He doesn't even do that any more. Tom, son of a United Reformed Church minister, now attends a middle school 12 miles away in Berwick-upon-Tweed, leaving Holy Island with no pupils.

"What can you say?" asked a puzzled Chris Tipple, head of Northumbria's education service. "The Office for Standards in Education is like a juggernaut that goes inexorably on, whatever the obstacles. You wonder whether there wasn't a more sensible course of action."

With inspectors being paid around Pounds 200 per day, he reckons the whole exercise cost Pounds 1,500 - including meetings with parents and governors. OFSTED refuses to speculate on the cost.

Holy Island is better known for Lindisfarne Abbey and tourists than its idiosyncratic school system. Both are dominated by the North Sea, which floods the causeway twice daily. If the road is open in the morning, pupils travel to the parent school, Lowick, on the mainland.

When there are pupils, that is. For the next two years, the stone school building and the OFSTED report will be mothballed.

The two schools were inspected together and, for the record, were much praised.

Anyone reading the Holy Island volume may be more than normally puzzled by the language - couched so as not to identify any pupils. Not even Tom Fosten.

"The present organisation of the school, its broad curriculum and its creative partnership with Lowick school all help to ensure that any pupil attending is able to make good progress," it says.

"The school takes advantage of its very small size to promote the highest standards."

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