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Failing school head to go

Jon Salmon reports on woman chosen to take over one of the country's 18 'worst schools'

The controversial head of what is officially viewed as one of Britain's worst schools has left her job after pressure from the local education authority and governors.

Greta Akpeneye, 50, is to take early retirement after serving almost five years as head of Lilian Baylis school, a mixed comprehensive in Lambeth, south London.

She is being replaced by Yvonne Bates, 35, a school inspector and deputy head at another mixed comprehensive - the Nobel School in Stevenage - which has significantly improved in the past few years.

Lilian Baylis has been dogged by low academic standards and poor pupil behaviour and, in 1994, was declared a failing school. Achievement in more than half of lessons in Years 7 to 10 was deemed unsatisfactory or poor and there was a significant proportion of unsatisfactory teaching.

Earlier this year, the 820-pupil comprehensive was named by the Government as one of Britain's 18 worst schools. In October, it is due to learn whether education ministers are to close it under their Fresh Start initiative.

Mrs Akpeneye, a former chair of Lambeth social services, is understood to have initially resisted moves to go. She is credited with making significant improvements, including raising academic standards and ridding the school of poor teachers.

Last summer, 17 per cent of GCSE pupils gained five or more A-C grades, a hike from just 8 per cent in 1995. A monitoring visit by the Office for Standards in Education in November found that 72 per cent of teaching was now satisfactory or better.

Keith Fitchett, chair of governors, said: "A lot has been achieved in the past few years. It would be wrong to deny the significant achievements of Greta Akpeneye and the staff. But a new impetus was necessary and that is what we are going to see."

Her replacement, Yvonne Bates, who is on a one-year contract, has been at the Nobel School for three years, helping it acquire a reputation for "value-added" education in an area of social deprivation.

Ms Bates, a maths specialist, has overseen a curriculum overhaul - extending its vocational elements - and an expansion of the sixth form. Last summer, 36 per cent of GCSE pupils gained five or more grades at A-C, a 2 per cent rise on the previous year, and the school is now almost 50 per cent over-subscribed.

Lilian Baylis has recently had support from the Department for Education and Employment and the local education authority for a literacy drive. But Ms Bates, currently completing an MEd at Cambridge with research on class sizes, is hoping to improve literacy further by, for example, using computer-based Integrated Learning Systems.

A new action plan, to be supported by consultants from the Government team that helps failing schools, is intended to raise maths standards at key stage 3.

Ms Bates also intends to review the curriculum, making it more flexible so that older pupils can study more than one arts subject. A mentoring system, with visits from business and community figures, is likely to be introduced, as is a tutoring scheme where older children help younger pupils.

"There is an element of social cohesion that can come back into the school through this work," she said.

Ms Bates is also anxious to introduce regular cognitive tests of pupils. She said: "There are a lot of positive things at Lilian Baylis. The staff are encouraged and positive. I feel it's certainly a school which can be improved. "

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