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Fear of a second Hackney Downs

Concern that Earl Marshal might face the same fate as Hackney Downs school in east London - the first school to be closed by an education association or "hit squad" - led Sheffield City Council to take action last year.

Standards at the school were causing concern three years ago and in 1994 an inspection by city council inspectors claimed there was evidence of poor management. A full inspection in May last year by the Sheffield team confirmed inspectors' earlier findings as well as other concerns about the delivery of the national curriculum.

The council then took the highly unusual step of calling on the Office for Standards in Education to work with the Sheffield inspectors on a full report instead of carrying out the OFSTED inspection planned for the spring of this year.

In July last year the inspection by HMI - which had the status of a full OFSTED inspection - painted a damning picture of a badly run school with poor teaching and examination results. Earl Marshal was placed on the list of "failing schools".

The report said that three-fifths of lessons were not up to scratch and that there was "significant" underachievement.

The report alleged the school did not provide an orderly environment, that marking was inconsistent and the senior management team ineffective.

It provided poor value for money, the inspectors added, although they noted that relationships between teachers and pupils were sometimes good and that pupils' behaviour was generally satis-factory.

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