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Fresh Start fails to boost results

GCSE pupils did better in only one of 11 targeted schools. Warwick Mansell reports

THE Government's flagship policy to revamp struggling schools has been dealt a further blow, as a TES survey shows it is failing to improve pupils' exam results.

Ministers have already been embarrassed by the high-profile resignations of four heads of the schools publicly named as needing special attention. All four were paid high salaries to turn round each of the schools.

Of the first 11 secondary schools closed and re-opened with a new name and new management in the past two years, only one - Fir Vale in Sheffield - reported a significant rise in pupils gaining five or more top GCSEs.

At Islington Arts and Media school, the proportion gaining five or more top grades fell from 17 to 6 per cent. The former George Orwell comprehensive in north London, had a pound;4 million relaunch last year.

At Firfield community school, Newcastle, which is to close next year, the rate dropped from 9 to 4 per cent - worse results than any in the final four years before it was given a Fresh Start.

At East Brighton College of Media Arts, the fall was from 20 to 13 per cent. At a fourth school which has not lost its headteacher, Kingswood high school in Hull, the proportion slumped from 8 to 3 per cent.

The results were immediately seized upon by the teaching unions. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachrs, said: "Fresh Start is a failed policy. Its only effect is to demoralise the committed staff who work in these tough schools."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Fresh Start is a cheap and nasty option for struggling schools, which has no guarantee of success."

He said the Government should consider trebling the budgets of schools on the list, giving them the chance of offering good staff pound;10,000 bonuses to work in them.

This week, Torsten Friedag, the headteacher of Islington Arts and Media school who resigned in March, cited a lack of support from governors and the local education authority as a reason for quitting.

Three of the 11 schools have been placed on special measures since re opening.

The Government last week announced that all 25 Fresh Start schools will receive an average of pound;200,000 extra for each of the next two years.

Fir Vale school, where the proportion of pupils gaining five top GCSEs climbed from 11 to 17 per cent, is to use the money to give staff a 5 per cent loyalty bonus.

A fund of pound;60 million was announced for Fresh Start and the new City Academy schools in the Budget.

A Department for Education and Employment spokesman admitted it was the first time government cash had gone directly and specifically to Fresh Start.

Additional reporting by

Josephine Hocking

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