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Head girls try to rescue state cousins

BROMLEY high is a private girls' secondary rarely troubled by the problems that beset the country's failing schools.

But failing schools were the unlikely subject of discussion at a three-day conference of headgirls and their deputies from some of the most exclusive schools in Britain, members of the Girls Day School Trust.

They were asked to develop their "leadership potential" by thrashing out how to make a success of a hypothetical school formed under "Fresh Start" rules. The 70 participants enthusiastically set about their task in the presence of such luminaries as John Bercow, a Conservative education spokesman; Dame Angela Rumbold, a trust old-girl and former education minister, and Peter Clarke, the troubleshooting head brought in to help rescue the Ridings school in Halifax.

The girls were asked to create a specialist information technology school to replace "Netherby high", closed due to declining rolls, and "Queen's", sentenced to death for poor results and the local authority's failure to bring it out of special measures.

Only 3 per cent of the Queen's school's virtual pupils were achieving five GCSEs at grades A*-C - a scenario which lay a little outside the head girls' field of experience: even the trust's worst-performing schools manage an impressive 95 per cent.

A good dose of private-sector involvement featured in their proposals, much to the delight of the ever-smiling Mr Bercow on the top table.

On the sensitive subject of classroom sponsorship, Sally Rourke, 17, head girl of Norwich high school, explained that the literature would: "Mention Microsoft as Microsoft much as we Microsoft can." Even Mr Bercow seemed taken aback by the strident commercialism of the message.

The girls' proposals included an LEA bid, and a bid from an American chemical company which wanted its staff to be able to use the school's computing facilities out of hours.

Privately the girls showed concern for state-sector teachers. Sally told The TES: "There are people who are very bright and some who are not so bright and the teachers have to provide for all them, which must be very difficult."

Ruth Brown, 17, head girl of Sheffield high, acknowledged "a lack of support for teachers to deal with the full range of abilities."

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