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Pumps bring pupils to heel

There is a fate worse than obeying school rules, teenagers have discovered. Tamsin Snow reports

Elasticated, rubber-soled black plimsolls are the ultimate indignity for fashion-conscious teenagers - they will even wear school uniform to avoid them.

At Siddal Moor sports college, pupils who turn up in training shoes have to hand them over at the school gate and put on the pumps. Most now turn up in regulation shoes.

Hats, hooded tops and jewellery are also confiscated while pupils who turn up without a school bag must either return home to pick it up or arrange for a parent to bring it in.

Helen Freeborn, head of the 1,040 pupil comprehensive in Rochdale, said:

"If children turn up without equipment, they cannot learn."

She says the scheme, introduced last September as one of a range of measures aimed at reducing boys' underachievement, was surprisingly easy to introduce.

"Uniform transgression is the thin end of the wedge but these days we have a good standard of uniform," she said. Ms Freeborn believes a "laddish" culture was largely responsible for 18 per cent more girls than boys at the school gaining at least five good passes at GCSE last year.

"We have 81 more boys than girls in the school. This exacerbates the issue of boys' culture, which we believe to be key to the problem of boys'

underachievement. Among the boys, we had a laddish culture of disaffection and low aspiration. Many were not revising, not doing homework and not paying attention."

She joined the school for 11 to 16-year-olds in September 2002 and last year signed up to a project to raise boys' achievement run by academics at Cambridge university. The four-year study, commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, enables Siddal Moor to work with other institutions which already target boys.

There are 60 primary and secondary schools involved in the scheme. Some are running single-sex lessons for core subjects. Others are offering peer support to promote self-esteem.

Siddal Moor has introduced a mentoring programme in which teachers pick out boys who are likely to lead classmates astray as well as those who could score five A* to C grades at GCSE but are at risk of not doing so.

In the twice-weekly, hour-long sessions staff give study support and guidance.

Ms Freeborn challenges the view that girls will suffer. She believes they benefit if boys are more focused and better behaved in class. She said it was too early to offer any hard evidence of success but believe that "laddish" culture is on the decline.

"There are no easy answers," she said. "We have just started addressing these issues, but we have begun to eliminate the gangy culture."

That, and the training shoes.

News 13

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