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Teachers play happy families

Fresh start for failing school in a federation, but not all pupils are that keen. William Stewart reports.

Walsall is hoping to revive the Government's discredited fresh start policy this term by combining it with the new push towards federated schools.

The privatised Midlands LEA, run by Serco, says its plan to bring a failing school into one of the country's first "hard" federations has the backing of staff, parents and governors. But some of the pupils involved have told The TES they are not so keen.

Manor Farm school in Walsall, in special measures since May 2001, opened this week under a new identity as Rushall community college. But unlike previous fresh starts, its success will not depend entirely on a "superhead". It will be able to draw on the experience of its near neighbour Shelfield sports and community college, as the two schools form one of the first four federations in the country to share a joint headteacher and board of governors.

Rushall will retain a separate entity with its own associate headteacher and a new specialised role of catering for key stage 3 pupils in smaller groups. But Bernard Dickenson, head of Shelfield, took overall charge of both schools this week, supported by his existing governing body augmented with parent governors from Manor Farm. The two school budgets will continue to be allocated separately, but will be pooled to allow economies of scale.

"It will enable us to do things we wouldn't be able to if we remained separate," said Mr Dickenson.

"By developing the federation ethos it becomes a large family allowing staff from both schools to work together co-operatively."

Older Rushall students will be taught at Shelfield where Mr Dickenson hopes a common uniform and a series of "getting to know you" exercises last term will help them blend in.

But his pupils have their doubts. One 13-year-old said: "We feel like guinea pigs. We are not keen and neither are our parents.

"It is because of the image that Manor Farm has. It is not a very good school at all."

His 14-year-old classmate said: "Their pupils are not very nice."

As the two schools will continue to publish separate sets of exam results, it will be easy to see how both sets of pupils have fared.

TALE OF TWO SCHOOLS

* Manor Farm 720 pupils, aged 11 to 18.2002: 13 per cent of GCSE candidates achieved five grades A* to C. 2001: average point score for A-level students was 6.5. 2001 Ofsted report:46 per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals; 42 per cent on special educational needs register;Pupils'

behaviour considered boisterous and poorly controlled.

* Shelfield 800 pupils, aged 11 to 18.2002: 39 per cent of GCSE candidates achieved five grades A* to C. 2001: average point score for A-level students was 16. 2000 Ofsted report:16 per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals;20 per cent on SEN register; Inspectors said the school was improving and pupils were keen to do well.

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