Against all odds in White Hart Lane

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
Geraldine Hackett reports on the Labour party's efforts to get back on top of the education agenda, while Soraya Madell finds an improbable Harriet Harman supporter in Tottenham's black MP Bernie Grant.

The odds are stacked against White Hart Lane School which has one of the worst academic records in the country, although it has also helped Bernie Grant's son get a place at university, writes Soraya Madell.

It was Mr Grant's criticism of conditions in comprehensives which put the north London school under the media spotlight last week. The MP has since written to the school, saying his comments were meant as an attack on the lack of Government funding which has left inner-city schools poorly resourced.

The Tottenham MP sent his three sons to the school. One is unemployed, a second is at college on a catering course but James, 18, is still at the school studying three A-levels.

Headteacher Lionel Warne teaches him English and is confident he will go to university. James has been offered a place at Middlesex University under its "compact" arrangements with his school. The scheme enables a number of disadvantaged pupils to get into the university with lower grades.

Mr Warne is encouraged by James' progress and efforts by the school in general to improve poor exam results. White Hart Lane has a system of awards to motivate pupils, and has opened a new library with money raised by the school. There are homework clubs and 30 pupils have been identified as likely to achieve five GCSEs at higher grades.

Individual departments can set pupils according to ability although Mr Warne does not believe in streaming. The school is over-subscribed and accepted 243 children last September. All but one were first choices and 60 children were turned down.

However, Mr Warne admits that the school faces many problems typical of an inner-city area. Out of more than 1,000 pupils, 868 come from ethnic minorities.

More than 40 languages, from Arabic to Yoruba, are spoken by pupils. Many come from deprived backgrounds, with almost 700 qualifying for free school meals, or live in temporary accommodation and are not at the school long enough to get a good education and pass exams.

Other difficulties arise because the school is in a deprived area. Staff had hoped to improve technology teaching at the school by applying for Government funds to become a technology college, but were unable to raise the Pounds 100,000 from the local business community needed to qualify.

Mr Warne, who has been head for 13 years, is committed to comprehensive education. He is angry that schools are not given the extra help they need to cope with the additional problems they face.

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