Bouquet of the week

17th April 1998 at 01:00
Dennis Goldthorpe knows what it's like to earn "buckets of money". In the 80s he got bored with teaching in a Kent comprehensive and took a high-flying financial job in Indonesia. But, in spite of the dosh, cost benefit analysis didn't hold his attention for long and his thoughts turned again to teaching. Difficult kids had always been the ones he'd enjoyed most, so he abandoned the Pacific Rim for a special school back home.

Dennis found behavioural difficulties a real challenge, so he took an advanced skills diploma in special needs at London's Institute of Education.

Then six years ago he got a phone call. Troubleshooting and turning schools around was not common currency in education in those days - but that was the job Dennis started the next day. Sent by the director of education for Harrow, where he had been working as an adviser, he arrived at Alexandra Special School with a challenge to save it. The school was half full, failing badly according to HMI, with closure on the cards.

That was then. Today the pupils of Alexandra special school attend a popular school with a secure future. "Dennis has shown us all what's possible," says the school administrator, Dawn Price, about the headteacher she nominated for Friday's bouquet of the week. "He lives and breathes the school."

Recently the intake altered from being an all-through EBD school to a primarymiddle school for children with learning difficulties as well. The range of abilities is now much wider and more complex and staff have had to be retrained. It hasn't all been plain sailing but that they are winning is evident.

The man himself had just returned from a three-day residential on the Welsh borders when I spoke to him. "We stayed in a youth hostel and went caving and the kids had to cook for themselves. They were incredibly well-behaved because they were challenged. Loads of work will come out of it."

He reflects that it "feels good" to have done what he - and his excellent staff - have done. "It is hard, but it is intellectually and professionally challenging. If you enjoy thinking on your feet and making high demands then it is an incredibly exciting job."

The name Goldthorpe rang bells when I received Dawn's postcard, and it turns out the bouquet runs in the family - three months ago brother Steve, an outstanding chemistry teacher in Northampton, received our flowers.

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