Cool off after media circus

15th November 1996 at 00:00
Nigel de Gruchy has not discovered anything new at The Ridings. The National Union of Teachers knew that the school was experiencing difficulties and we were making efforts locally, with the LEA, to rescue it. The media circus that Mr de Gruchy brought along did nothing except bring about closure. The problems that we knew about, and were negotiating on, have been magnified out of all proportion, and what had been achieved by the NUT has been damaged by the media spotlight.

On Monday October 28, I visited the school, along with Jim Miller, Calderdale NUT vice-president, Ian Murch, national executive member for West Yorkshire, and Malcolm Anderson, regional secretary to listen to members of the NUT at the school, to find out what they wanted, and to offer advice and support.

I am concerned that The Ridings has since been through an emergency inspection, when the school was facing an OFSTED inspection in early December. What brought about this early inspection must have been the huge media presence camped outside the school. Whoever informed the media has a lot to answer for.

After visiting the school, I met several education officials again and kept in regular contact with NUT members in an attempt to improve the situation and support our members. There were internal difficulties at the school, but these difficulties were being addressed. The NUT had told the authority that the school needed a strengthened management structure, that experienced staff should be brought in to cover for long-term illness, and that pupils who had worked their way through the internal disciplinary procedures should be excluded. An undertaking had been given by the authority to address these issues, but our efforts were superseded by the events of Thursday 31 October.

The school does have problems, but this surely must result from a government that has thrust selection, open enrolment and grant-maintained status on the LEA. If an Education Association were brought in, the school would either become grant-maintained or would be closed down. Who would then take on the responsibilities of the employer? How many staff would lose their jobs?

If 60 pupils had been excluded from The Ridings, where would they have gone? The pupil referral unit caters for 18. The budget at the school would have been cut, teaching and support posts lost.

NUT members face the same difficulties as members of any other teaching union - we teach the same children. If NUT members are assaulted or attacked, the NUT will defend them.

The problem has to be dealt with in a rational way. A cooling-off period is required. I have been involved in consultation about The Ridings since earlier this year. The NUT is also involved in other similar situations in our region. The NUT has not named the schools or the pupils.

It is difficult to see how what has happened at The Ridings in the past weeks will help the community. The damage is irretrievable. Who will be left to pick up the pieces ? The school did not need the glare of publicity brought about by Mr de Gruchy and the executive of the NASUWT.

SUE MCMAHON

Divisional secretary, Calderdale

National Union of Teachers

Halifax, West Yorkshire

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