Disciplined to get results

12th December 2003 at 00:00
Another fundamentalist Christian secondary has opened. Neal Smith reports on a strict regime of silence and pigtails

The King's Academy has a long way to go to match the achievements of Emmanuel College.

Both are sponsored by the Vardy Foundation and will have the same principal, Nigel McQuoid, overseeing them.

And both maintain the evangelical Christian ethos that earned Emmanuel notoriety when it was revealed that it taught creationism alongside evolution. The furore led to the intervention of Tony Blair, who lent his support to the school.

But while results at Emmanuel, in Gateshead, have in recent years led to widespread recognition that it is one of the very best state schools in the country, the two Middlesbrough comprehensives, which closed this summer to make way for The King's, had a far less impressive record.

The facts speak for themselves: 99 per cent of last summer's Year 11 pupils at Emmanuel achieved five or more GCSEs at grade A*-C, while this figure was just 14 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively, at Brackenhoe and Coulby Newham schools.

Emmanuel has for years faced charges that it cherry-picks pupils. The college has always denied this, saying it only selects the statutory 10 per cent of pupils.

But at The King's, which cost pound;22 million and opened in September, there is no selection at all. The vast majority of the 1,100 pupils and 150 staff, are from the two former comprehensives.

"It is going to be challenging to improve these results," said Mr McQuoid.

"But I'm more interested in encouraging the children we've got to meet their potential than any targets."

One of his tools is strict discipline. Visitors to his school in Gateshead have commented on the eerily quiet corridors where pupils have to remain quiet. He also believes the upgraded facilities will give the children greater pride in their school.

While getting all pupils to walk on the left side of the corridors has proved little trouble, the girls in Year 11 were earlier this term in revolt at having to wear their hair up in bobbles.

"I hate wearing my hair up," said Sam Hockney, 15. "But we managed to talk the teachers into allowing our year (and the sixth form) to discard the bobbles."

Sam says pupils from other Middlesbrough schools believe "it's dead strict" at the school, but she does not mind if it improves her grades.

"Everyone is working harder and for longer hours than we did at Coulby Newham," she said. "But we all just want to get on and do well so the added discipline, which is not as bad as people make out, is OK."

Gary Foster, 15, added: "Most of us stay on after school until 6pm doing homework and going over things we did not understand in class. My grades in English and maths have gone up from Fs to Cs and Ds since September."

The facilities are impressive. The academy has 500 computers, recording and dance studios, a 250-seat lecture theatre and two floodlit outdoor sports areas.

Although the pupils are currently separated in lessons, according to which school they had previously attended, many friendships have been made when they join together in form classes and a sense of togetherness is, they say, emerging.

The school has adopted the strong Christian moral foundation of Emmanuel.

But Rebecca Pentland, 15, said the school was not forcing religion on its pupils, adding that rumours of "King's students carrying bibles around all day are utter rubbish".

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