A new series on Channel 4 charts head Carole McAlpine's struggle to rescue a failing school. Cathy Comerford reports.
FOR THE second time in a matter of months, the story of an inspired headteacher's mission to turn around a failing school has made it onto prime-time television.
Only this time, unlike Lenny Henry's efforts as Ian George in the BBC's summer series Hope and Glory, it is for real.
The six-part series, Making the Grade, which starts this weekend, charts the first year of Firfield community school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In September 1998 Firfield was the first school to be reborn under the Government's Fresh Start scheme.
Lessons, staff meetings and even a school trip to Euro Disney were filmed as part of the series depicting attitudes of parents and children in the school's socially deprived local area.
Carole McAlpine, 43, who took over as head of the new school, agreed to the documentary after being approached by independent production company Evans Wolfe during the summer holidays.
Mrs McAlpine said: "It was a very risky thing to be involved with. We had to have confidence in their professionalism.
"But is was important to let people see how difficult a job this is. It is all very well for the Government to say make a fresh start but there is much more to it. There is a lot of deprivation in the community. I think that that comes through."
Pupils and staff were given the option to not be filmed and teachers had 24 hours notice if the two-man crew planned to film a lesson.
The first episode shows the decision to refuse an 11-year-old boy, already excluded from two other schools, a place at Firfield, and the grim consequences for him.
It also shows a startling scene in which Mrs McAlpine tells the assembled school that the local newspapers are about to run a story about her ex-husband's conviction for child abuse in Scotland.
She tells pupils: "I came to Newcastle for a fresh start because of a personal tragedy in my family life.
"Take a lesson from it. Fresh starts do not always mean that people do not remember what has happened before."
Since reopening last September with a pound;2.4 million boost from the Government's New Deal purse, Firfield, which was formerly Blakelaw school, has seen an increase in attendance from 70 per cent to 87 per cent. GCSE results have improved with 24 per cent more children getting five grades A to G or better.
Making The Grade starts at 7.30pm this Sunday, November 7, on Channel 4. See