'Failing' tag slashes intakes.

25th July 2008 at 01:00
lt;P>A high-profile scheme designed to rebuild the reputations of more than 600 struggling secondaries is instead scaring off prospective parents, adding to the problems of the troubled schools.lt;P>lt;P>The TES has spoken to heads who expect to lose up to half of the new intake as a result of the government's National Challenge.lt;P>lt;P>Headteachers have warned the scheme, which ministers hoped would push up GCSE results in 638 secondaries by giving them more support, will instead trigger a spiral of decline as parents pull their children out. Being given National Challenge status - and the "failing" label that often follows - has seen many schools attract hugely negative local publicity.lt;P>lt;P>Joan McVittie, head of Woodside School in Wood Green, north London, said parental interviews and the number of pupils turning up for induction days suggested her Year 7 could be down by as much as half in September.lt;P>lt;P>She said she had suffered inaccurate newspaper stories suggesting her school would close in 50 days.lt;P>lt;P>But Mrs McVittie blames ministers for her school's predicament. "It wasn't the media that designated me a National Challenge school," she said. "I have been caught in a political pincer movement."lt;P>lt;P>Sean Wyartt, acting head of Culverhay School in Bath, said September's new intake was down by at least a third compared to the allocation he received in February and a major proportion of that was because of the National Challenge.lt;P>lt;P>He said: "Unfortunately it is the more socially mobile parents moving their kids, so the ones who are left tend to be less motivated and interested in education. This has made our challenge even tougher."lt;P>lt;P>Julia Shepard, head of Beech-wood School in Slough, said being part of the National Challenge had caused parents to look for other schools. "You can't counter all the damage done in the community because people from the school will not be able to meet everyone face to face to set things right," she said. "It is so upsetting, because reputations can be lost so easily."lt;P>lt;P>John Dunford, Association of School and College Leaders' general secretary, said "many heads" had told him parents had been put off from sending pupils to schools because they were in the scheme.lt;P>lt;P>"The manner of the National Challenge announcement shook the confidence of parents in some very good schools," he said.lt;P>lt;P>David Bell, permanent secretary at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, was asked at a Commons select committee how carefully the negative impact on schools had been considered before launching the National Challenge.lt;P>lt;P>"We thought carefully about the impact," he said. "But we also thought carefully about the need to ensure that all schools achieve the 30 per cent minimum on the five-plus A to C grades. Frankly, from our point of view, that had to be the driving motivation."lt;P>

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