Governors to fight relegation

20th June 2008 at 01:00
Accusations of racism and poor results will see a school's whole governing body replaced
Accusations of racism and poor results will see a school's whole governing body replaced

A Catholic school's governing body is to be sacked and replaced with professional directors following accusations that its Polish pupils were the victims of racist bullying.

St John Fisher School in Peterborough was last week put on the list of 638 "failing" schools because fewer than 30 per cent of pupils gained five good GCSEs.

Less than 48 hours later, Peterborough City Council stepped in to take control. It announced that the school's governors would be replaced by an interim executive board, whose six members would include the town's chief police superintendent and former mayor.

But St John Fisher's governors plan to fight the appointments.

The school was placed in special measures by Ofsted this month as the local authority warned that Polish pupils were being bullied, and that there was a "racist dimension" to the victimisation.

Peterborough has seen an increase in Polish immigrants because of seasonal farming labour in neighbouring Norfolk and Lincolnshire, and at least 40 of the school's 730 pupils are Polish.

Inspectors rated the leadership of the school, headed by Mary Mihovilovic, as inadequate. "Leaders care about the success of the school but the challenges they currently face have overwhelmed them," they said.

Allison Sunley, head of secondary schools for Peterborough City Council, said it had been forced to intervene because of the decline in standards and bullying allegations.

She said there had been "a legal stand-off" between the school governors and the council even before Ofsted visited the school in April.

The interim board was intended to last for one year, she said, and there were no plans to shut the school or turn it into an academy.

"It's a diocesan school that serves a wider area than just Peterborough, so we have no problem with it remaining a diocesan school," she said. "Inevitably, when you get an Ofsted report like this, some staff will choose to leave."

Ministers last week recommended that local authorities should use interim executive boards as part of the National Challenge campaign to transform struggling schools. But a TES analysis of the 76 that have been introduced so far showed they had a low success rate.

Judith Jones, chair of governors at St John Fisher, said she and her colleagues were "completely opposed" to the interim board. They were on track to improve the school, she said, but the proposed interim board members lacked experience.

"We will fight this interim executive board every step of the way and will take any action necessary that we believe is in the best interest of our students," she said. "I cannot express how appalled I am."

But Mrs Sunley said in the past imposed interim boards had been successful where struggling schools had worked with successful schools. "We have evidence that interim executive boards work, and think we can replicate that at St John Fisher."

Views from the pupils

Pupils at St John Fisher School, writing on a local website, have expressed mixed views about the takeover.

One said the headteacher should resign: "The past few years, this school has just got progressively worse. There is a lot of bullying going on inside and a lot of people just ignore it."

But, according to another, the teachers should not be held responsible for problems such as leaking roofs and outdated computers: "Don't blame it on some of the teachers, who are passionate about teaching. A majority of the students do care about learning."

Division over Polish immigration was reflected in the postings.

"There has been quite a bit of bullying and teachers have disregarded it constantly, however the bullying is not all towards the Polish children ... some is from Polish people," wrote one pupil.

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