It's a long road to recovery

25th July 2003 at 01:00
FORGET going the extra mile to do your job. Try travelling 260 miles to work every week.

That is what Dr Chris Gerry does. The 49-year-old lives in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where he is head of Hugh Christie technical college. He is also acting head of Withins school in Bolton, Manchester.

Impressed by his innovative work at Hugh Christie, Manchester education authority approached Dr Gerry in April in the hope that he could turn the troubled Bolton school around. The head had resigned, and flagging morale and low expectations seemed to be getting the better of pupils.

Dr Gerry's secondment means that on Sunday evenings he says goodbye to his wife and child in Kent to travel to Manchester - a trip that involves a flight and two car journeys. Dr Gerry's pound;26 one-way tickets are paid for by the Department for Education and Skills.

In the three months since he has been working at Withins, attendance rates have gone up and exclusion rates have come down.

He said: "I was interested in how fast I could make changes at the school without causing an explosion. With deputy head Barry McCann, the hard work of the teachers and the support and expertise of the school's special adviser Sir John Jones, the answer is pretty fast."

First the school was redecorated and the Withins logo replaced. "It's important to signal change to the pupils," said Dr Gerry.

The school began offering pupils toast in the mornings. Dr Gerry said:

"Withins serves a deprived area. Many of the children were coming to school in the mornings having had little or nothing to eat."

The curriculum was altered to include more vocational courses, targets were set for each child, and parents were encouraged to get more involved with the school.

Dr Gerry says he will not miss his 260-mile journey when his secondment ends at Christmas, but he is not looking forward to saying goodbye to Withins' staff and pupils.

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