The man addicted to schools in special measures

22nd January 2010 at 00:00
Former Ridings head Stuart Todd is set on removing his fourth school from Ofsted's dreaded list

Original paper headline: `It gets under your skin': meet the man who is addicted to schools in special measures

After four years in charge of one of the country's most notorious schools, no one would have blamed Stuart Todd for choosing an easier next assignment.

But following his stint at The Ridings in Halifax, Mr Todd is now attempting to be the first school leader in England - at the David Lister School in Hull - to take four schools out of special measures.

At the latest count he is believed to have experienced nearly 25 Ofsted inspections as a head.

Mr Todd's success at The Ridings, once dubbed "Grange Hell", was underlined by last week's publication of 2009's GCSE league tables.

The Ridings was named as the top school in Yorkshire and Humber for its contextual value added score and placed it in the top 50 secondaries in England.

It was a significant achievement, but it came too late to save the school, which was closed down at the end of last year's summer term.

"The decision to open or close schools is up to politicians," said Mr Todd. "My job was to provide a quality education for young people and to raise their aspirations. I'm delighted with the outcome. A significant number of pupils realised they could do well and had belief in themselves."

In the 1990s, staff at The Ridings had threatened to go on strike over "unteachable" pupils and it featured in a Panorama documentary into its students' behaviour. But last year's GCSEs results gave the school a CVA score of 1,050.1 - well above national averages.

The proportion of pupils achieving five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, was 17 per cent. That figure was up from 13 per cent in 2008, although still considerably below the government benchmark of 30 per cent.

The proportion of pupils getting any five "good" GCSEs went up from 21 per cent in 2007 to 81 per cent in 2009.

When Mr Todd started at the school in 2005 he believed it would take three or four years to transform its fortunes, but within two years the decision had been taken to close it.

Sue McMahon, NUT division secretary in Calderdale, said the results at The Ridings are a "clear vindication of our argument that the school should not have closed".

"It is with great shame that this exceptional school was closed on the whim of politicians," she said. "Surely now those responsible must admit they were wrong."

Mr Todd, 62, was not ready to take the easy path to retirement after the closure of The Ridings, instead choosing to go to David Lister.

"Working at schools like these gets under your skin," he said. "I like to share my experience and some of the things I have learnt with other professionals.

"The offer is for me to work here beyond the point when the school gets out of special measures, but I have said I will take it out and discuss it then.

"I would be reticent to make a commitment at this moment, but there is other work to be done in schools in special measures in this locality."

Mr Todd is confident that David Lister will be out of special measures by September.

"For a school in special measures to build solid foundations for improvement usually takes four or five terms," he said.

"It can be done more quickly with good quality staff, but if you have to strip away before you rebuild, it takes longer.

"As executive head, I don't carry the day-to-day responsibility for each child. I can be strategic and as long as the outcomes for young people improve, I'm happy to be one of the backroom staff."

Mr Todds's headships

  • 1983-86: Tynedale Middle School, Blyth
  • 1986-99: Killingworth Middle School, North Tyneside
  • 1999-2002: King's Heath Boys School, Birmingham
  • 2002-2005: Onslow St Audrey's, Hertfordshire
  • 2005-2009: The Ridings, Halifax
  • 2009 onwards: Executive head, David Lister School, Hull.

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