Teachers set to ballot on industrial action at a "fresh start" school. Diane Spencer reports.
This September Ingram high school in Croydon, south London, will move to refurbished premises and become Selhurst high - a much publicised "fresh start" for a failing school, as endorsed in this week's White Paper, Excellence in Schools.
According to the White Paper, a "fresh start" for schools failing to show evidence of recovery could take various forms. One option would be to close the school and reopen on the same or different site with a new name and management - Ingram's choice.
But Ingram reveals that even a clean break is fraught with difficulty. The education authority has warned nine of the 36 teachers at the 550-pupil school that they will face the sack at Christmas unless their lessons improve.
Last week the National Union of Teachers declared a dispute with the Labour-led authority. Croydon was accused of reneging on agreed procedures to deal with under-performing teachers which usually take two years. A spokesman said the union would call a ballot on industrial action if it failed to reach a settlement soon.
Ingram, an 11-16 boys' comprehensive, was found to be failing by the Office for Standards in Education two years ago and was one of the 18 "named and shamed" by the Government in May.
David Sands, acting director of education, acknowledged that the school had difficulties with a cramped site, "lousy buildings" and a large proportion of boys with special needs, some of whom had been excluded from other schools.
After the inspection, the authority replaced the head with a senior inspector who produced an action plan which involved spending Pounds 170,000 on improving buildings and on staff development.
John Garlick was appointed head in January 1996 and a decision taken to move the school to a new site. A further Pounds 3.5 million was spent on refurbishing buildings used by Croydon College for the new school.
Dr Sands said initially Ingram made good progress, but there had been insufficient improvement in the past nine months. In February OFSTED inspectors found half the lessons unsatisfactory which tallied with the authorities' inspectors' findings and the head's assessment. "This is totally unacceptable, " said Dr Sands.
At first the action plan involved the whole school, but then it was time to work with the nine teachers who showed clear evidence of under-performance, he said. They would be given intensive support in classroom work next term with help from a full-time inspector and several visiting subject specialists.
"They will be seriously deficient if they can't make use of the support we'll put in," he said.
"I am still talking to the unions. There is understandable concern that established procedure is being broken - we don't want to do that, but we want rapid improvement to the school."
He added that the agreement allowed the process to be speeded up if failure to improve was serious and profoundly damaging to the school and pupils. Special measures have been taken over the past two years at Ingram.
Mr Garlick said some of the staff had been teaching for a long time and there was "a certain resistance to change, but now they know the strengths to build on. We have a lot of good teachers who deserve the support of their colleagues".
Hugh Malyan, chair of the education committee, said that some staff were resisting change. "The procedures are balanced and robust. The bottom line is that pupils are entitled to a quality education - they have only one chance. "
The Department for Education and Employment has supported Croydon, saying that the steps taken by the school and the authority were "wholly appropriate".