TES enquiries into the 10 first schools to have been given a Fresh Start have uncovered a mixed bag of problems and successes.
The scheme, launched by Labour 18 months ago, was introduced to boost schools which had been failing for two years. They are closed and a new governing body appointed. The schools then re-open with a new name, are given an estimated pound;1.5 million, and teachers are invited to apply for their old jobs.
The Government claims that there are signs of improvement. Unauthorised absence has more than halved. It admits, though, that it is too early to judge whether the first Fresh Starts have been a success.
Last year, 9 per cent of pupils at Firfield school, Newcastle, achieved five good GCSEs, at Firvale in Sheffield the figure was 11 per cent and the King's school in Wolverhampton achieved 36 per cent.
FRESH START PIONEERS
Firfield community school Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Fresh Start initially helped the former Blakelaw school, according to Bruce Lavery, local NUT secretary. It received pound;2.4 million for refurbishment and cash to cut class sizes. Exam results and attendance improved last year.
But Mr Lavery said problems at the school, featured in a Channel 4 documentary last year, had begun to resurface. Staff morale was poor, attendance was slipping, and there was a general "atmosphere of lawlessness".
Carole McAlpine, the head-teacher, said that pupil numbers had increased from 317 to 435. She denied problems with discipline or staff morale. Inspectors said pupil behaviour had improved.
Firvale school Sheffield
The school was unable to recruit a headteacher for a year after it re-opened under Fresh Start in 1998. However, Dave Battye, NASUWT secretary in Sheffield, said progress was now being made and pupil numbers had risen.
Hugh Howe, Firvale's head, said: "Things are moving forward well. The trend in terms of attendance is positive, and there's a whole-school focus on pupil attainment andraising aspirations."
Bishopsford community school Merton, south London
Eight teachers are pursuing a tribunal case which could force a rethink of Fresh Start. The staff, made redundant when Watermead school was closed, are claiming unfair dismissal on the basis that the Fresh Start school is no different from the old one.
Head Paul Harwood says progress is being made: "We are now have a full staff, attendance is up and behaviour is good. Fresh Start was the way forward."
Morale was initially high after the school re-opened last September. But Kingswood received unwelcome media attention last month when a mixed-race teacher was suspended after refusing to teach a pupil who racially abused him.
And disciplinary problems had begun to re-emerge in recent months, said local NASUWT secretary Gerry Hailwood.
Kevin Beaton, Kingswood's head, said the school had made a "very positive start". Attendance was up 6 per cent and discipline was improving. The school put on a Christmas play for the first time in five years and intensive literacy and revision work was also proving successful.
Telegraph Hill school,
Lewisham, south London
An exodus of staff is predicted at Easter from the former Hatcham Wood school. Local NUT secretary Martin Powell-Davis said: "Problems had been identified and were beginning to be addressed. Fresh Start demolished that progress. Things have got worse, not better.
"The instability caused by staff changes is felt acutely by pupils. Behaviour is a huge problem. The new curriculum is still being written. Staff are trying their best but it is an impossible situation."
Mike Davis, headteacher said: "The first thing pupils in these schools need is stability which comes with a full, experienced complement of staff. We are six months into a new business which will take time to stabilise and get going but there are good potential possibilities."