Pleased it's over, but still puzzled

14th November 1997 at 00:00
The Education Secretary hails it as a success, but others are not so sure.

At 11 o'clock on Monday morning, Mary Loizou, the head of Lea Green school, wore an expression of baffled elation, like a prisoner who has just been pardoned for a crime she was unaware of having committed.

Ten minutes earlier, a telephone call from the Department for Education and Employment had brought in a verdict that put an end to almost six months of angst. Lea Green's progress had been judged "good" and the north London school could expect to come out of special measures next term.

Of all the 18 schools on the list, Lea Green perhaps had the most cause to wonder about the reasoning behind the original decision to put it in the stocks. This is a special school for 40 children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, children so damaged, disaffected and disruptive that no other school in the borough of Waltham Forest can educate them.

"We felt we were being judged by the same standards as mainstream schools, " says Mary Loizou.

"For the children here, the effect was devastating; they had failed already in mainstream schools, and yet again they were being told they were failing. "

As it was not judged a failing school until May 1996, it had only been in special measures for one year when it was included on the list of the country's 18 worst schools. The other 17 had been on special measures for at least two years.

But even before the 1996 inspection, which identified weak leadership and a lack of clarity about objectives as the main problems, Lea Green had been due for a council-inspired "fresh start". This was agreed at a council meeting in June 1996, and Lea Green will be reborn in the autumn.

Mary Loizou, who has been acting head since April, says she appreciated the help and advice given by the "SMART team" - in this case a couple of headteachers with experience of putting new life into other EBD special schools - but she believes that by May this year the school was already well on the way to recovery.

"The name-and-shame policy did not make any difference to our plans. We were aware of the problems and had already decided what needed to be done; at best, it accelerated those improvements, but it brought new problems with it. "

At worst, she says, it exacerbated low morale in a school that was already suffering instability in the lead up to the fresh start. In a school for disturbed children, many of whom are living in foster homes or residential care, a stable staff is particularly important.

There is one room at Lea Green that the head sees as symbolic of progress.

This is the "quiet room", a room with blue carpet, blue walls and a blue cushion on the floor.

"It used to be called 'the time out room'; there were bars at the window and it was where children were brought when they were out of control. Restraint was used.

"Now they come here voluntarily; we try to teach them to manage their own behaviour, rather than control it from above."

Josephine Gardiner

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