Rescuer of Ridings 'feels a bit of a fraud'

9th January 1998 at 00:00
Peter Clark's shiny new CBE will ensure that, in the public eye at least, he is forever remembered as the super-head who flew in to rescue the The Ridings school from terminal meltdown last year.

While Mr Clark has always been amused by his macho media image, his ego seems to have been reassuringly unaffected. He sounds bemused by the fuss and produces the classic Oscar-winner's reaction to his honour: "I feel a bit fraudulent. The Ridings recovery was down to a lot of other people's efforts. The Ridings was just one short episode in my career."

The crisis at the Ridings dominated headlines for a couple of weeks in November 1996 - it was portrayed as the "school from hell", with rioting children, plummeting standards and a staff that had lost the plot. After a crew from BBC's Panorama "exposed" the situation on national television, the school was besieged by hundreds of reporters and cameramen and a team from the Office for Standards in Education declared the place a threat to public order and closed it for a week.

When Peter Clark and his deputy, Anna White (who is now head) were drafted in from neighbouring schools, one of the first things they did was to point out that neither the children nor the staff were uniquely dreadful, and then set about restoring a normal atmosphere with new carpets and security doors and a hands-on management style.

Mr Clark returned to his old school, Rastrick high, in July.

He says he doubts whether publicly honouring a few heads will be enough to restore the relationship between the profession and the Government.

"I don't think the outside world has ever really understood how much teachers have resented the constant carping criticism over he past few years. People who criticise teachers do not have to work to the same standards of performance all day, every day in their own working lives. We need a proper partnership with the Government and the classroom teachers, not just a few heads."

He admits that the General Teaching Council could help the profession grow up by making it self-policing. He also challenges the mantra of falling standards. "It's very unfair. Secondary schools over the past 10 years have changed out of all recognition. In 1984 at Rastrick high (then called Reins Wood), just one child out of 120 got a few good exam results. Now, 50 per cent are getting five or more A to C GCSE grades and Rastrick is not atypical."

His experience as former head of the prototype "named and shamed" school has not endeared Labour's policy to him. "I think naming and shaming is essentially negative; it doesn't work on its own. At the Ridings, the crisis brought new resources from Calderdale council and intensive HMI attention.

"One of the things that is lacking about the OFSTED system is that once a school is declared failing, you produce an action plan and then they come back and monitor it at some point. That leaves a fair bit to chance."

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