School that hit bottom of tables to be closed

1st December 1995 at 00:00
A school which came bottom of national performance tables is set to close after being told it has lost the community's confidence.

Benjamin Gott High School in Armley, Leeds, suffered falling rolls after reorganisation in the city, with the number now dwindling to 302 against a projected 750.

Leeds City Council says the cost of needed repairs now totals Pounds 1. 3 million after a fire this summer, money which would be better spent on other, more popular, schools.

But parents and governors have mounted a rearguard campaign to keep the 11 to 18 comprehensive open. And a new chairman of governors, who has pledged to fight for the school, has been elected in place of the previous council appointee.

Rumours of the school's closure go back to 1992 when the latest reorganisation in Leeds, to cope with falling pupil rolls, did away with middle schools.

But increased parental choice, local management of schools and performance tables have all contributed to Benjamin Gott's decline. None of its pupils gained five A* to C GCSE grades in the past two years, and this year it came joint bottom of national league tables with two other schools.

A report by a Leeds council working party said there was no doubt that the school "does not enjoy the confidence of the community" and faces continuing decline.

Public consultation is now under way and the closure is planned for next August - a month before a scheduled inspection by the Office for Standards in Education.

But headteacher Graham Stanley says staff should be given more time to show that the school, whose pupils come mainly from a big council estate, can improve.

He points out that the number of pupils gaining at least one GCSE pass has gone up in the last two years from 65.9 per cent to 89 per cent, and predicts further improvement next year. The national average is 91.2 per cent.

"The trouble is that anything anyone says at this school sounds like excuses, " he says. "But the abilities of our pupils are such that they can be measured in ways other than A to C grades.

"I believe this area needs this school. We are valued by the community and it is only three years since re-organisation. We really need the opportunity to progress and survive."

The problem is, says the education authority, that not enough parents agree, with 75 per cent in the area choosing other schools.

Mr Stanley clutches a sheet of letters from parents offering glowing compliments and support but reluctantly informing him that more children are to go elsewhere.

Already 26 children have been taken away from Benjamin Gott since September.

And with closure on the way, it seems unlikely many will make it their first choice for next year.

Bill Hart, the new chairman of governors, accused the council of failing to spend money on the school and claims a "bad lot of pupils" led to poor examination results. "The exam results look bad, but if you break them down we do quite well," he says. "We need about five years to prove we can turn the corner."

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