School leaves troubles behind

4th April 2003 at 01:00
Head praised for leading St George's away from the tragedy of a predecessor's murder. Michael Shaw reports

THE London comprehensive where headteacher Philip Lawrence was fatally stabbed was praised this week by inspectors for making major improvements.

The Office for Standards in Education reported that St George's Roman Catholic secondary in Maida Vale was an improving comprehensive where pupils "showed a real love for their school".

There had been fears that Philip Jakszta, the current head, would fail to sustain changes at the school started by charismatic "super-head" Lady Marie Stubbs, who stepped down 18 months ago.

But the inspectors commended Mr Jakszta for his very good leadership and described him as a "positive and cheery influence on the school's life".

The comprehensive suffered a series of catastrophes after the murder of Mr Lawrence at the hands of a teenage gang-member in 1995. Margaret Ryan, another head, was attacked by pupils five years later.

Lady Stubbs was lured out of retirement to take St George's out of special measures. She succeeded with a mixture of stern discipline and a willingness to listen to pupils' views. She also invited a host of celebrity speakers to encourage staff and children.

Mr Jakszta admits his approach has been more low-key.

"The difference between me and Lady Stubbs is that she had a job to do very quickly and I have to take the more long-term view," he said.

Inspectors found that pupils' work at St George's had become noticeably better since Mr Jakszta's arrival and that overall teaching quality has improved from satisfactory to good.

One of his main priorities has been to widen the range of qualifications available to pupils, which helped to raise the proportion of pupils gaining five good GCSEs from 14 per cent to more than 20 per cent last year.

Mr Jakszta has focused more strongly on individual pupils' behaviour.

Attendance is now in line with the national average and only two pupils have been permanently excluded in the past year, compared with as many as 60 in previous years.

He said: "It would be wrong to ever forget what happened to Philip Lawrence because it is part of this school's history. But we have moved on now and that is something to celebrate."

Next week's TES will feature an interview with Lady Stubbs about her upcoming book on St George's, "Ahead of the Class".

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