Shephard orders Ridings inquiry

25th October 1996 at 01:00
The Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, ordered a full inquiry into the disciplinary crisis at the Ridings comprehensive school in Halifax this week after the headteacher resigned in despair and staff threatened to strike over escalating violence, protesting that a tenth of the pupils at the school were "unteachable".

On Wednesday, ministers were considering sending in a "hit squad" to take over the management of the school, an unprecedented move before an inspection. The school is due for an Office for Standards in Education inspection on December 2. Ofsted says the inspection will be monitored closely by HMI.

The local Labour MP, Alice Mahon, and the NASUWT general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, attributed the school's troubles to the effects of selection - there are two opted-out grammar schools and two church schools. The Ridings, said Mr de Gruchy, was taking in more than its fair share of pupils "offloaded" from neighbouring grant-maintained schools.

The Ridings head, Karen Stansfield, resigned last Friday because she is "exhausted", and the deputy head is also going at the end of the year. The teachers, who want at least 60 children to be excluded, are holding a ballot on strike action.

Margaret Tulloch, director of the Campaign for State Education, commented: "I hope that Mrs Shephard's inquiry will take into account the effects of opting out and selection. She must not just concentrate narrowly on discipline at the Ridings, but look at the school in context and be willing to admit the possibility that the problems could be due to her own policy in encouraging selection."

Ian Jennings, Calderdale's director of education, promised that the authority will "turn the school around". The Ridings was created two years ago after a controversial merger of two schools, both of which had falling rolls, serving local council estates.

The NASUWT says its appeal for firm management at the school was ignored in the case of Sarah Taylor, 13, accused of aggressive behaviour towards her teachers after a fight with her boyfriend. Sarah's mother agreed to remove her daughter after weeks of dispute during which NASUWT members threatened to strike. Sarah had been concealing a pregnancy and gave birth to a baby girl two weeks ago.

The union claims Mrs Stansfield's authority was undermined when an independent appeals panel overturned her decision to exclude Sarah Taylor.

Parents have accused teachers of over-reacting. Sheridan Walton, who has two children at the school, said, "What are they going to do with these children? Expel them? You can't just throw them on to the scrap heap."

The Ridings' governors, who backed Mrs Stansfield over Sarah Taylor, have called for a review of the exclusion procedure.The chairman, the Rev Stan Brown, says he understands fully the reasons for Mrs Stansfield's decision to leave at the end of the year. "We are disappointed . . . she had our full support."

Mrs Stansfield said discipline problems were caused by a minority; many pupils were a delight.

nStaff at Bacup Fearns secondary modern school, Lancashire, are refusing to teach a 14-year-old boy alleged to have attacked a teacher who tried to break up a fight. A ballot of teachers at the school unanimously decided to ban the boy from their classes. A decision by head Neil Thornley last term to exclude the boy permanently was overturned by an independent panel.

nTeachers at Manton Junior School, Worksop, have renewed a threat of strike action after governors said they would not continue to pay for individual lessons for Matthew Wilson, at an estimated cost of Pounds 14,000 per year.

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