Week in perspective

17th March 2000 at 00:00
THE GOVERNMENT'S Fresh Start initiative for turning round failing schools was this week left in disarray by the resignations of three of the superheads brought in to run them.

Torsten Friedag, the pound;70,000-a-year head who took over the Islington arts and media school (formerly the George Orwell school) in north London in January last year, resigned with immediate effect, after reportedly finding the task far harder than he had expected.

Carole McAlpine said she would leave Firfield community school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (formerly Blakelaw school) at Easter, after only 18 months, to become head of an education action zone. Ms McAlpine had been tackling high truancy levels by offering pound;80 payments to 15 and 16-year-olds who met attendance and performance targets.

And Tony Garwood will step down as principal of East Brighton college of media arts at the end of this academic year. Mr Garwood oversaw the closure and re-opening of the failing Marina high school. Despite an improvement in standards, he said he wanted to make way for a new head with the skills to take the school further.

Education Secretary, David Blunkett, responded by announcing plans to allow business, religious and voluntary groups to take over failing schools.

He said new "city academies", which could be set up as early as September, would break the cycle of low achievement in urban areas and add a "radical new edge" to the Fresh Start initiative.

In a speech to the Social Market Foundation think-tank. Mr Blunkett also promised an "out-of-hours entitlement for older primary and secondary pupils" to allow them to study sports, music and art after school.

However, new figures from the Secondary Hads Association raise doubts over whether there will be enough teachers to back up the Government's plans.

John Dunford the union's general secretary said that applications for teacher training had fallen markedly in all subjects except PE. Applications to postgraduate courses, which train most secondary teachers, are down nearly 14 per cent on last year. Even science and mathematics, which enjoyed substantial increases after pound;5,000 "golden hellos" were introduced last year, have seen numbers fall. Applications to teach maths are down by nearly a quarter on last year and for information technology by nearly a third.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said the figures might not reflect final recruitment as more trainees were applying at the last minute.

In Ripon, parents in the country's first ballot on selection voted two to one in favour of keeping the ancient grammar school. David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, was reported as saying he was "not hunting grammar schools" and that his 1995 party conference promise of "watch my lips: no selection" had been a joke. But he caused further confusion by saying the next day that his promise had been intended not as a joke but as a parody of George Bush's ill-fated guarantee not to introduce new taxes, if he became President. He had meant to say "no further selection".

Labour had not changed its policy, Mr Blunkett said. The party remained opposed to the 11-plus but did not think it sensible to pursue 164 grammar schools when it was trying to raise standards in 4,500 secondaries. He also believed that petitions in Trafford and Kent might produce a different outcome from the ballot in Ripon.

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