Children's Express reporters talked to pupils at a school caught in the media spotlight
THE Ridings dominated headlines for a couple of weeks in November 1996 after a crew from BBC's Panorama portrayed the school as out of control. It was besieged by reporters and cameramen. Then an Office for Standards in Education team declared the Halifax school, which had been dubbed "the worst in Britain", a threat to public order and closed it for a week.
"The headlines were the worst thing - the school from hell. Every time it was in the news, it was just a headline," said Michelle Foster, 18. "It wasn't our story. They had no evidence whether it was the worst school in Britain or not. They just kept using the same headlines over and over again.
"The Guardian and The Times got to the root of the problem, whereas the Sun and the Mirror were just 'school from hell' this and that! Nothing to do with why it was like that. Just that headline."
Eleanor Graham, 16, said: "At one time The Sun was putting in pictures of us with skinheads, beer cans and big cigarettes. It was pathetic because it's nothing like that." Michelle agreed: "They portrayed it like it was a war zone, like it was really, really bad."
Louise Roscoe, 18, said: "One reporter came into the sixth-form centre and asked what exam results we'd got. We all went through and Michelle said she got an A-star in PE. The reporter said: "Well we won't bother putting that in." Michelle said, 'yeah, you will, because I worked damn hard to get that'. We all got As, Bs and Cs, but they didn't put any of the grades in. They didn't want to see the good side."
"They let a few children represent the whole of the school and they got ones showing off because they wanted to be on TV," said Stacey Murray, 17. Mary Burns, 15, added: "If you get money slapped in your hands for slagging off your teachers then you're going to do it, aren't you?" "Newspapers weren't interested in portraying us as a good school," commented Michelle. "Some were, but there was nowhere near as much interest as when we were the so-called school from hell. The local papers are showing that we're doing good. They haven't been putting us down, but other papers aren't bothered. It's like, they're doing all right now - bye! They're old news."
Michelle said: "You were constantly getting told Ridings is rubbish - what are you there for? You won't learn anything. And it gets to you. When it happened, we were going to be leaving soon. I though 'oh no', imagine putting the Ridings on your CV.
"I lied once or twice. You're talking to someone and they'll say, 'oh what school are you from?' and you'd say another school because if you said the Ridings School when all the media were here, it was like 'oh, no'. It was as bad as that. You didn't want to tell them." Eleanor admitted: "I wanted to leave, but my mum said there was no point. I couldn't do with all the hassle at school. I'd just started my GCSE courses and I didn't want to get off to a bad start, so I really did want to leave, though I'm glad I didn't."
"I used to read the papers and think if it's in the paper, it must have happened," said Michelle. "You look at them now in a completely different light."
* Children's Express is a programme of learning through journalism for children aged eight to 18. Interviews conducted by editors Amy Wood, 14, Steven Boyle, 15, and Julia Press, 18, and reporters Gemma McFadyen and Chris Fletcher, both 12.