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Was 'fresh start' doomed to stall?

A "macho" desire to appear strong led ministers to ignore evidence that forcing failing schools to make a "fresh start" would not raise standards, says a new study.

The research accuses ministers of opting for a "fashionable but educationally unsound" policy that damaged the development of children in failing schools.

Under the controversial "fresh start" scheme, introduced five years ago, failing schools were closed then reopened with a new name, new "superhead" and largely new staff. But the Government shelved the policy after several high-profile failures and the resignation of three superheads in five days in March 2000.

As The TES reported last week, Walsall is hoping to revive fresh start by combining it with the new federated schools policy. The privatised education authority hopes that support from other schools can reduce the policy's reliance on a single headteacher.

Evidence from America available when the policy was introduced showed it would not work, said Margaret McLay of Manchester Metropolitan University.

One US study said the process of reconstituting a school with different staff as "like trying to rebuild a rapidly deteriorating train as you are running down the tracks".

Dr McLay examined the experiences of five fresh start schools in England.

Of these, one closed after two years and two quickly lost their new heads.

"An inexperienced new government, elected in 199, was determined to make its mark quickly and dramatically. Fresh start must have seemed just the right type of tough policy "None of the schools were given time to bed down. Only one was successful and that was largely because the local education authority decided to do it their way rather than following central government," she told the Bera conference this week.

'Fresh Start five years on' by Margaret McLay. For details, email m.mclay@mmu.ac.uk

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