Write-off fights back

Tammy Francis spoke shyly about her five straight As and two Bs in her GCSE results. She nodded to acknowledge how well she had done in a school once written off as failing, writes Esther Leach.

"We just got on with it, but all through the time they said they were going to close us down," said the 16-year-old.

She has been at Blakelaw School in Newcastle - one of the 11 failing secondary schools named by the Government - for five years and wants to stay on to do A-levels.

"I was determined to do well whatever anyone said about my school," said Tammy, who gained As in English literature, English language, double science and home economics, and Bs in German and maths.

"My friends did well too. The teachers got us through. They're really good and were always there for us, giving us lessons after school if we needed them. "

Blakelaw School, sprawled in the midst of a council estate, has 400 pupils and a headteacher, Russ Wallace, who arrived as closure loomed. Office for Standards in Education inspectors had found high truancy levels, and blamed a lack of direction from the management team.

Blakelaw was expected to close this summer. But the General Election was pending, and the school has been given a year's grace.

Tammy's examination results are as important to the future of Blakelaw as they are to her goal of becoming an accountant.

Her sister Sarah, 14, is also at the school and preparing to take GCSEs. "Talk of closing the school depressed us," said Sarah.

"There has been trouble with truancy but I feel safe and happy at this school and I am doing well. I don't want to be anywhere else."

Many of their friends agree, as do parents who showed their support for the school during a series of public meetings protesting against closure.

Mr Wallace aims to qualify for the Labour's Fresh Start in 1998, and the money accompanying it. He said: "In year 10 there are six children we have not seen all year, and there are much greater minds than mine trying to address the problem.

"We have to provide a curriculum that makes them want to come to school - like excellent sports, music and computer facilities. This is just one of the ideas I will be able to put into practice if this school is Fresh Started."

The other 10 secondaries identified as making insufficient progress are: Earl Marshal, Sheffield; Ashburton High, Croydon; Ingram High, Croydon; Dulwich High, Southwark; Southfields, Gravesend; Kelsey Park, Bromley; Our Lady of Fatima, Liverpool; Upbury Manor, Gillingham; Hands-worth Wood Boys, Birmingham; and Lilian Baylis, Lambeth.

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