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Youngest head takes a step up

Appointed to lead a school at the age of 30, Antony Edkins is ready to set a new precedent. Biddy Passmore reports.

ANTONY Edkins is probably rather tired of being described as the youngest secondary head in the country.

Still only 33, he was 28 when he was appointed a trouble-shooting deputy at Falmer high in Brighton and became head two years later, after the school emerged from special measures.

But he will not be the youngest head much longer. In the summer, he is moving on to become (probably) the youngest head of secondary improvement in a county - East Sussex - which has contracted the service out to CfBT, the Centre for British Teachers.

Some see his departure from the 700-pupil, 11-16 school after such a short time as surprising. Could one so young already be burnt out? Mr Edkins has lost four stone since arriving in Brighton and the task of pulling round a school serving two of the roughest council estates in southern England has not been easy.

Only last week another struggling Brighton school, Comart, advertised for a new head following Dr Jill Clough's resignation on health grounds.

But Mr Edkins says he is neither fed up nor burnt out. He has lost weight because he was "fat" (18 stone) has since made twice-daily trips to the gym since his arrival.

It is just that the restless head feels it is time for a change. He already has one undergraduate degree (in theology) and four postgraduate qualifications and is beavering away at a doctorate.

Sceptics may say the recent improvement in Falmer's results - almost doubled since 1998, to 31 per cent getting five A*-C grades at GCSE last year - merely return the school to where it was in the mid-1990s. But Mr Edkins has adopted unusual strategies to raise grades: his pupils take a general national vocational qualification in information and communications technology (equivalent to four GCSEs) through an after-school club at nearby Varndean school.

Behaviour and attendance have improved; fixed-term exclusions have dropped from 65 to 12, and permanent exclusions from seven to two since 1998. Mr Edkins kicked out five troublemakers when he took over.

He says Brighton and Hove council and David Hawker, the authority's director of education, have been "brilliant".

Mr Edkins is not moving for money, although he will be paid more than his present pound;65,000 salary. "I'm a workaholic," he says. "My priorities are job, gym, doctorate - and red wine. I'm an extremely sad case."

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