BY MURRAY WHITE AN INNER-CITY CATHOLIC
school has been declared to be "not up to standards" by the • new inspection body °fated this week.
It is the first time that such a damning verdict has been cast on a Catholic school, and could, in theory, result in Education Secretary John Patten sending in a "hitsquad" of expert teachers and educationalists to put the school back on the rails.
St Richard of Chichester School, Kentish Town, north London, is only the ninth school in the country deemed to be "failing" in particular areas of its provision. Criticisms centred on soaring levels of truancy, tardiness, bullying and poor discipline, a high turnover of staff and "insufficiently developed" strategic planning. The Ofsted report continued: "At present the school fails to provide value for money The Christian aims for the spiritual and moral character of the school are not adequately reflected in the dayto-day ethos." The report came as one of the first schools declared to be "failing" under the new legislation, Hammersmith School, in west London, published its action plan, which it hopes will stave off Mr Patten's intervention. St Richard's has 40 days to produce its own "action plan" of how it intends to tackle its problems.
The Headmaster of St Richard's, John McDonald, this week accepted the criticisms of his school's inspection, which took place during one week in March. But he said the school was already well on the way to eradicating the bulk of its problems.
"We don't want to make excuses, but a report like Ofsted's only provides a snapshot. What you really need is a video that looks at where you have come from, why you have got to where you are and plans for the future," he told the Catholic Herald.
"All the issues highlighted had been diagnosed by us at the time of the inspection and were in the planning stage of being dealt with." St Richard's. School faces many of the clas
sic problems of inner-city schools. Many of its 650 pupils are from poor families and around a third require some level of special needs provision. 176 pupils have English only as a second language. Material problems are compounded by the school's dual location, which means teachers and pupils regularly have to travel between lessons.
As a first stage towards tackling the resulting high truancy levels, the school has in the past fortnight piloted a sophisticated electronic registration system, which monitors exactly when pupils are missing lessons and analyses groups who skip school together. The computerised system will then allow teachers to home in on ringleaders.
Patrick Topp, of the Westminster Diocesan Board of Education, gave the Board's backing to the school.
He said that St Richard's "has for very many years carried out the mission of the Church in very difficult circumstances, to care especially for those children who are disadvantaged".