GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, reports on a parents’ backlash against uniform and other changes being imposed at one of the borough’s poorest performing schools
There must come a time for any struggling school when its governors and staff decide that the only way to rescue its reputation is to give it a complete identity change.That looks to be what is being done at Edenham High in Shirley, which last week, just as its 1,000 pupils were starting their Easter break, announced that from the next academic year in September, they are to be known as Orchard Park High School, with a new badge, new uniform and, according to some disgruntled parents, a lot of new staff.
“The new name and badge represent the school’s location at the heart of the Monks Orchard community and the heritage of the school site, taking elements of the family crests of previous landowners,” a letter from the school’s governors told parents and guardians.
“Giving our school a new name and uniform is an important part of the journey of improvement we have embarked upon and embodies the confidence we have in the school’s future, at the heart of our community, providing the best education for all our students,” Ciara Warnock, the school head, said.
Edenham has been among the poorest performing schools in Croydon for several years. In the latest league tables, it scored 45.7 on the Department for Education’s Attainment 8 rating, putting it in among the bottom four schools in the borough. Its latest Ofsted report rated it as “good”.Warnock is Edenham’s third head teacher in the space of 12 months, after the previous permanent head was summarily suspended last March because of unspecified “allegations” and hasn’t been heard of since. His predecessor left her job nine years ago after there had been a stabbing in a classroom.
And if that wasn’t all bad enough, some of its former pupils added to the school’s notoriety last weekend: all five people appearing in court on Monday on charges related to the brutal attack in Shrublands on teenaged refugee Reker Ahmed were reported to have attended Edenham.
Edenham had been Croydon’s last remaining local authority secondary school until last year, when it bowed to the inevitable academisation pressure. It joined the Sutton-based Greenshaw Learning Trust grouping of schools.
Greenshaw’s first significant move was to appoint Ciara Warnock as head, taking over from an interim and starting last September. Warnock’s previous position had been as head at St Ursula’s Convent School in Greenwich, where Ofsted inspections were full of praise for the school’s work with disadvantaged children, seeing the school reach the top 1 per cent nationally for “added value” for its pupils. The inspectors even used the word “phenomenal” about the school’s performance.
But Warnock’s attempts to impose convent school-like strictures over the uniforms worn by girls at Edenham, a non-religious school which draws its pupils from across Croydon’s diverse population, have not been well-received by all parents. Some have contacted Inside Croydon, saying that although they have aired their worries to the governors, they have been ignored.In the week before the end of spring term, the school announced a ban on girls wearing trousers. One parent told us: “My daughter estimates around half the girls in her year currently wear trousers in cold weather and many wear them all year round, including for religious reasons.”
Previous attempts by schools to ban girls wearing trousers have been overturned in court under equality laws.
The parent claims that Warnock has introduced what they describe as “out-dated practices”, including group punishment. “Every day the children spend five to 10 minutes of lesson time, twice a day, lining up outside as ‘punishment’ and to ‘teach them how to behave’. This has been ongoing for two terms now, amounting to over 35 lost hours of teaching time.“While visiting the school recently, one child told me, ‘It doesn’t matter if I’m good, I’ll get punished anyway’.”
Another parent stated: “My daughter spoke to Mrs Warnock about the compulsory skirts and her response was ‘This is just the way it is’, which I found to be a very out-dated opinion because many professional women wear trousers to work. Perhaps it’s alright for a Catholic school, but not for the wide range of backgrounds here.
“I’ve never seen the teachers and pupils so united over this, and the punishments. Every parent I spoke to has been furious. We all feel it’s a step backwards with the constant lining up.”
Senior staff have already left the school, with claims that two deputy heads have resigned, while the head of sixth form left last week.
“Edenham High School desperately needs help,” one concerned mother said. “On-going financial difficulties have left it with holes in the wall held together with tape and no longer providing essentials such as lockers or IT lessons. It’s understandable that the school felt the need to become an Academy for extra cash, but the new Headteacher and step back to the dark ages are not the right ‘help’.”
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