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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 13:35 GMT
Ex-superhead backs academies
friedag and blunkett
Torsten Friedag (left): still backs the education secretary
By Gary Eason

The first high-profile superhead who resigned suddenly last week has given his backing to the government's latest initiative to revive underperforming schools.

Torsten Friedag, who began the process of turning round a secondary school in north London, told BBC News Online that the "city academies" idea could solve the wider issues which afflicted failing schools.

The existing "fresh start" policy, as applied to the school Mr Friedag took over, involves shutting the place down and reopening it with a new name and new headteacher, and without staff who were unsuccessful in reapplying for their old jobs.

The government is now proposing to set up "city academies" outside local education authority control.

They would be established as new or refurbished institutions with "substantial" capital investment from business or voluntary, religious or private foundations. The state would pay the running costs.

"Fresh start schools are possible and can be successful," Mr Friedag said.

"There are difficult schools in problematic communities and it's by really addressing all of those issues that you improve the school."

Considering options

Those problems - of social deprivation and "lack of esteem" in a community - were not something that teaching staff alone could tackle, he said.

So he welcomed the announcement by the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, of "city academies" that would have outside funding from religious organisations, businesses and community groups.

David Blunkett
David Blunkett: "I can't hold a head into a school forever"
This was just the sort of thing that could have the wider impact that was needed, he said.

Mr Friedag declined to discuss the particular reasons for his own resignation from Islington Arts and Media School - formerly George Orwell School - last Friday.

He said he was going to take a few weeks to consider his options before deciding what to do next. At present he had "no idea at all" what that would be.

But he said he believed in the fresh start policy - and would himself be willing to take on another failing school.

Third superhead resigns

But despite Mr Friedag's optimism, the fresh start policy has suffered a further blow, with the third resignation by a superhead in five days.

Tony Garwood is to leave East Brighton College of Media Arts at the end of the summer term.

Mr Garwood supervised the closure of the failing Marina High School and its re-opening as the college, last September.

Despite a sharp improvement in overall standards, which was praised by government inspectors, Mr Garwood says he wants to "make way" for a new head who can steer the school into its next phase.

In a statement he said: "During this year we have begun the process of creating a new college aspiring to new standards.

"In time this will deliver the desired academic improvements needed, and it is my judgement that the college will be best served by appointing a new principal whose skills will meet closely the key tasks ahead."

Mr Garwood's resignation comes two days after that of Carol McAlpine, head teacher at Firfield Community School in Newcastle upon Tyne, formerly Blakelaw comprehensive.

Ms McAlpine, whose school is tackling truancy by paying pupils to attend lessons, is moving on at the end of the current term, to head an education action zone based in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

'Alternative is closure'

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I can't hold a head into a school forever.

"I think if you engage in something new and you take on the most difficult 10 or 20 schools in Britain, and attempt to give them a fresh start, some of them will go astray, and that is inevitable.

"What is worrying for me is children in schools that are not succeeding, and if in certain instances heads are not able to manage the transformation, then of course we must move forward, because the alternative to fresh start is closure."

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See also:

14 Mar 00 | Education
Second 'superhead' moves on
10 Mar 00 | Education
First 'superhead' resigns
01 Mar 00 | Education
Closure threat to failing schools
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