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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Murdered head's school turns round
pupils in class
Pupils have a say in how the school is run
By BBC Education Correspondent Mike Baker

The former school of murdered head teacher Philip Lawrence looks set to make a remarkable recovery.

St George's Catholic School in Westminster, London, where the head teacher was murdered four years ago, had struggled with academic and disciplinary problems - leading to inspectors labelling it a "failing" school and bringing it to the brink of closure.

Now inspectors who have returned to the school have found much to praise.

Memories of Mr Lawrence, who was stabbed while defending his pupils, live on in the school's memorial garden.

Philip Lawrence with pupils
Philip Lawrence was fatally stabbed defending his pupils

But the best tribute would be for the school to turn itself around after being failed by inspectors two years ago.

As recently as February this year, further violence brought about the school's temporary closure, and its head teacher left.

Now, just four months on, the change is astonishing.

'Pupils have a say'

The inspectors' verdict, about to be published, notes improvements in teaching, learning, behaviour and attendance.

Such rapid change is not easy. Many staff are leaving - but others remain committed.

Ariadne Lish, teacher-governor, said the school governors had consulted with the staff about the changes at the school - and that the children had also been consulted "every step of the way".

"We feel now that we have a part to play in taking the school forward and taking it out of special measures," she said.

"All of the pupils have been consulted. They realise they have a say in the running of the school. They feel that they are involved in their school.

"Not everyone is able to rise to the challenge, but we have made a 100% commitment.

"You have to put a lot of extra effort, a lot of extra work, into turning the school around."

'Delightful' pupils

The new head teacher, Lady Marie Stubbs, was enticed from retirement.

She is charismatic, formidable and energetic, believing the key is consulting her priority "customers", the children, who get a say in running the school.

She insists on neatness, politeness, good behaviour and commitment.

Lady Marie Stubbs
Lady Marie Stubbs: "I'm just an ordinary headmistress"

Lady Stubbs said that when she first arrived at the school, the atmosphere had been very tense and anxious.

But she said that since then, she had been very impressed with its pupils, who were "delightful".

"I have listened to the children very carefully. I wanted to hear what they felt about their education, the kind of things they would like, the clubs they would like, the curriculum.

"I think the children have been a very animated group of young people who have helped me a lot to take St George's forward."

Lady Stubbs said she was delighted with the praise given to the school by inspectors, and that her task of leading St George's on to make further improvements was "extremely enjoyable".

Visitors are greeted by pupils at the school reception
Visitors are greeted by pupils at the school reception

"It is a big task, but I'm not a superhead, I'm just an ordinary headmistress with a job to do to help to create a vision."

The key to success was, she said, to "keep listening to the children".

"I think it's very difficult to go wrong if you listen carefully to what the children are sharing with you."

Visiting speakers, who have included England football manager Kevin Keegan, help motivate students.

There are also clear targets, reward schemes, homework and after-school clubs, and even piped, calming music at break times. No one has been expelled.

It is students who greet visitors to the school.

It is their school, and, led by Lady Stubbs, they are learning to be proud of it again.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Mike Baker
speaks to head teacher Lady Marie Stubbs about the school's improvements
The BBC's Mike Baker
"Calming classical music is played at breaks"
See also:

07 Mar 00 | Education
28 Feb 00 | Education
21 Feb 00 | Education
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