BY ED WEST
PUPILS and parents at the Stokeon-Trent Catholic grammar faced with closure have launched a campaign to save the school.
Last week it was announced that St Joseph's College might be shut down, despite being one of the country's 200 top schools for exam results, after private company Serco were brought in to improve the city's education.
Teachers and parents are organising a human chain from the school to the civic centre, where they will present a photo of every single pupil to the local authorities. The photographs were recently produced to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the former Christian Brothers school.
"There isn't one single child or parent who doesn't care about the school," said headmistress Roisin Maguire: "It's galvanised the community. Next Monday there is public meeting, and we already have 1,000 people attending there. There's a TV programme being filmed at the school on Wednesday, and the three Labour MPs in the city are all behind us."
Local MP Robert Hello has called the plans "ridiculous".
He said: "This year-zero approach is fundamentally flawed, it's too simplistic, it doesn't work in education."
St Joseph's would be the first grammar to close in 20 years.
The Conservative party has offered little protection to the schools and Labour wants to make it easier for local residents to close grammars, even though some backbenchers are unsettled about a private company wielding the axe.
Miss Maguire also criticised the way the decision was handled. "Stoke-on-Trent is a failing authority," she said. "Serco has come in and said all the time that they won't touch the school. and they need to make the schools more like us. Then a week and a half ago we heard ago they wanted to close all schools. They didn't tell us in a professional manner."
Last year Ofsted described the school as "good with outstanding features"; 89 per cent of its pupils achieve five grade A-Cs, compared with scores between 14 per cent and 53 per cent in the city's 16 other schools. Ofsted also described Miss Maguire as an "outstanding leader". "If you look at the social indicators, we go right across the spectrum" she said. "If people say you're a middleclass area, does that mean you're doing ok? We have a broad spectrum from every group of selection. To pass here you need three 4s for Key Stage 2, and 70 per cent of people in Stoke get that benchmark. We don't cream, and we shouldn't be punished for producing excellence."
School entrance is determined by "faith criteria" and other factors, while the sixth form takes between 50-70 pupils from other Stoke schools. Ofsted does not categorise the school as a "grammar" at all.
The closure has also galvanised faith groups, since around one-third of St Joseph's pupils come from other faiths.
Miss Maguire said: "Two of the mosques in Stoke are having petitions to keep us open, and there's a prayer group in the local Anglican churches set up by two mums.
"There are about 80 Catholics per year, and the other 40 are largely Church of England, Muslim and Sikh, but over the years we've had all sorts."