The thrust of post-1988 education policy has been to mirror in schools the social divisions that increase all the time in our urban areas. Competition between schools inevitably results in winners and losers and those schools branded as failures see socially ambitious parents withdrawing their children and the average ability level of those who remain inevitably dropping. Measuring the success of schools by GCSE A-C predetermines which schools will come bottom of the tables. They will be deemed to be failing however well they are doing. To date the activity has been a self-defeating process. To be 'accused' of failure demoralizes staff and pupils. To go through the mockery of closing down, amalgamating and re-opening adds confusion and chaos to an already depressing scene. For a New Labour Government, elected in 1997, to embrace this policy, which hits hardest those pupils who are deprived and neglected, is difficult to comprehend. The following case study involving the closure of two schools in the north of England and their reopening as a 'Phoenix' school, which explores how it was handled and the cost involved in human terms, puts the New Labour policy into context.
Foxwood was the first comprehensive school in the city. It was planned in the 1950s to serve the council estates, one of which had been designed as a purpose built ghetto, with a high proportion of four and five bedroom houses to meet the needs of so-called problem families. Foxwood was a 12-form entry school, for boys only. The Labour Group on the City Council was startled by its own courage in building a comprehensive school at all; to have made it co-educational as well would have been altogether too daring. All pupils then took the 11-plus, so the school had a 'selective' intake of 36 and a 'non-selective' intake of over 300, but amongst them were 76 boys with IQs over 110. They were 11+ borderline pupils who travelled a considerable distance to avoid secondary modern education.