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Transformed school shocked by deaths

PUBLISHED: 10:10 06 February 2008 | UPDATED: 10:14 22 July 2010

Victim: Nassirudeen Osawe

Victim: Nassirudeen Osawe

IN the past five years, a once struggling all-boys school has turned itself around. St Aloysius' College has stamped out its rowdy classrooms and boosted its GCSE scores so they are regularly among the best in the borough.

Victim: Martin Dinnegan

IN the past five years, a once struggling all-boys school has turned itself around.

St Aloysius' College has stamped out its rowdy classrooms and boosted its GCSE scores so they are regularly among the best in the borough.

Yet both teenagers stabbed to death on the streets of Islington last year - 14-year-old Martin Dinnegan and then 16-year-old Nassirudeen Osawe - had both attended the Roman Catholic school.

The Gazette visited to find out what is going right inside - and what is going wrong outside.

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Around 40 different languages are spoken at the school in Hornsey Road, Archway. Many of the boys are brought up by single mothers and about 30 per cent are eligible for free school meals.

Yet the corridors are quiet, the classrooms are remarkably undisturbed, the unsupervised chapel is free from vandalism and up to 300 pupils return to school every Saturday morning for extra classes and clubs.

Last summer, 61 per cent of its GCSE-takers gained five at grade A* to C - eight points up from the previous year and the best in Islington.

The only problem seems to be the run-down and cramped 1960s building, but even that will change as work is about to start on building a new school.

As 43-year-old deputy head Danny Coyle pointed out, if society were as well controlled outside as inside the school gates, the killings would never have happened. But no magic wand was waved over the school. The change was down to plenty of hard work, which came after the school was put into the lowest "special measures" category in 2003 and new headteacher Tom Mannion arrived to find that only 30 per cent of boys were getting five GCSEs at grade A* to C.

Mr Coyle said: "If you had come here six years ago, it would have been a different school. You would have answering back in classrooms, children not wearing uniforms, and poor punctuality and attendance. The first year was a battle. We would put them in the learning support centre (a kind of internal inclusion), bring parents in constantly and have more detentions than you would ever know. It took a year to turn the school around.

"Tom wouldn't like the description 'superhead' but that's how we feel about him."

The school stands by the no-nonsense approach - which has seen it shorten lunch-breaks, escort the boys to and from Archway station each day, text message the parents if a child is missing, and order GCSE students back to school on Saturday mornings for "compulsory" revision classes.

And it says that as the children's behaviour improved, so did their education.

Mr Mannion said: "Any incidence of poor behaviour, I would take on. Slowly but surely we built up the confidence of the staff and pulled the boys onto the right track."

"We pushed and pushed on getting pupils in school in full uniform. We thought if we could take on stuff like that, the bigger issues wouldn't happen. There was a determination to see that there was no right to disrupt a learning environment."

Mr Coyle added: "They need to know who's in charge, what the rules are and what happens if they break the rules."

But the school's turnaround makes the deaths of Martin and Nassurideen all the more tragic. Martin, a year nine pupil, was fatally stabbed in Holloway in June after allegedly having looked at a group "the wrong way".

While Nass, as he was known, who had left St Aloysius' College to study art A-level after gaining 10 GCSEs - including five C grades - was stabbed in Upper Street, Islington, in December after an alleged "dirty look" on a bus.

Mr Mannion said: "If these boys had a reputation, it would be less shocking. But they did not have that reputation.

"Young Martin had just been in with his mum to choose his GCSE courses and was talking about doing a building course on Thursdays. He was a very good boy with a tight little group of friends.

"While Nass had just done his GCSEs and was a lovely boy."

The school feels more need to be done to tackle the youth violence on Islington streets. Mr Mannion said: "What is there available for them of an evening? There is a lack of things for boys - and girls - to do when they are sent outside.

"Things like zero tolerance are bandied about. But more should be done to take on groups or individuals found with offensive weapons - not just a caution.

"But I am not sure prison every time is something that should be done, maybe a probation system, but definitely not just a caution and out you go."

'We feel safe in school... but streets are a different matter'

PUPILS seem to be relishing the turnaround of a once-troubled school - but worry about territorial youth gangs on the streets once they leave the classroom.

Their concerns come as they come to terms with the killing of two boys who were once their schoolmates. They told the Gazette about the difference inside and outside the school gates,

St Aloysius' College pupil Natanael Pamplona, 15, said: "I noticed that every year, the exam results went up. Since the new headmaster everything has been better. Students are more respectful and their attitudes to work have improved.

"Whenever someone disrupts the class, we get rid of them (from the classroom). It's a really good thing. It allows the other students to learn."

While Byron McFarlane, 12, said: "When I first came to school, I was a bit bad. I used to get into fights and arguments. But when I kept getting into trouble, it made me want to change. I felt I could do better.

"Instead of getting annoyed and fighting, I just try to ignore it and walk away."

But the killings have shocked pupils at the school in Hornsey Lane, Archway.

Jack Davies, 12, said: "The school has improved but two deaths have occurred. It's true - if the streets were as well controlled outside as inside, it wouldn't happen. When you are at school, you feel safe.

"The problem is gangs from different areas fighting each other. I don't look at people as much. If you look at someone, they could just stab you."

Harry Morris, 13, said: "It's the way home from school that worries me. It sticks in my mind when I am on a bus. The problem is gangs. There are gangs between different areas. People should be punished more and prisons should be made worse. It's dangerous being a boy in your teenage years."

While Natanael added: "No one could believe it. Nass was the quiet one in the group and wasn't a troublemaker, while Martin was athletic and outgoing.

"A lot of students get worried and afraid. It's happening so close to the areas we live in. It might happen to us. I do my best not to look at anyone when I go out. I don't go to the top or the back of the bus because that's where they like to sit. You try to avoid areas and I never go to south London.


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