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Better lessons did trick

A Cardiff school focused on teaching quality rather than pupils to improve performance

A failing school with falling standards improved significantly after targeting poor teaching practice - rather than troublesome pupils.

Staff and governors at Cardiff's Llanedeyrn High School, one of the worst- performing secondaries in Wales, say taking the heat off bad behaviour and improving lesson quality had helped it to break out of special measures.

Bringing a new leadership team sparked a change of culture, with a new found self-belief.

The school is now seen as a shining example of how good pedagogy can narrow the gap between best and worst performance.

Head Tony Evans, brought in by consultants Creative Education, said things were desperate when he arrived. "Pupils smoked openly in the school grounds and I could not believe there was no properly constructed timetable," he said.

"We needed to let disruptive pupils know we were not going to take any nonsense, but at the same time we needed to focus on them less. It had all become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Last month the school was officially lifted out of special measures. Estyn's progress report says its recovery is due to better teaching and more effective approaches to behaviour management.

In 2007, the percentage of pupils gaining five passes at GCSE grades A*-G was up to 83 per cent - just under the national average.

The quality of teaching observed in lessons in the first five months of this academic year has been grade 3 or above in 96 per cent of lessons - 11 percentage points higher than in 2006.

Attendance rates, once well down on Assembly government targets, are also up to 91.5 per cent. And the number of exclusions is down by two- thirds.

The report says: "In most cases there is mutual respect between pupils and teachers based on effective classroom management."

Estyn, however, also acknowledge that this year's budget deficit at the school is likely to be around pound;430,000.

The main recommendation is for an improvement in spelling, punctuation and grammar, far removed from the more serious criticisms when the school was first put into special measures.

Last week it celebrated its success with an Eisteddfod, an event that Carys Meredith, head of Welsh, said staff would not previously have had enough confidence in their pupils' to hold.

Stephen Wakefield, head of English, said separating some lower-ability classes into groups of boys and girls has resolved many behavioural issues. We also put children's work on display. Even older pupils love to see their named work on the wall."

A debating society has taken off and lower school pupils are competing in a house system. This praises achievement and rewards less-academic pupils for effort.

Drama has also been reintroduced at GCSE. "It's important to engage some children in things that aren't just academic," said Jeff Beattie, head of drama and media.

A mentor is allocated to each child. Better data handling, with access to in-depth information of pupils' grades and performance has also helped.

"They help with anything I'm having trouble with in lessons," said Year 11 pupil Helen Capeling.

Despite Llanedeyrn's progress, the school is still destined to close as part of the council's reorganisation plans. But governors, staff and pupils are staging a fight-back with their new-found confidence.

Community governor Sarah Griffiths said the school was now striving to be excellent. Along with parent Sylvia Tabero, she firmly believes the school should be saved after proving its worth.

"At first I thought it was to do with falling rolls, but then I started to think the school had been targeted because of poor performance," said Ms Tabero.

The head, who leaves this summer, also believes the only way is up. "The timetable is now offering many more vocational choices," said Mr Evans. "It's all about making pupils feel good about school."

Leader, page 28.

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