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England's worst is success story now

A London primary school that was slated by the national press has turned the corner. Helen Ward reports.

FIVE years ago Grange primary in the London borough of Southwark was named the worst school in England. Bottom of the first league tables published, the 221-pupil school was singled out for criticism in every national newspaper.

Not one of the 11-year-olds who had left the school the previous summer had made the grade in maths and only 8 per cent had managed to reach the expected standards in English and science. Parents and staff felt they were branded failures and Penny Haynes, who became head in September 2001, said:

"It was absolutely horrendous."

Today the school is out of special measures and this year a much higher proportion of pupils achieved level 4 in the core subjects: 60 per cent in English, 44 per cent in maths and 95 per cent in science. Now it has been praised by inspectors for its improved quality of teaching, very good leadership and support staff who help pupils learn effectively.

Other areas highlighted by the Office for Standards in Education as very good included its extra-curricular activities and assessment systems for identifying pupils' needs.

"We had an excellent party when the report came through," said Mrs Haynes. "It is good to have our hard work recognised but we are not going to get big-headed.

"The attitude here is a willingness to constantly look for improvements to teaching and provision for children. No one person can turn a school around: it takes a team."

The task of turning Grange around began when David McElroy was brought in as head in September 1996.

At the time, 66 per cent of the children were on free school meals and nearly 50 per cent did not come from English-speaking families.

But Mr McElroy told the press, when the league tables were published in March 1997, that such severe social and economic disadvantage would not be used to excuse underachievement.

The school was put into special measures and the following year, 37 per cent of 11-year-olds reached level 4 in English, 29 per cent in maths and 20 per cent in science.

Nick Hodgess became head in 1998 and the school came out of special measures in October 2000.

Mrs Haynes, who had started working as a consultant at the school in September 2000, took over when Mr Hodgess left the following year. The school has more than 50 per cent of children entitled to free meals, and 24 different languages are spoken by pupils.

Mrs Haynes said: "I pay tribute to the work done by Mr Hodgess. I built on the foundations he laid."

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