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From failure to triumph

Chris Cosgrave, aged 46, took up the headship of St John the Divine Primary School in Camberwell, in the summer of 1995. The school was already on special measures.

Pupil behaviour was terrible, staff expectations were low and the children's learning was virtually non-existent. Teachers in the single-form entry school were working in isolation from each other and theVictorian building was in a dreadful state of disrepair. Mr Cosgrave could see that the teachers at the school had expertise and potential but they needed experience in working together to co-ordinate teaching and learning.

"It just seemed that the staff and pupils were crying out for for stability in order that some quality teaching and learning could take place," said Mr Cosgrave.

By a judicious mixture of discussion, leadership and teamwork, Mr Cosgrave helped to implement a policy which radically improved behaviour, substantially lifted expectations of what pupils could achieve and mapped out what they needed to learn and the necessary schemes of work to assist them in acquiring such knowledge.

The school's classrooms were systematically redecorated and refurbished. Mr Cosgrave and his deputy worked alongside teachers in modelling effective teaching techniques. Classroom activity was regularly observed and teachers received continual feedback on how they were performing.

The school came out of special measures just over a year after Mr Cosgrave arrived. In 1998, more than 71 per cent of pupils achieved level 4 or above in mathematics at key stage 2 and the figures for in English and science were 86 per cent and 81 per cent respectively.

Last October an inspection team from the Office for Standards in Education rated 93 per cent of the teaching observed in the school as good, very good or excellent. These are stunning achievements given that the teachers who achieved these results were largely the same staff who previously had been judged to be failing their pupils.

"It will always be a difficult school," said Mr Cosgrave. "There are no easy-ride days. There are huge social problems - drugs, high-rise flats, single-parent families, poverty. What we had to hold on to was that, yes, there were social problems, but our children are as bright as any other group of children and can do as well."

Simon Midgley

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