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Grammar contest buoys opposition

Grammars to the left of them, grammars to the right of them ... a comprehensive could be forgiven for despairing if it found itself sharing a town with two of the country's top selective schools.

But instead of giving up, Darrick Wood in Orpington, Kent, has worked like the blazes - and has now been named as one of England's most successful schools.

Despite having Newstead Wood girls' school and St Olave's and St Saviour's boys' - both top grammar schools - as neighbours Darrick Wood has excelled. Its most recent Office for Standards in Education report said it was "a well-led school in which a well-planned curriculum and good teaching lead to very high standards and very good examination results".

Headteacher Barbara Rhymaun said the accolade was "a recognition of the hard work of staff, pupils, parents and governors". The result has been that the proportion of pupils gaining five A*-C grades at GCSE rose from 46 per cent in 1996 to 72 per cent in 2000.

One ploy to raise literacy has been the rule that pupils must always carry a novel from home with them, which they are expected to read at registration and while waiting for classes to start. Fiona McSorley, director of studies, said mentoring for pupils at the CD border and disaffected Year 10 boys had also been a success.

The school now intends to bid for technology college status in March, if it can raise the necessary sponsorship. Although it appears to have a leafy, suburban location, Mrs Rhymaun says it has its share of challenging pupils. But the real bugbear is house prices, which are affecting teacher recruitment.

However, staff are unanimous that Darrick Wood is a happy place to work.

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