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Head says poverty is no excuse

When Margaret Libreri became head at Wellington primary in Tower Hamlets, east London, just 38 per cent of 11-year-olds achieved the expected grade in English and less than one in four reached it in maths or science.

This year, 85 per cent got level 4 in English, 94 per cent in maths and all in science, making it the most improved school in the country in the past three years.

Mrs Libreri was appointed in April 2001, when the school was in special measures. She said: "It was an interesting school because, although everything was in a mess, you could see how it could be fixed."

Mrs Libreri swept in a "can do" culture at a school where more than half of the 316 pupils are entitled to free meals. She concentrated on teaching skills and refused to allow poverty to be an excuse for poor achievement.

By November 2001, the school was out of special measures and results were improving.

The school has a strong focus on assessment. Teachers know exactly what gaps children have in their knowledge and, if necessary, devise individual intervention programmes to help them catch up. Extra classes are offered to the brightest after school. Parents are also invited to weekly meetings to find out how best to back up school work at home.

The biggest problem is recruitment. Six of the school's 14 teachers are South African or Australian. The school's dependence on overseas teachers means turnover is high.

But Mrs Libreri said it is quality that counts. She said: "I say to staff that if they choose to work in a school like this they will face challenges, our job is to see what we can do to overcome barriers to achievement, not use them as an excuse."

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