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How we did it

A decade ago, Newton Farm school had trouble filling places. Now it's over-subscribed

When I came to Newton Farm almost 11 years ago, the school was in difficulty. The previous head had let things slip, and the national curriculum and delegation of budgets was upon us. It seemed a happy school, but other schools in our cluster in Harrow were seen to be better. People didn't want to send their children here; Newton Farm was OK if your children didn't really want to get on. It had that kind of reputation.

There were problems with discipline; simple issues such as children wearing trainers, being dressed inappropriately, lacking consideration for their school environment. I tackled the uniform issue immediately. The children wore school shoes instead of trainers, proper school uniform, ties. There was a bit of a backlash from parents; they didn't like it as it meant change. Our justification was that the children would have a sense of belonging. This is their school; they take pride in how they look, and that's how they come to school.

I would walk around school and say, 'thank you', I would open doors, and I would talk to children about how to project themselves, how being polite doesn't cost anything. This is how we do things here, and we will not stand for poor behaviour. In the event of poor behaviour, I ring the parents.

Similarly, if a child's done well, a letter will go home.

If we'd had an inspection we would have failed. So we began to look at planning, evaluation, assessment, and delivery of the national curriculum.

I talked about supporting the children, getting good learning experiences for them, but also helping each other. There was good practice in the school, but it wasn't shared.

So staff started to talk to each other about how children were learning and what our standards were. I started monitoring and we sat down and discussed these issues. We put together a policy on what I'd be monitoring, so they didn't feel "she's coming in to test us out". When I'd done it, staff considered the feedback to be a two-way process. We'd talk about how we were going to improve.

Our first SATs results were bad. Staff were shocked, and it was a bit of a wake-up call. The following year the SATs results improved dramatically because we intensified the work we were doing. We were far more focused in ensuring that proper learning was taking place.

The children were evaluating their learning, and staff were using those evaluations to inform planning and delivery of lessons. For three years, our SATS results have hit 100 per cent. Now we have 30 places in reception and we have 100 applications, so it's a complete turnaround.

We have learned that real change takes time; it's about making a difference to those children's lives.

Rekha Bhakoo is headteacher at Newton Farm nursery, first and middle school for four to 12-year-olds, in Harrow. She was talking to Martin Whittaker.

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