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How we did it

Things started to improve at one east London comp when headteacher Haydn Evans decided to shut the doors at lunchtime

We have taken our school from bottom of the league tables to top of the Department for Education and Skills' "most improved schools" list in four years. The starting point for this transformation was a revolution in our approach to behaviour management. After that, we started to make improvements to the structure and organisation of our teaching and learning.

Behaviour started to improve five years ago, when we decided to close the school at lunchtimes, preventing pupils from leaving the premises. We're an inner-city school and students were at risk when they were out, and some didn't return, which was affecting attendance. We wanted to maintain pupils' focus throughout the day.

We contacted the parents and they agreed to the lunchtime policy. We also decided to separate the girls and boys - separate playgrounds, separate entrances and exits. Parents said if you're splitting them for that, why not split them for PE and swimming? So that's what we did.

The changes gradually raised attendance from 86 per cent in 1995 to 94 per cent in 1998. It also showed in exclusion rates, which dropped from about 15 permanent exclusions plus many fixed-term ones, to two or three permanent exclusions a year.

We have many bright children here with a lot of potential. And we've a good teaching team. Once everybody agreed that we wanted to improve, and how we were going to do it, it all started happening.

With local education authority support as part of the Excellence in Cities partnership in schools, we were nominated as a specialist language college in 1999. That was crucial as it brought a lot of resources into the school.

It enabled us to experiment with the curriculum, where we focused our attention on vocational courses and languages. And it's those two areas that have had the biggest impact in terms of raising attainment.

We also invested in learning mentors. Whenever we had students struggling on coursework, we'd put them with a mentor. It had a significant effect on last year's results. Where certain students might flag towards the end of a course and give up, they just weren't allowed to.

The proportion of pupils getting five A* to C grades at GCSE rose from 8 per cent to 22 per cent in 1998-99. And between 1999 and 2002 they rose to 69 per cent, putting us at the top of the "most improved" list.

It's a credit to everybody involved. Every pupil was carefully scrutinised and given a great deal of support: teachers ran top-up classes, fast-track classes, extension clubs after-school and homework clubs. All these have contributed to the development of a strong learning ethos.

Haydn Evans is headteacher at Sir John Cass Foundation and Redcoat C of E secondary school in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. He was talking to Martin Whittaker. Do you have a success story to share? Email

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