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How we did it

There is life after special measures for St Mary's primary in Buckinghamshire. But the hard work is just beginning, says its head, Elaine Kilner

St Mary's went into special measures in October 2000. I arrived the following September, teaming up with new staff, some temporary staff, and some of the original members. Things were unsettled. I had no deputy head, no special educational needs co-ordinator.

We were due an inspection a few weeks after I arrived. We identified four key issues that needed immediate attention: quality of teaching, provision for special needs, leadership and management, and ICT.

Many of the systems and procedures that most schools take for granted just weren't in place; we were starting from scratch. The most important priority in this sort of situation is to have a focus. Everyone knew where they wanted to be - out of special measures. But how were we going to get there? That was the challenge.

Pupil behaviour had been a big issue, so we looked at the behaviour policy to make sure we were all applying it in the same way. We discussed it, we reviewed it, and now the children are wonderful. They just needed a consistent approach.

I took any support that was offered to the school. We had help from education authority consultants in numeracy and literacy, and we focused on improving the quality of the teaching and the delivery of lessons. Our governors received training on monitoring and on their roles and responsibilities.

The school had limited information technology resources, but luckily it had just received funding from the National Grid for Learning, so with the help of parents we renovated a room and set up a state-of-the-art suite with networked computers. We cabled the school, and provided staff training.

Recruitment is a common problem for schools that are in special measures, and we had the added difficulty of being located in an expensive area. So we weren't attracting many staff or pupils. But now we have many permanent staff, and more than 150 children - up from 128 when I arrived - so we're moving in the right direction. Staff are dedicated, very committed.

We came out of special measures last June. Today, I refer to the school as the new St Mary's. On each of our key issues Ofsted reported that we were making good progress. We were encouraged to continue what we were doing, focusing on quality of teaching and learning.

When a school comes out of special measures, people think that's it, but it's a crucial time when things could go either way. I liken it to giving birth. After nine months you end up with a baby, but that's just the beginning. And that is where we are: the midwife's gone and now we're on our own.

Elaine Kilner is head of St Mary's C of E primary school in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. She was talking to Martin Whittaker. Do you have a success story to share? Email

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