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How we did it

In four years, a small 11-16 school in Gloucestershire has gone from being under-subscribed to having a large waiting list, says head Chris Steer

Thomas Keble school opened in 1991 on the site of a former secondary modern. The relaunched 11-16 school had an intake of little more than 200.

By 1998, when I arrived as head, numbers had increased to just under 400.

But in four years we have moved from being two-thirds under-subscribed to being significantly over-subscribed.

We're anticipating 650 pupils next September and we have a substantial waiting list. In September 1998, 66 parents chose us as their first school.

Last year, 220 did.

How have we done it? It's a combination of measures. The first and grossly underestimated element of managing change is the value of continuity.

People can be over-attracted to change rather than acknowledging, and keeping, what's good.

Staff numbers have been stable. Many of those who were here in 1998 were at the school's inception, and most are still with us. But we have been able to appoint 50 per cent more staff, so we have a powerful blend of experience and youth.

We have made some changes, but they are all institutional, such as a change in the school day, clarifying a code of conduct, making our expectations clear. The principal issue is that we have tried to work in partnership and to cultivate relationships with parents.

As a new head, I was fortunate to inherit a school in which there was good practice, and that had been shy in celebrating that. We produce regular newsletters featuring children's work, and promote the school's values, principles and expectations, be they behaviour, uniform, or attendance.

We have a genuine comprehensive intake, with children of every ability in the school, but our intake is skewed because there are two selective schools in Stroud. Increasingly, they have aimed to make theirs more selective, and their intake covers a much wider geographical area. And that helps schools such as ours recruit more able children.

Some of the most depressing comments I heard when I came here were from parents playing down their children's ability. One couple told me that because their child was the only one of four brothers who had not gone to the grammar school, they didn't expect anything of him other than to be happy. Some even tried to justify their children's bad behaviour on the grounds of "what do you expect in a secondary modern school?" We rarely hear that kind of comment now. The majority share the ethos of the school and are desperately keen that their kids come here.

Chris Steer is headteacher at Thomas Keble secondary school in Eastcombe, Gloucestershire. He was talking to Martin Whittaker. Do you have a success story to share?Email susan.young@newsint.co.uk

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