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How we did it

In 10 years, an 11-18 comprehensive facing closure has soared in popularity and won Ofsted's approval, writes head Rachel Macfarlane

Francis Bacon school has always had a good reputation for its pastoral care and its spiritual, moral and cultural dimension, but it has trailed behind other local schools in terms of league tables and academic output.

By the early 1990s the school roll had fallen significantly and there was a real threat of closure. My predecessor decided to become grant-maintained, which was instrumental in saving the school. Since then the school has almost doubled in size to around 900 students.

I started in September 2002, determined to raise attainment from a 1996 Ofsted report that said teaching and learning were unsatisfactory in 20 to 25 per cent of lessons. That was reduced to 3 per cent in December 2002.

Community links and the image of the school locally have been important. We got people in to view the school and see what we did well. We have done a huge amount of work on improvement planning, involving governors, staff, parents and students.

We're working hard to develop links with our feeder primaries, getting primary students in here to use our facilities in food technology, our swimming pool, our science labs and ICT facilities.

The school has a strong culture of self-evaluation. Students are often surveyed about aspects of running the school, and parents fill out questionnaires during parents' evening.

I brought in a policy of seating plans, where pupils work in a variety of situations, for example in groups, in pairs, with friends, or with mixed gender groups. It encourages equal opportunities, mentoring and thinking for themselves.

I also insist that staff have students' prior attainment data from the most recent key stage results against each child's name in their mark books.

This has helped raise teacher expectations of what those students are capable of.

Rachel Macfarlane is headteacher at Francis Bacon school in St Albans, Hertfordshire. She was talking to Martin Whittaker. Do you have a success story to share?Email:

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