Once troubled school has 26 reasons to celebrate

A school that had never sent a pupil to university until two years ago is celebrating the news that 26 of its sixth formers are now heading to higher education.

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Staff at All Saints College, in Newcastle upon Tyne, say the success of its students in A-levels and Btec qualifications is a sign of a "cultural change" in the poverty-stricken area that it serves, and a tribute to students' and teachers' hard work.

However, the school is now facing a fresh challenge, as it is on the Government's list of 638 secondaries which must improve their GCSE results or face closure.

All Saints has chequered origins, having been born in 2002 of the merger of two failed comprehensives and two middle schools.

One of its predecessor schools, Firfield Community College, had itself replaced an underperforming secondary four years previously under the Government's controversial Fresh Start initiative.

In 2002, All Saints, now a 1,000-pupil 11-18 school, only had four students in the sixth form. For its first four years it did not send a single pupil to university.

Numbers going on to higher education rose to four in 2006 and 17 last year before last week's A-level results brought cheers.

Sharon Esposito, the deputy principal , said: "We are just ecstatic. There has not been a history here of learning post-16.

"Turning that around has been a long, slow process, which involves a cultural change around raising aspirations. We are delighted it's bearing fruit."

Ms Esposito said that part of the challenge had been convincing young people and their parents of the value of staying on at school, and how they could succeed.

The school serves the city's West Denton area, which has high unemployment. More than half of its pupils have special needs, and nearly half are on free school meals.

It was praised in an Ofsted report this year for its post-16 curriculum, which it designs from scratch every year according to pupil needs.

Students are offered either A-levels or BTECs, with resit opportunities also offered for those who failed to achieve good grades at GCSE.

All Saints, which was set up as a partnership between Newcastle city council, the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle and Newcastle University, was criticised six years ago in the local press after dishing out 117 exclusions in its first two months. A 2.5-metre fence was also erected around the school, to keep the pupils in and drug dealers out.

While it appears to be putting that past behind it, only 17 per cent of its year 11 achieved five or more good GCSEs including English and maths this year, some way short of the Government's target of 30 per cent, which all schools must reach by 2011 or face closure. Its Ofsted report said it was satisfactory overall.

However, Ms Esposito said: "We are working so hard to improve literacy and numeracy, and we will hit the Government's target."

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