But after amalgamating last September with Hinde House secondary, 500 yards away, it became incredibly popular - almost overnight. Job applications came flooding in.
Advertisements for 36 teaching and support posts attracted more than 500 applications. Teachers living in London, Durham, the South Coast and the Midlands became willing to up roots to work in this unique school.
"It was amazing - way beyond our expectations," said David Tingle, the man in charge of the primary side. "A normal inner-city school in special measures will inevitably face recruitment problems. But we had people consciously opting to work here because they wanted the challenge. The applicants were of a very high calibre.
"It attracted people who were interested in the whole of children's education and could see the benefits of the 3-16 approach for the children and for their own professional development."
Improvements were instantaneous. Some pupils jumped a whole attainment level in the first term. Two inspections of the primary years last term - its first under the new set-up - both produced glowing reports.
All eyes will now be on Hinde House to see how it deals with one of the most pressing problems in education - the dip in learning experienced by pupils after they move from primary to secondary. Thirty-eight per cent "go backwards" in Year 7.
"We will try things out to come up with the strategies and solutions to address this, and then share our expertise more widely," says Sarah Draper, the principal.
"This year we got Year 7 pupils to bring in their best work from primary so teachers had a better understanding of the quality of work they could produce."
One thing that will not change, however, is that the primary and secondary phases will remain on separate sites, even after a rebuilding programme.
But movement of staff and pupils between the two sites has begun to take place and will grow in time, so that the trauma of the transfer to secondary school will be reduced.
A Year 5 to 8 approach to the curriculum is planned in which upper primary and lower secondary staff will share ideas and even swap classes.
"Our teachers can see this as an opportunity to maximise learning," says Mrs Draper. "This presents a challenge and we have decided we are up for it."