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Progress beneath the paintwork

The Education Secretary hails it as a success, but others are not so sure.

The steel grilles and razor wire have gone from Our Lady of Fatima RC high school in Liverpool and a coat of paint has transformed the school which was publicly identified as persistently failing by standards minister Stephen Byers.

But the changes wrought in the five months since the announcement extend well beyond the cosmetic, and have ensured that Our Lady of Fatima was judged to have made reasonable progress.

A technology block costing Pounds 600,000 is under construction. A library has been developed to overcome a major criticism in an inspector's report, and links have been developed with local industry.

Under new head Jim Burke - an appointment announced before the May naming - targets for GCSE and key stage 3 have been agreed and a system introduced for close monitoring of pupil performance based on prior achievements (last year 7 per cent of pupils gained five A* to C grade GCSEs).

A one-year staff development programme has been introduced aimed at improving the quality of teaching and learning, raising teacher expectations and pupils' achievements.

And an attendance-monitoring scheme, including daily checks and phone calls and letters to parents, has seen an improvement to just over 90 per cent.

Mr Burke said: "We have set targets over the next three years that will confirm our predictions that this school is improving. We are aware that no matter how many initiatives are introduced we still have to raise standards of achievement."

The changes at this grant-maintained inner-city school of 400 pupils might seem to confirm the wisdom of education ministers' decision to name the school. Not so, says Mr Burke.

"It had a tremendously marked effect on staff morale and pupil self-esteem, " he said, "which meant we had to start bringing about changes from a very low base. We would argue that the Government could have achieved the same outcome in terms of improvement without having to name and shame."

But there is praise for the support that the grant-maintained school has received from the Funding Agency for Schools and the local education authority. Mr Burke highlighted three main areas where support was needed and had been received: dealing with staff incompetence and help with literacy and numeracy.

Monsignor Austin Hunt, chair of governors, said staff had been under great pressure for a while after special measures were introduced, and the naming by Mr Byers further damaged morale. "It does seem to me that it was not an inspired move. We feel that we are the victims of that, however well- intentioned the idea was."

He said inspectors had acknowledged the progress that was being made. "Our staff are working hard and putting in long hours to bring about improvements. "

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