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'The talent of a good head is spotting good staff`

When Mo Brennan was appointed principal of the Hillcrest school and community college in Dudley almost four years ago, its situation was desperate. In special measures for more than a year, the school had attracted just 60 applications for 150 places.

But although it still faces all the problems of every inner-city comprehensive, Hillcrest was picked out by the chief inspector as one of Britain's most outstanding schools.

Although 36 per cent of its pupils are entitled to free meals, last year 42 per cent gained at least five A*-C grades at GCSE. Two years earlier, the figure was just 16 per cent. In Ofsted's annual report, David Bell praised the school for inspiring its pupils and nurturing their individuality.

Mrs Brennan says her first job was to ensure both staff and pupils attended regularly and to cut the very high levels of supply teaching in the school.

Then she was able to turn her attention to the quality of learning.

But she pooh-poohs the idea of the 'superhead.' "You don't wear your knickers on the outside," she says. "The talent of a good head is spotting good staff. I don't teach these children.

"The underlying principle here is 'Why shouldn't a school like this have what everybody else has?' Now we have orchestras, choirs, school trips - all things there hadn't been in this school for years."

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