Anfield Community School is used to publicity, though until recently it was not of the flattering kind. Violence, poor exam results and threatened closure used to be the substance of most press cuttings. But earlier this year it was one of the 52 "improving" schools named in the annual report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools for its positive inspection report and an improvement of more than 10 percentage points in exam performance.
According to the head, Brian Boyle, the latest publicity has been a double-edged sword. In its wake it brought criticism that although results have improved considerably (from 4 per cent achieving five A to Cs in 1992 to 18 per cent last year) the number of students leaving with no GCSEs has also risen.
Brian Boyle believes that as the pressure mounts to achieve better exam results, weaker students "bottle-out". It is a cumulative problem with poor attendance resulting in incomplete coursework. It is an area of priority that the school is now concentrating on. It is also tackling the under-achievement of girls relative to that of boys.
Frances Womack, head of special needs, is adamant that the school supports all students and does not just concentrate on pushing up potential Ds to Cs.
Some staff feel under pressure to produce even better results next year, though intake measures suggest the current Year 11 is academically much weaker than last year. Nevertheless no one is giving up and the pupils I spoke to were pleased about the publicity and proud of their school. They thought highly of their teachers and described the school as a safe place; one where you could get on with your work. They appreciated how teachers helped the pupils and "let you have a laugh" with them.
Year 11, just gearing up to exams, were about to take advantage of extra classes held at lunchtime and after school. They remembered the school when it had a poor reputation. Their verdict on the head and staff: "They've done a very good job."
Situated opposite Liverpool football ground, Anfield was formed in 1986 when two single-sex secondaries were combined. More than 50 per cent of its pupils come from the surrounding urban priority areas where levels of deprivation and unemployment are high and about 46 per cent are eligible for free school meals. Forty per cent have special educational needs.
Seven years ago, 80 primary pupils put Anfield as their first choice. In September this year, only 180 out of the 255 pupils who want to go to Anfield will be lucky enough to get their first choice.
The change in the reputation of the school has come about as a result of slow, sustained, hard work. According to Trevor Smith, head of art and the school's marketing co-ordinator, "there are no magic wands". Nor is the change down to any individual - "it's been a big team effort".
When he took over the marketing role six years ago he had three main tasks: to improve the image of the school, to increase recruitment and to create a marketing culture. "Everything we - staff, (teaching and ancillary), students, governors, everyone - say and do should reflect quality."
A marketing committee was created with help from a local firm. One of its first suggestions was to change the name to Anfield Community School to reflect the new image it was seeking. Pupils then helped to choose the bright sweat shirts with their distinctive logo (Liverpool's colours for the younger pupils and Everton's for Years 10 and 11). Standards of behaviour and work were addressed, and an agreed code is now printed in the students' diaries.
A spare room was refurbished to become a primary link room for pupils from feeder schools, and their teachers became regular visitors for science and technology lessons. A resources centre which ensures all school publications are of a high standard, now works for a variety of commercial organisations and community groups, ensuring a regular flow of visitors into the school - something that is encouraged.
Parents are particularly welcome. Pat Douglas, a parent governor who also works in the canteen and has recently been employed by the school as a classroom assistant, has just passed GCSE French by sitting in with Year 11 classes. Christine Foxcroft is one of the current cohort of eight parents who are participating in the "parents as educators" initiative endorsed and assess- ed by Mersyside Open College.
These parents - some of whom have gone on to access and higher education courses - come into school to work regularly with pupils with special needs.
Students from John Moore and Liverpool Universities are also regular visitors. With the help of Frances Womack, Sharon Buckley, a PGCSE student, has been co-ordinating the paired reading scheme. Years 10 and 11 students are paired with younger students who find reading difficult. Barry, a Year 8 student on the receiving end of this scheme, is enthusiastic about its merits and determined to be a "volunteer" to help someone else when he is older.
The students liked their record of achievement diaries (Liverpool and Everton colours again) in which they note homework, credit marks and their achievements. Half-termly reviews in all subjects are also included which ensure students and their parents are aware of progress.
Kate Myers is an associate of the international school effectiveness and improvement centre, University of London Institute of Education.