All stops pulled out to rescue failing high

7th September 2001 at 01:00
Bribery and coercion were used to drag a school out of special measures - and it worked. Amanda Kelly reports.

THERE is no such thing as magic dust for turning round a failing school but bottles of wine for staff and pizzas for pupils go a long way.

And these are just two of the treats that Krysia Butwilowska used to bring her Portsmouth secondary school out of special measures, along with free mobile phones and tickets to football matches. The phones were for parents of pupils with the lowest attendance rate so they could be contacted by the school at any time. The bottles of wine were for staff who went the whole term without being absent.

When she arrived at St Luke's in September 1999, things were so dire that parents protested outside the school gates because they didn't want their children to go there.

At the school, which serves one of the city's most deprived areas, disruptive behaviour was rife, attendance low and almost a quarter of pupils left without a single qualification. But Mrs Butwilowska was determined her fourth headship would not result in failure and, in June this year, inspectors told her the school had improved so much, it no longer deserved to be on special measures.

The number of pupils getting at least one A* to G at GCSE has gone from 72 per cent in 1999 to 88 per cent this year, truancy rates have dropped and behaviour has improved dramatically.

"When you know that you either get the school out of special measures or it will be closed you go for the highest stakes and try things that may not have been tried before," she said.

Motivating the 850 pupils was a challenge as 58 per cent of them have special needs and the average youngster skipped school once a week. Alongside pizza lunches with the head, there were tickets to football matches, chocolate bars and lollipops.

A taskforce of teachers was formed to brainstorm problems and two student councils were set up. Parents were invited to air their views.

Mrs Butwilowska adopted an unashamedly coercive leadership style. Weeding out poor teaching and being a strong presence around the school were also vital to her success.

She said: "I do duty in the girls' toilets, teach in the classroom and spend all day talking to people.

"The only time I do the things heads normally do is when everyone else has gone home."

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