Leap in faith beats the odds;Primary School results;News;News and opinion

10th December 1999 at 00:00
CASE HISTORY Mellers primary school

MELLERS primary school in Nottingham was near the bottom of the league table four years ago, but has made a remarkable recovery to achieve excellent results last year with just a slight decline this year.

The odds seem stacked against this 150-pupil school: 60 are on the special needs register, four have statements.

In 1996, the aggregate score for the percentage of its pupils (most of whom are from ethnic minorities) achieving level 4 in English, maths and science was just 22.

This rose to 281 out of a possible 300 per cent last year, a staggering increase. Because the average dipped slightly to 258 this year, the school does not qualify under the criteria set out by the Department for Education and Employment as one of the most improved schools in the country (see story on left).

But the improvements are obvious. In 1996, the year before primary league tables were introduced, few pupils reached the expected level in any of the core subjects.

This year, 84 per cent of the 19 pupils who took the tests achieved level 4 in English, 79 per cent in maths and 95 per cent in science - well above the national average and above the Government's national targets.

Elise Tiplady, the head, reckons that Mellers' success is due to a variety of factors.

"It's hard to put your finger on one thing." Her governing body is "very supportive; when things were bad, they kept the faith. They allow me to have very small classes (a maximum of 20) so we can plan individual targets for the children."

During her 13 years as head she has got to know the families. "It's a relationship of trust. They want the best for their child."

The school set homework long before the Government advised it and has devised a system of "peer mentoring" with pupils reading together in each other's houses or visiting the nearby library to catch up on work. Cooperation is encouraged, not competition, said Mrs Tiplady.

The school fosters a positive outlook and learning atmosphere by using an "assertive discipline technique". This entails setting four or five rules throughout the school agreed by pupils and teachers: and no name-calling or teasing, keeping hands, feet and objects to yourself, for example.

"These are crystal clear and fair," explained Mrs Tiplady. "If a child chooses to infringe the rules then there are sanctions like posting their name on the board or missing playtime.

"But the underlying principle is you need five lots of praise to wipe out the crushing effect of one criticism."

Good behaviour is rewarded with an extra story, a class picnic on the playing field or taking home a piece of equipment for the weekend.

"These are not expensive things and they get their teacher's praise and good thoughts."

Staff have high expectations of the children. "We say what we are going to do to make all children achieve level 4, not what are we going to do with the borderline pupils. A good teacher says 'I know you can do better.'"

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