The magnificent 11
Fair Furlong primary, south Bristol: This is in an area of considerable deprivation some five miles out of Bristol. There is a high crime rate, a high proportion of single parents and little prospect of new jobs.
The school has an extensive security system and a repair budget of Pounds 11,000. The junior department was destroyed by fire in 1991 - a suspected arson attack.
But a devoted staff, effective leadership and the development of sound policies have done much to counter the adverse conditions. This was found to be a school "buzzing" with excitement; filled with displays, and music.
Blaengwrach primary, West Glamorgan: Typical of many villages in South Wales, this was once a thriving community almost entirely dependent on coal and iron smelting. Now earnings are low and unemployment is in double figures.
The school nonetheless has a good reputation in the neighbouring valleys and is known for its high standards.
Columbia primary, east London: This area has never known affluence or economic security. Pupils are mainly Bangladeshi, with the inevitable language and cultural barriers. The school has received high praise from the Office for Standards in Education, with 88 per cent of lessons "good or very good" and relations between staff, pupils and parents "very good". Reading levels are well above the borough average. The team found a strong senior staff with consistently good colleagues.
Lochgelly North special school, Fife: Takes children up to the age of 18, for the most part rejected by mainstream schools as ineducable or incurably anti-social. "If there were measures for staff dedication and parental support and satisfaction, it would rank among the best in the UK," says the commission. The team found the school had been viewed as a "dumping ground". Thanks to its last two heads, it has emerged with a sense of common values and a strong local reputation.
Haywood High, Stoke on Trent:
Created through a traumatic amalgamation in the 1980s in an area of social deprivation. There was poor staff morale, high levels of truancy, poor pupil behaviour and a breakdown of any sense of identity.
Now, "the school faces its future with a good balance of newly-qualified and experienced teachers". The past five years have seen a transformation of staff morale, expectations and demeanour of the pupils. They picked out "the clear, firm, collaborative style" of the head's approach.
Hazelwood integrated college, North Belfast: One of the first joint Catholic, Protestant, integrated schools taking children most of whom would not have got into grammar school. Academic standards are high and the school is successfully generating a spirit of tolerance. This is despite "woefully inadequate" premises. "For the present, Hazelwood stands as a clear example that, while a lack of resources is not to be recommended, it does not, in itself doom a school to failure."
St Michael's RC comprehensive, Billingham, Cleveland: Once prosperous as a base for heavy industry, there is widespread unemployment in an area now largely dependent on the petro-chemical industry. The school was likely to close 10 years ago as a result of falling rolls and poor leadership. It is now regularly over-subscribed. OFSTED found very good attendance; very sound standards of education; positive leadership; good value for money; and pupils showing respect and responsibility for others.
The Sutton Centre, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire: The school is in an unusual - in its day revolutionary - building which doubles as the local community and leisure centre in the centre of town used by 2,000 adults a week. In an area of high unemployment, the centre is a constant reminder to pupils of the adult world, says the commission. Many students as well as adults attend evening and Saturday morning classes.
Selly Park girls' school, Birmingham: This school might have closed in 1986 and, according to the team, the condition of its buildings, its poor record of leadership and its appalling academic record would have provided good grounds for closure. But working with a predominantly Muslim intake, an excellent staff has made the school a success. The team identified a series of "inspired" appointments through "an exceptional scouting system".