Marks spark a recovery

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Parents who visited Beaufort school described it as amazing - so why was it undersubscribed? Martin Whittaker reports on how it changed its fortunes

BBeaufort community school has battled against the odds in its mission to become the first-choice secondary for local parents. This is no mean task for a comprehensive in Gloucestershire, where selective grammar schools cream off able pupils. But Beaufort has demonstrated its high standards to parents by winning seven quality mark awards.

Five years ago parents' confidence in the school was low and it was under-subscribed, despite a subsequent Office for Standards in Education inspection which described it as a good and improving school.

But since then numbers have risen steadily from 989 pupils in 199798 to 1,200 this autumn. Five years ago, 35 of its Year 7 pupils were first-choice allocations - this term 242 put the school first, well above the 192 the school aims to admit each year. "I think we have tried to be a distinctive comprehensive in a city that hasn't really had comprehensives," says head Malcolm Bride.

"Because of the impact of the grammar schools, we will never have results that compare with genuine comprehensives. But we think we have created a school in which parents of our local community genuinely have trust."

In the past 18 months the school has achieved Investors in Careers, the Basic Skills Agency quality mark in literacy and numeracy, Investors in People, Artsmark silver and Sportsmark.

It has had an application for international school status accepted, and won a Department for Education and Skills achievement award for improved results. The percentage of pupils gaining five A*-Cs at GCSE or better has risen from 16 per cent seven years ago to 36 per cent.

The school sits in a large green open space surrounded by housing estates in Tuffley, a suburb of Gloucester.

Its last inspection in 1999 found the attainment of its Year 7 intake to be well below average, which the report put down to nearby selective schools creaming off able students. At the time more than 40 per cent of the intake had reading ages two or more years below their chronological age.

Following the appointment of Mr Bride five years ago, the school decided to go for the quality marks one by one. "The paperwork was the onerous side of it, and you've enough to do in school anyway," says deputy head Sara Gorrod. "But once we'd looked at the criteria, we found it wasn't a great hurdle. I can't think of a thing we put in place simply to get them.

Everything was there - it was simply a question of getting recognition for it."

The school was the first in Gloucestershire to get the Basic Skills quality mark, for which schools have to fulfil criteria in 10 key areas, including a whole school strategy; an action plan to improve basic skills, and involvement of parents in helping their children. Ms Gorrod says: "It really makes you assess your practices and their effectiveness. It adds more layers of support and it forces you to look at all the pupils - it's not just about special needs pupils, or gifted and talented. It's about provision for all the different groups in your school."

The school prides itself on its arts. It has a new performing arts centre with rehearsal rooms and theatre, and on the day The TES visits, the art department is a riot of colour as A-level artwork is on display. The school puts pupils' artwork on "good news" postcards sent out to parents.

Ms Gorrod says she wants every child "to have a reason to come up the drive in the morning": "With many of them it is that they can work in the art room throughout lunchtime, or they'll be in the cricket team after school."

How have the quality marks helped the school? "It's given us recognition. We weren't a school which had paid much attention to publicity and we've probably paid a price for that. We've always been the sort of school where people come and visit and they say it's amazing - I didn't know."

There will always be parents who believe grammar schools are better. But Sara Gorrod believes the value-added it offers is helping to win over the local community.

Chair of governors Gwenda Halford says it has been an uphill struggle. "We want to build a school that is accepted by the community, with a completely comprehensive syllabus, and to ensure that we're seen to be as good as the city's grammar schools."

She says the focus is now on improving results. The school runs an awards evening each year for the highest achiever, and most improved in each year and subject. There are also achievement assemblies every half term, Ms Gorrod says children have always rated getting sports colours but now want to achieve in all areas, "Obviously results matter - we've got a responsibility to those students to deliver for them. This is their chance in life, isn't it? And if we don't deliver, people won't have confidence.

They won't continue to send their youngsters here."

Name Beaufort Community School, Gloucester.

School type 11-18 mixed comprehensive.

Proportion of children entitled to free school meals 20 per cent

Proportion of special needs pupils 25 per cent

Improved results Percentage of pupils gaining five GCSEs at grade C or better up from 16 to 36 per cent over seven years

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