No place for bitterness as the age of anarchy passes

14th November 1997 at 00:00
The Education Secretary hails it as a success, but others are not so sure.

Headteacher Dominic Cragoe was furious when his school was labelled as one of the worst in Britain - but now that it has been praised by the Department for Education and Employment, he is not wasting energy on bitterness.

"I felt very angry when we were named and shamed," says Mr Cragoe. "I felt it was totally unjustified.

"But I am totally delighted now because three years of hard work are finally showing the fruits of our labour. When I came here the place was anarchic, the kids were out of control, hanging out of windows swearing, and with very poor teaching in some areas. Look at it now."

Abbey Farm County Middle School may be in Thetford in rural Norfolk, but it is in the middle of a troubled estate which housed hundreds of families from London in the 1970s. Of Abbey Farm's 149 eight to 12-year-old pupils, 104 have special educational needs action plans and many suffer problems at home. Yet children dress in smart uniforms and work quietly in their classrooms although half of the eight teaching staff are off sick.

Mr Cragoe, 38, knew why his school was shamed: it had been on special measures for more than two years after only 20 per cent of its lessons were found to be satisfactory or better. He came to Abbey Farm three years ago with a mission to turn it round and believes he was succeeding when his school was pilloried in May.

"We have been working solidly for three years, recruiting quality staff and improving training," he says. "In a school like this, if you haven't got the personality or the training to cope with the children, they rip you apart.

"The community was devastated because they felt we were actually getting somewhere. The kids got it in the neck."

Despite being on the list Mr Cragoe kept on working hard. Nine days' free consultancy from a primary practitioner recommended by the DFEE helped ensure they would finally be named and acclaimed, but Mr Cragoe says that was only the icing on the cake of years of work. A recent HMI inspection found 80 per cent of lessons satisfactory or better.

But Mr Cragoe knew things had changed for the better when his pupils started acting differently. "They'd have told you to bugger off three years ago. Now they feel they belong. This is their school and they are proud of it."

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