Out of the danger zone
But seven years on - following a merger and change of leadership - the fortunes of young pupils attending Sea View Community School in Mayhill, Swansea, have been transformed.
As the number of underperforming schools rises, Sea View has bounced back with a remarkable recovery. The evidence is clear in its latest key stage 1 and 2 teacher assessment results.
The former Mayhill junior and infant schools were both placed in special measures between 1998 and 2000 due to low achievement in English, maths and science. And their merger into a 160-pupil school in September 2001 did not change things overnight.
The school's first Estyn report four years ago raised particular concerns over progress at KS1. The percentage of seven-year-olds reaching the expected level in English, maths and science in teacher assessment was just 29 per cent - a staggering 52 per cent below the Welsh average.
Results were also bleak at KS2, where it was scoring 31 per cent compared with the Welsh average of 68 per cent.
In 2007, Sea View's core subject indicator is 81.3 per cent, well clear of the Welsh average of 80.1 per cent, and at KS2 it is up to 62.2 per cent, nudging ever closer to the target average of 74 per cent.
Estyn was keen to praise the school's first headteacher Shirley Doveton for some improvements. The report said the general behaviour of pupils was good and teaching was satisfactory on the whole.
However, it concluded that progress was not moving fast enough and in January 2003 deputy head Susie Ralph started to act up, becoming head officially in May 2004 after Ms Doveton left.
Ms Ralph developed a three-year plan, believing communication with parents and staff was key.
"Having a school in special measures hit the community hard," she said. "We had to build up trust with the parents, which in turn helped me to manage behaviour.
"They felt their voices weren't being heard and we had to show them we would listen. There were four children excluded from the school when I was appointed acting head but none in the past year."
To build motivation, star pupils are named in assembly each Friday. Working with Swansea council's education advisory service, which has just given the school a bronze award for achievement, it introduced a teacher buddy system.
A Welsh Assembly spokesperson said the number of schools in special measures stands at three secondaries, two primaries and one special school - one more school than in 2006.
"All children should have a high-quality education. We expect schools in special measures to tackle shortcomings effectively and quickly," the spokesperson added.