Outstanding Secondary School of the Year

18th June 2010 at 01:00

Winner: St John Plessington Catholic College, Bebington, Wirral, Merseyside

Five years ago this large comprehensive in the Wirral was underperforming and had high rates of exclusion, pupil absence and staff turnover. It was also the subject of a Behaviour Improvement Plan, with a significant number of students identified as "at risk of committing crime".

Today, most of its pupils still come from the deprived constituency of Birkenhead. But the school's results have soared in the past five years, and it is now in the top 12 in the country for both improvements to GCSE results and value-added scores.

St John Plessington was shortlisted for two TES Schools Awards last year. What clinched its win this year was that it is now working with other schools with similar intakes, helping them to follow its example.

In July last year it took over the day-to-day running of a comprehensive "in challenging circumstances". Since then that school has had its notice to improve removed by Ofsted. St John Plessington has worked with a dozen other schools, sharing its methods for improvement.

Among its innovative approaches are a system of "learning programmes", in which the curriculum is divided into six units per subject per year, to help pupils - and their parents - see what will be covered in advance.

Judges' verdict: This school has potentially one of the toughest intakes in Europe, let alone Britain. Yet it has become one of the most improved schools in the country, and has done excellent work helping others. Ofsted described it as "an outstanding school where exceptional things happen." The judges agreed.

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