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Why 44 pupils can rescue a reputation

It was a gloomy, wet day in late January. The head was seated at his desk. The surface was covered in computer printouts of the fourth year prelim results. A brief perusal had produced a sense of impending disaster. The figures pointed to one simple conclusion: if nothing was done, the school would be in danger of missing targets that had been "negotiated" with the local authority.

The head foresaw numerous meetings with officials and Her Majesty's inspectors, in which he would be asked to explain what had happened. He could plead extenuating circumstances: there were eight pupils in the day unit where they only take four Standard grades; there were three who never turned up for school, never mind exams and there were the six under-performing children of the families in crisis who had moved into the social housing just inside the school's catchment area. But he knew that these excuses would be brushed aside.

He could resort to fixing the figures by demoting some pupils to S3, but that would only cause problems next session. No, there were no easy answers. Some emergency measures were required to turn the results around. He would call on his trusty lieutenants of the senior management team.

At a special meeting of the team the head set a solemn tone. The reputation of the school was at stake. Their shared intelligence was to be focused on producing and implementing a recovery plan.

We quickly realised that we would have to concentrate our efforts on pupils with the potential to improve their grades across key boundaries, viz from 5s to 4s and 3s to 2s. Of course you might think we were being cynical, but we had not determined the type of targets against which we would be measured. The head's analysis of the prelim results identiied 44 pupils.

We developed a strategy that recognised that all the key figures - teachers, parents and pupils - had a role to play. It had three overlapping strands.

The staff were briefed and asked to suggest appropriate initiatives. As a result of discussions, important changes were agreed for a few classes - different teachers andor moves for pupils. We also provided additional funds to buy suitable materials.

We allocated the pupils to staff mentors - the senior management team plus a few volunteers. Parents and pupils were invited to an initial meeting with the mentors. We had the foresight to prepare a very brief questionnaire that the pupils completed at the start of the meetings. Through this, most incriminated themselves by admitting to neglecting their homework diaries and poor preparation for their prelims. We were thus in a good position to explain the importance of planning. We introduced individual action plans that would be completed and reviewed weekly by the mentors. The parents agreed to check these and sign them.

A couple of two-hour after-school sessions on study and exam skills were also arranged. These included a demonstration of techniques that could be used to memorise the information in a prose passage. Pupils were shown how to use a wall planner for the period before the national exams.

The pupils' responses were surprisingly positive, as indicated by the 95 per cent attendance and queries such as "Are we having an Easter school?" We feel happy that we have made a good attempt to deal with the potentially poor show. However, the results in August will be the final judge of the effectiveness of our actions - and, of course, the performances of the pupils.

An assistant headteacher

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