Britain's most improved school

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NO ENGLISH state school has improved faster than a secondary modern serving one of the country's most deprived communities.

Thirty-eight per cent of pupils at Jeff Joseph Sale Moor Technology College in Trafford, Greater Manchester, qualify for free school meals - twice the national average.

Yet, since 1990, the school has more then doubled the percentage of its pupils gaining five or more good GCSEs, and recorded a 28-point increase in the past four years. Thirty-five per cent of pupils now get five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C.

Only two independent schools, the King Fahed Academy in Ealing and the Yesoday Hatorah School in Hackney, recorded a faster increase. Jeff Joseph's achievement was matched only by Bacon's College, a city technology college in Southwark.

Jeff Joseph became a technology college in 1994. The school has doubled in size since 1990 and now has 1,000 pupils. It has been oversubscribed for three years.

Jeff Joseph opened in 1938, but has expanded into modern buildings on its site on the edge of Manchester. Some pounds 1.5m has been invested in computer systems alone since the school gained its technology college status.

Schools in Trafford are highly selective - with about 38 per cent of children going to grammar schools - leaving the secondary moderns coping with many of the area's educational problems.

At Jeff Joseph a third of the eleven-year-olds starting at the school have a reading age of nine or below.

David Walmsley, who has been head teacher at the school for the past three years, said: "A reading age of nine is the age at which you will cope with the curriculum; otherwise, it's very difficult.

"We have a programme which focuses on reading and literacy which works across the school. We help the very poor readers and we have reading clubs with senior citizens who come in and help us hear the children read."

Mr Walmsley spends much of his time raising the expectations and confidence of his pupils.

The school uses sophisticated measures of each child's progress based on frequent tests to help them set targets for doing better. There are award ceremonies and merits for good work. Children who have made progress are mentioned in dispatches - in the head's newsletter to parents.

Out-of-school activities also play their part. There are sports clubs and music lessons for 150 children. Some have won prizes for their poetry.

The school has also opened a sixth form, now 50 strong, with South Trafford College, to help to raise pupils' expectations.

There are lunchtime clubs to help children with their schoolwork, and after-school lessons, compulsory and voluntary, to allow pupils to catch up.

"The reasons behind the college's improvement are the hard work of the staff, support for students after school and at lunchtime, rewards, target setting and monitoring of the progress of students," said Mr Walmsley.

"It's a school where we have to work hard for the support of some parents; where we are able to achieve success the support of parents is vital.

"We try to encourage teachers and students to set targets, and have high expectations."