A school which offers its pupils a green-focused education has won plaudits for having the best teaching standards in the country.
St Francis of Assisi Academy is Liverpool has come top of a new-style league table showing which schools have done the most to improve their pupils' education. The school is one of the Government's new flagship academies - jointly sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church and Church of England.
However, it is its insistence that pupils should be taught "green" values from day one that has singled it out as a unique secondary school. John Drane, the school's assistant principal, believes the school's teaching environment has been one of the key factors in motivating the pupils to do better.
"It is a fantastic reflection on the pupils in this year group and it's a massive validation for the academy programme," he said. "Not all of our pupils are always going to be able to achieve C grades at GCSE. But this shows that they still make the expected progress - or better than expected progress - given their ability and where they came to us from."
The new academy is a far cry from the struggling Roman Catholic comprehensive that it replaced. From day one, the pupils get an education concentrating on "green" issues. All seven classes for 11- and 12-year-old pupils have a garden attached and each class is given £1,000 to design and cultivate theirs - with the help of the Groundwork Trust, an environmental charity. The project also shows how environmental studies can be taught through the school curriculum. Maths lessons, for instance, can cover the financial transactions needed to buy materials for the garden.
The outer walls of the school are covered with plants to help drainage - and resemble mossy banks rather than a traditional classroom block. A solar-powered atrium provides up to 3 per cent of the school's electricity. "Certainly in terms of the buildings we now have for the pupils, they have made an immediate impact on their learning," said Mr Drane. "They have far more facilities to work independently and can therefore work much more effectively."
The school had 116 pupils taking GCSEs last summer but now takes in 180 pupils a year with parents queuing up to get their children into it. It will receive a letter of praise from the Schools minister, Jim Knight, today congratulating it on its performance - along with the rest of the 100 top-performing schools.
The ten best
1 Academy of St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool 1078.7
2 Phoenix High School, Hamm and Fulham 1077.5
3 Moreton Community School, W'hampton 1071.7
4 Salisbury High, Wiltshire 1063.3
5 Bartley Green, Birmingham 1062.9
6 Greenwood Dale, Nottingham 1061.1
7 Madeley Court, Telford, Shropshire 1059.6
8 Newall Green, Manchester 1058.7
9 Park Community School, Havant, Hampshire 1057.7
10 All Saints Catholic School, Dagenham, Essex 1056.9
* Schools which have done most to improve their pupils' performance between 11 and 16. A score of 1,000 would mean pupils achieved what was expected. Every six points above that means they have achieved a grade more than expectedReuse content