One school did it by getting most of its teachers to quit. A second banned swearing, with the headteacher giving pupils who broke the rules a roasting in front of their parents. A third lifted its pupils' aspirations by arranging for them to play with the Halle Orchestra.
And by delivering far better than average test results in the country's most deprived communities, they have shown poverty is no excuse for poor performance at school, says Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, in a report published today.
The report highlights 20 schools serving the country's most disadvantaged areas – and all ranked as "outstanding" – to showcase best practice.
It says: "The communities... served by these schools contain a disproportionate number of families that find it difficult to function... Some of these children turn up at school distressed, afraid, anxious or in some cases traumatised, or they fail to attend at all. Distress can be expressed through a range of behaviours, from withdrawal to aggression, tearfulness to incontinence.
"[These schools] never wash their hands of the family, saying 'we are not social workers'," the report concludes.
This is how they did it:
Got rid of teachers
Maura Keady made it clear that she wanted a culture of high expectations when she took over as headteacher at John Burns Primary in Wandsworth, south London.
When her vision became clear, many of the existing staff resigned – leaving her clear to appoint fresh faces enthused by the challenge of turning the school round.
The school believes in the value of national curriculum testing at age 11, with the head saying that the tests "provide rigour and accountability, allowing no excuses".
Significantly, Ofsted says, it does not teach to the test: "The school believes that if pupils learn well, they will achieve their potential in the tests without the need for teaching to the test."
David Kirk took aim at swearing and antisocial behaviour when he took over at Ash Green School in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.
The school, says the report, "serves a turbulent white British community where social disadvantage, low incomes, high unemployment and low aspirations make it hard for many families to cope".
If children broke the new rules, says Mr Kirk: "I took them home and roasted them in front of mum and dad before bringing them immediately back to school."
His clampdown has resulted in better test scores.
"We don't give up: our children, parents, community and the staff are driven to make sure the kids are achieving," Ofsted was told. "They have the guts not to give up."
Started dancing at 7.30am
"It is impressive to arrive at a school at 7.30am to find two-thirds of Year Six [10- and 11-year-olds] voluntarily attending a 90-minute dance club," says the report on William Ford Church of England Junior School in Barking and Dagenham, Essex.
The school believes an impressive range of extra-curricular activities is key to making children want to learn. It has also stopped using supply teachers to cover for lessons, preferring to recruit local expertise, such as a retired deputy headteacher who lives nearby.
Performed with Halle
Staff at St Paul's Peel Church of England School in Salford, Greater Manchester, also believe that broadening their pupils' horizons will get the best out of them.
Events that they have arranged for them include playing in a concert alongside the Halle Orchestra and a cookery session in school devoted to making sushi.
As a result, the children are well behaved in class.
"There is little need to apply the behaviour policy, which is quite an achievement for a school serving a deprived estate with a high crime rate and many dysfunctional families," the report says.Reuse content