How to achieve against the odds

Education standards: Independent think-tank says pupils' behaviour and effective leadership are crucial to making progress

Alongside the photographs and the brightly coloured artwork on the walls lies one of the keys to Columbia Primary School's success. The Behaviour Policy.

"We've all got a very clear understanding that you can't have good learning without an orderly atmosphere," headteacher Penny Bentley said yesterday.

The teachers and helpers have their responsibilities, the parents have theirs and the children's were clearly enacted as the seven- and eight- year-olds walked in an orderly line to and from assembly.

"The whole school wrote the policy, including children and parents. We put quite a lot of energy into implementing it," Ms Bentley explained.

But if there is one factor that highlights the difference between Columbia Primary in the deprived London borough of Tower Hamlets and schools in more prosperous areas it is the policy document itself. Like the welcome sign at the school entrance, the policy comes in both English and Bengali.

When the first youngsters arrive from the age of three upwards, most speak Sylheti. Only 8 per cent have English as a first language. There are 14 different languages among the 450 pupils and the 15 teachers have the support of five bi-lingual colleagues and assistants to help the children learn the language most of their parents do not speak.

"You have to start with a conviction that these children can do it, that these children are as able and brave and wonderful as any children and that they can achieve as highly as other children," said Ms Bentley.

In Vanessa Chadwick's class, the 9- and 10-year-olds were busy on different tasks. "Over the fortnight, they have six activities which cover areas of the curriculum and they do them in whatever order they want," Ms Chadwick said. "The essence is to encourage independent working and thinking about how to pace themselves."

It was, said Ms Bentley, pleasant to be recognised for achieving "against the odds".