Making the grade after three years' hard work

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The Independent Online
WHEN SHARON Hollows walked into Calverton Primary for the first time, the school was one of the worst performing in Britain. Behaviour was bad, staff were leaving and it narrowly escaped being declared failing.

One class had nine teachers in a year. Only 16 per cent of 11-year-olds gained the expected standard in English; in maths, the figure was 8 per cent. Today the school, which serves a deprived neighbourhood in Newham, east London, is Britain's most improved and the borough's second- highest achiever. Seventy-eight per cent of children reach expected standards in English, and 93 per cent in maths. Children are well-behaved and willing to learn, and their parents are keen for them to get on.

Mrs Hollows, 40, arrived in 1996. She has overseen a near-500 per cent rise in the school's combined score for the percentage of children getting the expected standard in English, maths and science. She said: "It was taking children a long time to settle down and there were lots of squabbles."

The school serves an area of high unemployment - 39 per cent of children are eligible for free school meals - and has to cope with languages from Portuguese to Bengali. There is a 10 per cent turnover among the 466 children because of families moving in and out of the area.

Mrs Hollows, a Lancastrian, has taught in inner London for 20 years. In some cases she snaps up promising teachers before there is a vacancy.

Teachers have used the techniques of the national numeracy hour since 1996. The literacy hour has allowed them to focus on their work in the classroom, says Mrs Hollows, whose daughter is at the school. Every child has had a home-school "contract" for two years, with targets in everything from television viewing to punctuality.

Graham Lane, Newham's education chairman, said: "We sent one of our strongest governors on to the board and appointed a new head who is absolutely brilliant. It is one of our real success stories."