Last year, 43 per cent of the GCSE entrants at St Paul's Community School in Birmingham gained five or more A-C grades, placing it sixth in the league table of the city's 70 non-selective schools and slightly above the national average. All the pupils had either been expelled or regularly played truant elsewhere.
The triumphs of St Paul's, set up 20 years ago with just five pupils in a terraced house, are detailed in a new book by its first headteacher. Yesterday, John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, held the school up as an example of how inner-city education could work.
Speaking at the launch of the book, Radical Urban Solutions, by Dr Dick Atkinson, Mr Patten said the school was a flagship which others could follow.
'In too many of our inner cities and big out-of-town estates, children are not getting the education they deserve despite the above-average sums of money being put into these areas. I hope the local authority will learn lessons from St Paul's and will spread them among its schools. I think it is a beacon of excellence,' he said.
St Paul's is an independent school where parents pay just pounds 2.50 per week for their children's education. It receives about pounds 130,000 a year in grants from Birmingham City Council. Its atmosphere is relaxed and the 25 pupils do not wear uniforms, but they must stay on into the evening if they do not finish their work. Despite this, pupils often arrive at 8.15am and are still in the art room at 6pm, reluctant to leave.
From humble beginnings, the school has become part of a community project with a pounds 600,000 annual budget. It includes a 50-place nursery, a community newspaper, play schemes, a theatre workshop and courses for local pensioners, as well as providing art, history and other workshops to local schools.
Dr Atkinson said the school's message was that 'small is beautiful . . . It's easy for pupils to get lost either within or outside a large school. In St Paul's they are found. They are motivated by seeing the names of pupils who left a couple of years ago on honour boards around the school.'
Among the pupils who travelled to London yesterday for the launch of Dr Atkinson's book was Richard Mills, 16, who became so disillusioned with his last, grammar, school that he stopped attending. He hopes to study software engineering at university. He said: 'I have planned my life now, thanks to St Paul's. It's very informal, the teachers will talk to you and you can communicate with them as people.'
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