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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
The five-year school turnaround
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

Drama class
Drama is seen as essential to the school's development
In the 1990s it was a failing secondary school par excellence.

The Langham, in Tottenham, north London, was known for its appalling GCSE pass rate.

For more than four years it was placed in "special measures", more or less being told by outside advisers how it should run its affairs.

Pupils were disenchanted, staff left as quickly as possible.

The term "vicious circle" could have been invented for Langham.

But in 1999 something happened. The school was given a "fresh start" by the government.


Langham changed its name to Park View Academy and took on a new head teacher, Peter Walker.

Since then, the proportion of 16 year olds getting the equivalent of five GCSEs at grade C or above has gone up almost fourfold from 6% to 23%, although this is still well below the national average of 52.9%.

The roll has increased from 800 to 1,200.

And, to cap it all, Park View has just been granted specialist school status - much vaunted as a means towards higher standards by the government - worth an extra 700,000 over the next four years.

Mr Walker says the key to improving the school has been to change the "ethos" from resignation to failure to a desire for success.

He told BBC News Online: "After we became a fresh start school, we saw some massive changes in staffing. Nowadays we have reached a level of stability.

"We have also worked hard on the curriculum. Drama and music are now one of the strongest areas.

"Our languages team is also excellent. We are in a multi-cultural area, which is a strength for us."

The 1960s buildings have been revamped

Such is the progress students have made in these areas that Park View is the first school in the country to become a specialist at both drama and languages.

Under the scheme, schools must raise 50,000 from themselves before the government donates 100,000 to capital projects.

Park View must maintain standards or it will lose its specialist status in three years' time.

Mr Walker thinks the extra money and focus will allow the re-branding of the school, where pupils speak a total of 65 different languages, to continue.

He said: "We've done a lot of work improving the original 1960s buildings. We've also got a school logo and we've brought in a more formal uniform of blazer and tie, to replace the old sweatshirts.

"We also adopted the term 'academy' to show people we had serious academic aspirations."

The government's five-year plan for education in England promises that all secondary schools should be specialists by 2008.

Mr Walker insists becoming a drama and languages specialist will help other areas of the curriculum and the wider social role of the school.

'Going even further'

He said: "The performing arts is important for developing these young people's self-esteem and social skills like listening and speaking.

"A lot of middle-class kids get that from home. Here, we have to teach the kids that sort of thing.

"The languages aspect of the specialism also helps this."

The school has started a leadership programme, giving some pupils extra responsibilities, like leading lessons in nearby primary schools.

This, along with the specialisms, should take Park View even further, Mr Walker says.

He wants pupils eventually to reach the national average at GCSE.

Mr Walker said: "Achieving specialist status is a phenomenal achievement for our school and community.

"We are on a very exciting journey of improvement as a school and this is another important step to becoming the most improved school in London."

More specialist schools announced
01 Jul 04  |  Education
200 city academies promised
28 Jun 04  |  Education

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