FIVE years on from an inspection report which catalogued regular truancy at a Newport secondary school, and landed them one category above special measures, outstanding exam results and a glowing new inspection report speak for themselves, as EMMA MACKINTOSH found out.

A MULTI-million-pound rebuild can be the making of a school, but it is not everything.

Five years ago, Bettws High School in Newport was blighted by pupils regularly missing school, conditions were poor, and standards of achievement fell well short of expectations, according to the Estyn inspection report at the time.

Senior management were tasked with improving attendance, behaviour, key skills, and standards of teaching and learning, and the school was placed in the “significant improvement” category, one above the most serious category of “special measures”.

Two years later the inspectors returned and removed the school from that category, but deemed there were still shortcomings particularly in behaviour and said “significant challenges remained”.

All of that is a world away from what is now Newport High School, where pupils are proud to go to school at their £28 million facility just a few hundred yards from the former site.

But many of the 1,092 pupils never set foot in the old school, and for them, the new build’s modern facilities are the norm.

The sustained effort of staff to drive up standards of teaching and learning has transformed Newport High School’s rate at which pupils gain five GCSE grades A*-C from around 30 per cent in 2007, to 90 per cent last year.

Inspectors who visited at the tail end of 2013 walked into a school where pupil behaviour is consistently good; pupils are heavily involved in decision-making; performance is above expectations; nearly all pupils have a positive attitude to learning; and perhaps most importantly, pupils are proud of their school and regularly attend.

Aspects such as the collective act of daily worship are praised as “exceptional” and pupils are repeatedly described as very respectful, polite and courteous.

Head teacher Karyn Keane, who move from deputy head to her current post in 2010, said staff had clear priorities of improving exam results, especially English and maths GCSE, and raising the aspirations of students when she became head teacher.

She said: “There was almost a belief among some students that they couldn’t pass some of these exams. By working with their teachers they can actually be hugely successful.”

Importantly in the 2013 report, inspectors did not feel improvements were down to the new build, but pointed to teaching strategies as the root cause. The improvement in attendance and behaviour has followed suit, as children enjoy their lessons and want to come to school, said deputy head teacher Nathan Jenkins.

Mrs Keane said: “It is like a different school. Over 40 children are staying behind for maths clubs. Estyn had the perception it was going to be a challenging school, but actually what they found was a school from the leafy suburbs.”It’s a massive team effort.”