COMING from head teacher Ellen Humphries' office is the unmistakable smell of cake.
Three hundred slices of it to be exact, one for every pupil and staff member at Thornhill Primary School as it celebrates being crowned the most improved school in the entire country.
It is an astonishing turnaround from 2009 when the school was among the worst in Southampton based on the performance of pupils – and that was when the city itself was languishing at the bottom of Local Education Authority league tables.
Back then not even a quarter of Thornhill’s children were achieving the benchmark target. That compares with this week’s results which show 88 per cent of its 11-year-olds gained a grade four mark in English and maths.
“We are just so proud, it is a real achievement for the school and reflects the work and efforts of everyone,” said Ellen Humphries, who took on the headship when the school was struggling.
Soon after she appointed Kerry Harris as her deputy and between them they put in place a plan of action.
Mrs Harris said: “The starting block for all of it was embedding the vision we had for the school, establishing our motto which is ‘working together to be the best we can be’.
“It is what we believe in and is behind everything we do at the school.”
Both women are quick to point out that there was no magic ‘fix’ for raising standards, rather that they started the journey towards raising standards beginning with the behaviour and attitude of pupils and improving the quality of teaching.
Mrs Humphries said: “We set out to improve teaching as one of the building blocks. Kerry was very much focussed on the coaching of staff and now all our teaching has been rated as outstanding and good in our latest Ofsted report.
“I like to think we have ‘grown’ the staff from where we were to the high quality of teaching we have now. So much so that our teachers are now working with other schools and sharing their experiences.”
In an area which has high levels of deprivation, with 58 per cent eligible for school meals, the challenge for the school was to engage the 289 pupils and their families in the value of education.
So-called nurture groups were set up for youngsters who were identified as needing extra help with self-esteem and social skills.
“By improving those aspects the children were then in a place where they could learn. We very much identify the needs of each child to help them achieve all they can,” added Mrs Humphries.
The school is also big on feedback, with reports and parents' evenings happening three times a year to keep parents informed on their child’s progress.
Mrs Humphries also pointed to the support from the city council, particularly partnership work, mentoring, and the National Leader in Education scheme, which has seen standards driven up across Southampton’s schools.
The city is now only two percentage points away from achieving the national average for education authority performance with 77 per cent of children in the city now achieving the benchmark target.