A SCHOOL which found itself on a "knife edge" three years ago is now one of the top secondaries in Swindon.

Emma Leigh-Bennett admits the reputation of Kingsdown School, in Stratton St Margaret, was badly damaged when she took over as headteacher in 2017.

In the years since, she has worked with teachers and pupils to raise its Ofsted rating from requires improvement to good.

Mrs Leigh-Bennett said: “It’s so important that towns have good schools because that’s what will attract more people into this town.

“The reputation of the school, when I took over, was that Kingsdown was on a knife edge.

“That was said by a company which surveyed students, surveyed parents and surveyed staff.

“And in 2017 this school was on a knife edge.

“One of my colleagues said that five years ago she wouldn’t walk into a shop wearing a Kingsdown lanyard.”

Mrs Leigh-Bennett told the Adver how she overhauled systems at the school and set new targets for staff and pupils, some of whom live in the town's most crime-ridden areas.

She said: “Kingsdown serves Penhill and Pinehurst and I know first hand what a high quality education means to life chances.

“Education opens the door to opportunity.

“We have a clear vision, our aim is to be a school of excellence bursting with pride and ambition.

“Everyone’s on the pitch, we want to be a school of excellence at the heart of the Stratton community.”

Mrs Leigh-Bennett says the personal touch is what sets Kingsdown apart.

She explained: “If you send your child here they’ll be truly championed.

“We make three promises to every student and parent.

“We promise we’ll know your child, we’ll treat them well and we’ll have high expectations.

“Our transformation started on day one when we focused on two things.

“The first was to improve the quality of behaviour of learning at the school.”

To help improve behaviour, one of Mrs Leigh-Bennett’s first decisions was to bring in a new school uniform.

By the end of her first year at the helm, students had swapped jumpers for blazers and guidelines for behaviour in the classroom became stricter.

She added: “We introduced a new behaviour policy which wasn’t binary.

“Students were given an ‘action’ which would be where a teacher would warn you, then move you and then you would be exited – removed from the classroom.

“But now it’s just a warning, with a visual clue on your desk, and then you’re exited.

“So it’s very rare now for a student to be exited.

“From the early days the expectations were made clear to the students and it was needed a lot in the early days. Students were exited and were parents informed.”

But with the negatives being punished, Mrs Leigh-Bennett was keen to see a new reward system in place.

“There are six beats at Kingsdown,” She explained. “Pride, ambition, stretch, challenge, respect and responsibility.

“Each of those is defined and we use it as part of the language.

“The rewards were part of the culture change at the school.

“Students wanted to be rewarded, they got achievement points for doing well.”

Despite progress being made on behaviour, Mrs Leigh-Bennett added it shouldn’t be a school’s only focus.

She said: “Some leaders go into a school in crisis and focus on behaviour and that will only get you so far.

“What you really have to do is focus on improving the curriculum at the same time, which our expert department heads do.”