ONE of Oxfordshire’s biggest secondary schools has improved to ‘outstanding’ as its popularity “increased noticeably”, said inspectors.

Ofsted gave The Cooper School in Bicester top marks after rating it ‘good’ three years ago.

Inspectors spoke of students’ pride and praised its innovative curriculum and the care, guidance and support offered.

The report comes months before the opening of a sixth form at the Churchill Road school, which has 980 pupils.

Inspector David Randomsky said: “The school’s popularity has increased noticeably. Consequently, applications for the planned sixth form due to open in September far exceed the places available.”

He added: “This is an outstanding school which continuously strives to improve further. The headteacher, ably assisted by his senior team, has been the driving force in leading improvement and raising aspirations.”

Headteacher Ben Baxter said: “This report is an external verification of what we thought about the school ourselves.

“We are beginning to get known at a regional level, with other schools coming to see what we are doing with technology and learning spaces.

“Six years ago, we had falling rolls.

“Now we have been oversubscribed for students coming into Year Seven for the last four years.”

He pointed to the school’s use of netbook computers, digital cameras and a green screen technology studio, while teachers keep online blogs to help communicate with students.

Mr Baxter, who has been head for six years, said there was one computer in the school for every 1.6 pupils.

He said: “In the last three years, we have had an exponential growth in new technologies. We have invested heavily in it because it is central to how 21st- century learners learn.”

The proportion of pupils getting five GCSEs at A* to C, including English and maths, was 57 per cent last year, up from 39 per cent in 2007.

The school will expand to 1,150 pupils when its new sixth form opens in a £4.4m building. Numbers will rise again to 1,300 in September 2012.

Banbury MP Tony Baldry said: “I am delighted that Ofsted have, quite rightly, judged Cooper School to be outstanding, recognising the incredible improvement of recent years, where achievement levels in GCSE results are now above the national average.”

Governor Michael Waine, a former education cabinet member on Oxfordshire County Council, said:“Bicester now has North Oxfordshire’s first outstanding secondary school.

“this incredible achievement is very much down to the strong and determined leadership of the headteacher, along with a very committed and professional staff team.”