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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April 2005, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
School to abolish all year groups
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News education reporter

Cheryl Heron, head teacher
Head teacher Cheryl Heron describes herself as 'a maverick'
A secondary school in England is to abolish all year groups in an effort to raise its academic performance.

Pupils aged 11 to 16 at Bridgemary School in Gosport, Hampshire, will be mixed according to ability, with the brightest taking exams years early.

Only a quarter of its children get five A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent, less than half the national average.

Head teacher Cheryl Heron said a new approach was needed to overcome "unacceptably" low achievement.

She told BBC News: "This is about making sure the bright kids are pushed and that those with less academic ability are not left behind.

Ability-based

"Children will be able to work according to their own needs and raise their expectations."

From September, pupils will study at one of five levels, depending on their ability.

These are worked out from teachers' asessments and final primary school test performances.

The levels range from basic literacy and numeracy skills to A-level standard.

The hope is that brighter children can get ahead, while those of lesser ability are not allowed to become bored and frustrated if they fall behind.

Grace, pupil
The way the system was, people would probably think you were a bit too clever if you studied a bit ahead. They would probably call you a boffin
Grace, 16

Each pupil will be assessed in each subject every half-term to decide whether they should be moved within a system of "personalised learning".

So it would be possible for a 13-year-old to study maths at the standard of the average 15-year-old, while doing "normal" level English.

Less developed pupils will get extra "catch-up" coaching.

The plan is a radical departure from the common system of "streaming" or "banding" within year groups, where children are grouped according to ability.

Vocational

Mrs Heron, who has already tried some mixed-age group teaching at the school, said: "A child might be good at all subjects or one subject.

"It's not just academic. We offer every level of qualification from the basics upwards, in vocational subjects too.

"Everything a child does will be accredited."

Bridgemary, set in an economically deprived area, is working in "challenging circumstances", according to the schools watchdog Ofsted.

Melissa, pupil
Melissa is looking forward to mixed-age groups

Two fifths of its 1,200 pupils have special educational needs, while just 1.4% of parents have any experience of higher education.

Mrs Heron is encouraging older pupils to become "mentors" to their younger counterparts.

She said: "A lot of people think that bullying will happen if you mix ages. There is bullying in school anyway.

"The work so far had aided social interaction big time. It's given younger children the confidence to speak to older ones.

"The $64,000 question is how we raise expectations and standards. We are trying to do this all the time.

Making friends

"This is a template for our school. I don't know if it will work elsewhere. We've got to do what we feel is right.

"I know I'm a maverick but we must try something new because the current situation is unacceptable."

Melissa, aged 12, is one of the pupils singled out as being gifted or talented and is looking forward to the end of year groups.

She said: "I make friends quite easily. The mentor helps us through what we are doing and we get on well with everyone."

Grace, 16, took AS-level critical thinking last year - two years earlier than normal - under a pilot scheme involving a nearby sixth-form college.

She said: "I don't want to study everything in the same form group.

"The AS-level was really, really fun. I got a taste of college and met some people from other schools.

'Good for staff'

"It was just more interesting. We could talk more about anything.

"The way the system was, people would probably think you were a bit too clever if you studied a bit ahead. They would probably call you a boffin.

"We don't think of the younger ones as 'little kids', so I can't see any problems."

One man who might have a few, however is deputy head Richard Carlyle, charged with setting the timetable for the brave new world of personalised learning.

He said: "Staff will have to be flexible to offer the greater range of subjects on offer.

"For instance specialists in humanities will have to teach stuff like travel and tourism and classical civilisation, as well as their main areas.

"It's good for teachers' professional development. In time we hope for a lot more success."


SEE ALSO
An early taste of the real world
23 Feb 05 |  Education

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