Academy to counter the Barrier effect

As Brixton's only secondary, the hopes of one of Britain's most troubled but vibrant communities will be riding on the small schools philosophy behind Evelyn Grace Academy. Peter Walker, the principal, believes creating small, self-contained units within what will be a 1,200 pupil academy, allowing staff to keep a close track on pupils' progress, will bring success.

The idea, imported from the US, has become the main selling point of sponsor, Absolute Return for Kids (ARK). The charity, supported by hedge fund money, hopes that all six of its London academies will eventually operate schools within schools. But Evelyn Grace is blazing the trail.

The challenge it faces is illustrated by the looming edifice of Southwyck House, sitting directly opposite the academy's temporary site in the middle of the south London borough.

Known locally the as the `Barrier Block', this monolithic slab of council flats looks more like a prison. It was one of London's biggest crack dealing dens until a series of police raids this summer.

But to step inside the academy is to step into a different world. Turn left and you enter the Evelyn school, where half of this year's 180-pupil intake will work. Turn right and you are in the Grace school, where the other half will be taught. They also have separate playgrounds.

The pattern will continue as the academy grows and moves to permanent buildings in 2010. Four separate schools will operate within the academy.

There will be no conventional departments or heads. Instead, teachers will be line managed by their `small school head', who will also be responsible for tracking the progress and behaviour of pupils.

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