A BOLTON school has become the first state primary to be accredited by the International Baccalaureate Organisation. Although the qualification is normally associated with high-achieving, predominantly private, secondary schools, Top o' th' Brow, Breightmet, Lancashire, is in a deprived area - 65 per cent of its children have special needs. The other four primaries that offer the IB are private.
The award follows three years of work between the school and the Geneva-based organisation, which has led to the development of a new curriculum. Pupils do most of their learning by completing projects covering a range of skills.
Tony Blair recently said he wanted one secondary in every town to offer the qualification.
Chris Caldwell, Top o' th' Brow's head, said the new approach is creating more interest in learning. "We were looking at how to motivate the children. The IB is cross-curricular and much more integrated.
"Children are taking more responsibility for their learning and enjoying it. We do about 30 per cent of our teaching as stand-alone subjects, but we've incorporated the rest of the curriculum into an enquiry-led approach." Mr Caldwell said the research focus of the baccalaureate was designed to make children more critical thinkers and risk-takers.
It has cost the school about pound;40,000 to become accredited, including staff training in Geneva and Dubai. It also has to pay an annual fee of Pounds 1,900.
Top o' th' Brow was able to afford the fees because it was part of an education action zone and now an excellence cluster - government-funded initiatives that help schools in disadvantaged areas.
"The national curriculum was written by people who want to teach subjects not children," said Mr Caldwell. "This is a relaxation of the boundaries.
It was a risk but we thought it would be a bigger risk not to go down this route." The school is in the top 15 per cent for value-added results but its overall results are below national averages. "I am sure the IB will help us to improve achievement," he said.
Under the International Baccalaureate primary programme, pupils no longer have traditional lessons for the majority of their timetable. Instead, they focus on cross-curricular investigations. About 70 per cent of lessons at Top o' th' Brow are devoted to project work.
Investigations are expected to include a mixture of six compulsory subjects: language (including a foreign one); social studies; maths; arts; science and technology; and personal, social and physical education. A popular topic at Top o' th' Brow is the environment.
Teachers must also include at least one of six themes: who we are; where we are in place and time; how we express ourselves; how the world works; how we organise ourselves; and sharing the planet.
Children receive a primary years certificate but still have to sit national key stage tests.