A radical Scandinavian experiment in the way schools are run began this week at two London academies as 360 pupils started setting their own educational goals.
Traditionally it is teachers who fix targets for their classes and decide how they reach them. But at the Hampton and Twickenham academies - the first in England opened by Kunskapsskolan, the Swedish free schools operator - pupils are in charge of their learning.
A 40-step programme has been drawn up, based on the national curriculum, covering five core subjects of English, maths, ICT, science and languages from Years seven to 11.
Year 7 pupils will decide how many steps they will aim to complete in each subject. A minimum of 30 at a "silver" level of performance is needed to reach grade C at GCSE standard while 40 at "gold" level equates to an A* grade.
John Baumber, chief executive of the Learning Schools Trust - the charity set up by Kunskapsskolan to sponsor its academies in England - has been head of one of the company's schools in Sweden where the same model is used.
"What tends to happen at the beginning is that students set very ambitious goals for themselves and realise as they move through them that actually they have probably either set themselves too high a goal or they need to put more time, effort or resource into it to achieve that level," he said.
Pupils will proceed through the academies according to the step they have reached rather than on their age and could theoretically sit their GCSEs as early as Year 8 or 9.
Mr Baumber, who has also headed two English state secondaries, said that in practice the earliest for most pupils would be Year 9.
The pupils will also decide how they reach their goals, and by the end of their time at the academies will control how 30-35 per cent of their time in school is spent.
"What is really important is that the students set the goals and they are not teacher-set goals," Mr Baumber said. "The moment you start taking the goal away from the student you start running into motivational problems.
"But every step is signed off, every week they sit down for 15 minutes with their (personal) tutors to check their progress and there is a twice-yearly review of the work they are doing towards those goals."
He says this represents a big change for teachers, all of whom will become personal tutors to some of the pupils and take on a role more akin to "facilitator".
Kunskapsskolan's personalised approach is best suited to buildings with a variety of physical environments for learning. Its Swedish schools incorporate lecture theatres and small "cubbyholes" to accommodate two to four pupils, alongside traditional classrooms. But this approach will not be fully realised in Hampton and Twickenham until the academies move into new purpose-built buildings in 2013.
In Sweden, Kunskapsskolan has experimented with making teachers' pay reflect, in part, pupils' rating of their performance.
Steve Bolingbroke, the company's UK managing director, said teachers in its English academies were paid according to the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions document.
But asked if this could change, he said: "I am never going to say never. The whole environment in which schools operate is changing radically with this new Government. Let's see what happens."
Pioneer plans 20-30 schools
- Kunskapsskolan runs 32 state-funded non-fee charging independent schools in Sweden under the free schools system that has inspired the Coalition's programme in England
- The company wants to operate a similar number of state-funded schools in England using the same pupil-centred pedagogic model.
- It plans to open a third academy in Ipswich in January, with a further two planned - also in the South East.
- The company expects the rest of its expansion to 20-30 schools to take place through England's free schools programme "relatively quickly".