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School breaks the mould

Classes of 180 pupils, team teaching, and a 'super head' are all on the cards for a failing secondary, reports Nicolas Barnard

A failing secondary school is to rewrite the curriculum completely, abandoning the traditional timetable of single-subject lessons taught to classes organised by age.

In a ground-breaking experiment, Newham Council in east London will disapply the national curriculum at Eastlea community school which is in the authority's education action zone.

Mixed-age groups of up to 180 pupils will be taught by teams of teachers working in the same classroom, and some courses will be franchised out.

Newham wants to overhaul every aspect of the school, including its staffing structure. Eastlea advertises today for a "super head" on a salary of pound;60,000-pound;65,000.

The change could mean extensive redundancies as job descriptions are rewritten. Newham admits the plans are experimental but says the pupils will get a broad and balanced education.

Ian Harrison, the director of education, said: "Only 14 per cent of pupils got five A*-Cs last year at GCSE. We think we can do much better for those pupils by changing the curriculum.

"The focus is on raising achievement. We're not looking at narrowing the curriculum and sending them out to work at 14."

The new curriculum will focus on basic skills and vocational qualifications - Eastlea, where one-third of pupils start with a reading age of eight or less, runs fewer work-related courses than any other Newham secondary school.

All pupils will have individual education plans - meaning they could follow some or all of the national curriculum while others move away from it. They will take qualifications when they are ready instead of at 16.

The school will be split in two in a planned pound;6 million redevelopment. The lower three years, covering key stage 3, will be renamed Eastlea high school. Years 10 and 11 will become Eastlea young people's college.

More cross-curricular, primary-style teaching in the high school is intended to help pupils ease into secondary life and the 12 subject departments will be replaced by six "areas" including language and literacy; science and technology; and one called personal, expressive and creative. Deputy heads will be replaced by a director for each area.

With three or four lessons a day instead of the present seven, pupils will be in large groups of up to 180, drawn from all three years and led by teams of teachers and assistants.

They will then break into smaller groups according to attainment, not age - allowing quick learners to move ahead and strugglers to consolidate the basic skills needed to access the curriculum.

At key stage 4, a wide range of GNVQs and other vocational courses will run alongside GCSEs - both on and off campus. Some could be franchised out to providers such as Newham College of Further Education.

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