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Shrimps net a prize catch

School's original science research boosts biology and coursework marks, reports Felicity Waters

Making an original contribution to scientific research may be the dream of scientists, but it has been achieved by Year 10 pupils from a south Wales comprehensive.

Pupils studying GCSE biology at King Henry VIII, in Abergavenny, investigated the effects of caffeine on the heart rates of brine shrimps, whose systems mirror that of humans. The only previous work done in the field is by Stephen Tomkins of Homerton College, Cambridge.

The school's head of biology, Ross Robertson, said that one of the results had been a dramatic increase in coursework marks and that 48 pupils had since enrolled for AS biology - making it the most popular subject in the school.

Mr Robertson said: "There was a great opportunity to do some original research and all the pupils were very enthusiastic about it. They gained in confidence in all of the key skills, such as working with numbers, sharing results and writing long, complex reports."

Today the school will be honoured at the Welsh Secondary Schools Association's annual awards ceremony in Cardiff for its outstanding achievement in a particular subject. Eleven other schools will also be recognised for their achievements.

Among them is Barry comprehensive, in the Vale of Glamorgan, which has improved literacy and numeracy by creating "teaching teams" to target skills at Years 7 and 8.

All Year 7 form tutors at the school are now English teachers, while maths teachers make up the form groups for Year 8.

Jason Hicks, assistant head and key skills co-ordinator, said: "One of the biggest problems we have with pupils coming up to Year 7 is reading skills.

Now English teachers can target their skills at this group through personal and social education and as a form tutor."

The team approach to form tutorship is also working for maths in Year 8.

Ysgol Bryn Alun in Wrexham has also been singled out as a winner this year for its primary school transition programme.

With the help of an educational psychologist, parents and the feeder primaries, vulnerable children about to move to secondary school are offered extra support to cope with the transition.

A booster day, buddy scheme and support forum have been so successful in helping acclimatise pupils, that last year the programme was extended to target those with behaviour and anger management problems.

"We felt that at the end of Year 7 some of the more vulnerable pupils weren't coping, so we wanted to deal with their problems sooner rather than later," said Claire Corfield, assistant headteacher.

"It's had massive benefits for the children who are now more open, more confident and more aware of their own behaviour."

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