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Stretching children and timetables

At Priory school in Slough the timetable is "a work of art", according to Carole Evans, the headteacher.

It needs to be. The primary school runs such a complex model of streaming and setting that even the streams are setted.

The system aims to stretch the brightest children while giving less able pupils more attention. It has produced remarkable results since it was introduced in 1993.

When Mrs Evans took over as head in 1986 the school was struggling, had only 265 pupils and was threatened with closure.

Today it has more than 700 pupils and nearly three applicants for every place.

Mrs Evans, a member of the Government's standards task force, attributes the turnaround to the judicious use of specialist teachers for English, maths and science supported by a system of streaming and setting.

Since then the school's test results have soared: this year 80 per cent of 11-year-olds reached the required standard for their age in English - up from 50 per cent in 1996. In maths the figure has risen from 56 per cent to 73 per cent this year.

Streaming begins at age four with every child sitting a test, devised by a member of staff, in the July before they start school.

The results divide the children into a top "A" group and two mixed-ability classes. Setting is introduced for eight-year-olds in English, maths and science, and streaming is abandoned.

The year group can be split into as many as five sets depending on the needs of the cohort. The most able children are taught in larger groups while those of lower ability enjoy classes of as few as five pupils.

Mrs Evans admits she was apprehensive about the project and concerned that streaming could make the A-group feel superior. Introducing sets, she believes, helps counter that. "Setting recognises that different people are good at different things. Here children take real pride in all their achievements. They value getting into the choir or the football team as much as being in the top set for maths."

The school does not feel that setting is appropriate for young children.

"They relate well to having one teacher," says Mrs Evans. "We like them to make friends and not have to move around.

"I do not think streaming and setting are the answer to everything. After seven years of development we think we have the system that works for us but I would not necessarily advocate it as a model for any other school to adopt."

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