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Stunning ignorance at troubled school

Only three out of 200 pupils at a troubled secondary school knew what happened on September 11, 2001 and fewer than 60 could name the prime minister.

A government-funded study into the continuing problems at the 1,700-pupil New College, Leicester, concluded children lacked knowledge because they did not have the skills to cope with school.

Allen Andres, the principal, said a new curriculum would be introduced from September for Year 7 pupils "so that the jump to secondary education isn't too big for them to cope with". The study findings had helped to confirm the need to "soften" the transition from primary, he added.

Dr Rosie Sage, head of Leicester university's centre of innovation in raising educational achievement, applied a general knowledge quiz and two re-telling tasks for 200 Year 7 pupils.

Only three students, having been read a story, could completely answer questions about it.

In general knowledge only 27 per cent knew which continent India was in, while 29 per cent knew who the prime minister was.

When asked what they disliked about the school, 96 per cent of the pupils said teachers who talked "roughly" to them. More than eight out of ten thought there were too many changes, and 90 per cent said they found it hard to understand what teachers said.

With 1,700 pupils, New College, is one of the largest schools in the country. It was created in 1999 in a "fresh start" merger of three secondaries. It has taken part in a succession of initiatives, including the Excellence in Cities programme, but none has worked. Three headteachers have come and gone in five years.

Only 10 per cent of students got five Cs or better at GCSE in 2004 and truancy is a major problem.

Dr Sage said: "These kids are from socially deprived areas. They lack the thinking, communication, language and social skills to cope with school.

Communicating with teachers in a proper way is almost impossible for them.

"They are not dim, it is just that what is expected of them is far higher than what they are able to do. They are reverting back to their primary days because the curriculum jump is too big."

The school was put into special measures in 2002 by the local education authority - the first action of its kind ever taken by an LEA. That decision was backed by Ofsted following an inspection three months later because of "intimidating" pupil behaviour.

Thirty-five out of the 73 teachers are threatening strike action following 12 assaults by children between September and December last year. A female teacher also received a death threat from a 15-year-old boy.

Dr Sage added: "Good teaching - which is in abundance at New College - is meaningless if national targets are all that matter. You can`t force-feed children facts."

Sue Waddington, lead member for education with Leicester City Council said the findings were "very useful, and would be looked at to find ways they could be addressed".

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