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Switch to mixed-age classes

Axeing age groups will let students move up at their own pace, says headteacher. Charlotte Walsh reports.

A secondary school is to allocate pupils to classes by ability rather than by age. It also plans to put new arrivals with poor literacy or numeracy in primary-style groups.

Cheryl Heron, headteacher of Bridgemary school in Gosport, Hampshire, said that while the plan - to be introduced in September - sounded radical, it made sense for children to progress at a rate that suited them.

Pupils will be assessed and placed in groups for each subject depending on their test results, classwork and teacher's notes.

The new ability groups will be called access, entry and levels 1, 2 and 3.

The plan could mean a 14-year-old will study history at entry level but geography at level 2.

In another radical change designed to ease the transition to secondary, those with poor results will be taught in a classroom set up like a primary, with a single teacher for all their lessons.

Mrs Heron said: "Children are all different and we need to cater for their individual needs. If they are in a class beyond their capabilities then they become disaffected and do not want to learn. This can lead them to disrupt others.

"If youngsters get fed up in one subject then they may switch off in other lessons and lose interest in school.

"It is about personalising learning and recognising that children are all individuals and do not learn at the same pace."

She said the children would have plenty of time to mix with their same-age friends during breaks.

The school has the full support of its local authority, Hampshire. David Kirk, the county's lead councillor for education, said: "We are supportive of schools who wish to explore ways of maximising the achievements of their pupils.

"I am always keen to hear of measures which put learners at the heart of the curriculum and look forward to hearing about the progress of this initiative."

Bridgemary offers 39 courses, a mixture of academic and vocational, including GCSEs, NVQs, applied GCSEs and work-based qualifications.

Sue Hallam, professor of education at London university's institute of education, said: "The scheme is certainly feasible. I went through school a year ahead. Gordon Brown did too.

"It needs to be flexible, though. Pupils need to move between groups easily.

"The problem with ability groups is that the perception is that this is the best they can do. The lower groups get bored and the top groups are pushed and pushed."

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