William Morris School in Walthamstow, east London, began as a school for the deaf in 1900, and now provides an education for pupils with a range of moderate, severe and profound learning difficulties.
Deputy headteacher Alan Campbell, who had a track record of working with local schools to revise their curricula, joined the school in 2011 after it was placed in special measures. He initially arrived on a one-year secondment, but soon saw that the special school had the potential to do highly original work with its timetable, especially as its executive head Gary Pocock was preparing to merge it with another school, Brookfield House, to become an academy this September.
"When I first came here, I asked children what they wanted when they left," Campbell says. "The answer was very clear - they wanted a job."
From September, pupils and their parents will be interviewed at the start of key stage 4 to find out what career they would like to begin five years later. Teaching staff will then tailor-make a curriculum for each pupil between the age of 14 and 19, using a bespoke mix of modules designed to promote employability and life skills.
The modules will come from Asdan Education, a Bristol-based charity that provides educational courses to improve pupils' social and personal attributes, which act as a more skills-based alternative to GCSEs. Each pupil will work towards the Asdan Education employability qualification at entry level 1, 2 or 3 and will be placed in classes according to "stage not age".
William Morris School already works with a range of local businesses, including Capel Manor College, London Construction, Leyton Orient Football Club and Class Racing, where pupils learn welding and vehicle maintenance.
The school plans to develop the network of businesses it works with to give pupils opportunities to gain experiences that directly relate to their ideal job. All pupils will be expected to create concepts, products and marketing plans in the style of TV shows Dragons' Den and The Apprentice.
William Morris School's work will be helped by the fact that it has won a #163;550,000 demographic change grant from the Department for Education, which will be used to build a construction training room, a catering classroom and a music studio this summer.
Campbell says that one of the benefits of avoiding a traditional "off the peg" academic curriculum is that pupils can be given experiences that better emulate what will happen when they join the world of work.
"We have an old caretaker's house in the school grounds - pupils will stay there for a night preparing an evening meal and planning for a work interview the next day," he says.
Tips from the scheme
The team recommends that you:
"Audit the school's current curriculum to work out its relevance for its pupils."
"Survey the pupils to find out what they want to be able to do when they leave the school."
"Secure Asdan Education training in the school for all staff."
Evidence that it works?
The project does not start until September, so there is no evidence as yet, although the response from parents and staff to the plans has been positive. Asdan Education qualifications have a reliable track record; they were given formal GCSE equivalence in September 2004 and the Tomlinson report that year highlighted Asdan Education as an example of good practice in relation to the accreditation of wider activities.
Approach: Tailor-making a curriculum to each pupil's ideal career
Started: September 2012
Leader: Deputy headteacher Alan Campbell, with support from the senior leadership team
Name: William Morris School
Location: Walthamstow, east London
Pupils: About 130, but due to increase this September
Age range: 11-19
Type: Special school catering for pupils with moderate, severe and profound learning difficulties
Ofsted overall rating: Satisfactory (2012).