Let the teachers do the walking
IF innovation is the buzz-word of Tony Blair's Government then West London Academy is set to make a lot of noise. Not only will it have the country's highest-paid head, Alistair Falk on a salaries and benefits package of around pound;120,000, but it will discard one of the great sacred cows of British secondary education.
Instead of the 1,200 pupils carrying bags between lessons when the bell goes, it will be teachers on the move.
The concept of giving each class a designated room is known as "year basing". Pupils get "ownership" of classrooms in a bid to instil respect for their environment.
Apart from subjects such as science, technology and drama, which require specialist facilities, pupils aged 4-14 attending what will be the country's first "all through"(4-19) academy - will do most of their lessons in the same room.
The school, which was designed by Norman Foster and partners, has year bases off a central pathway through the school. Decoration of this is intended to mirror the emotional development of the pupils.
The pound;30 million city academy is the brainchild of millionaire businessman Sir Alec Reed, chairman and founder of recruitment firm Reed Executive plc. He has given at least pound;2m in sponsorship.
As well as the 3Rs, Sir Alec hopes the school will give pupils seven Cs: confidence, communication, creativity, computing, comprehension, charm and "coaching", or the ability to teach.
"It is proven that if you teach a subject to others then your comprehension is about eight times what it would be listening to a lecture," Sir Alec said.
The academy is made up of a primary and secondary school and, subject to government approval, will share its site with a special school. It will officially open in September but the new building will not take pupils until spring 2005.
Mr Falk admitted that the idea of year basing had provoked initial resistance from staff. "It is one of the things that raised most eyebrows among staff. But in schools at the moment 70 people stay where they are and 1,000 move. It is slightly illogical," he said.
But teachers had welcomed the scope for increased collaboration with colleagues that the new academy promises. They also liked the greater attention to pupils' emotional and pastoral needs, he added.
As well as this focus on emotional needs - seen as particularly critical in Year 9 - the school will allow them greater flexibility over the pace of their academic progress.
Instead of traditional key stages, children will follow 9-13 and 14-19 curricula. This should allow pupils to proceed at different paces and give the option of an extra "foundation year" to pupils who find the jump from GCSE to A-level difficult - a move that Mr Falk says will be especially useful in maths and science.