Longer days and new horizons in store as Exeter secondary gets some KIPP

30th April 2010 at 01:00
School aims to be first in UK to copy the radical US model of education

An Exeter secondary claims it is to become the first in England to replicate a radical US school model that aims to tackle the underachievement caused by poverty.

Teachers at St James School say the changes - which are based on the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) - will help them sustain the recent improvements which resulted in an impressive increase in its CVA scores last summer.

KIPP is a much-vaunted initiative where teachers have set up schools with the aim of getting more poorer pupils to go on to university.

St James staff plan to partner with counterparts at a KIPP school in the US and are in contact with principals in Texas and North Carolina.

Earlier this year, Conservative shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said his proposals to encourage teachers to set up their own secondaries was based on the initiative.

"I will make radical changes so that groups of teachers can start their own schools, as has happened with the phenomenally successful KIPP chain in America," he said.

KIPP teachers make home visits, work in the holidays and give pupils their mobile phone number.

The St James school day will be extended and every child given an entitlement to sporting and cultural events.

St James head Helen Salmon said she was able to make the curriculum changes because the school, which serves some of the poorest areas in Devon, is now part of a National Challenge Trust.

In 2006, just 10 per cent of pupils at the school achieved five good GCSE results, including English and maths. By 2009 this had climbed to 39 per cent. But Mrs Salmon says this success can only continue if the school works with children in a different way.

"We are not embracing KIPP wholesale, but we want to be the first school in England to pilot some elements - we like their principle of having high expectations of children," Mrs Salmon said.

"We want to give every child a cultural and sporting premium and we want to extend the school day.

"I don't want to work my teachers into the ground, and I will start discussions with unions about how that will work. It's something we have already dabbled in, with Easter revision sessions and Saturday IT classes, and we are already seeing the benefits of working more closely with parents.

"But I'd be naive to think this won't be difficult in the current economic climate."

School leaders at St James hope the KIPP approach and the creation of the trust will boost pupil numbers.

"We've stopped the decline in numbers, now we need to keep demonstrating improvement," Mrs Salmon said. "When I think about what a child at a top public school gets, I want this for all our students - residential opportunities, trips abroad, enrichment activities.

"This is all in addition to first-class teaching and learning in school. Being from a disadvantaged background should not stop students having access to all of this and being able to succeed."

There are currently 82 KIPP schools in 19 US states serving more than 21,000 students.


KIPP schools were founded by teachers Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin in 1994. The pair set up the first two academies and since the year 2000 support from Doris and Don Fisher, co-founders of the Gap clothing stores, has allowed the programme to expand.

Each KIPP school is run independently by a KIPP-trained teacher and governed by a local board of directors. They also get help from the KIPP Foundation.

In the US fewer than one in five students from low-income families go to university, but at KIPP schools 85 per cent progress to higher education.

Students are accepted regardless of their background or academic record on a first come, first served basis. If more students apply than spaces are available, there is an admissions lottery.

Nationally, more than 80 per cent of KIPP students are eligible for the federal free and reduced price meals program, and more than 90 per cent are African American or Latino.

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