Primary-style classes to get more passes

5th October 2007 at 01:00
It's a secondary school run on methods familiar to under-11s. And it's really working

IT HAS a primary school head and its pupils keep the same class teacher for all their lessons. And this term it took on three more teachers from primary schools. Yet Loreto High is definitely a secondary just one that uses techniques more usually aimed at younger children.

The school, in Chorlton, Manchester, is pioneering a system that blurs the boundaries between primary and secondary. Pupils in Years 7 and 8 are allocated a personal learning tutor who stays with them at all times. Other teachers visit their form room to "team teach" specialist lessons such as French.

Going a step further than similar schemes that try to create a primary feel in Year 7 classes, it ensures that there are two fully trained teachers present in lessons for more than half of the time.

In many lessons, the pupil-teacher ratio is as low as in the private sector about seven to one. In English, maths, science and humanities, pupils have two to three lessons a week for each subject taught by both teachers at once, followed by a "reinforcement" session with only their tutor.

In PE, there can be up to three adults: a teacher, professional coach and specialist teaching assistant.

Tutors also have 15-minute one-on-one contact time with their pupils every half-term to set targets and talk about their progress. There are six parents' evenings a year.

Brendan Foster, a specialist maths and science teacher, said: "Team teaching has been around for a while, but when you are doing it every day, it requires a different approach both teachers have to be integrated into the lesson.

"We are now constantly on the look out for activities where we can address the class at the same time for example, by doing a question- and-answer-type conversation for the pupils to listen to."

Marie Gavin, a personal learning tutor, said: "We've only been doing it for four weeks, but the children are really responsive and their needs are being met. I think it's been a really smooth transition."

The school, known as St Thomas Aquinas RC High until last term, created the system after falling rolls and poor exam results left it threatened with closure. In 2006, only 21 per cent of pupils achieved five top-grade GCSEs. This year, they had climbed back to 35 per cent, but it is still below the national average. It has only 420 places filled out of 750, although the roll is rising.

Staff hope the constant presence of a single teacher and a more "holistic" approach to the curriculum will prepare pupils better to cope with exams and vocational courses .

No extra money is available for Loreto High, so cash has been found by slimming down the management structure to a headteacher and two programme managers for KS3 and KS4. Several subjects, including art, music and ICT, are no longer run as departments, but expertise is brought in from outside.

Luke Dillon, headteacher, who led nearby St John's RC Primary for 18 years, said he was excited by the project, developed by the school's chair of governors, Martin Connor, a health service strategic adviser.

Mr Dillon said: "It was a case of 'do something radical or close'. This model convinced the local authority the school had a chance.

"I knew how important it was for Catholic families to send their children to the same school, but that wasn't happening and families were becoming fragmented, going elsewhere.

"But the response to the new system has been really good. We had 300 families attend an open evening for the newly launched school last week."

Children's Plan, pages 18-19

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