Shy pupils start to dance

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
Early steps towards co-operation between state and independent schools.

"I AM a goat," says Kathy Spikes, "and this" (tying a piece of string to her wrist) "is my tether. You're going to tether me to a part of the field. Now if I'm tethered here," (pointing to the board behind her) "what sort of shape will the grass be when I've finished eating?" Six pairs of pupils watch her. Each pair includes a Year 9 pupil at the Grey Coat Hospital school, a Church of England girls' secondary in Victoria, London. The other is a Year 10 pupil from Westminster School, the highly-selective independent school nearby. All have given up their lunch hour for a weekly "mentoring" session in maths in a partnership scheme between the two schools.

A Westminster boy gives the correct answer, "a semi-circle". The boys hog all the answers in the introductory session. But when the paired pupils explore the algebraic and geometric questions posed by the tethered goat the girls play an active part.

Barriers have lifted since the first Government-funded sessions last summer, when girls and boys took separate sides of the classroom, like teenagers at a dance.

"The Westminster boys know a bit more because they're older, not because they're amazingly cleverer," says Mrs Spikes, head of maths at Grey Coat Hospital. "This is the top set at Grey Coat who would have got into Westminster if they took girls at this age."

Last year, nearly 60 per cent of Grey Coat pupils who took maths GCSE got A to C grades and seven out of nine A-level candidates got As or Bs. The school hopes its partnership with Westminster School will boost performance, so that more go on to do A-level.

It may be hard to see what benefit the staff and pupils of Westminster can derive (85 per cent of GCSE maths results at grade A or A*, 67 per cent of A-levels at grade A). But Eddie Smith, Westminster's deputy head, says the school has lots to learn about maths coursework. "We had to do it for the first time last year and it was disastrous," he admits.

The co-operation goes further, department heads have met to discuss syllabuses and the maths departments of the two schools have met. Westminster has already arranged interview practice for Oxbridge and medical school candidates from Grey Coat. Heads of the art, craft and design technology, history and modern languages departments have discussed joint schemes.

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