Teachers turn lab rats

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Staff at experimental secondary will be used to try out `latest research' in classroom

Teachers at a new experimental secondary are to become a "test bed" for academics and officials from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) who will use them to analyse changes to pedagogy and regulations.

Staff at Sutton High in St Helens - which is to become an academy sponsored by Edge Hill University, one of the country's biggest teacher trainers, together with the TDA - will use the "latest research" in the classroom.

TDA staff plan to use the academy to chart how policy works in practice, how diktats effect schools' day-to-day work and to come up with ideas of how to boost the status of teaching.

"This will be a real test bed school, where teachers bring the latest research into the classroom, and where they also play an integral part in formulating the research in the first place," said Robert Smedley, dean of education at Edge Hill.

"We really believe in the concept of university schools, and how fundamental they can be to improving standards in the classroom."

The loss of Pilkington Glass to the area has reduced the number of workers with science skills. Edge Hill academics want to return that knowledge to the classroom, and the first research in the school will be how to improve science teaching.

"We want to find the best model of teaching the subject, to show children how it's used practically in the workplace," Professor Smedley said.

"We want to find out how teachers can `notch up' their lessons so they are outstanding all the time. The Department for Children, Schools and Families really liked our vision and the partnership with the TDA is unique - it's the first time it has been involved with an academy."

Teachers at the academy, which opens this September, will also run a personalised curriculum for pupils, and children will be active in the "management of their learning".

New classrooms are expected to be open by 2014. Sutton High was given a notice to improve in 2008 but inspectors who visited last September said it no longer required the order and it was satisfactory.

But John Bangs, head of education at teaching union the NUT, said: "I think teachers at this school are going to be on the edge of their seat, wondering what new initiative is going to come down the pipeline next, it's alarming rather than exciting.

Dave Terry, head of Oasis Academy MediaCityUK in Salford, has been appointed as the school's new principal. He starts in the summer term. Two vice-principal posts are currently being advertised.

A TDA spokesman said: "We think this partnership is a good way of giving schools, particularly academies, better access to our support and continuous professional development."


At the New Country School in Minneapolis, US, the 124 pupils sit at office desks working at computers rather than being taught in classrooms.

The charter school was set up by teachers, who have also stopped using bells. Children say they chose to attend the school after being bullied, or because they didn't like sitting on a table being "lectured" by teachers.

At Monkseaton High School in Whitely Bay, North Tyneside, children sat GCSEs after just one teaching session. The "spaced learning" experiment saw them undertake three fast, fact-packed units taught by teachers alternating with physical exercise. The aim was to see the effects of short-term memory on exam results. Academics have advised the school during trials.

Eastlea Community School in Newham, east London, is divided into five "learning areas", each led by a deputy and assistant head who are directors of learning. They have responsibility for a subject and a year group. The school also has a director for curriculum innovation and a corporate services manager.

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