The Albany School has overcome its problems in engaging pupils with science by "dropping" it as a separate subject for new students and blending it into a specially designed curriculum.
The number of students sent out of lessons to loiter in the corridor used to be particularly noticeable in the science department at The Albany School. Low-level disruption was common, and pupils seemed bored and disenchanted with the subject.
In turn, teachers in the department were concerned about pupils' attitudes, complaining that they did not have sufficient literacy skills to cope with the course materials, were "too silly" for practical work and too reliant on being "spoon-fed".
The inspectors noted that the pupils' written work during this time illustrated how one-size-fits-all the curriculum had become: "Books were essentially verbatim copies, differing only in the neatness of presentation or completeness of copying."
A rigorous audit of the school's work found that pupils' poor attitude to science and weak progress in key stage 3 meant they needed to catch up on work in key stage 4.
So, with the enthusiastic agreement of a new head of science, the school introduced a radical new curriculum for Year 7 pupils.
This "National Skills" curriculum is based around a series of goals prefixed by phrases including "I will take responsibility for my own learning by ..." and "I know how to find and use information by ..."
Science has been dropped as a separate timetabled subject, but is now taught as part of cross-curricular projects that also cover the humanities and develop literacy, particularly writing.
The lessons are taught in a specially created "National Skills learning centre": three open-plan classrooms off a central atrium, allowing the three teachers to combine classes where appropriate. The fact that Year 7 pupils end up working with fewer teachers also eases the transition from primary to secondary.
The pupils continue to do some science work in laboratories, but it is integrated into appropriate topics. For example, an exploration of Sherlock Holmes stories led to lessons in forensic science, in which pupils used techniques such as chromatography, after which they wrote their own detective fiction.
Instead of spoon-feeding pupils with information, the school encourages them to take charge of their own learning, equipping them with their own netbooks so that they can carry out research using the internet.
The pupils also produce portfolios based on their work on each of the topics.
Signs of success
Departments at the school have come to see "better than expected" progress, not just in science but also in English and the humanities. Surveys of pupils' attitudes show a marked improvement in their enjoyment of writing in science at key stage 4. Systematic collation of behaviour data has shown a reduction in problem incidents in key stage 3, which had been hoped for, and also an unexpected improvement in key stage 4.
What the inspectors said
"This innovative approach has resolved previously poor attitudes to science and transformed outcomes for students in science at key stage 4."
Name: The Albany School, Hornchurch, Greater London
Age range: 11-16
Type: Business and enterprise college
Number of pupils: Around 915
Intake: Co-educational, but a disproportionately high number of boys. Below-average proportion eligible for free school meals.