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Win-win solution to Year 8 problem

They are no longer young and eager in their shiny shoes and new uniforms, nor do they have the imminent threat of tests or exams to galvanise them.

It is what is known as the Year 8 problem.

Paget high, in Burton-upon-Trent, this year set itself the task of combatting the classic dip in performance that occurs among this age group.

It has succeeded with the tried and tested method of persuading teenagers the world over: bribery.

The school has spent pound;8,000 of secondary strategy money on a cross-curricular series of competitions between forms that ran from September to July, and it intends to spend pound;12,000 on the scheme next year.

Activities ranged from creating displays on Islamic civilisation in art to producing a marketing plan for a school stationery shop being launched in October.

The challenge culminated in a week-long residential at Coven outdoor centre in Wolverhampton.

Lorraine Williams, the school's deputy head, said: "In Year 7 pupils are keen and come to school with their shoes polished and bright eyes. In other years they have Sats, GCSEs and A-Levels. Children don't have a particular aim in mind in Year 8. It is a national problem.

"We do progress tests at the end of Years 7 and 8, and the tests at the end of Year 8 show either little progress or that pupils are slipping backwards."

Pupils were awarded certificates and medals and were taken on trips. Pupils who won the art challenge saw The Incredibles at the cinema. Winners of the history challenge, a presentation on the Bayeaux tapestry, went in-line skating. Others went ice-skating and bowling. Liam Waby, 13, said:

"Everyone wanted to win. Some people took it all very seriously. I thought it was a bit of fun."

Sue Hackman, chief adviser on school standards and previously the director of the national secondary strategy, said a number of schools were now focusing their energies on Year 8.

She said: "Year 8 can be a fallow year between the excitement of a new school and the run-up to tests and new GCSE course at the end of Year 9.

The use of incentives can be a useful motivating factor. Pupils respond equally well to the cost-free rewards of attention, praise and privileges."

* Mrs Hackman becomes the Department for Education and Skill's chief adviser on school standards in January. She succeeds Professor David Hopkins.

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