Year 6: 'a total waste of time'

Independent schools leader slams target culture that puts revision for key stage 2 tests above learning

A leading private school is taking pupils a year early because the head believes children waste their final year in primary school revising for national tests.

Bernard Trafford, headmaster at Wolverhampton grammar school, said hundreds of pupils were arriving at the fee-charging school feeling "dispirited"

after spending 12 months being coached through key stage 2 exams rather than learning new skills.

On the eve of the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses'

Conference (HMC), the group which represents 260 of the UK and Ireland's top private schools, Dr Trafford said it was a symptom of government pressure to meet exam targets.

An analysis of the scheme is made in a new book and website, which hails a series of educational "innovations" at independent schools and is released to coincide with the HMC conference in Manchester next week.

Dr Trafford, who takes over as chairman of HMC in January, said: "I wonder whether any new learning is happening in pupils' final year at primary school? It appears to be based solely on preparation for an exam rather than education and learning.

"The Government, not schools, has to take the blame for that - the pressure on primaries to hit targets and maintain their places in league tables is colossal." Wolverhampton grammar school has traditionally only admitted pupils aged 11 to 18, but it took 10-year-olds for the first time in 2004.

Dr Trafford said: "Hearing from so many of our new arrivals of their dispiriting experience in Year 6, we thought our 11-18 school could devise something better. We had the space, we felt that we had the staff, and we knew we wanted a kind of pre-secondary year."

Fees in the newly-formed Year 6 - dubbed "Big Six" by Wolverhampton grammar - are pound;6,300, less than the pound;9,000-a-year charged for other pupils. Dr Trafford said there was less of an emphasis on formal assessment and children did not sit key stage 2 tests, which are taken by 11-year-olds at all state primary schools, which have traditionally supplied as many as 70 per cent of pupils at Wolverhampton grammar. This is the latest in a series of attacks by top independent schools on the examinations system, which many have accused of stifling pupils and failing to identify the brightest children.

Last week it emerged that more than 100 private schools are planning to ditch A-levels in favour of a tougher qualification, the so-called Cambridge Pre-U, which will put less emphasis on coursework and also scrap unlimited re-sits. It should start in 2008.

Other independent schools have ditched the GCSE in favour of the tougher International GCSE. This follows complaints that the conventional GCSEexams are too easy.

The HMC will launch a website and book celebrating innovative educational schemes from its members on Monday. It includes two schools, King's in Canterbury and the Warwick school, which have introduced university-level experiments in A-level science to push the brightest pupils, and a scheme to teach foreign languages to children as young as four years old at King's school, Rochester.

Geoff Lucas, HMC general secretary, said: "Independent schools have always been at the very forefront of innovation, but there is a feeling that, because of the degree of government regulation in recent years, we have almost forgotten about it."

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