Education: Want to know what the fuss is all about?

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Temple Cowley Middle School in Oxford has 560 nine- to 13-year- olds, housed in spacious pre-war primary school accommodation which has had several specialist facilities added: three science labs, a technology complex, an art room and gym.

THE HEAD Martin Thomas: "We can challenge the sacred cow of the class teacher here and offer nine- and 10-year-olds specialist teaching and facilities they would never get in a primary school. Teachers get two hours a week non-contact time. The funding is better than it would be in a junior school. Subject organisation and monitoring are easier. I don't believe that generalists can teach the 10 national curriculum subjects to the level nine- and 10-year-olds need. The private sector has effectively had middle schools for years and I don't see any sign that they want to change them."

THE SCIENCE TEACHER Jenny McNeil: "These children are getting more expertise here and I think that is essential in science. There is evidence that non- specialists find it hard to get to grips with the concepts at the top junior level. Primary school children often have to do science in their classrooms, very often with inadequate equipment. It ceases to be a practical subject in those circumstances. Liaison with the next tier has to be good. We agree with the upper schools what we are going to cover for key stage three. But if you get that right, I am sure the children here get more attention and more challenge than they would in a two-tier system."

THE CHILDREN Hannah, 11: "Here we get lots of choices. We learn rugby and football and dance."

Chris, 11: "I got a shock when I saw the technology room and all that machinery. We have to learn all the safety drills and it scared me to death. But now it's my favourite lesson. In primary school we sat in one classroom all day. Here we go to different rooms and have different teachers. I like that"