'All-through' schools: From here to university

At 'all-through' schools such as King Solomon Academy, children are educated from the ages of three all the way to 18. They're growing in number, but the system has its critics

It's a crisp winter morning and the children in the nursery at the King Solomon Academy in Paddington are taking part in their daily phonics lesson. It looks much like any other nursery class – though it is perhaps unusual that the name of the class seems to denote its location: "London".

Yet just down the corridor, miles contract into mere metres so that the Reception pupils find themselves in "Brighton" and "Southampton" classes, and by the time children are 11 they are in the environs of "Oxford" or "Cambridge".

The theme is continued on the classroom walls, where teachers wearing mortar boards smile down on their wards from their own graduation photographs.

"Every class is named after a university city," says Jonathan Molver, King Solomon's Primary head teacher. "Our over-arching ambition is to prepare each child for university and we start with the youngest children. Every teacher has their graduation photo on display in their classroom, and every class is named after a university and the year in which pupils will graduate from sixth form."

King Solomon Academy is a remarkable success story. More than four out of 10 KSA students (43 per cent) are eligible for free school meals and more than three-quarters (77 per cent) speak English as an additional language.

Children join the school considerably behind expected attainment levels but, under the school's innovative curriculum, they quickly catch up and have made outstanding progress since the doors first opened in 2007.

King Solomon is also one of a growing number of so-called all-through schools: pupils can join the nursery aged three and, rather than progressing through primary school and then switching to a separate secondary, can stay at the same school until 18.

A review by Ark Schools of early years provision this month could also mean that such schools will be opened up to two-year-olds after calls for younger children to be admitted to school-based nurseries.

Venessa Willms, the director of primary for Ark Schools and the founding primary head of King Solomon Academy, believes that the all-through model offers enormous benefits for both students and teachers. "I think the biggest advantage is about having a shared philosophy and ethos which ensures that there is greater consistency around expectations, pedagogy and the cultural ethos of the school," Ms Willms says.

"In a typical secondary or primary school, you have certain ways of behaving or ways of interacting with each other or staff. Having them all the way through is an incredible advantage. The children are not moving between different settings with different expectations.

"I think that is the advantage of working in an all-through school – we are able to get teachers working together above and below all the time. I think that raises the game for everyone – children aren't able to fall through the gaps."

In 2009, there were only 13 all-through academies or schools in England but this has risen with the opening of new academies and free schools as well as the amalgamation of existing primaries and secondaries. In these times of austerity, all- through schools can also cut costs with economies of scale.

Many educationalists favour this model of schooling because it eliminates any unsettling transition between the primary and secondary stages. Having all ages on site also enables older pupils to act as mentors for younger children, while primary pupils benefit from having specialist science and language available and sharing sports facilities that stand-alone primaries can only dream about.

In November, Baroness Morgan of Huyton, the chair of Ofsted, praised the work of all-through schools and sparked controversy by calling for more children to be enrolled in school-based nurseries, saying that radical action was needed to close the achievement gap between rich and poor children by the time they start school.

"I think we need to see a big, bold, brave move on the under-fives agenda to target funding heavily on the children who will benefit most and – increasingly I think – to look to strong providers to go further down the system," she told a conference in London.

Ark Schools is interested in how the idea could benefit its students, and next month will launch a review of its nursery provision to consider whether to admit children as young as two. But critics of the plan are concerned at the growing "schoolification" of the early years and warn that the enormous institutions of all-through schools may not be the best environment for very young children. Sue Palmer, a literacy specialist and author of the book Toxic Childhood, says: "The difference between a two- or three-year-old and an 18-year- old is so enormous that the idea of trying to make some sort of seamless transition is bizarre.

"It is a totally different business caring for small children and teaching people who are about to go to university so why should it have to go on in the same environment.

"There seems to be a strange idea taking hold that small children should not be allowed to be small children any more. The younger the child, the more it needs to be a very personal environment.

"The countries that do the best in the world [in educational comparisons] are the ones that spend a lot of time creating a kindergarten environment between the ages of three and seven. For some reason in this country, we have decided that a regimental approach is the answer."

Wendy Ellyatt, the founding director of the Save Childhood Movement, voiced strong concerns. "Many schools are likely to struggle with providing suitably child-centred environments and the danger is that the needs of the youngest children will be compromised to serve those of the larger system," Ellyatt said.

"I know how frightened my own daughter was when she started primary school at four and went from being in a nursery playground with 30 children to a school playground where there were 400."

Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer in early childhood at the University of Winchester, and the founder of Early Childhood Action said the proposals could be "catastrophic" for young children.

"I am implacably against this proposal until there is a fundamental sea-change in governmental and cultural attitudes to early childhood experience in this country," he said.

"If anything, things are moving in precisely the wrong direction, with early childhood becoming increasingly colonised by a toxic and deeply harmful 'school-readiness' agenda, which is increasingly driving all early years policy-making. This is catastrophic for the wellbeing of England's young children, and many of us believe that England's parlous performance in the Pisa international league tables is precisely because, since 2000, England has pursued a policy of ever-earlier quasi-formal learning, which has had appalling impacts upon may children's love of learning and has generated disaffection from mainstream schooling among many pupils."

However, back at King Solomon Academy, Ms Willms is adamant that the school she founded in 2007 is providing the best preparation for its youngest children. "Our schools are in areas of high deprivation. Although our parents want to do the right thing, they face severe challenges and many of our pupils have not had the richness of home experiences that other children have had.

"Many start school well behind where children are expected to be at that age. That gap needs to be closed fast – and that is what we do."

The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

Foundation Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are looking for Founda...

Psychology Teacher

Main Teacher Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Teacher of Psychology An en...

Geography Teacher

£19200 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again