Failing school drops the national curriculum

AN UNDERACHIEVING East End comprehensive is to become the first school in Britain to abandon the national curriculum in favour of mixed- age "learn-as-you-go" classes, in a radical move designed to combat low exam results.

The experimental scheme at Eastlea Community School in Newham, to be introduced from September, represents the most radical reform yet in the Government's education action zones, set up to seek out new ways of raising standards. Under the scheme, the comprehensive will be divided into a primary-style lower school and a college-style upper school. Children under 14 will be taught in groups of all ages, selected by ability to improve their grasp of the Three Rs.

Traditional subjects will be redrawn as six broad areas, such as language and literacy, or science and technology, taught by teams of teachers and specialist assistants using the latest computer technology to allow children to learn at their own pace.

The upper school, for children over 14, will be restyled the Eastlea Young People's College. Children will be offered a range of work-related courses as well as GCSEs, some run under franchise by the further education college next door to the school. But other children will go out into local companies which will be running work-based training courses. Adults will also be able to work alongside pupils, under plans to transform the run- down collection of Victorian, 1920s and 1960s buildings into a new "community campus" for local people.

Adverts for a new pounds 65,000 "super-principal" to run the school were published last week. Ian Harrison, Newham's director of education, said: "The school will be experimental. People ask us whether we are conducting experiments on children, but we say we have been conducting an experiment for the last 10 years and it hasn't worked.

"We concluded that the curriculum was failing the pupils. Forty per cent of pupils who enter have a reading age of eight or less, and they are unable to access the full national curriculum because of it.

"We need to move towards a more flexible approach. If the children are behind, we will look at ways to help them catch up on the basics."

He added: "We are not doing anything that could be called dumbing down, but we are looking at a more flexible way of doing things. We are against the idea of 14-year-olds going out to work, but if we can identify a programme which is accredited, it could involve significant periods in a workplace."

The proposal is just the latest in a series of radical reforms being pioneered by Newham. The authority, which was praised earlier this month as a "model for the nation" by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), is already consulting parents on a plan to replace the current three-term school year with a revamped five-term year and is developing a system of bonuses for the best classroom teachers.