Potential of scheme hard to measure

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The Independent Online
Examples of fast-tracking in the state system are rare. In academic fee- paying schools, it is more common.

Her Majesty's Inspectors reported in 1992 that "comparatively little use was being made to allow pupils who appeared to be insufficiently challenged to join an older age group". There are some examples of pupils taking GCSE early, particularly in subjects such as English, maths and music.

Nobody is certain how advancing individual pupils in individual subjects would work. Research has shown that putting whole groups up a year for every subject may be academically successful but socially damaging.

Heads fear too much concentration on the very able will mean the average and below average suffer.

John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said yesterday: "Why is he bothering with it? International studies show that the problem with this country is not the top 15 per cent, the young Blairpersons and Harpersons. but the rest." But inspectors' reports show that schools which make special arrangements for their most able pupils are often successful with pupils of all abilities.

Mr Sutton said timetabling fast-tracking might be possible for very large schools but would be extremely difficult in others.

But Tony Mooney, head of Rutlish School, in Merton, welcomed the proposals. A 13-year-old at the school had recently taken maths GCSE two years early. "Timetabling problems can be solved where the spirit is willing. Provided it is done properly ... we can promote bright youngsters in this way."