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Schools face a downsizing revolution in Britain
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Sprawling comprehensives with more than 1,500 pupils could be replaced with a series of smaller schools in an attempt to improve examination results.

Andrew Adonis, the schools minister, said that in the United States cities such as New York had transformed test results, behavior and attendance by cutting down the size of schools.

"I am keen to look, with an open mind, at all proposals to raise standards in schools," he added. "Small schools have been successful in the US and they may have a part to play here in the future, if credible proposals are forthcoming."

The move comes as a new report, to be published on Wednesday, calls for an end to super-size comprehensives, arguing that they leave pupils overwhelmed and lost in a "sea of anonymity".

The policy document from Teach First, the organization that places top graduates in tough inner-city schools, argues that some schools are so large that some children are falling "under the radar" and failing to build up relationships with the staff.

The report, which was shown to Adonis last week, calls for each large school to be broken down into a series of small schools serving about 150 pupils. It represents the views of 1,000 teachers recruited through Teach First, who each found themselves responsible for up to 200 pupils in their first year of teaching, while those who took on extra responsibilities were accountable for as many as 400.

Such huge numbers often left them "firefighting" instead of teaching, says Lessons From the Front, a report marking Teach First's fifth anniversary. "For many teachers, the fruits of their efforts are that the world does not fall around their ears - not too many fights occur, not too many expulsions and just enough GCSEs at A*-C," it says.

"Clearly this is not good enough." In a chapter dedicated to school size, it argues: "In many urban complex schools, teachers' time and energy are simply spread too thinly between too many pupils."

The report is likely to reignite the debate around whether the structure of comprehensive schools should be transformed.

England and Wales have some of the biggest secondary schools in Europe and they are getting bigger. In just over a decade there has been a steep decline in the number of schools that serve fewer than 1,000 pupils. The number with more than 2,000 has quadrupled, while those with between 1,500 and 2,000 has more than doubled.

Concerns about the impact of such vast schools have led US cities to experiment with smaller models. In New York, huge buildings have been divided so that there is one school on each floor.

The proposal from Teach First teachers to bring a similar system to the UK has the support of Estelle Morris, the former education secretary. "I think this is well worth looking at," she said. "One of the things that works about primary school education and one of the reasons we fail to manage the transition (to secondary) is the size of the school."

(Agencies via China Daily November 12, 2007)

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