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Posted on 16th January 2018
A unique school structure which sees students gaining GCSEs from the age of 13 has been hailed a huge success.
The Burnt Mill Academy Trust (BMAT) launched a new curriculum two years ago which sees students in Year 9 and 10 at Forest Hall School take GCSE courses and exams early.
Students study two complete GCSE courses in one year, rather than the traditional three years, and enter Year 11 having already banked four GCSE qualifications.
The radical overhaul saw lessons for the upper school extended from 60 minutes to 100 minutes, with students devoting two whole days each week to their two GCSE options.
The move means students in Year 11 can focus more of their time and energy into the core subjects of English, maths and science. It also enables them to take a range of subjects without having to drop a core subject for one they may prefer, such as dance.
The school now offers 22 subjects, with photography and sociology recent additions because of the new structure, giving a much broader curriculum than before.
Anna Myatt, associate headteacher, said: “For a small school, we are now offering a really thorough curriculum, with real breadth of choice. We would not have that without this structure. Now, we can make the curriculum more bespoke for our students.
“Thanks to the 100-minute lessons, our teachers know their students really well and are able to meet their needs. We can get through a lot more content and go into topics much deeper with the longer lessons. Time is not lost moving between classrooms as often and we have the time to go out on trips without removing students from other lessons.
“We are seeing students in Year 9 securing A grades so our curriculum is allowing them to fulfil their full potential. It gives them real confidence going forward and into Year 11 where they take their core subjects.”
Students are assessed regularly and are advised to leave subjects which require high levels of literacy to the later years to allow for further development. Those who are not ready to take their GCSEs in Year 9 are offered vocational courses instead.
Year 7 and 8 continue with the traditional lesson structure because younger students benefit from the shorter sessions, while early interventions mean all students are expected to reach their absolute potential when they sit their GCSE exams from Year 9.
Unique curriculum impact across subjects -
Brian Nichols, the subject leader of science, said: “The 100-minute lessons give us the opportunity to carry out a lot of assessment so we know by the end of a lesson exactly what students have learnt. We have time to do live marking so we can pick up immediately on any misconceptions, rather than it being left until the next lesson. That has a big impact on the progress students are making.
“Results have gone up year on year in science under the new curriculum. Having four options banked early means students have extra time to focus on their core subjects. This curriculum is a massive positive for science, English and maths.”
Siobhan White, drama and senior leader, said: “As a practical subject, it’s so valuable to have students in lesson for a longer period of time. We can deliver new information and have time to embed that into a practical setting, giving students a deeper understanding of the concept.
“It has blown my mind, particularly that we are getting Year 9 students through with such good grades. The expectation is on them to keep up with Year 11 and they rise to that challenge. I have been asked to write schemes of work for the exams board as a result of the success we are seeing here.”