University to run failing school

July 7, 2000

Newcastle University is to create Britain's first research-led community school.

About 900 pupils will enrol at the school, which will be jointly run by the university and the local education authority in September 2001.

Twelve academics will work alongside school staff, researching teaching methods, offering expertise and improving the life chances of pupils in deprived areas. But Bill Dennison, head of the university's education department, said: "This is not university boffins coming along telling them how to do things."

The university hopes the project will generate research income of up to Pounds 400,000 per year.

The secondary school, as yet unnamed, will replace the troubled Firfield Community School and West Denton High in Newcastle's West End district.

Professor Dennison said: "There has already been a huge amount of guinea-pigging in the West End but this would be a partnership with the council and the local community." He said the university was aiming to fulfil its regional mission of making its expertise readily available.

Sally Taverner, director of secondary education at the university, said the initiative would build on the already strong research interest in social exclusion and educational psychology.

"We are not going to be managing the school," she said. "The university's role is to be fully involved with the professional development of all school staff, to expand the number of places on its initial teacher training programme and to carry out basic skills and information technology training for pupils and staff."

She said the school would provide a research base for exploring different approaches to teaching and learning but she stressed that the project carried an element of risk if it was not deemed a success.

Phil Turner, the city council's director of education, said the aim was to give parents a genuine choice. "Newcastle University's proposal is an exciting new approach that will give the new school a partnership with a centre of excellence."

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers gave the initiative a cautious welcome: "If this is a genuine partnership with academics working in schools with pupils and teachers rather than sitting behind desks then I can see it being worthy of serious consideration," it said.

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