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Two academies get £7m to go back to the wall



Two academies have been given millions of pounds to build walls back into their open-plan classrooms after claims they were causing attainment to plunge.

Bexhill High Academy, in East Sussex, and St Aldhelm’s Academy, in Dorset, are believed to have been handed about £7 million from the government to redesign their buildings this summer.

Both have been taken over by new academy trusts after falling into special measures.

Schools Week understands the schools were classed as “exceptional cases” by the Department for Education and will receive the cash amid fears pupils’ attainment would not improve unless action was taken to alter classroom design.

Bexhill High Academy has £6 million to rebuild parts of the school, just five years after its £38 million building opened.

Tom Attwood, chairman of Attwood Academies, which runs Bexhill, said: “The people of Bexhill, and more particularly the children of Bexhill, have in recent years been let down badly by an ill-thought out building design and, worse, a dreadful implementation of the new-build.”

The design was inspired by the Swedish concept of Kunskapsskolan, which focuses on flexible and personalised learning for pupils.

Pupils learnt in 15 open-walled classrooms, dubbed “education pods”, hailed as bringing “innovative teaching” to the community. Ninety pupils could fit in each.

The building was funded mostly from the Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, with £4 million from East Sussex County Council.

But the school fell into special measures in 2012 and was taken over by Attwood Academies last year.

The academy immediately switched to teaching pupils in smaller classes, which Ofsted said was helping pupils to make better progress.

A monitoring inspection report from January reads: “Students were unanimous in saying the new arrangements help them to focus better and get on with their work.

“But they rightly note that on too many occasions, learning is hindered by the sound of the group working next door, which cuts across class discussion and/or teachers’ questioning of students. This is frustrating for students and is slowing them down.”

Work will start on creating “traditional acoustic” classrooms for 30 pupils in the summer.

St Aldhelm’s opened in 2012 after a £9.8 million redevelopment, hailed as equipping the school for “21st century modern teaching”.

After being put in special measures in December last year, Ambitions Academies Trust stepped in – immediately tearing up the open classrooms.

On its website the trust said the “vast open-plan classrooms made it impossible for students to concentrate”.

Temporary walls have already been installed and building work for more permanent changes is due to start in June.

It has been reported that the school needed £1 million for the work.

 



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4 Comments

    • Janet Downs

      According to the architects, the brief was decided by teachers and the local authority among others. Teachers had been impressed with Kunskapsskolan schools in Sweden run by the for-profit firm, Kunskapsskolan.

  1. Bexhill High School had been judged Satisfactory in Jan 2011. Monitoring in March 2012 said it was showing ‘good progress in making improvements’.

    Despite this, it was decided to convert Bexhill into an academy sponsored by Prospects Academy Trust. According to Private Eye, August 2013, this was against civil servant’s advice who had ‘paused’ the chain from taking on more academies after Ofsted found ‘inadequate progress’ in the one they already had. Private Eye received a Freedom of Information response which appeared to suggest the then schools minister, Lord Nash, overruled the advice in Autumn 2012 and allowed Prospects to take on more academies.

    Under Prospects’ sponsorship, Bexhill Academy was judged Inadequate.

    In May 2014, Prospects announced it was winding up its academy trust leaving six academies in limbo. One month later the interim principal of Bexhill wrote a gushing letter to parents about Atwood’s sponsorship of the academy. He described it thus (17 June 2014):

    “This is so exciting for Bexhill High it is untrue. If you feel sceptical don’t. If you feel slightly uncomfortable by business people taking over schools, again I would ask you not to. That is what the government wants, and it can, and does, work.”

    Tom Attwood, director of The Attwood Academies Trust, was a director of The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT) until August 2013. In October 2013, the DfE sent warning letters to TKAT about “unacceptably low standards of performance” at two of its academies. The DfE listed a series of concerns about TKAT academies in a letter (July 2014) following focused inspection of some of its schools.