It was David Lawrence, headteacher of Kingsland Primary, who decided that the Staffordshire school needed more teaching space. But the idea that this space should be in the form of a decommissioned, commercial aeroplane came from the children themselves.
As a member of Creative Partnerships, the Labour government's flagship creative learning programme, the school was already exploring ways of engaging with the curriculum more innovatively. It worked with an agent provided by Creative Partnerships - Partners in Creative Learning (PiCL) - to find out from students what form they wanted the new outdoor facility to take.
Ideas ranged from "the bad to the mad", including treehouses, castles and sharks, until one six-year-old suggested an aeroplane. "As soon as the aeroplane was mentioned, that was the one the children all really liked and latched on to, so we pursued that," explains Mr Lawrence.
"King's Wings" - as students have dubbed the 82ft aircraft - is used as a general teaching space. However, green-screen technology, an interactive television, wi-fi access and a microphone in the cockpit mean it is primarily focused on ICT projects and "digital creativity".
Susan Billington, communications director at PiCL, says the plane is "a mascot of the school's commitment to creative learning, but is just one part of a much bigger picture, with the school sinking its teeth into ideas of creativity, independent learning and curiosity".
"The students love it because it's so different," Mr Lawrence says. But he adds that this is just the "legacy". The real benefit was that, for a year and a half, while the project was being carried out, a whole curriculum could be built around the idea. Different year groups engaged with the project in different ways. The youngest used measuring techniques to decide on where best to place the plane. Others learnt about scale in order to make models, while older children ran a website, liaised with the local community and sought design inspiration through visits to Manchester Airport and Concorde.
The children's confidence received a boost, according to Mr Lawrence, as they got the opportunity to give a presentation at the Coventry Transport Museum. They were also able to work with experienced professionals such as Howard Guy of Design Q, who adapted and decorated the planes of Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton and footballer David Beckham.
Mr Lawrence says his teachers also love the space because "students are so keen to go into the aeroplane and to learn in there", making them easier to motivate. He urges all schools that can accommodate it to go down the same route, pointing out that the whole project cost just #163;20,000, half the price of a conventional mobile classroom. St John the Baptist Primary School in Nottingham has already followed suit, obtaining its own plane last year.
Tips from the scheme
- Involve pupils as much as possible, right from the very beginning.
- Always be enthusiastic about the project.
- Be persistent until the plan comes to fruition.
- Have a coherent philosophy and plan for using the plane; it should not be just a gimmick.
Evidence that it works?
Mr Lawrence says the aeroplane "makes the children feel special" and that success can be seen in rising standards and exam results at the school, which now place it above the national average. He adds that former pupils have written to the school saying how much they enjoyed studying at Kingsland, "especially the aeroplane", and are thinking about university and careers in fields such as aerospace engineering.
The project was highlighted by Creative Partnerships when it won a World Innovation Summit on Education award in Doha this year.
Approach: Using a decommissioned aeroplane as a classroom
Leader: David Lawrence, headteacher
Name: Kingsland CofE Primary School
Location: Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire
Intake: A co-educational school with 362 students
Ofsted overall rating: Good with outstanding features.