A gleaming academy that caters for pupils from nursery to sixth form has risen from the ashes of three former schools. Sadie Gray reports
THE FIRST days at primary school are daunting enough for many children, but what if you are launching yourself into a school of almost 1,300 other pupils? And what if a lot of these pupils are big, scary and blocking the way to the playground?
These were the worries of some of the pupils at West London Academy, a pioneer of all-through school for ages 3 to 19, which was formed 3 years ago.
The staff worked hard to put their young charges at ease so they could enjoy the system's advantages: not least, the blurring of the lines between primary and secondary education. The 3-to-19 model has the total backing of principal Hilary Macauley and Sarah Wilson, the primary head.
Ms Macauley said: "We do not think of ourselves as two separate schools.
Our policies, staff training and budget are all across the school. I don't recruit teachers for the high school or the primary school - I recruit teachers of children, full stop. A lot of them want to come here because we're doing something different."
In art, music, and design and technology primary pupils are taught by specialist teachers. And those designated as gifted in maths also get taught by specialists. The same will happen soon for those with a talent for English.
And due to the enthusiasm of Spanish teacher Kevin Swain, his subject has been a hit with the younger pupils, which he hopes will grow into a love for languages as they move up the school.
Mr Swain, nicknamed Senor Spain by pupils, teaches Years 5 to 8. In his previous job, at a secondary school, he was involved in primary outreach work. He said: "It's crucial that we get the kids learning languages as soon as possible. They're really enthusiastic and the aim is to retain that enthusiasm.
"I was brought in to build up a new department, and I was happy that the decision was made before I came. Spanish is brilliant and if you're going to pick a language, it should be one that pupils enjoy."
The academy is sponsored by Alec Reed of the Reed recruitment and training group, and was formed in 2003 by the merger of Northolt primary, Compton sports college and John Chilton special school. The three schools shared the same 22-acre site beside the A40 in Northolt, where the academy now stands. The long, low, curved building cost pound;37 million and was designed by Sir Norman Foster.
Pupils moved in last year. Children move along the building as they progress, starting in the nursery at one end and emerging 15 or 16 years later from the sixth form at the other.
The academy has 47 nursery children, 399 in the primary school, 682 in the high school and 140 sixth formers. There are 192 teachers, and three-quarters of the staff have been appointed by Ms Macauley since she took over as principal last year.
The budget benefits from economies of scale, and services, including cleaning and caretaking, have been brought in-house so staff have a greater commitment to the school, which can, in turn, take better care of them.
Children moving from primary to secondary email their worries and questions to high school pupils who deal with them. High school children do their health and social care work experience in the nursery.
Exam results dipped last year, but overall the academy is rising fast and Ofsted's latest report, released at the end of September, was very positive.
Inspectors said: "The opportunity to draw on expertise and specialised resources available within the academy is enhancing primary pupils'
learning. Around the school there is a strong adult presence. As one student commented: 'There are teachers everywhere. It gives you a good feeling because it makes you feel safe.'"
In her letter to pupils, inspector Brenda Cuslin wrote: "Your academy is remarkable. Few schools have primary, secondary, sixth form and special school students sharing accomodation and activities. It was good to see you all mixing so well in your new building."
The academy's top-grade GCSE pass rate rose from 28 per cent last year to 47 per cent this year. The Year 6 results were among the best in Ealing.
Does the all-through system have disadvantages?
"No," said Ms Macauley. "I'd want to set these up all over the place if I could."
There were a few teething problems. Taps in the primary school were initially fitted too high for some pupils so plumbers had to lower them.
Ms Wilson was head of Northolt primary, which she described as a failing school with "pretty revolting" buildings. She pushed hard for governors to accept the academy plan. The primary school moved into the new building in September 2005.
Not everyone was immediately convinced. Maria Adesina, 7, said: "It was a bit scary. Sometimes when you're going through the high school, the children are blocking the way."
Her classmate Clio Christie, also 7, said: "I didn't want the old buildings to get knocked down. It (the new building) is massive. It was scary, but they made me feel welcome and I'm happy now.