Applause for school's encore

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Famous old boys welcome the academy which will replace their former grammar. Jennifer Hawkins reports

Sir Michael Caine, the Oscar-winning actor, and Harold Pinter, the playwright, are backing a new city academy to be built on the site of their old London school.

The former Hackney Downs grammar school old boys are to be patrons of the pound;20 million Mossbourne city academy, which opens in September.

Sir Michael, when he was still known as Maurice Micklewhite, won a place at Hackney Downs, after taking the London county council scholarship exam in early 1944.

He once said in an interview: "I had to go to the nearest evacuated London school, which was the Hackney Downs grammar. I didn't know it, but I was there with Harold Pinter."

Hackney Downs was closed in 1995 after being branded the worst comprehensive in the country.

Lord Richard Rogers, the architect responsible for the Millennium Dome and the Lloyds Building, has designed the new academy with a cyber cafe and cutting-edge technology facilities.

The old school was bulldozed to form part of the academy's foundations and replaced by a huge laminated timber frame - reportedly the largest in the UK.

High-profile chefs will create menus for the pupils, and an out-of-hours restaurant and an organic kitchen garden will supply the school kitchen as well as local restaurants. And pupils will help design their own uniforms, so they feel proud to wear them.

Hackney-born businessman Clive Bourne, president of cargo company Seabourne Group, is contributing pound;2m towards the capital costs of the academy, which hopes eventually to educate 900 pupils aged 11 to 16.

He said: "I want to put something back into the community where I started my life and I am now in a position to do so. We have named it the Mossbourne academy after my father who was very much a Hackney man."

Other patrons include Lord Levy, Labour's chief fundraiser who went to Hackney Downs school. Don Black, the Oscar-winning lyricist, Lord Feldman and high-jump record-breaker Dalton Grant. All the patrons have been invited to the official opening next year.

Mossbourne academy's head will be Sir Michael Wilshaw, who was knighted for his services to education in January 2000. Sir Michael was praised by the Office for Standards in Education for his "remarkable leadership" at his previous school, St Bonaventure's, in neighbouring Newham, east London.

More than 500 children have already taken entry tests to win one of the 180 places at the academy. Angela Cotter-Boston, whose 11-year-old son Finbarr has been accepted, said: "We've heard good things about Sir Michael Wilshaw and his high standards - he has high expectations of both teachers and pupils. With Finbarr, we feel that his creativity will be encouraged and he'll gain the confidence to do well."

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