First five-in-one school opens

29th August 2008 at 01:00
`Human scale' units within secondary designed to stop pupils being lost in system

A concept that could revolutionise secondary education will take a major step forward next term with the expansion of `human scale' schools. Brislington Enterprise College in Bristol will become the first "schools within a school" design to open under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

The aim of the approach is to break up traditional large secondary schools into smaller units, with their own classrooms and staff.

Supporters of the philosophy believe it allows pupils to build closer relationships with teachers and make better academic progress as they do not get lost in the system.

Staff at Brislington have been developing the concept over the past four years, leading them to reorganise the school structure and introduce a new skills-based curriculum for 11- to 14 year-olds.

The new school, opening next week, will ultimately house more than 1,700 pupils. But students will be placed in one of five `learning communities' where they will spend 60 per cent of their time with just 16 members of staff. There will be separate facilities in the main building for physically impaired children and those with autism.

The school has received funding for three years from the Gulbenkian Foundation, which is a champion of what it calls `human scale schools'.

Simon Richey, the foundation's director of education, said: "We want to get into the bloodstream of BSF. With the number of new schools being built, we are confident that human scale schools can expand at a rate of knots.

"All the political parties have shown interest in the idea. BSF and human scale schools should go hand in glove."

The foundation is supporting 36 secondaries in the UK that are interested in implementing the schools within a school concept. In addition, academy sponsor Ark has plans for eight academies that it hopes will all operate the model.

When completed, they will join Bishops Park College in Clacton on Sea, Essex, the only school currently open that was built in line with the concept.

Mr Richey said: "The idea is becoming part of the zeitgeist. Two years ago, we wrote to every secondary school about the concept but only got a tepid response. Last year it was phenomenal."

The foundation paid for staff from Brislington to visit schools within a school projects in Boston and New York, which have developed the philosophy. Janine Foales, Brislington's vice principal, said: "This is not a trial and we are not playing. We are putting things into practice that are based on research about what is best for young people's wellbeing and academic standards. We are not just taking an old school model and putting it in a new shell."

A total of 21 secondary schools rebuilt or refurbished under BSF will open next month. Others include Allerton High Business and Enterprise Specialist School, one of three new schools in Leeds. Its design includes a multi-faith centre, to aid community cohesion.

Heather Scott, the deputy headteacher, said: "It's a great way for the school to reach the community.

"Other parts of Leeds have challenges in terms of religious integration and I hope the centre can be replicated and serve as a real boost to community relations.

"We have a strong ethos of multiculturalism and our building is now a physical extension of that."

The innovative designs of these schools come despite complaints from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the Government's adviser on architecture, that too many BSF designs have been poor quality.

The commission said the system needed a rethink and a design threshold needed to be introduced to stop poorly designed schools being built.

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