Bexhill High was chosen by East Sussex council to be totally transformed under the One School Pathfinder programme, an offshoot of the Building Schools for the Future scheme in which local authorities are encouraged to completely redevelop a school. Staff, pupils and parents were to be involved in every aspect of the design of a #163;40 million new school.
Principal Mike Conn says one of the main aims was to improve teaching quality by recruiting good staff in core subjects, something the school had struggled to do over a number of years, largely because of its coastal location.
Conn discovered that overall performance and standards improved with group teaching, and decided that would be a key part of the new school's development.
Emulating many primary school layouts, the project team decided to do away with the traditional classroom. In their place are 15 "learning pods", in which 90 pupils are taught by three teachers, situated around a large, covered central space.
Each pod is equipped with the latest wireless computing technology, including a laptop for every pupil. The school also includes a theatre, cinema, gym and artificial turf football facilities. There are no staffrooms or offices.
To give pupils and staff a better work-life balance, homework has been removed and the school day extended. The day starts at 8.30am and ends at 5pm four days a week, although pupils can opt out of the later finish on two days. On Fridays school ends at 2.30pm. Lessons last three hours and staff and pupils decide when to take breaks. There are fixed activities on the compulsory afternoons, but pupils have freedom of choice on the non-statutory afternoons.
- Make sure all stakeholders are involved in the design process and that their suggestions and ideas are listened to. For each idea submitted, show clearly how it was incorporated into the design or explain why it was not.
- Dare to dream and do not be risk averse.
- Change direction if things don't work out.
Evidence it works
So far, any evidence is anecdotal as it is too early to see test results. Conn says the school is recruiting high-quality teaching staff more easily than before, and standards of teaching are consistently improving. Teachers are happier, he says, and pupils are performing well.
Approach: Replacing traditional classrooms with "pods"
Started: Planning started in 2006. The school opened in November 2010
Leader: Principal Mike Conn
Name: Bexhill High, East Sussex
Age range: 11-16
Intake: A wide range of pupils from every social class, from very affluent to deprived areas. Predominantly white, very few ethnic minority children
Ofsted overall rating: Satisfactory with good features (2011).