Satisfied customer of the new market
"We wanted to improve drastically the quality of science, maths, technology and IT provision," he explains. "For the past 25 years, local education authorities have not invested sufficiently in these areas and this was an opportunity to try to put the matter right."
With Pounds 100,000 capital funding from sponsors, matched by the same amount from the Department for Education and Employment, the school acquired 120 new machines from its main sponsor, the computer company GTi. It hired a network manager from industry, and decorated and furnished IT rooms.
Crucially, it was able also to hold down pupil numbers in maths, science and technology. "We're doing what we were planning to do, but we're doing it better and faster," says Preston.
Chalfonts Community College is a grant-maintained school in a pretty corner of the Home Counties. Its buildings are covered in Virginia creeper and surrounded by landscaped grounds and flowering fruit trees. But, for Buckinghamshire, a county which retains selection, it is a relatively deprived institution, which in the old days would have been labelled a secondary modern. "We came from a very low base," says Doug Humphries, a vice-principal.
Considering the amount of creaming off - to private schools and nearby grammar schools - the college has achieved creditable GCSE results. A total of 49 per cent of pupils gained grades A to C last year - comfortably above the national average of 43.5 per cent. "Clearly we're taking in some able children in spite of the selective system," says the principal.
In a new IT room, Michael Curry, 15, was staring thoughtfully at a computer screen. His family has six computers, he says. He is taking GCSEs in information technology and information systems, and wants to continue to A-level to enable him to work in computers.
Jaydeep Bhullar, 15, has computers at home also. The college is able to provide the kind of equipment pupils use routinely outside.
But it is a different story in science and technology, where woodwork rooms and science laboratories look much as they did in the 1960s. Examination results in technology are, however, good - the GCSE "pass" rate was 50 per cent last year.
The aim is to upgrade all facilities for maths, science, technology and IT. It took Michael Preston six months to round up sponsors and prepare his bid for technology college status. Chalfonts has nine sponsors, with two, GTi Educational Systems (which has given computers worth Pounds 30,000) and Key Stage Design Educational Systems (Pounds 25,000 in technology equipment), providing more than half the sponsorship. One of the smaller sponsors was a roofing firm from Witney, which gave Pounds 5,000 cash.