Self-help can pay great dividends

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
Academic success can be a double-edged sword for a school and give the delighted management an accommodation headache.

Early last summer term, we discovered that our sixth form would expand at a much faster rate than anticipated, thanks to a forecast of record GCSE results. Many of the new arrivals were going to opt for information and communications technology, computer science and maths and needed extra room the school simply didn't have. S,o just as we should have been celebrating the end of term with sports events and day trips, we had a housing problem to solve.

Thankfully, our head of ICT is a pretty fast thinking man and we decided a little do-it-yourself could be just the solution to our woes. There would be no need for contractors. Our eager site manager and his two-strong team could do the carpentry, painting and other renovations themselves. The ICT staff would install the hardware.

With a huge amount of goodwill and sheer hard work we were able to convert old workshops into a new media and ICT centre, which we opened in early September. The results were quite spectacular and it has proved a major boost to the school.

With the opening safely out of the way, a group of us reflected on how new facilities boost the students' enthusiasm for their work. The experience provoked other staff to look at their teaching areas and consider what they can do to boost the accommodation and improve the overall look of the school.

This paid dividends last month at our open evening, when the school looked at its best for many years. The buildings were put up in 1953 but people commented to staff about how pleasant the environment was.

Unlike thousands of other schools, we are not scheduled for a rebuild, but a little bit of DIY and a heavy dose of creativity can make a huge difference to staff and student morale.

My mood has been immensely improved and I plan to go out and raise some extra funds so that we can continue this process. The head of ICT and the head of sixth form are busy on a new project to deal with the unprecedented demand for sixth form places.

Overall the experience of the last few months has been a very satisfying one, despite the hard work, frustrations and battles with petty bureaucracy and it has shown how much we can do to improve our own circumstances without outside help.

David Kennedy, Headteacher of John Warner School in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.

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