Television stars inspired by creative set design
Attempts to control the spirited behaviour of pupils at Passmores Academy helped to make Educating Essex one of the biggest television hits of last year - and made an unlikely star of its disciplinarian deputy head, Stephen Drew.
But it seems that enforcing the school rules has since become considerably easier, with serious incidents and temporary exclusions plummeting over the past year. It is not stardom that has improved behaviour, however, but a new building.
According to headteacher Vic Goddard (pictured, right), moving to a new site a mile down the road from the old Passmores has had a revolutionary impact on his pupils. Suspensions are down by more than a third year on year, with serious incidents of poor behaviour falling by almost half.
At the same time, average attendance has gone up from 92 to 96 per cent, and the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths is up from 50 to 66 per cent.
"As teachers we hope that our schools improve over time thanks to changes we make, but year on year those improvements tend to be small," Mr Goddard said. "It's hard to explain the massive improvements we have seen except by pointing to the creation of a new environment that the children really want to be in."
During the 2010-11 academic year, a group of the school's GCSE pupils and their teachers were followed for the seven-part Channel 4 series. By the time it was broadcast, the secondary had reopened in its new building.
The design has been responsible for increasing teaching time, cutting bullying and increasing the take-up of extracurricular activities, Mr Goddard said.
The striking building has five wings leading off a large central atrium, containing the assembly hall, an open dining area and spiral stairs between the two floors. Overseeing the building project while also supervising the filming of Educating Essex and running a school was, Mr Goddard admits, "challenging".
Education secretary Michael Gove was "very complimentary" about the design when he officially opened the new building earlier this year, according to Mr Goddard.
But many aspects of its design - not to mention its #163;23 million price tag - would fall foul of Department for Education guidance unveiled last month for smaller "no frills" school buildings, even if it was a snip compared with the #163;80 million Holland Park School, which opened in West London this week.
The impact of school design on pupil attainment is hotly debated but Mr Goddard insists the new building has made it quicker and easier to get to lessons, thereby increasing teaching time.
"The feedback was that we've gained about two to three minutes per lesson," he said. "That doesn't sound much but if you times that by five lessons a day that's 15 minutes, times by five days a week and that's an hour and a quarter, and times that by 38 weeks in the year and we're talking 40 hours-plus. So getting lessons started sooner can make a massive difference.
"That's a lot to do with the design, the fact that we are only on two floors and the way the stairs have been designed so the pupils flow round them quicker. And the visibility means there are no spaces in the school where kids can't be hurried along or kept an eye on."