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Bricks and mortarboards

Cutting-edge equipment and stunning surroundings can inspire impressionable pupils as much as engaging teaching, says Simon Fry

Posted by Stephanie Broad | July 02, 2015 | Facilities & buildings

Parents fearing their children spend too much time in the virtual world today will be delighted to discover the real-world facilities in UK academies educating them for entry into the world of work or opening their eyes to university life. From breathtaking lifesaving machinery to contemporary teaching spaces indoors and out and provision for performance, well-equipped environments can ensure learners fulfil their potential.

Liverpool Life Sciences University Technical College’s facilities include three industry-standard laboratories preparing students for placements with its partner organisations, fully-functioning hospital beds, ‘Sim Man’ (a high-tech dummy patient with vital signs and symptoms display) and a mock nursery. Director of enterprise Lyndsay Macaulay said: “The labs’ equipment allows students to work on undergraduate level projects, providing them with an insight into higher education while the college’s dedicated healthcare suite prepares them for a career within the NHS and social care sectors.”

Elsewhere on campus, a fitness suite exploring physical health and wellbeing has also been kitted out with the latest technology, linking sports to the study of health sciences.

The college also houses a fully-working cinema for use during study enrichment time, operating additionally as a private lecture theatre hosting guest speakers from across the world. These have included Nobel Prize winners, academics, MPs and CEOs of world-famous businesses, such as Lego Education. When it comes to eating and relaxing, flexible dining areas operate across several floors of the college, providing students with variety and recreational space during breaks and lunchtimes. 

In London, Ark Putney Academy has been undergoing a £30m refurbishment over the last two years; new teaching and classroom facilities are due for completion in the summer, with a top-floor art facility with views across London, a beautiful and inspiring place for students to work creatively, also part of the plans. May, however, saw the opening of a new sports hall, incorporating a state-of-the-art dance studio, shower and locker areas and facilities for trampolining, cricket, netball, basketball, football and indoor athletics.

Rio Olympics hopeful, kayaker Jonathan Boyton, who was, “not particularly gifted at sports at school” but has since represented Great Britain over 20 times, officiated. Ark Putney Academy principal Alison Downey said: “In addition to the fantastic sporting facilities, our classrooms, specialist rooms and corridors are all being refurbished and will become brighter and more spacious. This is all part of creating a 21st century teaching space where children are comfortable, happy to learn and have all the facilities they need. We are also installing a dedicated sixth form common room where older students can relax and work together.”

Additional sporting facilities such as floodlit multi-use games areas, a running track and outside high jump and long jump will open in 2016.

Numerous objectives were considered when City Academy Norwich was designed. Learning space flexibility would inspire students and raise their aspirations while the academy also sought to serve both sides of its community (it had traditionally served only one.) Finally, the academy’s design and build would ensure usage of its surrounding ancient woodland. These objectives have been realised neatly, with two separate but equal entrances on the academy’s front curve confirming its serving of students to the north and south of its community. The main atrium’s glass reception area offers a view to the Blackdale

Woods beyond, a feature reflected in the atrium’s wooden walkways with their treelike supporting pillars. 

The atrium is the space belonging to the students, holding all of their lockers and providing informal seating for all. Great thought has been given to its acoustics, its openness making it available to all students and suited to diverse activities from whole-school assemblies to adult fitness classes. Each of the academy’s learning corridors has its own faculty staffroom opposite an open-plan toilet area used by staff and students alike. Moving into the classroom area, classrooms are clustered around a multipurpose breakout space with at least two classrooms in each learning area having a moveable wall, allowing for large groups to be taught by staff teams. 

Discipline-specific features at Chobham Academy ensure optimum learning opportunities, according to principal Rebecca Hickey. “The academy benefits from state-of-the-art facilities including a dedicated performing arts building, comprising our own theatre, dance and drama studios and a suite of music and practice rooms. This means we can offer an extensive curriculum across all key stages, promoting opportunities for students to excel in diverse disciplines. 

Accelerated music proficiency comes from our having multiple practice rooms, allowing one-to one and small-group tuition.”

The academy’s ability to stage shows brings many benefits. “Our theatre allows for frequent public performances; a crucial element in improving the confidence and competence of our students to perform in front of an audience. This also creates opportunities to invite parents and carers to visit our academy and support their child’s development. Our students thrive in our accommodation and its specialist acoustics, lighting and design, directly impacting on their engagement, motivation and enjoyment.”

Harris Girls' Academy East Dulwich specialises in health and social care. Principal Jane Fletcher said: “The upgrade of a school’s facilities can support leaders to change its very culture. It rekindles a profound sense of pride at being part of a school community. Our building’s transformation created an environment with the best of modern teaching facilities and technology for our students, in turn allowing me to demand the very best from them. It also facilitates a larger admissions cohort and acts as a magnet for prospective parents and staff, improving our long-term planning and enabling effective recruitment supporting a consistently high teaching and learning standard.”

Learning via real-life equipment is enhanced by real-world contacts.

“To support our health and social care specialism we have created a simulation suite with elderly care simulation and a real ambulance. This has helped increase the subject’s popularity and supported pass rates of 100%, better-than-expected progress and excellent value-added scores.

But specialisms are not simply about putting extra resourcing into a department and seeing it improve its quality and outcomes; facilities must be supplemented by excellent teaching and innovation. As such, we have created strong links to the medical profession through our work with the Evelina Children’s Heart Organisation which enhances student outcomes.”

Academies bristling with the latest equipment are inspiring children to learn, turning out leavers ready for the workplace or higher education. High standards of provision ensure high levels of achievement, impressive fixtures and fittings manifesting in impressive results, on the examination paper and beyond. AT

Liverpool Life Sciences UTC: www.lifesciencesutc.co.uk

Ark Putney Academy: www.arkputneyacademy.org

City Academy Norwich: www.cityacademynorwich.org

Chobham Academy: www.chobhamacademy.org.uk

Harris Girls’ Academy East Dulwich: www.harrisdulwichgirls.org.uk

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