Chessington Community College in the first Building Schools for the Future one-school pathfinder (OSP) to open in the UK. But what does the transformation actually mean for the school and the local community?
The existing school environment, which many of us have grown accustomed to and developed a fondness for throughout our time in education, will soon be a distant memory. Within the next 15 years, all secondary schools in England will be rebuilt or refurbished, boasting world-class facilities.
A selection of local authorities that are not due to begin the BSF programme until its later stages have the golden opportunity to develop one-school pathfinders (OSPs). This funding provides local authorities with the chance to test how they will approach educational transformation in their area. These local authorities choose one secondary school under their remit as a pathfinder and provide funding between £20m and £30m for rebuilding or refurbishment.
A total of 38 local authorities have been granted the capacity to award OSP status to one secondary school in their area. The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames was quick off the starting block, and in 2006 identified Chessington Community College as having the greatest need for improvement within its area. Consequently, we were selected as a OSP and awarded a sizeable £23m grant. Two years on, we will be the first OSP to open in the UK – an achievement of which I am exceptionally proud.
The One School Pathfinder Programme
One School Pathfinder authorities are offered the chance to completely redevelop one secondary or secondary special school in the authority. The programme is constrained in terms of timescale and is funded on a formulaic basis, although there are opportunities to bid for additional funds from other funding agencies such as the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). The programme covers teaching and essential administrative accommodation only.
A chequered history
However, the outlook for Chessington Community College has not always been so promising. The school has certainly experienced its share of difficulties. When I joined as deputy principal in the early 1990s, it was a failing school, known previously as Fleetwood School. Admissions were dwindling (partly due to location), facilities were inadequate, teachers were leaving and the local authority was considering closing the school.
Understandably, the threat of losing their school infuriated local residents. After fierce debate, a decision was reached to keep the school open in the south of the borough and also to create a new school to meet the ever-growing needs of the community.
Since those days, the school has vastly improved. In 1989, Chessington Community College opened its doors for the first time and in 2001, I took over as principal. The school has continued to grow from strength to strength.
Today it occupies an attractive site in the south of Kingston and serves the community as an 11–18 co-educational school with specialist sports college status and facilities for adult further education. Many teachers who previously left the college for pastures new have since returned. There are now over 120 staff, all supporting our continued drive to firmly establish the college as a credible player in the education field.
There are of course many challenges and demands placed on schools these days. As principal, my biggest concern throughout this period has been to keep a challenging school on track while completing the OSP programme. It has been an extraordinary journey – and a steep learning curve for me!
Chessington Community College faces issues that are vastly different from those that other schools in the locality experience. Kingston is largely a high achieving borough with standards in many schools above the national average.
In contrast to the majority of schools within the borough, Chessington Community College supports some of the most disaffected students living in the most deprived pocket of Kingston. Therefore, it has been essential to maintain total continuity of education provision and ensure that the quality of teaching and learning remains high throughout the entire OSP project.
A number of facilities within the grounds were over 50 years old and unfit for purpose, hence the struggle for desperately needed funding. The old building, which supported thousands of students during the half century that it stood, was demolished and replaced with a temporary village at the rear of the site. Throughout the work, it was important that the college remained fully operational, as we wanted the students to encounter as little disruption as possible.
The temporary accommodation has since been superseded by an inspiring new build. Not only is the building design futuristic from a structural and technological perspective, it is aesthetically attractive.
Using technology to transform learning
All schools involved in this programme have a major opportunity to design learning spaces that support innovative, flexible approaches to learning. Technology also transforms learning and teaching, and contributes significantly to a personalised curriculum but it is essential to integrate it with planning design from the start. We partnered with Ramseys, an established ICT provider to education, to supply our entire ICT offering. This was largely due to the strength of its BSF experience.
Building effective partnerships are essential, and the success of this project is attributed to the robust partnerships that Chessington Community College has developed between our local authority and consultants, the building and design contractors, and the ICT contractor. Building strong partnerships has ensured that our requirements were considered from the outset and that the new buildings and resources are fit to support learning in the 21st century.
From an ICT perspective, the educational environment in the UK is ahead of most European countries. This is apparent from the attention and interest that Chessington Community College has already received from overseas. For instance, we had a visit from a director of education from Sweden who was eager to view the college to see what can be learnt for his own schools building programme. With 58 schools under his remit, he hopes to transfer some of the ideas from our forward-thinking approach; this is of course an enormous compliment to everyone involved in the programme.
OSP has brought countless opportunities. As a pathfinder school, we have been fortunate enough to trial new design and approaches, many enabled by technology. Some involve teachers and learners working in new ways; for instance, being able to access resources from a wide range of learning environments within the school, the home, and beyond the normal school day.
With an investment in ICT topping £1m, the technological resources that are integrated throughout the college are state-of-the-art, from cashless catering and video conferencing to laptops and interactive whiteboards. ICT has played an important role in transforming Chessington.
The technological aspect of Chessington Community College will continue to evolve and within two years. It is hoped that all lesson resources will be stored online. ICT will also support subject areas across the board. In the future, for example, we hope to undertake activities such as analysing students’ tennis swing through technology!
The heart of the community
We already have a strong emphasis on community use and extended school facilities, and expect this to develop further. The new college will be an asset for the community as it is not only designed to provide first class education facilities for the students, it will also serve the adult education and community groups in the evenings and at weekends.
Chessington Community College has thoroughly embraced the opportunity to champion the principles of BSF and will share our experiences with other schools in the local authority to enable them to prepare for the full programme.
I have worked at the school for over 18 years and during this time there have been considerable changes. My skills have been pushed to the limit and yet the challenge of managing such a prominent project is exceptionally rewarding. As principal, my vision is to have an impact on the entire community through this programme, something which I hope to achieve before I retire. The challenge now is to make sure what takes place inside these buildings is just as revolutionary as what has happened on the outside.
OSP has exceeded my expectations and will improve the opportunities and prospects of young people in the community. This programme has transformed the shape of education in Chessington and future generations in the area will reap the rewards of the new facilities for years to come.