The East Manchester Academy opens its doors in September, 2010 and already it has its new headteacher. Principal Designate, Guy Hutchence took up his post in January and over the following months, will be telling East about preparations for the new high school.
I’m based at New East Manchester’s offices right opposite the site of the new school. I’m made to feel welcome but it’s very different from my old job at Cedar Mount where I was surrounded each day by 100 staff and 900 enthusiastic young people.
The first few days are a whirlwind meetings about building design, room ‘data’ (that’s detail about where the light switches go), furniture, the prospectus and uniform, (it’ll be blue jacket and tie). Thankfully I got started on all these discussions before I left my old job… otherwise it’d be difficult to catch up!
I’m invited to give an assembly at Briscoe Lane Primary School. Thank you, Mr O’Shaugnessy and your pupils for a warm welcome. I make a mental note to visit local schools as quickly as possible to introduce myself and tell them about the new school. Most are amazed to discover we will share our building with a brand new district library, open even when the school is not. “Can I really stay in the library until 8 o’clock?” asked one pupil.
We’ll build up the school one year at a time, so the current year 5s will be my first year 7s in 2010. They will be the role models, the prefects, the pioneers! And, as one year 5 pupil commented: “We’ll always be the oldest, won’t we sir?… apart from you!”
In the second week there are more meetings with architects, the sponsors (Bovis Lend Lease and Laing O’Rouke) and the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families). I’ve also been speaking to headteachers at Gorton Mount, Stanley Grove and Aspinall, to hear their aspirations for the new school. It is absolutely vital that I listen carefully to these messages and explore ideas for learning and teaching.
What’s struck me is that everyone has been waiting such a long time for a new secondary school that doesn’t involve tortuous travel arrangements. One pupil said: “It’ll be one short bus journey for me, but my older brother has to take two buses to his school now.” I expect many of our new pupils will be within walking distance or at least a short yellow bus ride away from the Academy.
I am showing computer images of the finished school to the primary schoolchildren and they are clearly impressed. The front of the building is mostly glass so passers-by will see a digital projection on the inside wall where we’ll exhibit pupils’ work… the children can’t believe their work will be on show that big!
Unfortunately the school won’t be ready for the current year 6 pupils and some are clearly disappointed. One said, “Can I stay on in year 6 for an extra year, so I can get into your school in 2010!”
I visit the local universities to look at their architecture and design studios. One of the specialisms at the Academy will be the built environment and I want to know what skills the universities – and ultimately employers – want from future students. We can develop these skills by introducing students to the latest cutting-edge technology at school, so they’ll be ahead of the competition when they leave.
The Academy will be a couple of hundred metres away from some of the best sporting facilities in the country and I make another visit to Sportcity to discuss our use of them. That’s as well as our own all-weather playing surface, three grass pitches, cricket oval and training area.
I make a note to form a group to hear the voices of local residents and other community members. This academy needs to become a ‘community hub’ as well as a world-class school.
The last week before half-term finishes on a high note with an invitation to the Valentine’s Disco at St Luke’s on Friday 13th! It has been a very informative half-term for me, finding out what people want the academy to provide, not just in terms of education but for the wider community.
More meetings during half term where we make good progress on the prospectus, website design and logo. We’re developing a hi-tech 3D visual to show what it looks like inside. We hope to unveil this interactive display at our launch on 23rd May, but more on that later.
The year 5s – my first cohort in 2010 – are excited at the prospect of being the trailblazers. We’ll have just 180 pupils to begin with which will bring it’s own challenges and opportunities. The Academy is already being moulded by their thoughts and ideas as I listen to their aspirations in each school I visit.
We stage the photoshoot for the school prospectus at my old school, Cedar Mount. It’s a little surreal. I have to ask my old pupils to replace their own blazers and ties with a different uniform and model as students for a school that doesn’t exist yet. I must thank Cedar Mount governors and staff for their help, it is much appreciated.
A sensational afternoon is spent at the City of Manchester Stadium for the Manchester Book Awards, organised by Manchester Libraries. What an inspiring event for secondary pupils, with six shortlisted authors all made to sweat it out before the winner is announced! I have never seen adults so nervous as when confronted by hundreds of young critics! The winner is Six Steps to a Girl by Sophie McKenzie.
I present to the governors at Ravensbury Street in Clayton who, it is clear, have been waiting a long time for a local secondary school. Feedback from governors, staff, parents and pupils is invaluable in these early weeks.
Preparations for the launch on the 23rd May are progressing. We’ve been discussing our new competition for primary schoolchildren. The ‘My World’ competition invites pupils to think about the world around them and what it means to them. We’ll be announcing winners at the launch. I’m glad I’m not one of the judges!
I am privileged to attend an Easter Concert at All Saints in Newton Heath, for an amazing evening of song, music and dance involving over 50 pupils. It’s one of many special events I attend as the Easter holidays approach, and I thank everyone for the invitations.
We celebrate the first of many milestones at the end of the month as pupils, teachers, sponsors, regeneration staff and the media descend on the construction site for the traditional ‘groundbreaking’ ceremony. Pupils from Ashbury Meadow, Church of the Resurrection and Higher Openshaw Community School pose for photographers as the concrete flows! They’ll all be invited back in September for the ‘topping out’!
The steel framework has been flying up recently. We have been fortunate with a long spell of dry weather and Balfour Beatty has made the most of it. Two of the three main wings have now been constructed. The third wing, which will be the sports hall, is less complicated, so will come later. In front of all these will be the ‘wrap around’ entrance foyer. It’s great to see it moving along so quickly… there’s no going back now!
Looking from Grey Mare Lane, the first block will contain the new district library on its ground and first floors. The canteen, kitchen and some technology areas will also be on the ground floor, with IT above. The middle block will have admin and clerical areas and classrooms below.
One of my more important recent meetings has been with the contractors and sponsors where we confirmed all the finer details of the building specification. We decided on the right finishes for floors, where the electricity points would be, the colour of the walls etc. Now is the time to get all those things agreed and I’m relieved we’ve done that.
It’s coming now to the end of April, and I’ve been in the post for four months. In that time I’ve introduced myself to the local primary schools and everyone seems very excited at the prospect of the new secondary school. We’ve also produced three newsletters for future pupils and their families. If you’d like to be added to the correspondence list please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Mr G. Hutchence, 187 Grey Mare, Manchester, M11 3ND.