After years of planning and months of construction a new secondary school opened its doors in east Manchester this week for the very first time. Len Grant spent the historic day with the teachers and pupils of the East Manchester Academy.
The first new pupils cross the threshold before 7.30 on Monday morning to be greeted personally by their Principal, Guy Hutchence.
It’s been a long time coming. Some say a school here has been needed for a generation or two, but now 203 nervous 11-year-olds step into the spacious foyer, shake their headteacher’s hand and are ushered to the canteen to enjoy a free breakfast before assembly.
The significance of this particular start of term is not lost on the local media with TV crews and press photographers documenting Mr Hutchence’s first ever address to his new cohort while local dignitaries, sponsors and regeneration chiefs look on.
Mr Hutchence calls them the ‘pioneers’: the first ever pupils at the new school and, he reminds them, as they will always be the oldest group as the school fills, they will be setting the standard for others to follow.
It’s a big occasion and each of the new intake solemnly take in the message before being escorted to their classrooms by their form teachers.
The morning is non-stop activity: after being issued with planners and timetables each of the forms is given a tour of the school. There’s the indoor sports hall and outdoor all-weather pitches to take in; the dance and drama space; the music technology room and a ‘learning resource centre’ overflowing with Apple Mac computers. These brand new facilities, designed for a full school of 900 pupils, will be at the exclusive disposal – for one year at least – of these fortunate Year 7 students. And then there’s the new public library which shares the building and which will be open when the school is not.
Before lunch there’s a class photograph – one of the reasons I am there – a fire drill and a number of ‘getting to know you’ activities in their form groups. Any nervousness has passed for most by the time pasta and chili are served from the new kitchen. The all-weather pitch is quickly populated and the children explore their new playground.
By the afternoon the new timetable is in full swing and the eager students get their first lessons in RE, history, art, maths, science and music technology.
There’s another assembly before home time and a congratulatory message from Mr Hutchence: it’s been a good first day, the pupils have been patient when things didn’t always go quite to plan and their attitude and behaviour has been first-class.
Outside on the plaza, parents and carers wait patiently to hear about their children’s first day at ‘big school’ and, as the beaming ‘pioneers’ stream out to be re-united, there’s no doubt it’s been a great success.