While most FE colleges are preparing to wind down for the well-earned summer break, Barnfield College in Luton is gearing up for major expansion, which will see it become the first in the country to take over two high schools and turn them into academies.
From September, South Luton High School and Halyard High School will re-open as Barnfield South Academy and Barnfield West Academy respectively. After several years of languishing in the GCSE league tables, the new academies will be managed by the Beacon status FE College which hopes to instil a “can do” culture amongst staff and students.
Barnfield’s Principal, Pete Birkett, acknowledges he has a tough challenge on his hands if exam results are to be raised from their current levels. Last year 13% of Halyard’s pupils left with five A*-C GCSEs, while South Luton scored 18% – the town’s average is 36%, and nationally it’s 45%.
Commenting at a recent meeting of the Luton Breakfast Club, he admitted to local business leaders that Halyard’s results were “appalling”, but he is extremely positive that this can be turned around.
Mr Birkett told FE News that he expects to see changes happening very quickly.
“We are confident of seeing positive results immediately…”We will change the way of thinking in the academies, thereby raising the standards and success rates. We will create an environment where staff and students are strongly motivated.”
He quickly dismissed the criticism that increasing pupil numbers from 750 to around 1,200 per site will reduce the chances of students receiving adequate individual attention.
“Size will enable us to provide enhanced support and improved value-for-money services for our learners through “muscle in the market place”, sharing facilities and good practice.
“Size will provide a broader range of learning opportunities for all the academy students.”
The College has already invested £4 million in the two sites and is set to inject another £140 million over the next few years in new building projects. Aside from the financial input, Barnfield will be introducing formal uniforms, which will be free for each pupil, and will be developing a new online “learning gateway” system to encourage greater use of IT in education.
The academies have been met with a welcome response from school governors. Ian Ambrose, Chair of Governors of Halyard High School said,”The development of an academy in state of the art buildings is something that will bring significant benefits to the area, in particular to the staff, students, parents and wider community.
“I look forward to working closely with Barnfield College and the local authority to develop a school that can significantly enhance the life chances of children in this area for years to come.”
Luton Airport Training Centre
Barnfield College also has another reason to celebrate. It was recently awarded single accreditation for its Centre of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) for airport operations by the Department for Education and Skills.
Its purpose-built £120,000 training facility at London Luton Airport will offer staff the opportunity to gain tailor-made and nationally recognised qualifications. The centre will open 24 hours a day to fit in with the airport’s shift working schedules.
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