BARROW'S new secondary school, Furness Academy, is now approaching the halfway stage in its first term. Principal Douglas Blackledge tells reporter NATALIE CHAPPLES how everyone is pulling together to make the school a success
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PRIDE: Douglas Blackledge:
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SMART black blazers are now a common sight across Barrow each weekday morning as 1,800 children make their way to the town’s new secondary school.
Furness Academy, for 11 to 16-year-olds, opened its doors in September at the former Thorncliffe and Parkview Schools. The academy not only replaced those two schools, but Alfred Barrow School as well.
It is sponsored by Barrow Sixth Form College, Furness College and the University of Cumbria.
Douglas Blackledge, the principal and chief executive of Furness Academy, has praised the pupils, staff and parents for helping it get off to a good start in building a reputation as a successful secondary school.
Alongside the day-to-day running of the academy, Mr Blackledge is working with local education authority Cumbria County Council and consultants Capita Symonds to develop the academy’s accommodation schedule and then the outline business case for the new, multi-million-pound buildings. They are set to be ready at both sites for 2012.
Mr Blackledge said: “I would like to commend the staff, students and their families for all their efforts in ensuring that Furness Academy is quickly becoming something that Barrow can take pride in. I appreciate that little has changed in terms of buildings and structures at this stage.
“However, additional ICT and improved social, toilet and changing facilities have gone down well with students.
“Alongside this, plans for our new facilities in 2012 are progressing well and I look forward to discussing these plans with the community soon.
“Already I believe that the academy is developing a positive ethos and identity, which bodes very well for our future. For example, over the last six weeks all staff have taken great pleasure in hearing the many positive comments from local businesses and others in the Barrow community about the appearance and behaviour of students.”
Mr Blackledge said this good attitude is also becoming increasingly apparent in the classroom.
At the end of September and start of October, staff and students worked together to put on two open days to show prospective students and their parents what the academy offers.
They welcomed more than 400 people who were able to get involved in a range of activities. The activities included medieval banquets, drama displays, science experiments, trampolining and climbing.
Mr Blackledge said: “The comments given to us via the feedback forms said that it was great to see that everyone who was involved was taking so much pride in what they were doing.”
The curriculum is based around three learning zones; science and technology, creative and performance and community, culture and communications. Pupils have individual learning plans and are guided by learning group leaders.
Mr Blackledge said: “I would particularly like to pass on my thanks to students and convey how well they are integrating with their new peers. Nowhere is it more evident than on the sports field, where our Year 11 rugby team emerged triumphant and undefeated in a five-way tournament.”
At the very start of term there were problems that needed ironing out.
One issue raised by a parent in the first week was that students who had collected meals in the dining hall at South Site – the former Parkview School – had to wait for seats as it was full.
Mr Blackledge said: “I am not saying that there haven’t been any teething troubles that needed to be resolved over the opening few weeks.
“One such problem was that of power cuts on the North Site (the former Thorncliffe School) but these are mainly behind us now and I am confident that staff, students and the community are working hard together to ensure that the academy can, and will, be the best that it can be.”
The principal heads the senior leadership team, which also includes the vice principals and directors. Gordon Wilson is the vice principal of school organisation and head of South Site. Kevin Gill is the vice principal of school improvement and head of North Site.
The establishment of an academy for Barrow was controversial. Before the school was up and running, it faced opposition and even protests. There were calls to delay the opening by 12 months.
Parents and others in the community were concerned the accelerated plans would disrupt children’s education and they did not feel there had been enough information.
But others have said they want the academy to succeed and will monitor the school to see it delivers the top class education and facilities that have been promised.
Barrow and Furness MP John Hutton said: “I am in fact visiting Furness Academy on Friday, when I hope to be advised on what progress is being made to date in its development. I was pleased that despite what became a somewhat tight timescale, approval was given for the creation of the academy and that the independent Ofsted inspection confirmed that all appropriate measures were in place for this to occur.
“It is, of course, very early days and I know that all concerned will be working hard to ensure its success so that our young people have the best possible education provided to them.
“I hope all who are concerned with supporting young people will put their energies into constructively supporting the team in the school and that through partnership working and determined commitment, we can ensure our young people can maximise their opportunities.”
An academy spokeswoman said parent and staff governors will be elected later this term.
“There will be further parental representative positions available in the near future on the sub-committees – finance, audit, quality and human resources,” she added.