WIGHT LIVING THE face of Island education has changed almost beyond recognition over the past two years — and it’s not going to stop any time soon.
Following the schools re-organisation — the move to a two-tier education system, which saw the closure of middle schools and the conversion of secondary schools to trusts and academies — it would be charitable to say the Island’s new-look schools have yet to find their feet.
A less forgiving view would be the re-organisation has failed miserably, plunging the majority of our secondary schools into special measures and leaving the IW languishing at the bottom of national league tables in terms of both exam results and truancy rates.
Ofsted reported last week only 14 per cent of secondary-age children go to a good school — Christ the King College — yet another category in which the Island finds itself slumming it with the worst in the country.
Compare that with inner-city London boroughs Hackney and Haringey, where 99 per cent and 98 per cent of children, respectively, go to a good or outstanding school.
IW Council education bosses and school leaders say there are green shoots of recovery.
Since Hampshire County Council was drafted in to take on the management of the Island’s failing children’s services, specialist teams have visited every school to draw up targeted action plans for improvement. Secondary schools are making reasonable progress towards the removal of special measures, according to Ofsted.
For parents though, understandably worried about their children’s education and unsure about what to do for the best, it’s not as simple as waiting for the dust to settle.
In fact, the situation is about to become a lot more complicated.
The government has urged parents, charities, faith and community groups unhappy with the standard of education in their area to set up their own schools — independently run studio schools and free schools, with more freedom to set their own curriculum — a clarion call which has been seized upon on the Island.
Two new schools, the Island Free School and the IW Studio School, are set to open in September, followed by the Sylvan School the following year. Each has its own ethos, offering parents more choice.
The opening of these new-look schools, however, has not been without controversy. The free school programme, for example, is set to cost the government at least £1.5 billion in school start-up costs, more than three times the £450 million originally allocated.
Opposition ministers have criticised the government for funding free schools in parts of the country where there is no pressure on places.
And such is the case on the IW, where the surplus of school places looks set to cause a huge headache for education chiefs. No-one wants another reorganisation, particularly when we are still struggling with the fall-out from the last one, but there may not be any choice.
John Coughlan, director of children’s services at Hampshire County Council and the IW Council, has warned the number of surplus places will almost certainly increase over the next five years, creating a problem that cannot be ignored.
He said there were currently no plans to close schools but stressed that could change, given the impact of the new schools was unknown.
IW Council cabinet member for children’s services, Cllr Richard Priest, admitted closing schools was an option but said any closures would be carefully considered and only undertaken after consultation. A fresh re-organisation was the last thing anyone wanted, he said.
So what will the new face of Island education look like? Five years from now, how many schools will we have and what kind of schools will they be? Will you send your child to Ryde Academy or Sandown Bay Academy, two of 35 schools across the country run by the Academies Enterprise Trust, recently criticised for its poor performance by the Department for Education (DfE)? What about Cowes Enterprise College, where work is still needed to ensure the £32 million building is fit for purpose? There is always private school, if you can afford it, or you could take a punt on one of the new schools, with their varying emphases on traditional academia and discipline, marine manufacturing or outdoor learning.
Will they be a success? The wave of the future or another brick in the wall?
The IW Studio School
THE IW Studio School is due to open on September 9, 2014.
There will be capacity for 300 students, aged 14 to 19. The school is looking to admit 75 students to Year 10 when it opens next year. As of last month, it had received 15 applications.
It will be run by the Inspire Academy Trust, which also runs a studio school in Southampton. Both schools are sponsored by City College, Southampton.
Christian Down will be the executive principal of both schools, although a vice-principal will be appointed to manage the day-to-day running of the IW school.
Terms for leasing the former East Cowes Primary School site, at Grange Road, are currently being negotiated with the IW Council. The school plans to invest £3 million in creating a new campus and building work is due to start next month.
A funding agreement with the secretary of state is due to be signed next week and the school will need to pass an Ofsted pre-opening inspection, which will probably take place in May or June.
Project director Helen Mason said: "Studio schools differ from standard secondary schools. They are for 14 to 19 year olds and, as such, have a more mature atmosphere and culture. They are small — ours will only have 300 students, which means every student will be given a highly individualised experience.
"We will be offering a GCSE route with options to study up to eight GCSE subjects or equivalent, including an option in our product design and technology specialism, and A-levels and advanced qualifications in sixth form.
"However, our uniqueness comes in the way these subjects are taught which is, as far as possible, through real work projects led by employers.
"Our school will have a specialism in marine manufacturing and offshore energy as these are industries which we believe will be generating jobs for Island young people in the next ten to 20 years."
The Island Free School
THE Island Free School is due to open in September 2014.
There will be capacity for 625 students, aged 11 to 16, with 125 pupils in each year group. The school is already oversubscribed.
The school has been created by parents, teachers and business leaders. Steph Boyd, who has worked in a senior capacity at several Island schools, and was latterly the assistant headteacher at Carisbrooke College, was appointed headteacher earlier this year.
The school will be situated in the South Wight, although an exact location has not been announced. The site is due to be finalised by the end of the year. The school has been working with the DfE to secure two sites — an interim site for use next September and a permanent site. Both are likely to be in the Ventnor area.
Its application was approved by the DfE in May. The funding agreement is due to be signed by the secretary of state in the spring.
According to the school website: "The Island Free School will offer a fully academic curriculum with all students studying the English Baccalaureate. Every student will study Latin as a pre-cursor to learning a modern language.
"We will have a longer school day than the other local schools, which will incorporate one hour of extra-curricular activities. During this time students will engage in sports, creative and community activities.
"The school will ensure all students are given the opportunity to play a musical instrument. The school has a music specialism and will allocate up to ten per cent of places to children with musical aptitude.
"The size of the school will ensure all pupils are seen as individual members of the school community. We will expect continual parental involvement in the life of the school.
"It’s an ambitious school where students are encouraged to think for themselves, an aspirational school where pupil progress is paramount, and a caring school."
The Sylvan School
THE Sylvan School is due to open in Sept-ember 2015.
There will capacity for 280 primary-age children. The school is looking to admit 120 pupils when it opens, 40 each in the reception year, Year 1 and Year 2, with two forms of 20 children in each year group. It has received expressions of interest from parents of more than 650 children.
It will be run by a group of parents, teachers and professionals, including a retired headteacher, a solicitor and an accountant.
The idea for the school was first proposed by Alex and Jenna Sabine, of the Playroom Nursery, Ventnor. More than 30 people are involved in setting up the school, all of whom have an interest in offering an alternative primary education.
The team are looking for suitable sites across the Island with enough space for outdoor learning.
An application to open the school is due to be submitted to the DfE in January.
Project manager Amy McCulloch said: "Children will not be confined to classroom learning — they will be able to pursue their own natural curiosity, supported by highly skilled professionals who will help to develop their understanding further.
"There will be more time learning in authentic environments. This will entail much more time learning outside the classroom than in many other schools.
"The school takes the development of the whole child very seriously and, as well as ensuring the academic achievement and success of our children through dynamic approaches to teaching and learning, we will invest a considerable amount of time in developing each child’s personal, social and emotional selves.
"Key to our vision is the environment of the future — children will be encouraged to learn about the world and sustainability. We hope children will be inspired by learning and their environment, that they become curious and deep thinkers who are informed and emotionally developed enough to cope with our rapidly changing world."