An Enterprising Education
EB talks to Brendan Loughran, principal at the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy, about the challenges of starting an academy and how the academy tackles educational issues.
In order to improve the education provision in the south of the borough, entrepreneur Rod Aldridge approached Blackburn with Darwen Council, with the offer to sponsor an academy. Together they identified that Darwen Moorland school could benefit from the academy project as it was – at that time – experiencing some difficulty and was in Special Measures.
Establishing the academy was not without its challenges and the new building designed for the academy has been delayed until the 2010-2011 academic year. But determined to open in September 2008, the decision was made to start academy life in the building of the former school.
What has it been like to start out in the building of the former school?
It has posed a challenge because we really wanted to make the academy look and feel different and put in place the innovations we wanted for the new site. But we could not have been more pleased with the way things have gone. I think we’ve done a good job in terms of making lots of the innovations a reality, although inevitably we have had to scale down a few projects. In some respects, we’re viewing our time in this building as a testing ground for what we want to achieve in the new building.
How was the sixth form created and what challenges did this pose?
We did some marketing and recruitment with the year 11 of the predecessor school, which resulted in us getting together a sixth form of 30 students. We recognised this was a very small number but were determined to go ahead anyway. Now the sixth form is established and successful – and we already have over 80 firm applications for places next year.
The creation of our sixth form is a significant achievement as we have brought back post 16 education to the town; the last sixth form closed here about 20 years ago.
Why was the specialism of entrepreneurship chosen?
As an academy you have the freedom to innovate and we took advantage of this by choosing a specialist area which wasn’t on the SSAT’s prescribed list of specialisms.
Entrepreneurship was chosen by the sponsor as he wanted a subject that not only reflected business and enterprise, but also looked at the range of characteristics surrounding entrepreneurship. We have therefore developed the whole curriculum around six entrepreneurship themes: creativity, passion, risk taking, determination, problem solving and team work.
In its simplest terms, we think the specialism should be built around our approach to doing things and promoting a positive attitude as well as a determination to succeed.
How do you ensure the security of your pupils?
At the current site we are on the periphery town and as such we have introduced special fencing and CCTV as extra precautions to ensure a high level of security.
The new site on the other hand is a completely different set up; we will be in a town centre location, which will pose different security challenges. We are aiming to work closely with the local business community, shop keepers and the police so that we can maintain a high level of security and effectively manage pupils’ access to and from the site.
The new building will be a state of the art, 21st century building with a vast range of security features like perimeter fencing, swipe cards to control access, and CCTV. The building has also been designed so that there are lots of open spaces and wide spread use of reinforced glass walls. This will increase visibility in and out of classrooms and down corridors.
How does the academy make use of innovative ICT?
We recognise that using ICT in schools is vital for preparing young people for the work place. We are working towards ‘any time, any place, any where’ learning. All of our sixth formers have a wireless enabled laptop and when we move to the new building, in many curriculum areas we will have a one-to-one ratio of computer notebooks to students.
We already have an Entrepreneurship Centre that not only gives students access to ICT equipment, but also supports students’ learning relating to the main specialism.
How does the academy promote healthy eating and lifestyle to its pupils?
Our second specialism is sport, so all our students already do two hours and 40 minutes of physical activity a week, which is above the national guidelines. We also have many end-of-day ‘session three’ activities that revolve around sport and healthy living.
We are currently part of a pilot scheme called Essentially Dance, which aims to encourage young people to engage in a new form of physical activity to improve health and fitness.
In addition, we have introduced a new catering service that focuses on healthy eating. We have branded the service as ‘Take 5’; this not only means ‘take a break’ but also reiterates the message of ‘five-a-day’ portions of fruit and vegetables.
How is the academy doing its bit to help the environment?
We have already undertaken a number of initiatives based on entrepreneurship that have had an environmental focus, for example, our Junk Art project where students were encouraged to turn waste products into art.
In addition, the new building will have many environmental features such as a biomass boiler and thermal solar heating.
How has the academy made an impact on the community?
We have already received a very positive response from businesses in the local community. We have linked up with several local companies in our first term to put together a number of initiatives designed to encourage students to embrace the entrepreneurship ethos, at the same time as raising money for charity.
In order to contribute to the economic regeneration of the town, we have really innovative plans for developing a business centre within the entrance atrium of the new academy. This will be where new local companies can get support in the early days of running a business.