A Bexhill school has been given a £6million government grant to help revamp its ‘poorly designed’ classrooms.
The controversial ‘pod’ classrooms at Bexhill High saw 90 children taught together in a large open-plan space.
But this approach to teaching was criticised, not least by Ofsted inspectors who put the Gunters Lane academy in special measures in 2013.
Now the school, recently rebranded Bexhill Academy, is to receive the windfall to revamp its £38m building, which was built just four years ago.
The academy aims to redesign the building to provide classrooms to accommodate 30 pupils rather than 90 and provide ‘more traditional acoustically independent classrooms’ allowing students and teachers to hear what is being said.
Tom Attwood, chair of Attwood Academies, the new sponsor of Bexhill Academy said: “The provision of £6million to Bexhill Academy by the DfE is spectacularly good news. The people of Bexhill and more particularly the children of Bexhill have in recent years been let down badly by an ill-thought-out building design and worse, a dreadful implementation of the new build.
“We can now put all this behind us and get on providing a world class space for teaching and learning as these children deserve. I am confident that with this investment that we can get the academy to the accreditation of ‘Outstanding’ in the same way that Heidi Brown, our principal, did in her previous school.
“Once we brought these serious design issues to the attention of the DfE, I must acknowledge they worked tirelessly to help us sort out the mess that we inherited when we took over. This was nothing short of a scandal and the DfE have been quick to rectify it.
“Heidi Brown had previously promised that each learning pod will be separated into individual classrooms.
“A variety of new specialist rooms will be created including seven science labs, two food technology rooms, three new ICT suites, a much needed library and new office spaces.
“As a result, she believes pupils will then have the learning facilities which will be the envy of most other schools. But more importantly an environment will be created where staff will be able to teach and students will be able to learn.”
Heidi Brown said: “This is very exciting news for us and would not have been possible without the combined efforts of our own business director Jon Sale, who put together the detailed report and the support of our sponsor Tom Attwood who has relentlessly argued our case with the right people at the DfE and directly with the Minister.
“I was always convinced that we would be successful in our efforts to persuade ‘the powers that be’ that we were a deserving case and we have been moving ahead with changes to the curriculum and to teaching and learning on the understanding that changes to the building would be forthcoming. However, I am known for being an eternal optimist and to know now for sure that we have the funding required is a huge relief to me personally. I am now totally confident that Bexhill Academy will become an outstanding school and a first choice for the local community within the next five years.”
The new £38m Bexhill High school was officially opened in December 2012 by education secretary Michael Gove, who described the facility as “wonderful”.
The new building in Gunters Lane boasted state-of-the-art facilities and design but other innovations were greeted with dismay - the extended school day, pupils being taught in groups of 90 for three hours at a time, and homework being scrapped.
Following a damning report, Ofsted placed the school in special measures in April 2013. Headteacher Mike Conn left the school just three months later.
In January 2014, just over a year after the new changes were introduced, interim principal Andy Mortimer and head of school Darren Gelder announced they were to be scrapped, much to the joy of parents.
New principal Heidi Brown was brought in to help turn the fortunes of the troubled school around.
But there was further bad news when school sponsor Prospects Academies Trust, folded in May 2014. The Attwood Educational Trust took over the following month.
The new building programme will begin once the Year 11 students have completed their exams and a substantial amount of work will be done over the summer holidays. Classroom conversions are being prioritised, but improvements will continue through to summer 2016.