Late 2012, Abington Vale Primary school became part of the Northampton Primary Academy Trust. The school saw this as an opportunity for more autonomy to drive the school vision around collaboration. The academy joined together four schools which each became a campus of the Academy.
Abington Vale is a primary school across two sites.
Park Campus is the original site built in 1968. While in UK on my travel fellowship, we visited Stirling Campus which opened in 2013. The local council purchased Stirling House, a three story commercial office block in 2012. The office block conversion design principles are open, flexible and collaborative. This was the first initiative in the country but apparently it is common to refit commercial buildings as schools in Scandinavia and USA. The academy is committed to developing a dedicated outdoor space for the 4/5/6 year olds and this was under construction while we visited. The driver for building this new primary school was roll growth, as they are expecting more reception students over the next two years.
The council had commissioned a report to consider options for a new primary school and the cost of the commercial building fit out was significantly cheaper than a new build.
The 180 reception students currently occupy the ground floor and the principal is working on getting the next levels ready for occupation as these reception students moves through the school.
Principal Laura Cichuta is passionate about the spaces and ensuring that as the students move up through the school that the curriculum design of collaboration, flexibility and personalising learning will be consistent.
The challenge for the school is that the allocation of space per pupil is less and there was not funding for furniture and computers. However they use lots of different funding routes for solutions to these issues.
The take out for me was around the rich discussion had with Laura around the development of teaching and learning. She said that the starting point is working in teams and building those teams. You have to collaboratively work through;
· How do we organise?
· How do we make it work?
I was impressed with the fact that whole groups could progress through the building as the school grows- they just move up a level and the next intake moves in to the ground level. The big advantage with this is that the pedagogy, which is aspirational around personalising learning can gradually be imbedded as the school grows. The other huge advantage is the opportunity to experiment and play with the open spaces to consider the possibilities of future learning space and learning design opportunities. The idea of a school in an office block conversion is a bit of a foreign concept in New Zealand, however I can see if carefully designed and with a commitment to indoor as well as outdoor learning spaces - it can be an excellent, economic fit for purpose.