West Swindon was thrown into uproar in early 2005 when Swindon Council announced it was reviewing the number of primary school places in the area because of falling rolls and a prediction of 700 surplus places with the suggestion that two schools were likely to close.
As one headteacher told Swindon Link at the time, ‘uncertainty leads to panic’ and so it came to pass. The consultation exercise was marked by confusion, anger and suspicion of the council’s real intentions.
Right, August 2009, Lucy, Amy and Chloe Blackmur
outside the demolished Shaw Ridge Primary School – see below
Some halls were packed with parents ready to protect their school at all costs, but few turned up in others. Petitions against closure were raised and delegations went to the civic offices to argue in favour of schools staying open.
The council was pursuing the government’s strategy to create extended schools and to break down departmental barriers which hinder children’s education. There were also considerable financial savings to be made by shedding surplus places, many of which were in mobile buildings.
Four and a half years on, after Salt Way primary closed and children transferred to Shaw Ridge, and Freshbrook and Windmill primaries amalgamated as Millbrook, West Swindon has three brand new schools to replace those built during the baby-bulge years of the 1980s and 1990s. Toothill Primary opened last September and in this month Millbrook and Shaw Ridge open, and Westlea unveils an extension to replace mobiles.
The headteachers of the new schools have all commented on the brilliance of the new facilities and Clare Griffin-Felton at Millbrook and Sally Cowell at Shaw Ridge have said how hard staff and parents worked to overcome the difficulties of closing schools and to bring people together for the good of the children.
Commenting on the controversy councillor Gary Perkins, Swindon Council’s lead member for children’s services, who with other West Swindon councillors came under huge pressure to clearly explain the rationale for school reorganisation said, “parents rightly were concerned about their schools. It was difficult to explain that we had to make education in West Swindon sustainable. Four years on I believe the majority of people will agree that we have delivered fantastic new schools.”
Shaw Ridge rebrands to fit in with new school colour scheme
Youngsters start back at Shaw Ridge Primary School in September in fantastic new facilities, with little trace left of the school they left in July.
Children and staff spent the last week of term packing away their classrooms so that removal teams could transfer the boxes and furniture.
The single storey circular building, costing £6 million, is constructed around a large playground complete with climbing equipment and soft surfaces. Inside are classrooms and learning spaces full of light. Designed by architects Eric Cole and Partners and built by Swindon Commercial Services, the school is faced in Cotswold stone blockwork, complemented by cream coloured soffits and marine green window frames and fascias.
Not only is Shaw Ridge getting a whole new school, the school is adopting a new colour scheme. After 23 years with blue and red as the dominant colours, children will wear green sweat shirts to match the look and feel of the building.
Headteacher Sally Cowell said the end of term was full of mixed emotions. “The old school was our home since 1983 and we were sad to leave it. But the new one is absolutely wonderful. After all the upheavals we’ve had over the last few years, it really is a school for the 21st Century. The children are going to love it.”
She added that the design and build team from the borough council and the architects had been ‘terrific’ during the building phase.
Eight children were chosen to be the first to look at the new school with The Link. Georgia Anderson said it looks fabulous. Alwin Matthew was effusive. “It’s mind-blowing,” he said.
The children will also be looking forward to the return of playing fields. Because of building works their playground was used for mobile buildings and the field covered with tarmac.
From September the community facilities will be on offer to local organisations and in January Upper Shaw Farm Playgroup will transfer into a purpose built room with play area.
New era for Millbrook
Children and parents living in Freshbrook and Grange Park have the chance to visit the area’s brand new primary school on Tuesday 8 September, the day before the £6 million Millbrook Primary School opens in its new premises.
The long low building, on the footprint of one of the old Freshbrook primary buildings, provides for a one and a half form entry. At 2,650 square metres it is larger than average so that two forms of entry could be accepted in the future. The school has a large hall with sound absorbing panels and theatre lighting, with a second smaller hall complete with full length mirrors to double up as a dance studio.
Windows will be electrically controlled for good ventilation, underfloor heating will keep everybody warm in winter and a harvesting system will store rainwater, for flushing toilets, in a huge tank under the playground.
A river of purple carpet runs from one end of the school to the other, to match the colour of children’s sweatshirts, with classrooms being carpeted in a lighter purple. This is offset by light ash woodwork, which will be seen to best effect in the floor to ceiling glass and wood screen separating the community facilities at the entrance from the school itself.
There is no dedicated computer room. Children will use laptops moved around on trolleys in classrooms, accessing wireless internet via the latest CAT 6 data cabling. Much of the furniture is on wheels to allow for flexible use of space and most classrooms have movable walls.
Millbrook was formed by the amalgamation of Freshbrook and Windmill Hill primary schools and headteacher Clare Griffin-Felton is delighted it is coming together in one permanent building. “It’s not been easy to operate out of two buildings separated by a major road but the children, parents and staff have been remarkably accepting of the disruption. It has helped everybody focus on what was needed to maintain stability for the children and the quality of teaching and learning, whilst at the same time creating a cohesion around the idea of Millbrook.
“We had to reorganise three times in two years with classes being moved from the Freshbrook building to the Windmill Hill building and back again. We’d like to thank our friends at Freshbrook Church who welcomed us in the middle for whole school assemblies.”
She paid tribute to colleagues at Swindon Council and Swindon Commercial Services project leader Chris Hendry and his team who ensured the building process went smoothly.
Freshbrook Playgroup will move into the community facilities in September when a programme of activities and adult learning courses will start.
“It is just so exciting and amazing to think that we’re nearly there,” said Clare. “The look on the children’s faces when they arrive is going to be wonderful. I don’t think we fully realise the opportunities the new school will offer to children and the community at large.
• During the summer holiday the second of the two original Freshbrook Primary School buildings was knocked down. The future of the former Windmill Hill Primary building is uncertain. Following the success of the integrated services for disabled children that have been established at the former Salt Way Primary School, Swindon Council is considering whether a similar centre could be created at Windmill Hill.
No more mobiles for Westlea children
Twenty years after the first mobile classrooms arrived at Westlea Primary School, to accommodate the growing pupil population, the school has finally waved them goodbye and in September welcomes a brand new £1 million extension.
The school, originally built for 270 pupils, had 430 children at its peak and now has 310 who can all enjoy proper classrooms. Along with three classrooms, the extension also houses a new staff room, a medical needs room for physically impaired children, a special needs room and a support/meeting room, which may become a classroom when needed.
Headteacher Suzanne Seaton, above, explained, “it’s a lovely building with nice big airy rooms, lots of windows and modern technology.”
But she went on to say that unfortunately the budget prevented the extension from being connected to the school by even a corridor, or having toilets, which means pupils and staff may still get wet on rainy days when they need to enter the main school building.
Suzanne added, “there’s a lot of delight with the school extension and the fact that we now have specialist rooms for children with physical disabilities, but we’re sad that the project doesn’t completely fulfil our expectation and meet the complete needs of the children.”
Though the children haven’t been concerned by the building work, which began in February and ran on schedule, there was excitement when a huge crane appeared.
Suzanne complimented the building team. “The site manager kept us well informed, talking to the children and providing lots of information. In fact the whole project team have been absolutely fantastic. No team could have been more hard working, considerate and pleasant, turning what could have been quite a nightmare experience for everyone into an absolute pleasure.”
21 schools built or improved
Swindon Borough Council has overseen the multi-million project to transform local schools by rebuilding, remodelling or refurbishing them, and bringing them up to a satisfactory standard for 21st century learning. In the past few years, 21 schools have been built or improved, with three of these still underway, thanks to a combination of council and Government funding. Other projects opening in September:
Ridgeway Secondary School (Inverary Road, Woughton): A permanent two storey teaching block has been built which replaces 16 temporary classes. This is in line with Promise 17, which aims to replace unsuitable mobile classrooms to enable pupils to have a high quality learning environment. The project has cost around £3.5million.
Liden Primary School (Liden Drive): Spacious, purpose-built rooms have been created for Liden Pre-School. The accommodation includes a playroom, toilets, disabled toilets, kitchen, lobby and a covered area. The project has cost around £250,000.
Westrop Primary School (Rivers Road, Highworth): A new extension has been built which will accommodate pupils and provide a Children's Centre to serve Highworth. It replaces unsuitable mobile classrooms as part of council’s Promise 17, and accommodation used by a local pre-school playgroup. The project has cost around £1.5million.
Cllr Garry Perkins, Cabinet Member for Children Services, said: "We want to create better learning environments for local children, with the hope that it will give them a more enjoyable experience at school and have a positive impact on their academic achievements."