As dozens of new academies are created in the West Midlands, Donna Bowater meets the head teacher of one school who believes the new status has transformed his institution.
Opponents to academy schools should take a look around Harborne Academy and be pleasantly surprised, according to head teacher Andrew Wright.
Formerly Harborne Hill, the school opened its doors in September and is almost at the end of its first year as Birmingham’s newest academy, specialising in health and science.
And with a mock ambulance and hospital ward the NHS would be proud of, Mr Wright believes the institution is a healthy example of this new model of schools.
"Independent of local authority control, the school is sponsored by Birmingham Metropolitan College and as a result Mr Wright says the partnership has increased the facilities available to Harborne students at the same time the school is reaching out to its community.
Mr Wright, who was head teacher before the school became an academy, said this was part of an approach that looked at the bigger picture of learning to produce successful pupils.
“I’m here to get the best results, the best future for our students and that’s why I’m in teaching full stop,” he said. “What becoming an academy has done has brought in a new partner with all their expertise, all their skills, which previously we wouldn’t have been available to do so we’ve gained massively from that.
“The sponsor becomes in effect the local authority so they are in charge of it overall but we’re developing a model that means our students can work on the college sites and the college students can come to work with our students.
“It’s a win-win situation because all of our staff will get a lot more experience of what comes before or after.
"That’s going to be a long-term bonus for our staff. It means that we can look after our students really well and give them the correct advice and information to succeed. At a time when it is getting harder to get employment, it’s so important.”
Mr Wright stressed Harborne Academy was not selective, and since September, the school has extended its intake to 11 to 18-year-olds instead of 11 to 16-year-olds.
It offers courses and qualifications that makes use of the school’s access to resources including its Health Tec Centre that features a life-size ambulance and former hospital equipment. In the face of criticism that academies amount to the privatisation of schools through the backdoor, the head teacher insisted success was all that mattered.
He continued: “At the end of the day, every single parent will want the best for their child and that’s what education has got to offer.
"The best for their child is yes you must get the qualifications but you need the life skills, the employability skills and they have got to be transferable. It’s often quoted that the jobs that our children are learning about now will be changed by the time they get to employment.
“Whatever skills we give young people they have got to be independent enough to transfer to another role. That’s what education needs to be about. It does need that real-life element, it does need to be exciting and engaging. That vision will be unwavered.”
For Harborne Academy, the future is bright thanks to £10.5 million in funding from the Department for Education to improve the site in Harborne Road further.
Staff at the academy are in the process of drawing up plans for the cash boost.
And for any parents who need convincing, Mr Wright laid down a challenge.
“I would suggest that people that have a view on anything, they should go out and find out for themselves.
“It’s about people applying here and making sure they are going to be successful. And providing you are going to do your best and work hard with other people, we will support you.”