September 14, 2008

Going Through Mill to Be an Engineer


Dozens of families are trying to get their children into Staffordshire's first academy school - two years before it is due to open its doors.

The pounds22 million JCB Academy will cater for 14 to 19-year- olds who want to specialise in engineering, manufacturing, and international business.

It will take students from across Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, Derby, and Derbyshire and will be based in a converted Grade II- listed mill, Tutbury, at Rocester.

Academy sponsor JCB says there has been so much interest in the school that the company has received dozens of inquiries from parents over the last year and is getting about 3,500 hits a month on its academy website.

It comes just as adverts have been published to recruit a pounds100,000-a-year principal for the school. JCB defended the substantial salary, saying it was designed to attract high-flying candidates from the world of education or industry.

The successful candidate won't have to have a teaching qualification - a move which could spark controversy with teaching unions opposed to people from outside the profession taking charge of schools.

But Paul Pritchard, director of the academy trust, said: "Somebody who has had no involvement in overseeing learning would be useless. They have got to have teaching in their blood.

"It could be a serving headteacher or a principal from a further education college. The salary is big, but they will have to start from a blank sheet of paper."

Construction work on the new school could begin in early October, once the Government signs the crucial funding agreement. JCB is contributing 10 per cent of the capital costs.

Academies are state-funded independent schools which directly employ their staff, manage their land, buildings and finances, draw up their own admissions policies, and have powers to alter the curriculum.

JCB officials stress they will not be selecting 14 to 16-year- olds on ability. By taking youngsters from four local authority areas, they believe it will ensure no nearby schools are adversely affected.

If, as expected, the 540-place academy is oversubscribed, its places will be allocated using a lottery.

Mr Pritchard said: "We have had a lot of interest from parents, who have been asking how they can get their children into the academy. All the students would be expected to live within a 45- minute distance and there would be free transport for them."

The academy is due to open in September 2010 and will play a crucial role in training up the engineers of the future and meeting the region's skills shortages.

JCB hopes to work with other major employers like Toyota and Rolls-Royce to give students an insight into how their learning can be applied to real jobs.

As well as taking diplomas in work-related subjects, students will follow the national curriculum, including GCSEs in English, maths and science.

One idea being explored is making modern foreign languages compulsory for every academy student. The languages offered could be linked to the needs of industry and include Chinese Mandarin, Hindi, and Portuguese.

Young people won't have traditional classrooms at the school. Instead, there could be a business floor to simulate an office environment, along with workshops kitted out with cutting edge equipment.

There will also be lead lectures given by industry experts. And pupils could be using video link-ups with JCB plants around the world so they can quiz workers about putting their skills into action.

The academy day and holiday patterns will also mirror the world of work, with students starting at 8.15am and finishing at about 5pm. The last period of the day will be for enrichment activities, such as clubs, sport, and study support.

The summer break is likely to last just four weeks, rather than the traditional six, with a possible five-term school year.

(c) 2008 Sentinel, The (Stoke-on-Trent UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.