Today marked ‘a historic, once-in-a-lifetime moment’ as some of the students started term at the long-awaited new high school in Alnwick.
The new Year 9s and Year 12s were the first groups to begin the new academic year at the Duchess’s Community High School’s new home to the south of the town, off the newly-constructed Taylor Drive.
The return has been staggered to ensure a smooth transition and they will be joined by Year 10 and 13 tomorrow and Year 11 on Friday.
The Gazette was able to look around the new school this morning and the facilities are certainly impressive, even more so when compared to the previous sites on Howling Lane and Bailiffgate.
The wider community will be able to take a look too as a series of open events are being planned for the coming weeks.
Headteacher Maurice Hall said: “This is a historic, once-in-a-lifetime moment.
“What is pleasing is how clean, new and safe the site is, it provides us with a secure and positive backdrop to our daily routines.”
“We have once again achieved a very good set of results in the summer of 2016.
“To achieve this with all the pressures we were under is really pleasing.
“Coming into our new buildings on that is a big plus.”
The design of the building is an E-shape, consisting of three fingers extending from a spine.
Not only does this mean that classrooms can be grouped together in corridors of similar subjects, but it also means that a fourth spur can be added for September 2017 when the school will become an 11-to-18 secondary school.
Today was also the day that the Alnwick Partnership’s 13 first schools welcomed pupils back as primaries.
The new high school has a sports hall and activity studio with sprung floor; modern, well-equipped classrooms for science, technology, hair and beauty, art and music; three ICT suites; plenty of light coming in through plenty of glass; CCTV; monitors so staff know when to open the windows and lights which turn off after 18 minutes if no motion is detected.
Mr Hall said: “The issue (with the previous school) was not just the conditions of the buildings but their suitability; a huge amount of time and energy went into managing the buildings and making sure everything ran smoothly. It added a major extra element to the workload.
“If we can get the day-to-day operations running smoothly, it allows more energy to go into what the real job is – making sure the young people get the best possible teaching and outcomes.
“It’s key that our settling-down process doesn’t take too long and colleagues quickly feel that they are in control of our day-to-day work.”
Overall, it’s a very 21st-century building, but even Mr Hall admits that, having been handed the keys last Tuesday, it is lacking a little soul at the moment.
“At the old site, our school community had a heart and soul despite the buildings,” he said. “Now we must replicate that and continue to move forward.”
Of course, the Year 9s who started their Duchess’s careers today were never educated in the old buildings.
Nell Gair, director of learning for Year 9, said: “They are going to be here for five years, most of them, and they don’t know anything different.
“It’s really nice that there’s a generation of young people who will be expecting the best and getting the best.
“We have historically performed really, really well despite some of the difficulties.
“Now we are expecting to really soar as these students aren’t going to have to overcome these difficulties. We can really focus on their progress and moving them forward.”
And it’s not just the pupils who will be benefitting from having a state-of-the-art, single-site school.
“We are so excited,” Mrs Gair said. “One of the best things has been bumping into staff who you didn’t see day to day. It has changed the dynamic of the staff and will change the dynamic of student groups.
“We are really lucky with the facilities we have got and there are so many people who have worked so hard to make sure it’s open today.”