Bexhill High School: Multi-million pound investment in 'education pods' ends in failure

After a £38m investment in open-plan learning was completed in 2010, another £4m is now being invested to revert the classrooms back

Adam Lusher
Monday 27 April 2015 19:23 BST
The open-plan interior of Bexhill High Academy
The open-plan interior of Bexhill High Academy

It was, parents, pupils and the watching world were told, incredibly exciting stuff.

Bexhill High School in Sussex was moving onwards and upwards, into newly built premises aimed at “transforming the learning agenda”.

No more would the pupils be stuck in fuddy-duddy “classrooms”. They would enjoy the splendour of “education pods” containing 90 students and a team of teachers.

Based on the Scandinavian models of studying, this was open-plan learning. This was the future, and all for just £38m – most of it from central government via the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) investment programme and a further £4m from East Sussex County Council.

The newly built premises were intended to bring an end to pupils stuck in fuddy-duddy “classrooms”

That, though, was in 2010, at the opening of the new buildings, funding for which had been approved in 2007.

On 27 April, the parents and 1,200 pupils of what is now Bexhill High Academy were being told of more “very exciting” news: the Department for Education has awarded £6m for a rebuild of the new build.

The money will allow the academy in East Sussex to try something radically different from the old radically different idea. “We are getting back to traditional classrooms,” said new principal Heidi Brown.

As one parent branded the £44m total outlay “farcical”, Ms Brown insisted the latest £6m would reverse a decline which saw the school placed in special measures in April 2013 and its sponsor, Prospects Academies Trust, fold in May 2014.

Yorkshire-born Ms Brown, 56, admitted that in September 2014 when she took over as principal under new sponsors Attwood Academies, she had been “surprised”. “I had never seen anything like it. I just couldn’t understand why a school would be built like this. But I could understand why it was in special measures.”

The 90-pupil pods, she said, hadn’t worked. “It was really difficult to achieve the question-and-answer pupil participation of a normal classroom. It became very passive learning.” The academy is currently using 2.4m (8ft) dividers to split each pod into three, but sounds still carry from one makeshift classroom to the next.

The £6m refit would also include giving the academy more than one science laboratory and a school library where it is actually possible for children to sit down and read books. Ms Brown, said: “You would laugh if you saw the library. It’s about 10ft by 20ft, full of Rolodex-style shelving, but with no space for children to sit down and read – in a part of the country where one of the big issues is low literacy.”

One father of a 13-year-old pupil at the academy said: “My son found it hard to concentrate in the 90-person pod, with people always talking. It was silliness, trying to make the school look more up to date. “It’s upsetting all that money was invested and more money now has to be spent to put it right. It is a little bit farcical.”

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