FIVE years of planning, consultation and controversy came to a head this week as Sheffield’s newest school opened its doors.
The launch of Forge Valley secondary marks the end of long-running discord over the closure of Myers Grove and Wisewood schools – and the start of a new, unified community, hopes headteacher Diane McKinlay.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s fantastic to see it becoming reality,” she says. “Bringing two schools together is a big thing to do but the integration seems to have gone very well so far.
“It’s a really exciting project that is uniting a community and it’s a chance to take the next step of really raising attainment here and getting pupils to really enjoy their learning.”
Students have been phased in during the week, with tomorrow being the first day when all 1,400 will be on site together – including the new sixth-formers. Numbers will rise to 1,500 when the sixth form is completed next year.
A new ‘vertical tutoring’ system has been introduced, with representatives of all school years in each group, to nurture the integration process.
“It’s a really good way of mixing the students up. But they know each other now anyway – we’ve been working towards this for a long time,” said Mrs McKinlay.
Forge Valley was built at a cost of £28m on the old Myers site at Wood Lane, Stannington, despite a vigorous campaign by parents to keep Wisewood School open.
Facilities include an enterprise centre, flexible teaching and performing spaces and a cafeteria which operates a cashless system based on pupils’ fingerprints.
As a sports specialist, it will also have extensive playing fields and games areas.
“It has a very mature, adult feel – more like a college. There are some lovely areas, like an impressive lecture theatre and a mini conference centre that will be available to the community.
“But the biggest difference between this and the old schools is the resources: we have the latest in IT technology, which is a real bonus.”
Demolition of the old Myers school is about to get under way and the site will then be landscaped. The project is due for completion just after Easter.
Forge Valley is one of the first Sheffield schools to take foundation status, giving governors more control over the way it is run.
Parents play a key role, taking more than half the seats on the governing body, and decisions are informed by a forum of all parents. It is hoped that involving the community as fully as possible will help to overcome the inevitable challenges of merging two schools.
As classes got under way this week, the signs were good.
Most students turned up in their new charcoal grey and black uniforms, bearing the school badge. The only problem was a handful who ignored the ‘black shoes only’ ruling.
“Uniform is important because it gives us an identity as a school and it sets a standard,” said Mrs McKinlay.
“We want to be a really successful school which is focused on learning and most parents are very supportive.”
The school has proved popular with parents to an extent that with all 210 Year 7 places were filled and 36 pupils were unable to get in. Education managers believe the appeal of a new school and the fact it will have a sixth form attracted applications from outside its catchment area.
lThis year 94% of Sheffield children have been given places at their families’ first choice secondary, up 5% on 2010. At the city’s primaries, 92% of children are at their parents’ favoured school, up 1%.
The figures mean that the number of appeals against the council’s allocation system has fallen this year, with the cases of 270 families heard by independent panels. In some previous years the total has been more than 400.