Published: 00:01, 20 September 2017
Children in north Kent have more options when it comes to choosing where to get an education after two new schools opened.
Cherry Orchard Primary Academy has been built on the new Castle Hill estate, just off the B259 near Swanscombe, and is Ebbsfleet Garden City’s first primary school.
Inspiration Academy has taken its first cohort of Year 7s and will act as a feeder school for The Leigh UTC, which it shares a site with in Brunel Way, Dartford.
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Both schools are members of the Leigh Academies Trust.
The Leigh UTC takes pupils from Years 10 to 13 and specialises in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.
Inspiration Academy, which will eventually cater for pupils in Years 7 to 9, will do the same.
It is still being built at The Bridge development – it should open between the new year and Easter – so the five classes of Year 7s are using the classrooms, work spaces and restaurant in the UTC building.
Principal Stephen Leahey said staff decided about two years ago to offer the UTC’s unique programme to younger pupils.
He said: “Primary schools do a lot of project-based learning, where the pupils have one project, such as building a volcano, and they’ll incorporate it into different subjects: ie geography, science, maths, engineering, art.
“That disappears when they go to secondary school, so we wanted to take those pupils from primary schools and grow those skills here.”
Mr Leahey also hopes opening the school to younger pupils will encourage more girls to study STEM subjects.
About 30% of their new Year 7s are girls compared with 10% who study the subjects nationally.
Instead of a uniform, pupils dress in formal business wear and study 9am to 5pm – or slightly shorter hours in Year 7 – to prepare them for the world of work.
VIDEO: Take a look inside Cherry Pips nursery at Cherry Orchard Primary Academy
They complete research and development projects alongside other lessons and the school works closely with businesses to discover what skills they want their future employees to have and which equipment they would prefer them to be trained on.
Carina Lindars, head of college at Inspiration Academy, said staff explain to students why they are learning a particular subject and how a skill will be used in the real world.
Year 7s are making fidget spinners, a popular toy, from metal in their engineering class, and using virtual reality goggles in science to view images while their teacher discusses them.
Cherry Orchard Primary Academy, built mainly to cater for children on the rapidly expanding Castle Hill estate, is the 16th school in the Leigh Academies Trust.
It currently has pupils in reception and Years 1 and 2 as well as Cherry Pips Nursery, which remains open when the rest of the school is on holiday, and will gradually expand year by year until it caters for up to Year 6.
Principal Julie Forsythe said Cherry Orchard was unique because it has an outdoor space connected to the brightly coloured Year 1 and 2 classrooms while most schools only have that for reception.
The school also has meals cooked on site, a studio that will be used for design and technology, and cooking and specialist provision for pupils with speech and language difficulties.
Youngsters in years 1 and 2 will work with a specially trained teacher and teaching assistants, who will be supported by a speech and language therapist.
VIDEO: Children in the primary academy's reception class spend time in this room
They will gradually spend more time in their mainstream class until they are there full-time.
Neil Willis, deputy chief executive of the trust, said: “This is the first civic building in the Ebbsfleet Garden City. It’s an exciting opportunity.”
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said: “It is great to see these new schools opening. The Inspiration Academy will be a real asset to The Leigh UTC with more pupils benefitting from its outstanding facilities.
“I am also pleased to see Cherry Orchard Primary Academy opening. This is the first of a number of schools which will be opening in the Ebbsfleet Garden City over the next few years and they represent a genuine investment in Dartford’s future.”
Two pupils spoke about what it is like to be at the new Inspiration Academy.
Fraser Russell, 11, from Greenhithe, said: “It feels amazing to be the first Year 7s because there are no older kids in our school – we’re the youngest and oldest at the same time.
“My favourite lesson is engineering where we’re making fidget spinners.
“I like wearing a suit instead of school uniform because I feel like an adult.
“I would like to be a mechanical engineer when I leave school.
Ruya Shukri, corr11, and also from Greenhithe, said: “My friends’ schools don’t do engineering, which is a privilege here.
“My favourite subject is PE and there is a lot more equipment here than at primary school.
“In science, we took swabs from our mouths and made slides of our skin cells and looked at them under the microscope.
“I like the way we dress, everybody looks smart but we get to be individuals.
“I also like in maths when we do Numeracy Ninjas (a programme of work designed to make maths simple and fun). I would describe the school as professional but fun.”
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