First of Kind Academy Status School


The first school in the UK to be custom-designed to support the RSA’s Opening Minds curriculum has opened; the Department of Education (DoE) and RSA funded Academy new build project in Tipton, West Midlands.

The RSA Academy is the first of its kind, an independent Academy that will deliver a new unique curriculum for up to 1100 pupils specialising in Health and Citizenship.

The project is part of a two phase development to replace the existing LEA ran Willingsworth High School in the West Midlands. The first stage of the Academy has been completed on time and within budget under management of the DoE’s Construction Project Manager, Schal.

The final phase of the works is set for completion on time. It comprises of the demolition of the original High School building, capping works on several existing mineshafts on the site, finishing the sports pitches and landscaping of the vast 14.5 hectare site.

Schal, part of TPS and Carillion plc, has worked closely with the Academy’s sponsor, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) throughout the project to ensure that the faculty’s custom-design supports the RSA’s bold, new “Opening Minds” curriculum, which aims to help schools to provide young people with the skills or competencies they need to thrive in the real world.

The project team paid particular attention to maximising the provision of internal and external features throughout the building whilst still maintaining its strict DoE budget. Increased classroom size and flexible spaces were a key component of the delivery of the RSA’s new curriculum and Schal helped meet this requirement with the provision of larger than normal classroom sizes throughout the Academy. Classrooms are 25% larger than conventional classroom spaces and have the flexibility to be made even larger by using folding acoustic walls. This enables the Academy to change the classroom size to suit the teaching needs.

Effort was also made to retain features from the existing school site, including its existing All Weather Pitch. This will enable the Academy to continue to benefit from revenue generated from the community use of the facility.

The project team managed the FF&E budget in a way that allowed a food technology room and a professional kitchen to be added, in addition to a food hall and bespoke kitchens to maximise the RSA’s health specialist area. Other significant improvements include the redesign of a multi-use hall resulting in the delivery of two flexible areas – a dance hall and a theatre with control room for Academy events; plus the addition of a small fitness suite to complement the sports hall. External teaching areas and an area set aside for a small market garden have also been provided.

“The main challenge faced was in delivering a flexible building to a Sponsor that matched their expectations and the requirements of their specialist curriculum (Opening Minds),” explains Schal’s Construction Project Manager, Paul Rhodes. “Involving the Sponsor in the detailed design processes for as long as possible before design and build procurement with the Main Contractor was probably the most challenging aspect of the project, but it was critical for us to get this right in order to ensure that the RSA’s core requirements and features were incorporated into the scheme, therefore minimising later changes.”

Schal’s involvement with similar projects such as the Chelsea and Kensington Academy in London and its experience with managing design consultants, specialists and contractors on education projects proved invaluable in working with the Project Team and the DoE.

“We are delighted that through the process of delivering this unique teaching experience we’ve enabled the academy to make use of longer days and longer learning sessions, offering more opportunities to all pupils,” Schal’s Paul Rhodes continued.

The Academy itself has been designed to support the teaching and learning requirements for the staff and the pupils studying at Key Stages 3 and 4 will specialise in Health and Citizenship. As part of the new government’s nationwide education changes, the RSA Academy will teach a bespoke curriculum.

February 2011

Learning Spaces