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image Project: Westminster Academy at The Naim Dangoor Centre

Westminster Academy at The Naim Dangoor Centre


Educator Narrative

The school opened in September 2006. It has specialist status in International Business and Enterprise and is fully DCSF funded, through the City Academies programme. The Academy opened in temporary accommodation and moved into its landmark new building in September 2007.

The curriculum is innovative in design, as reflected in the building. It is based on the RSA 21st century curriculum, which was developed through research into the competences employers said they looked for in young people, and the learning activities are thematic, relevant and topical. At Key Stage 3 students are taught in “home groups” and have a consistent base, for security and to facilitate extended projects and in-depth learning. Throughout Years 7-9 the curriculum is increasingly personalised, as students choose options, have relevant support or begin fast-track courses. Standards are improving fast, with a 25% increase last year in the number of Year 9 students achieving Level 5 in English. At Key Stage 4 students have a free choice from a large range of GCSE and BTEC subjects and follow internships in local businesses on one day per week. We are pioneering the Key Skills and NCFE Enterprise Capability qualification, for all students. Our building gives maximum flexibility for student choice and modern styles of learning in a business-like environment.

Our sixth form specialises in Business, Languages and ICT-related subjects. Within the school 6F consortium, our students can take other BTEC and “A” level courses at other schools at colleges. We gained the status of an IB (International Baccalaureate) world school in January 2008 and will offer the IB Diploma Programme from September. We are also the lead school in Westminster for the introduction of the new national ICT Diploma in 2009.

As an international school, we celebrate the countries, cultures and faiths which our students represent. Our students come from over sixty countries; for 86% English is not their first language; they are mainly from Arabic and Bengali-speaking backgrounds and the religion of the majority of their families is Islam. Global citizenship and tolerance are threads which run through all our work. Our students come from a ward which has the highest rate of child poverty in Britain. Over half receive free school meals and 39% have special educational needs.

As a Business and Enterprise Academy, we adopt an enterprising approach to all our activities, which include running a public sports centre, community and conference facilities. We value strongly student voice and not only have an Academy Council but our students have a democratic voice through the local Neighbourhood Forum. With the Forum, Academy students and staff have assisted in the area’s regeneration and our joint strategic planning with the local community is a model of good practice celebrated on the TDA website.

A recent ECM (Every Child Matters) review by inspectors stated: “The Academy is beginning to provide a calmer, working community…..The care, guidance and support provided for pupils are developing particularly well. A real strength is the connetix data system which is beginning to have a real impact on improving behaviour and attendance……The school seeks to take a holistic, child-centred approach to learning.” The Academy won the SSAT (Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) “Futures Vision” award in 2007.

What exemplary ideas do the designs contain that enhance learning?

Personalised learning
The radical learning agenda at the school is based upon the latest thinking in education that places the pupil at the centre of the experience. A ‘market place’ on the ground floor physically connects to all the key communal spaces at this level and visually connects to the whole school via the full height atrium with a highly-coloured sculptural roof. This dramatic central space embodies the needs of the new learning framework by operating as the hub of the school. Pupils are encouraged to plan their own working schedule and are free to move between the café and informal working spaces, a multi-functional “Long Room’, the library and the Green Room (lecture theatre).

Security and Stimulation
The head teacher believes that the recipe for effective learning is ’security and stimulation’ and so the design of the school was driven by ideas of flexibility and connectivity. A large central staircase acts as the main circulation for the school. On each floor, wide corridors allow ease of flow and are terminated by floor-to-ceiling glazing with views to the mature trees around the site. These long views and internally glazed teaching and break-out spaces create an open feel whilst providing acoustically insulated spaces and a highly efficient and clearly understood plan.

The ideas of passive surveillance and connectivity also dictated the central location of the toilets that also have two entrances to stop bullying. Another unusual feature is the location of the dining room found at the top of the building, providing diners with dramatic city views.

Aspiration and Community
A key aim was to create a new civic landmark in which the pupils, staff and wider community felt a sense of pride and ownership and the boldly coloured exterior reflects the new sense of aspiration. The Sports Hall and outdoor sports pitches were designed to accommodate community use throughout the day and evening and the school is frequently used by the community for a variety of purposes acting as a hub of local activity and community regeneration.

Within the school graphics create a lively, engaging environment and quotes are used to increase aspiration and reinforce the school philosophy. Large quantities of dedicated areas allow work to be displayed proudly and encourage quality results. The spaces within are a rich colour palette and large graphic elements relate to the vibrant reality of urban life beyond the school walls and to an international community — both on the doorstep and beyond.

Collaboration and Involvement
The school sponsor and the head teacher were very involved from the beginning and they provided valuable input on layout, the design of key FF&E elements and branding. The internationally diverse student body were involved in the several ways, contributing to the naming of breakout spaces after cities, providing recipes for the cafe mural and choosing inspirational quotes that decorate the homeroom walls. Early consultations with students and staff about social spaces, lockers, and toilets ensured designs developed to maximum benefit to all users

What innovations in the planning, programming and design process supported the realization of those exemplary ideas?

Structure and Materials
The method of construction is an in-situ exposed concrete frame that provided spans of 7.5 to 11m required to create the atrium and also provided a high level of flexibility in space planning and ability for future change. The exposed columns and soffits create a thermal mass that contributes to the building’s environmental strategy for passive cooling. Other advantages included cost savings through reduced material and labour costs and future maintenance. Also the inherent fire resistance and enhanced acoustic properties were very appropriate for a learning environment.

A simple palette of robust materials are used throughout which intentionally foregrounds the teaching activity. Leaving materials exposed reduced the need for finishing trades on site and use of pre-manufactured systems allowed greater quality control. Issues of life cycle and future maintenance were also central to the concept, with all equipment and light fittings being selected for energy efficiency and simplicity.

Collaboration and Procurement
Although the procurement process was traditional, the architect retained control of key elements including the graphics and furniture and in both cases worked with long-term collaborators, Studio Myerscough and Andrew Stafford. The branding and graphic philosophy was developed right at the beginning of the design process so that it could be completely integrated into architecture. The architect also had involvement or control of the design & procurement of FF&E and catering which included the sourcing of suppliers, coordination of colour and design quality and creation of bespoke pieces.

The design process included an innovative manipulation of area requirements to suit personalised learning agenda. Changes included reduced scale standard homerooms, no dedicated assembly hall and a minimum amount of meeting rooms & offices which were all traded for breakout spaces, wider corridors, large open atrium at ground floor. This key space acts as a town square, allowing a year group of 180 to start in the lecture theatre and breakout into various size groups into the library, atrium, and Long Room.

Breakout spaces on upper floors allow groups of 2-15 to work or relax with magnetic display boards throughout. The 1st floor marketplace has conference style furniture & display, allowing a variety of interchangeable market-type activities to take place. Also the spatial integration of groups of small rooms into the larger whole to allow the House System (schools within schools) to be implemented without being marginalised.

Due to the air and noise pollution from the nearby motorway, the building form is an efficient sealed box, maximising savings from standardisation and reduced labour costs. The raised flooring system, ceiling baffles and light fittings are also highly standardised with the architect using their expertise with the budget to ensure an approach which used inexpensive and robust materials creatively, allowing for the specification of a number of key, high quality features. This includes extensive use of ICT throughout the school for security, curriculum management and student, staff and parent liaison.

Citation Award 2008



High School

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