Recently, I was lucky enough to chat to consultant Christine Megson about the opening of King’s Cross Academy, and all that entails.
The area of Kings Cross is undergoing a major renovation project, which exposed the need for a new primary school. The company behind the development, KCCLP, applied to be the sponsors of the school, intending to make it a central part of the redevelopment rather than an afterthought. This is where Christine, with her extensive background in education, was brought in to help.
I was excited about learning the details of the school's journey from earliest concept to actual, functioning part of our education system. Schools seem to spring up all the time- so how hard can it be?
Well- rather hard, actually. It involves a lot of work, and there is much to do before you can even be approved, let alone open. I’m no stranger to hard work; I watched all six seasons of Lost* so I know what it’s like to put your time and effort into something without certainty of a reward at the end. But I’d really underestimated just how many plates you’re spinning at once if you decide to open a new provision academy.
The first thing they did, Christine said, was advertise for a headteacher. This seems straightforward enough – but imagine advertising when you don’t have a headteacher’s office or any pupils. In the case of King's Cross Academy, there was no predecessor school, and the headteacher would be spending the first year of the job with no pupils and no school to headteach (is that a verb? I’m making it a verb). Christine told me they had to borrow pupils to interview a headteacher.
Borrowing pupils might seem like a potentially awkward or difficult task, but the local authority (Camden) recognised the need for the school and were supportive of the sponsors of the new academy. King's Cross Academy's existence was and is about a community working together to provide not just a school, but the best possible school.
Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted my use of the word 'community'. Indeed, it wasn’t just Christine, the sponsors and the local authority working in tandem. Rather, opening a new provision in a place like Kings Cross means a whole host of potential partners to your school. As Christine said, all you have to do is look out of your school window.
In the case of King's Cross Academy, the view shows a secondary school, residential homes, and the Central Saint Martins University of the Arts- not to mention the Eurostar trains that go to Paris twice an hour. Aside from providing a tempting escape route for the teachers when they get that first Ofsted call, it led to Eurostar partnering with the school, which in turn led to train drivers visiting to talk to the pupils about their job. Now there are rumours of Google setting up shop next door. Now I didn’t exactly go to school in a shed, but I didn’t have Google next door.
But Christine pointed out that these partnerships won’t stand up in the absence of a strong curriculum and quality teaching. So the year leading up to the opening meant working with architects and with the school for deaf children that they’d eventually share the building with, producing every school policy from scratch, and making staffing appointments, whilst also trying to attract pupils and parents when the school branding hadn't yet been completed. It can’t all happen at once (how can you start recruiting until you have a recruitment policy or a payroll department?) but when it comes to opening schools, there is simply too much to do for a 'one thing at a time' approach.
The idea of a school with so much input, where so many different people came together and got involved before the doors even opened (or were actually built) got me excited. Whatever you think of new academy provision, or of free schools, or of the gradual disappearance of the local authority maintained school – perhaps the most exciting thing about a new school isn't who isn’t involved, but who is. I left the room thinking that actually, every school deserves the story I heard Christine tell, and wondering how many, sadly, never will.
*Man, remember Lost? That show had everything. Polar bears! Hatch doors! Smoke! So much confused religious symbolism you felt like Richard Dawkins was screaming the Old Testament at you! This is not at all relevant to Kings Cross Academy, I just really liked Lost.