Pupils at two Derbyshire schools are getting to know each other as they begin the countdown to the day they move into the same building.
In 12 months’ time, Shirebrook Academy and Stubbin Wood Special School will operate side by side under the same roof when they move into a brand new £27m building at the academy’s site in Common Lane.
The academy’s 700 pupils will be able to make use of a host of facilities, including specialist technology areas, science labs, IT, drama and music rooms, a cinema, a sports hall and an external all-weather pitch.
All of these facilities will be open to Stubbin Wood’s 133 pupils, who will also be able to benefit from a hydrotherapy pool, a therapy suite and two sensory rooms in their school’s section of the building.
Many of the shared facilities have been adapted for students with disabilities, including the food technology room, which has cookers which rise and fall so that they can be used by people in wheelchairs.
Pupils from the academy will not be able to wander freely around Stubbin Wood School, but students from both schools will mingle in a number of corridors and will eat together in the dining area. Staff, meanwhile, will also share work spaces and a staff room.
Although they will both be in the same building, both schools will remain separate organisations, with different headteachers, governors and staff.
Julie Bloor, principal of Shirebrook Academy, said it has been extremely exciting watching the new school take shape outside her office window and says there will be a tremendous sense of pride when it is finally opened.
And she said that preparations towards sharing the building with Stubbin Wood School are already underway, with pupils and staff alike coming together on both a social and work basis.
One example is a joint archiving project with local arts group Junction Arts, which has seen pupils from both schools interview staff and gather historical material, while staff have observed each other’s lessons.
She added: “There have been concerns raised about how all the pupils will interact, but they have invited each over for lunch and are planning a number of joint assemblies. We are confident that as they get used to each other’s company, there will be none of the kind of ‘them and us’ situation that could lead to problems.”
Stubbin Wood teaches pupils aged from two up to 16, all of whom have a wide range of severe and complex learning and physical disabilities, but the extra space and resources will mean that from next year its students will be able to stay on until the age of 19.
The new building represents the first new purpose-built special school Derbyshire County Council has ever produced, let alone the first one co-located with a mainstream school, and Stubbin Wood headteacher Lee Floyd said the move represents an exciting new chapter in special education provision in the county.
He added that the act of becoming a co-located school will bring a host of benefits to his pupils and staff, not least because they will be able to take advantage of the kind of facilities many other special schools can only dream of.
Mr Floyd said: “We already have strong links with mainstream schools, but this will allow our pupils to work alongside mainstream pupils in an inclusive and supportive environment.
“They will be able to have lunch alongside them and they will also be able to take part in shared sport activities as well. What’s more, they will be able to have lessons in subjects such as modern languages and science from academy teachers who are specialists in their subjects.
“That type of provision, plus a host of other examples, has not been accessible to us before and I believe that it will have a huge positive effect on their education and, in turn, their prospects in later life.”
Shirebrook Academy will also be able to access special needs teaching for those mainstream pupils who have specific learning challenges and its teaching staff will broaden their own knowledge of special needs teaching by working alongside Stubbin Wood’s own staff.
Staff and pupils from both schools have had a significant input into the design of their new homes, including choosing fittings, colours and furniture.
Construction students have also visited the site to learn about how the building is taking shape, and a number have even laid bricks.
The building was designed by Sheffield architects Bond Bryan and is being built by Belper-based contractors Bowmer & Kirkland.