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Perry Beeches School, Birmingham

Category: Schools

"The design is just brilliant; people who go past just can't believe it's a school…this building says we value the children and we value learning and we also value the community. The changes in pupils have been unbelievable.You can see they have a greater sense of pride by their demeanor as they walk down the corridor."

Ingrid Gallagher, Head teacher

June, 2004

The PPP Forum interviewed Ingrid Gallagher, Headteacher, Perry Beeches Secondary School.

It used to be a threat in one part of Birmingham that if children were bad they'd be sent to Perry Beeches School. For years, Perry Beeches had been a cold, damp and dingy collection of 30-year-old huts that were a daily challenge for teachers and pupils.

Ingrid arrived four years ago with the bulldozers brought in to rebuild the school under a Private Finance Initiative deal worth £16.5 million for Perry Beeches as part of a larger £38 million PPP contract with Birmingham LEA for ten schools.

"We had three years of hell through the rebuilding with the mud and the rain and pupils moving in and out of the huts. The kids who were at the school during that time had to put up with a lot but I don't think there's anyone here who doesn't believe it was all worth it. This is just a fantastic building and it's allowed me to bring in a whole range of reforms in terms of behaviour and teaching that just wouldn't have been possible in the old school. It means so much to the children and the staff and in fact the whole community."

In all the building work was phased over seven years with three funding streams. The PFI was the last and the largest phase so the design needed to incorporate and include two other smaller buildings which had been procured through alternative funding.

"The design is just brilliant; people who go past just can't believe it's a school. I believe that anything we build new these days should really be a statement about how much we value the people who are using it. This building says we value the children and we value learning and we also value the community.

However, to get here there was a great deal of disruption and we had to be careful to keep everyone, the pupils the parents, the staff and the wider community aware of what was happening and what our vision was for the future. And I still think we have some way to go in terms of getting some of the services sorted out, the cleaning for example. I feel the FM managers could be more pro-active in making sure the building is kept up to the high standard we demand in the academic life of the school

The secondary school shares a campus with the new junior, infants and nursery schools as well as the newly completed Priestly Smith Visually Impaired School. All have been rebuilt by the PFI consortium which is made up of Innisfree and Galliford Try.

"In 1999 the nursery school building was dark and rotting with no real play facilities. Now it's bright and light and full of fantastic new equipment. And we've seen measurable improvements in the children. When they were assessed at the end of the first year there was a marked improvement in their gross motor skills and their social behaviour. And for the first time in history all the places in the nursery have been filled."

In 1999 Perry Beeches Secondary School was designated a school in challenging circumstances and had a severe staffing crisis. Only 16% of children achieved 5 GCSEs at grade A*- C. Today 41% are achieving 5 GCSEs at grade A*- C, the school is fully staffed, it has a waiting list and has been described by Ofsted as a "good school".

"The children who are getting these results are the ones who had to suffer through all the building work so it's a real credit to them and to the new surroundings that they did so well.

Perry Beeches is no longer the poor relation in terms of local schools. It's light and bright, welcoming, clean and modern.

The new building has raised self esteem and expectations for the pupils and it motivates and encourages them. Parents around here now have a real choice about education. They can send their children to the big Great Barr school up the road or the smaller Perry Beeches and know they'll get a good education at either

Improved pupil pride in the school is evident by the absence of damage to school property and graffiti. Pupils are encouraged to stay after school to socialise informally, a move designed to foster greater identification with the school. More are using the Learning Resource Centre, and participating in the increased range of After School Clubs, Saturday or holiday sessions. Over 40 pupils signed up for Saturday ICT classes, compared to an average of five pupils before the new building was completed.

"The changes in pupils have been unbelievable. You can see they have a greater sense of pride by their demeanor as they walk down the corridor.

Yet these are the same pupils, we are still a School Facing Challenging Circumstances, but the perception among pupils, parents and the local community is that education has now moved out of the Victorian era. Perry Beeches doesn't look like a school from the last century - it looks like a school that's moving forward