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Students embrace Mandarin and ‘super studios’ at new UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage

PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 March 2013 | UPDATED: 09:04 22 March 2013

Students walk across campus at the rear of the school. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Students walk across campus at the rear of the school. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Archant

It has six floors, five “super studios”, state-of-the-art science laboratories – and as yet only a fraction of the 1,150 pupils who will eventually enjoy the multi-million pound facilities.

Lord Andrew Adonis and principal Geraldine Davies at the official opening of the UCL Academy. Picture: Polly Hancock.Lord Andrew Adonis and principal Geraldine Davies at the official opening of the UCL Academy. Picture: Polly Hancock.

The new UCL Academy, which opened in September to 180 Year 7 pupils and 125 Year 12 pupils, is Camden’s first academy and will cater for 1,150 students when it reaches full capacity in 2016.

On Tuesday, Labour peer and academy pioneer Lord Andrew Adonis was on hand to officially open the school, in Adelaide Road, Swiss Cottage.

Under the tutelage of the world-famous University College London (UCL), which has provided full sponsorship, the new school specialises in the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Every student must also undertake at least an hour of Mandarin tuition every week.

At the heart of the new school’s philosophy is an emphasis on “open learning”, a teaching practice that focuses on creating space for more active, hands-on learning.

It was researched by a variety of top UCL academics and scientists as part of the school’s blueprint plans.

Principal Geraldine Davies said: “They looked at the best teaching around the world and this commitment to open learning they found in Australia and Scandinavia.

“In the UK, there are more schools in the academy movement that have moved into open-learning environments.

“It is important if you want teachers to teach in a creative way. For example, in history lessons, if you want to do a bit of re-enactment, classroom spaces can put a barrier in the way of teachers being creative.

“Here, if you want to do that you have creative spaces to match the teaching and learning.”

The school has a total of five “super studios” - long rooms with amphitheatre-style learning spaces at their centre which allow students more flexibility. Some pupils may sit on benches, others at tables and some may even sit on beanbags.

For Year 12 pupils the school day runs from 10am to 5.30pm while the younger students are in from 8.30am to 4.30pm.

This extended school day gives pupils an hour of “self-directed learning” at the end of each day, except for Tuesdays when school finishes at 3.30pm.

During this added hour they can choose to play sports, develop skills such as stitching, or just complete homework.

There are a stockpile of laptops and iPads in all five super studios for pupils to use, as well as a beanbag room where every pupil spends at least half an hour a week studying philosophy.

Last week, pupils were treated to a guest lecture from Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ada Yonath, a privilege afforded by UCL’s network of internationally-renowned academics.

To ensure collaboration between staff and students, there is also a senate made up of pupils selected to represent their classmates as senators.

It meets once a week to discuss and advise staff on all manner of issues, including curriculum, bullying policies and even the food in the cafeteria.

At the official opening, Lord Adonis said: “We have to see that all pupils get the best start in life. It doesn’t matter if you live in a council estate in Adelaide Road or a in one of those multi-million pound houses in Hampstead, everyone deserves the same chances.

“But it’s not just enough to say that: we have got to make it a reality and we are here to do that.”

Bengisu Loveridge Ozturk, 12, a Year 7 pupil and senator, said: “We will always be remembered as the first pupils at the UCL Academy. I know some parents look at grades before they pick a school, so we all know we are responsible for making a good impression.”

Kamal Muhanna, 11, also in Year 7, added: “When I tell others I go to the UCL Academy they either say, ‘Oh that new school in Swiss Cottage, it’s huge’, or ‘I wish I went there’.”

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