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Chester studio school ready to open its doors

Pioneering school will work closely with business, work a 'full day' and use latest technology

Christleton International Studio will be temporarily based in a vacant wing of Queen's Park High School in Handbridge. Picture: John Murray

A pioneering new school that combines work-based learning with academic study is ready to open for the autumn term.

The signs are now up for Christleton International Studio which, despite its name, is actually based at the Queen’s Park High School campus in Handbridge because of its links to Christleton High School.

And next week the teaching team will host overseas visitors from world famous educational foundation, the International Baccalaureate (IB), based in the Hague, as the studio school will offer courses authorised by the IB.

Katrina Brown, vice principal of Christleton International Studio, discusses sixth form options with students.

Final preparations will then be made before the school, which will be run as a separate entity to QPHS, opens its doors proper on Monday, September 4.

The school, for 14-19-year-olds of all abilities, will see students drawn across Cheshire, Wirral and North Wales.

With an initial 120-strong intake, the studio will comprise 60 students in Year 10 who will study GCSEs and 60 in Year 12 enrolled on the IB programmes but numbers will grow to a maximum 320.

The green modern building will either be replaced to create the permanent studio school building on the Queen's Park High School campus in Handbridge.

Students will temporarily be based in a wing of Queen’s Park High until the £4m permanent new building is completed next year. It will be located on the footprint of an existing modern block in the centre of the QPHS school frontage between what were originally the detached girls’ and boys’ school buildings.

However, the current building has seen considerable investment in technology and learning spaces.

Innovations include students using laptop computers; there is an IT suite for creative design and computer programming; a science lab and outdoor geodome greenhouses for experiments and growing fruit and vegetables; plus equipment for robotics, 3D printers and video conferencing boardrooms for student use. Like a workplace, students will be expected to work a full day.

Kate Ryan, founding principal of Christleton International Studio, which will be based on the Queen's Park High School campus in Handbridge.

Principal Kate Ryan said: “We are exceptionally proud of the team which has come together from around the world to build our school community. All applicants made a video as part of our process and we received hundreds of applications and from that we built our team of 14."

Students will be supported in achieving their individual targets with the support of a personal coach separate to the teaching staff.

Learning will be brought to life through work experience, field studies, unusual opportunities such as studying surveillance using drones for IT, learning to tango in Spanish or creating ceramics using moulds from the 3D printers.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch has worked with the school throughout the planning stage and is viewed as a key partner.

Christleton International Studio will be temporarily based in a vacant wing of Queen's Park High School in Handbridge. Picture: John Murray

But as a new type of free school, studios school are controversial. Critics fear free schools undermine the existing education system by taking money and pupils away from existing schools, in addition to concerns about big business influencing the curriculum.

On announcing the go-ahead for Christleton International Studio, then prime minister David Cameron hit back when he told The Chronicle: “They don’t take any money away from existing schools because they are separately funded. The second point is that they have a good record of providing good new school places and that’s what we need."

David Cameron speaking at Christleton High School with former Chester MP Stephen Mosley(Image: Sallie Ehlen)

The studio school is a spin-off development resulting from closer working between Christleton High School and Queen’s Park High School because both organisations are now run by Christleton Learning Trust after QPHS’s conversion to an academy.

And the vision was previously explored by Christleton alone but the project was shelved because the Department for Education was unable for ‘financial reasons’ to exchange contracts on the former Lloyds bank office within Knights Court on the corner of St Martin’s Way and Weaver Street in Chester city centre .

Tony Lamberton, CEO of Christleton Learning Trust,

Tony Lamberton , CEO of Christleton Learning Trust, is in no doubt the new school represents a positive development.

He said: “Students, families and employers have long wanted a new style of education which celebrates and accelerates the talents of young people in the Chester area. After three years of planning CIS can deliver this. Something extraordinary has just begun and we are proud to be part of it.”

There are ‘limited places’ available for September, 2017, and admissions are opening for September, 2018, next week.

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