Val Wigham on plans for the new Studio West academy in Newcastle

Val Wigham, Principal Designate at Studio West, outlines her vision for the future at the pioneering school, which is due open in Newcastle in September

Val Wigham is Principal Designate of Studio West School, in Newcastle
Val Wigham is Principal Designate of Studio West School, in Newcastle

Education should be a stepping stone to a good and fulfilling career, but for many young people this has not been the case.

Academic qualifications are extremely important, but many school leavers, in spite of achieving exam success, are emerging into the jobs market unprepared for the world of work.

However, that is about to change in Newcastle with the opening of the Studio West School, which will revolutionise the way students are taught.

Employers say they need highly qualified recruits with technical and problem-solving skills to fuel economic growth, and Studio West’s innovative concept will meet that industrial need head on.

Indeed, equipping our students with employability skills, such as independence, enterprise, personal responsibility, communications skills, using their own initiative and the ability to work on their own as well as part of a team, will be as important as academic learning.

We want to ensure that the gap between school and work is bridged - an issue that has been raised by employers and their representative organisations.

We are addressing these concerns. From the length of the school day to working closely with business partners, who will set our students real life projects. All Studio West’s young people will be immersed in business-focused surroundings from the very beginning.

Students, of all abilities, aged from 13 to 19, will be taught academic, occupational and practical skills as well as having regular placements at local companies. Post 16 students will have a unique menu of paid work placements complementing their chosen A-level courses.

Key Stage 4 students will work on live projects given by our business partners connecting their learning to the world beyond Studio West which is a tried and tested concept that has been used for 15 years in at San Diego’s High Tech High Schools in California.

I have seen for myself how a project-led curriculum can not only educate students, but also inspire them. I met a student at High Tech High who was driving a hovercraft that he and two of his classmates had designed.

It soon became evident that he was enthused by the assignment because it was real and meaningful. As a result, he had absorbed a vast amount of knowledge and practical skills that would be an asset in the workplace.

He knew about the hot and cold air pressure, the aerodynamics, the forces involved to make it work. He understood every bit of maths, science, engineering, design and technology behind it.

Studio West will be a centre of academic excellence, with a curriculum based around a core of eight GCSEs, including English Language and Literature, Dual Science, Mathematics and Computer Science for 14-to-16-year-olds, and 16-to-19-year-olds will be working towards A-levels and BTECs, with progression routes to university, apprenticeships and employment. We already have attracted an exceptionally healthy intake of students, but there is still time for young people to approach us about joining Studio West in September.

In particular, many pupils are so focused on their GCSEs that they do not consider their next educational move until these exams are finished.

Studio West’s bold and pioneering approach, focusing on an industry-led learning model, will make sure young people are work ready by the time they leave us.

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