I ♥ Evelyn Grace: Lessons from Brixton’s stunning new school

This afternoon I took a tour around the wonderful Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton. The building recently won the Stirling Prize, British architecture’s top award, and it is a marvel: four schools lock together on a tight small urban site in a stylish concrete and glass swoosh. A 100m running track cuts through the heart of the zig-zag complex.

Angela Brady, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, says: “The Evelyn Grace Academy is an exceptional example of what can be achieved when we invest carefully in a well-designed new school building. The result – a highly imaginative, exciting Academy that shows the students, staff and local residents that they are valued – is what every school should and could be.”

Evelyn Grace Academy Principal Peter Walker says: “High standards of behaviour and very high aspirations in terms of academic achievement are at the heart of what we’re about, and having an aspirational building supports that drive”

These high standards are key. The success of this new school – indeed of any school – will not be guaranteed by a well-designed building. The school’s three ‘core values’ are well-chosen:

Excellence: We believe that all of us will learn and every student can achieve excellence.

Self-discipline: We all have the right to work and learn in an industrious, orderly and respectful environment.

Endeavour: We do what it takes to get it right and to achieve excellence.

Students sign an agreement that includes the clause: “I will hand in my mobile phone every morning or lose it for a fortnight”.

Evelyn Grace is run by educational charity ARK which aims to “offer exceptional opportunities to local children in inner cities with the aim of helping to close the achievement gap between children from disadvantaged and more affluent backgrounds.”

I was impressed by the classroom equipment: computers, cookers and interactive whiteboards – when I was at school we still had desks with ink wells and the teachers used chalk on blackboards!

The area surrounding the school (Coldharbour Ward in the Borough of Lambeth) has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Europe, with serious gang problems. More than half of the children at the school are eligable for free school meals (“often their only meal of the day,” commented our guide).

The foreign journalists on the tour found it hard to believe that the school – which cost £37m – was state-funded and is freely open to all parents in this deprived area.

Evelyn Grace is deeply impressive and I wish pupils, parents and teachers every success.

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