“It doesn’t really feel like a school. It feels like a sort of family,” is just one of the glowing reviews from young people when asked about their brand-new Houstone School building as part of the celebrations to mark its delivery.
The state-of-the-art new facilities on the Kingsland Campus in Houghton Regis welcomed its first-ever new pupils at the recent start of the new school year and since then they’ve been settling into their new surroundings.
In a new short film, pupils have spoken of their excitement and the “heartwarming” effect of the “positive energy” at Houstone School, which is the first new secondary built in the town by Central Bedfordshire Council as part of its New School Places programme.
Houstone School offers an extended day, which starts at 8:25am until 4pm, with support for homework to be completed while still at school. And there are also extra-curricular activities built into the timetable, with 20 subjects on offer this term including short film creation, special FX make-up, magic and mountain bike skills.
Run by Advantage Schools Trust, their vision is to ‘establish a school that offers excellence in terms of a world-class education and pupil personal development’ – and it appears to be paying off already.
One pupil, said: “The teachers here have taught me more in a year here than I have in three years of a different school,”
while another said: “The teachers really do care about getting the best out of you.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony officially marked the delivery of the new Houstone School buildings, which will meet the growing demand for school places from nearby emerging housing developments.
The event was attended by staff and pupils from the school as well as dignitaries from Advantage Schools Trust, Central Bedfordshire Council, design consultants Concertus, constructors RG Carters and Houghton Regis Town Council.
After a special morning address to pupils, guests treated to some musical performances by pupils in the auditorium, including a rendition of the Houstone School song, plus a premiere of the new short film about pupils’ experience of Houstone School.
Principal Elizabeth English, said: “We’ve often talked about our school being more than a building, and we can now show that to people. We’re rigorous in terms of discipline, which creates a really warm, calm learning environment, with routines that help make pupils feel safe and happy at school.
“We are also rigorous in terms of our academic expectations. We don’t mind what our pupils’ starting point is, but we know what they’re aiming for and we focus everything on achieving the best in the academic, knowledge-rich curriculum.
“We also talk about joyful things like our elective programme of extracurricular activities, which we are really proud of, because we believe that school should build the whole pupil.”
Chief Executive of Advantage Schools, Stuart Lock, said: “Four years ago, when we bid to open a school in Houghton Regis, we said we were going to do some things differently because we believe that schools can be better than they are, on average, across the country. We were going to show what could be done in Houghton Regis.
“Four years ago, I stood outside Morrisons supermarket meeting many members of the community and one of the most common messages was, ‘I wish you luck, Mr Lock, but you’ll never do it here.’ What this school shows is that there’s nothing wrong with Houghton Regis and nothing wrong with the kids and families of Houghton Regis. They’ve risen to the challenge.
“A school is the people in it and, most importantly, the pupils. Our success is when they aspire for themselves, but also for their community because they are going to make a difference in transforming Houghton Regis. So that if someone else is standing outside Morrisons in 20 years, people aren’t saying to them, ‘you can’t do it in Houghton Regis’. Instead, they’ll be saying, ‘you’re lucky to be here.”
Central Bedfordshire Council Executive Member for Families, Education and Children, Cllr Hayley Whitaker, said: “It has been really touching to hear about the positive experiences of pupils and staff as they settle into their brand-new school buildings.
“The delivery of our first-ever new secondary school in Houghton Regis has been a huge challenge but when you hear how it is affecting people’s lives for the better it really brings home how this project has always been about more than just bricks and mortar.
“I hope by being offered such fantastic facilities, it helps provide pupils, now and in the future, with an opportunity to get the most out of their education at Houstone School.”
Darren Fellowes, Associate Director for Concertus, said: “It has been a pleasure to support both Central Bedfordshire Council and Advantage Schools Trust to provide the community with this fantastic new secondary school. Not only will this school make a difference for the local children but for the wider community too. The project itself has been driven by the passion and inspiring ethos of the Trust and we feel exceptionally privileged to have been part of their journey. We are excited to see the real impact the new school will have on the young people of Houghton Regis now and for future generations”.
Andrew Culbert Senior Project Manager at R G Carter, said: “We have been delighted to have had the opportunity to work with Central Bedfordshire Council in the construction of this much-needed educational for the local community and to support to the council’s vision for regeneration in the area. It is great to see the school now come to life, and we hope the students and staff enjoy their new space and all that it has to offer, for many years to come.”