City’s first free school West Newcastle Academy opens its doors

By Sara Nichol
Chronicle

Nearly 30 youngsters were getting settled into the first day of term at Newcastle’s first ever free school.

West Newcastle Academy (WNA) yesterday welcomed the first intake of reception children in their temporary classrooms at Benwell Nature Park, this in Benwell.

The year, made up of 28 youngsters, spent the afternoon getting creative in the nature park, meeting friends and settling into their new environment.

The school opened with just one reception class, and, subject to planning consent, a new school will be built nearby in 2014, adding a new reception intake each September until full in 2019.

And headteacher Susan Percy couldn’t have been happier with the first day of the new school.

She said: “It was an absolutely fantastic first day.

“We’re in Benwell Nature Park and we had some beautiful late-summer weather, so the children were outside all afternoon and it was most wonderful for them.

“Even in the morning, some of the children have no nursery experience but they were all very quick in deciding what they wanted to learn about and they have all made friends very quickly.”

As well as three teachers, the school also works with creative coordinators and outdoor coordinators.

Mrs Percy added: “Each child was given a crown and they went out into the five acres of park land and chose things they wanted to stick on their crowns.

“It was brilliant to see them all leaving for the day looking great and wearing their crowns. The school day finished at 3.30pm but the parents came back in at 3pm so we could review what the children had learned during the day.”

The school is a multi-million pound investment in one of the region’s most deprived communities.

It is funded directly from Government, operating outside of the national curriculum and outside of local authority control.

Mrs Percy said: “It has been a journey, so far, to get to this point.

“It has been very interesting but we have an incredible amount of support from governors and the charity and the parents have been involved a lot, too. Other local headteachers have also been very supportive.

“Reality didn’t really hit for me until today when the children were there.

“We have 28 altogether and all, bar two, come from the immediate local area.

“We have a lot of different types of schools in Newcastle and now having a free school as well creates a lot of difference and teachers from all the different types of schools can learn from each other.”

The school will have an official opening ceremony on Friday, attended by North East Conservative MEP Martin Callanan.

He said: “I’ve taken a keen interest in this project from the start. The team at WNA have done an outstanding job and I congratulate them for successfully moving the project towards opening.

“I fully support this initiative and am delighted to see the Government backing this new school in the North East.”

Mrs Percy added: “The whole team have worked extremely hard to get the classroom prepared in time for opening, but it’s worth the effort when you finally see happy children walk through the door.

“On behalf of the trust I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved, everyone who believed in us.”