An interview with Chobham Academy Principle Designate, Jason Baigent
You may well have heard that London’s newest neighbourhood in the making also has its very own brand new school.
Chobham Academy will open its doors to pupils aged 3 – 18, all across London come 2013. With incredible facilities and dedicated staff, it promises to be an amazing environment for children to grow up in.
We arranged for local Stratford resident, Natalie Melton, to interview Jason Baigent, Chobham Academy’s future Principle Designate.
In her own words, we’ll now let Natalie tell you how it went…
Talking to Jason Baigent, Principal Designate of Chobham Academy, and it’s easy to see why he has built up such an enviable reputation as a head teacher who gets things done. His passion and enthusiasm for the possibilities of education are clear. The fact that he holds the keys to what must surely be one of the most exceptional school campuses in London makes you think that the children who will be educated there from September 2013 are destined to be very lucky indeed.
Chobham Academy is one of the jewels of East Village. It is part of the Harris Federation which now runs a number of academy schools across South London, with the majority of the schools it runs now being ranked as outstanding by Ofsted. It will ultimately school almost 2000 children from 3 through to 18, serving the local communities within Newham and Waltham Forest, as its campus straddles both boroughs.
Jason is a New Zealander who has worked almost exclusively for the academy network of schools in the UK since he arrived 11 years ago. He is full of enthusiasm for the opportunity to develop a school from scratch; offering up a blank canvas from which to draw up what the ideal school might look like. For him, that meant recruiting the very best teachers that he can and committing considerable time to talking to and listening to the needs of the local community to ensure that the school is fit for purpose.
As a school with a specialism in the performing arts, one of the great discoveries for Jason since he started working in Stratford has been the extensive arts and cultural offer. By his own admission he had no idea that Stratford was so well served – with Theatre Royal Stratford, Stratford Circus, Discover, The Picturehouse and Rosetta Arts all now sitting round the table with him to discuss how they can all work together for the benefit of the next generation. The school’s cultural offer is impressive: “Children from Reception will have access to musical instruments and specialist teachers to help them learn,” says Jason. “And we have a fully equipped theatre on site as well as dance studios.” At sixth form, students will have the option of following one of two learning paths- Chobham Virtuoso; where they will specialise in the performing arts, or Chobham Academia, which will prepare them for university entrance, with a particular focus on the Russell Group Universities. He is clear that neither route is better than the other, but believes that by working to identify where pupils skills and interests lay, can help them develop into confident, motivated and successful young adults.
Of course, given its location it would be impossible not to talk to Jason about sport. “Some were surprised that we didn’t choose sport as a specialism for the school,” he laughs. “But for us sport is so integral that we didn’t feel we needed to make a point of it.” I was surprised to learn the extent of the facilities that Chobham has – in an era where playing fields are being sold off with increasing enthusiasm, it is astonishing to learn that Chobham not only has its own large state-of-the-art gymnasium with indoor pitches, but its own playing fields with tennis courts and all-weather football pitches. Not to mention the use of that little swimming pool down the road….
It was heartening to hear Jason’s conviction on how to ensure that the local community should benefit from these fantastic facilities – they are already in consultation about how best to make use of the school at weekends and what kinds of classes the community would benefit from.
Newham has struggled to provide an education offer that attracts families into the area for many years, and for local residents like me, with young children, the anxiety around schooling – particularly at secondary stage, is acute. Talking to Jason, and hearing his energy for the task he has taken in is infectious. One suspects that the elusive Olympic Legacy – where a generation of young people are not only inspired but equipped with the tools to succeed, may very well sit comfortably with him.
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