School On the Up Again

Having not held a BHBPA event there for around five years, on Wednesday morning this week BHBPA members and friends met for breakfast and a look around The Burgess Hill Academy. For many members and friends it was a chance to return to old haunts, having been educated there themselves, albeit when the school was called Oakmeeds, while others had a vested interest in the form of a child currently attending the school.

When I arrived at 7.35 there were already two others in reception and a steady flow of arrivals ended with 33 seated in the Drama Studio having enjoyed 35 minutes of networking with coffee, tea, bacon rolls and chocolate croissants. The students on hand to assist with refreshments did a sterling job, having themselves come in early to help.

Jon Francies, the Principal since September 2016, then spoke at length about the changes undergone by the school in recent years.As well as having to deal with the problematic issues of recent years which led to ‘Special Measures’ there came the inevitable loss of pupil numbers which resulted in the school roll being reduced to half the size it was 25 years ago.

At last there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Principal seems to be a thoroughly decent guy, an optimistic people person  who wants the best for the school and is realistic in his aims for the future. He is  positive about the challenges facing the new Academy, no longer funded by West Sussex County Council but by the University of Brighton Trust. He understands that he must get the staff and parents onside to make real progress. He has some very bright students there, who gained some spectacularly good results in the new English and Maths GCSE exams in the summer. When it came time for us to hear from the students they spoke eloquently and passionately to a body of adults from business. Their maturity was impressive and they should rightly feel proud of their efforts on behalf of their school.

The Principal also explained the funding conundrum, whereby schools in East Sussex get £4400 per pupil per year, while West Sussex schools get just £4100. In London boroughs the figure is usually between £6000 and £10000. Who can say how those huge differences between areas can be justified? He spoke of the massive potential of the school. His passion was obvious and there was clear evidence that a solid start had been made to the rebuilding programme.

After the presentation a group of Year 9 students turned up to take members on a tour of the school, and it was clear that nowhere was off limits. As far as I could tell students were hard at work and lessons of all kinds were going on as you would expect. I know that there was a lot of positivity and support from the audience when the Principal was speaking, and I hope that that will translate in some help for the school from the business community. He has had some offers of help already. If you were there and are now in a position to offer some support, please let me know.

What would be welcome, as a member told me on our way out at the end, is if one of the bigger companies in the town came forward with an offer to sponsor eg a building renovation scheme, a new science laboratory or a new IT centre. They would be well rewarded with advertising and parental and student gratitude I’m sure. Now there’s a chance for a Burgess Hill company to embed its name indelibly in the community forever. After all there are other local schools with facilities provided by funds from local donors. Please let me know if you wish to discuss further.

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