Three secondary schools opened their doors as academies this week. Chris Wickham and Joanna Kilvington report on a new era of education for the borough

The man in overall control of two new academies says results will not be the be all and end all for pupils.

Hampton Community College and Whitton School closed their doors on September 1 and re-opened the following day as Hampton and Twickenham academies.

This week, as students stepped through the doors for the first time, John Baumber, head of the trust running the Swedish-style academies, said there was a specific aim for the children who attend them.

He said: “There is a very important Swedish word that cannot be translated to English – bildning.

“If you translate it literally it means education, but it really means to produce an educated child – someone who has a real understanding of the world around them and whose thinking develops with them.”

Mr Baumber, chief executive and educational director of the Learning Schools Trust (LST) – the British charitable arm of Swedish education firm Kunskapsskolan, which is running the academies – said the year 7 pupils would be presented with a new style of education.

He said students would set their own goals and design the routes to achieve them.

“What we are expecting from our young people is not just good exam results, but a real deep learning and understanding and a growth of personal skills like teamwork and being creative – the skills people need for their work life.”

Although he only took over his current post in May, Mr Baumber has been involved with the schools for more than 18 months.

Richmond Council – under the previous Liberal Democrat administration – took the decision to close the two schools, as well as Shene School which is now Richmond Park Academy, run by Academies Enterprise Trust, and open academies at the end of last year.

The authority had been working with Kunskapsskolan since it was first selected as a preferred sponsor in early 2008.

Mr Baumber admitted it was a relief the academies were finally open after a “wobble” earlier this summer when the Government faltered over funding a £16.4m refurbishment of Hampton Academy and a £22.1m rebuild of Twickenham Academy.

The money was finally agreed last month.

He said he had been working with teachers ahead of the openings and was optimistic about the future.

“After initial scepticism about what this was there has been real enthusiasm in all areas [in the community].

“No pupils have left because we have become an academy, hardly any teachers have left and that is really gratifying.”

The 60-year-old spent 20 years as a headteacher in schools in the north of England, ending as executive head of three schools, and has spent the past two-and-a-half years as an executive headteacher in Stockholm for Kunskapsskolan.

He explained LST was not bringing Swedish education to an English environment, but was instead attempting to marry the two systems.

“We are running English schools.

“But we are drawing in the best of what they do at Kunskapsskolan – personalised learning.”

He said there would be a transition period of about three years.

“Children in years 8 to 11 this year will be following a standard English curriculum – the only differences will be a small tutor group and a one-on-one mentoring meeting every week.

“We have also brought in enhancements to make them realise they are in a different place.”

Mr Baumber said pupils’ work would be supported by an electronic learning portal.

“We built that ourselves. It isn’t to replace teachers – it is so students can extend their learning.

“We had a range of consultants and curriculum leaders work with us to design it.”

Although the schools have only been open a short time, Mr Baumber, who is based day-to-day at Twickenham Academy, has already seen them in action.

“I spent the day at Hampton Academy on Tuesday teaching and working with the year 7s.

“It was really exciting to work with them and to see how they are looking forward to what we are doing.”

Students ready to plan own lessons

It was out with the old and in with the new as year 7 pupils celebrated the opening of Twickenham Academy.

The academy, formerly Whitton School, welcomed its new students in a celebratory day, attended by Richmond mayor David Marlow, last Friday.

Principal Nick Jones said a new way of learning would be introduced at the academy, mimicking the way lessons are taught in schools in Sweden, where Kunskapsskolan, which manages the school, is based.

Year 7 pupils will set their own learning goals in weekly tutorials. Mr Jones said: “They will be able to work at a pace that works for them. Kids will quite literally plan their lessons each week.

“There will still be teachers there and they will still need support, but it will make more autonomous learners.”

A new learning space for classes, groups and individual activities was also opened.

Similar spaces are set to be created thanks to a £22.1m Government grant for a rebuild of the school, in Percy Road.

Mr Jones said the academy would work closely with the new Hampton Academy, but would not cut its ties with Richmond Council.

He said: “We’re very much planning to be part of the council’s school family.”

'Historic day' for Hampton

The founder of a Swedish education firm joined Twickenham MP Vince Cable at the launch of Hampton Academy.

Peje Emilsson, founder of Kunskapsskolan, Dr Cable and other special guests attended the opening celebrations on Monday.

Dr Cable raised the flag at the Hanworth Road academy for the first time and toured the site, which is set for a £16.4m refurbishment over the next few years.

Sue Demont, Hampton Academy principal, said: “This is an historic day for the young people of Hampton.

“We are absolutely committed to raising the attainment of all our students and we believe the personalised learning model will motivate and inspire them to achieve more than they thought possible.

“Models and plans of the building design will be on display during our open week at the end of September and all are welcome to come and see them.”

Councillor Malcolm Eady, Richmond Liberal Democrats’ education spokesman, said: “Having been very involved in bringing Kunskapsskolan into the borough, I am very pleased the two academies are now open and I wish them and their pupils every success in the future.”