Invicta School’s rebuilding moves a step closer

InvictaThe rebuilding of Invicta Primary School has moved a big step closer. A planning application could be submitted this summer, following consultation with parents and the school’s neighbours, and work could start on site this autumn. The new school building could be completed in late 2015 and all work on site finished as soon as spring 2016.

A letter from the headteacher Marie Corbett to parents earlier this week explains that Invicta has been designated by the Education Funding Agency as the ‘Initial School’ (in other words, the first to be rebuilt) in the batch of three south-east London schools in the Priority School Building Programme (one of the others is Our Lady of Grace, the Roman Catholic primary school just down Charlton Road from Invicta). You can read the letter, which has been posted on the school’s website, here.

As Ms Corbett’s letter says, the school has waited five years for this good news and a new building for Invicta (which was last rebuilt in 1952, in buildings thaThomas Tallis School - new signst were supposed to be only temporary) is long overdue: it is two and a half years since Greenwich’s Labour council first submitted a bid to get Invicta rebuilt.

The rebuilding of Invicta (which was rightly judged to be Outstanding by Ofsted last year) will follow the rebuilding of both secondary schools in Blackheath Westcombe ward through the last Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. Thomas Tallis‘s rebuilding was completed in late 2011 and the rebuilding of John Roan‘s Westcombe Park Road site, and the refurbishment of its Maze Hill building, are on track  to be completed in September 2014 (work is currently a few weeks ahead of schedule in fact).

John Roan was judged to be a Good school by Ofsted in autumn 2013 and it’s great that it is soon getting buildings to match. Already, John Roan’s new Westcombe Park Road building (beige brick with a criss-cross pattern, and a timber-clad sports hall at the eastern end, which will be open to the community outside school hours) looks amazing as it emerges from scaffolding, so much better than the unloved brown brick 1980s building, whose corridors and classrooms were very cramped, that it replaces. At Maze Hill, the southern half of the listed 1920s building has now been refurbished and is back in use, and work to repair the School hall’s panelling and wooden floor should follow this summer.John Roan upper school before refurb 2012

Regular consultation meeting have been held with John Roan’s neighbours to iron out concerns about the project: a trellis is now being put on the top of the boundary fence at the rear of numbers 16-20 Vanbrugh Fields to mitigate concerns over the impact of the new building, and three new trees have just been planted on the Westcombe Park Road frontage in place of old ones that had to be felled. The school’s pedestrian entrance is being moved 100 yards eastwards to the corner of Vanbrugh Park Road West and Westcombe Park Road. This means that zig-zag markings, guardrails, and possibly a speed hump will need to be moved down the road. I am asking highways to ensure that works to Westcombe Park Road are completed before the new school building opens in September. I am also asking that potholes on the road, some of which have been caused by construction work, are repaired.

CIMG2440The benefits of a new school building are already apparent at Thomas Tallis. Although Thomas Tallis’s rebuilding budget was not as generous as other Greenwich schools like Crown Woods, stepping into Tallis today does not feel like what you expect from a London secondary school:  there is no peeling paint or drafty windows and the main material is brick, not concrete. There is not a portacabin in sight and since the demolition of the old Thomas Tallis building in 2o12 there is a generous grassed area to the south of the new buildings in which pupils can have lunch and mill about, as well as a paved concourse like the old school buildings had. The new school has excellent sports facilities, to which community access was improved following pressure from local Labour campaigners last year.

I visited Thomas Tallis last December to meet the excellent new Headteacher Carolyn Roberts (who writes a regular blog for the Sunday Times, also featured on the school’s website). I joined Eltham’s Labour MP Clive Efford, Chris Moody (the vicar of St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich) and others at a Question Time event with Year 12 Politics students. Two things struck me that day: firstly the quality of the searching questions the students asked about religious and political freedom (I only wish my answers had been as good), and secondly the excellent lighting, camera  and sound facilities the assembly hall had : it looked and felt like a real TV studio, not a school hall. You could feel how the new building was raising expectations, aspirations and spirits as well as just exam results.

Thomas Tallis from south 2So it’s fantastic news that Invicta is about to rebuilt as well, not long after two secondary schools nearby. But the news would be better still if the Coalition spent less money on new Free Schools (including the Greenwich Free School, recently deemed to “require improvement” by Ofsted) and more on badly-needed new buildings for flourishing local schools like Invicta. The budget for the rebuilding of Invicta – about £6 million – is very tight compared to Tallis (whose new building cost about £48m) and John Roan (about £29m). While Invicta is of course a smaller project (a two-form entry primary school and Children’s Centre does not need as large a building as a seven form of entry secondary school), the budget is still smaller even when the number of pupils is taken into account. Labour’s BSF programme was not perfect, but at least it ensured that schools were rebuilt and refurbished properly, not just patched up.

Invicta’s staff and governors (of which I am one, along with Labour candidate Cherry Parker) and the Education Funding Agency will have to work hard to ensure the building stands the test of time, is attractive and practical to work and learn in, and responds well to the school’s sloping site. It’s also important that neighbours are consulted over the design of the new school, and that its pupils continue to flourish during the rebuilding process. I’m sure we’ll manage it, but the budget is very tight.



One Response to Invicta School’s rebuilding moves a step closer

  1. Pingback: After 16 years as a Labour councillor in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, Alex Grant says thank you and goodbye | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

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