One stop shop for Suffolk students

The �65 million learning centre in Ipswich is taking shape and should be admitting students from September.

Karen Hindle

The �65 million learning centre in Ipswich is taking shape and should be admitting students from September. Karen Hindle donned hard hat and boots for a behind the scenes look at the development

Vast open areas cradle intimate hidden corners; learning suites are being created with state of the art wi-fi technology; practical learning suites for construction are equipped with the latest computer-aided design tools.

Subject areas are coloured coded in pastel hues of lilac, yellow and blue and the whole building is very green fitting in with today's environmentally responsible young people.

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This is modern learning Suffolk's way.

And rather than being known as a county which is a little more relaxed in its modus operandi , the new Suffolk One centre will catapult the county to the forefront of modern learning.

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As he took a tour round the building, under construction by ISG Jackson, Principal Alan Whittaker said: “In the past we have suffered from a lack of funding, but I would say this is as grand as anything in the country. This is one of the biggest in the country and it is very high profile.”

He added: “If people cannot be inspired to learn in a place like this then what could inspire them?”

This is education 21st century-style. It is for all intents and purposes a one-stop-shop - hence its name Suffolk One.

And the centre is not just promising great facilities. In its literature Alan promises: “All ambitions, all talents - they'll succeed. We'll help more young people into post-16 learning, improve their results, raise their aspirations and offer pathways into further and higher education and jobs.”

And with that rallying cry students from all over the county, not just in south Ipswich where the centre is based, are already queuing up to take their place in the centre which will offer courses for 14-19 year olds from BTEC learning, diplomas, as well as traditional GCSEs and nearly 50 AS Levels and A' Level courses. A number of applied learning courses are also on offer which will run alongside to offer enhanced learning.

While �65 million may seem like a lot of money the wish list was incredibly long and very aspirational.

“We had to reach for the stars and in some cases we achieved but in others we had to curb our ideas. But we have established a centre here which will also offer high-end facilities to the outside world.

We stand in the sports hall which is the size of six badminton courts and almost as high. “Here you could hold national tournaments and with our positioning so close to the A12 and A14 there is no reason why we would not be seeing top flight sports tournaments held here.”

The building is over three floors with design areas on the top, feeding down to construction on the lower floor. This allows anyone who is designing anything the opportunity to nip down a floor to see their design created.

Cross fertilisation is also encouraged with art studios sitting next to architecture design areas.

“There is a lot of cross fertilisation and we are trying to show here that that is right. If you design something or create something then you want to see it in its three-dimensional form. Also there is similarity between art and architecture and so on, so there is no reason why we cannot encourage pathways between the two.

“If you look at hair and beauty we cover the obvious courses, but performance inspires young, so we look at performance make-up which is quite different. It is also a way of opening up career ideas for students, helping them to think more creatively about where their talent could take them, and inspiring them to aim to achieve that bit more,” said Alan.

While the more traditional trades and careers are catered for within these curvy walls, it is the performance areas and creative arts environments and the recording studios which are bound to capture the imagination of the young.

If being a DJ is really what they want to do and they are focussed on making that dream come true then Suffolk One is certainly the place to be as brand new state-of-the art sound systems are being installed ready to take on creative media students in September.

The performance areas are incredibly large, able to sit more than 100 people but they have also been built with flexibility in mind so they can be divided into smaller sections when more intimate learning is required.

Alan said: “We needed space for exams because no matter what happens they still have to take exams, but we didn't want areas just for that which would not be used at any other time. Virtually all the areas we have created here can be converted in some way or used differently than their original use.”

He added: “We have a blank canvas here so we have been able to draw up plans to our requirements. We have not had to make do with a building, convert it to how we want. We are starting something brand new. It really is incredibly exciting.”

Vice-principal Jenny Milsom has also made sure Suffolk One has benefited from the blank canvas.

“We have been able to go to the business community and ask for them to be involved in what we are trying to achieve here. I know in the past there have been difficulties in that partnership in that the business community always thinks education is after money.

“We have been able to go and say that we are new; we don't want any money; we want their expertise. We want representatives to come in and show our students what life is like in the workplace and so far we have had a very positive response to what we want.

“We shall be working with BT at Martlesham developing a course and we are working with Hutchinson Port in Ipswich to deliver a masterclass for 15 of our most able maths and engineering students in which they will be given a real scenario - something that actually happened and they will have to offer solutions. We will take their solutions to Hutchinson who can go through it and show them how it is done in the workplace.

“We have also been approached by DanceEast to offer a qualification which will be highly regarded. It is exciting because it is an employer-led qualification. These are marvellous opportunities for students to see how the business world works.”

Jenny added that as well as offering diplomas A' Levels, AS Levels and diplomas there is a very robust enrichment programme for students who have interests outside their studies.

“These days when you go for a university interview, they have to set you apart from all the other candidates and it is no longer enough to have the academic grades they ask for. It is more than what they can do for you. A huge part of it is what can you bring to the university.

“As well as trying to offer enrichment we also want Suffolk One to be a place where we treat everyone the same regardless of ability. We have a strong staff who are aware of the challenges ahead and are truly excited about this.

“We talked to a man who is an assistant head in Cambridge and we wanted to know why he would consider leaving that to come to work in Suffolk.

He told us that he believed there is a huge proportion of students out there who need the opportunity to do well and doing well does not mean necessarily mean A'Levels. Listening to him was amazing.”

Jenny added: “We already have students who have enrolled here. They are taking a risk as we are new, but these are people who are excited about their futures and what we can offer them here.

“They are trailblazers really aren't they? Tomorrow's leaders.”

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