Friday 8 December saw the opening of King Alfred’s Academy’s new Science Building featuring the latest ‘state of the art’ facilities for the teaching of Science that will benefit King Alfred’s students and the local community for generations to come.
The 2-storey building replaces two outdated 1960’s Science Blocks and includes a suite of high-spec laboratories (including studio laboratories), classrooms and study areas for students from Years 9 to Sixth Form, following the Academy’s move to two sites in January 2018.
Said Simon Spiers, CEO of the Vale Academy Trust (of which King Alfred’s is a member): “This is a momentous time in the history of this illustrious school; to finally have the school operating from two sites will bring untold benefits to the whole school community and marks a moment in time when the Academy can look forward to a bright future for our students and the staff that work here.”
Jo Halliday, Headteacher, added “The move has taken many years and months of planning, and we have had many things to consider, whilst the construction of the Science Building and refurbishment of our four-storey teaching block has also been ongoing. Our staff and students have coped admirably throughout this period of change and and showed remarkable resilience – it has been a privilege to lead them through this period of change and reconstruction. I cannot praise or thank them enough. It is almost impossible to believe that we are about to arrive at our destination: a two site school, a wonderful new campus and enhanced facilities across both sites that can only take teaching and learning at King Alfred’s to new heights.”
Ms Halliday, a Scientist herself, who is leaving her post at Easter 2018, also added “Having had the privilege of working at King Alfred’s for 17 years, I can move on with confidence knowing that what was once an ambitious dream is now a wonderful reality. I can totally trust that the colleagues and students I leave behind will take great care to make the most of these incredible new facilities as they look to a successful future on all counts.”
The academy has also planned for one of the labs to house a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), kindly donated by JEOL, a supplier of electron microscopes and other complex scientific instruments. Chris Spencer, Principal Technical Support Engineer for JEOL and a parent of a child at the academy, enabled this to happen. When University College London’s Anatomy Department were upgrading their electron microscope, Chris asked them if he could help donate their old microscope to his child’s school, King Alfred’s.
Chris commented: “I attended King Alfred’s East Site myself between 1976 and 1981 and 40 years later my son started at the same school. It was at a Parents’ Evening when I first discussed the possibility of obtaining a SEM for the school with Jo Halliday.”
Chris arranged for the machine to be delivered to his garage in Wantage last year, where he has spent a lot of his free time getting it to a state where it can be used easily in school. He has adapted the display unit so that it can be wired straight into a normal huge wall-mounted television, which Chris is also supplying.
Neil McFeely, Head of Physics commented: “We are extremely grateful to Chris, JEOL and UCL for presenting us with the microscope. I know of only a few schools that are lucky enough to have one on site – this will be of massive benefit in our Science teaching across the curriculum and open up a whole new microscopic world to our students. We cannot thank them enough.”
Neil added “To buy one new costs upwards of £75k. The machine is able to produce images of any object we can get into its vacuum chamber. If you can fit it in a jam jar, it will go in the microscope and the images it produces are clear and detailed, up to 100,000 times larger than the object is in real life.”
The Opening Ceremony was performed by the Rt Hon Ed Vaizey, MP for Wantage and Christopher Duff, of the National Space Academy and STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, who, like Chris Spencer, is another former King Alfred’s pupil. Afterwards, Chris said “The event was a great success, and I was extremely honoured to be part of it.”
Over 100 guests and local dignitaries attended the opening, including a number of representatives from local science and technology organisations, including:
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Cryox – STFC
Diamond Light Source
Culham Science Centre
Jo Halliday added: “We were delighted to welcome representatives from the local scientific community who joined us for our celebrations and we are grateful for their support providing work experience and other curriculum enrichment opportunities for our students. Recognising that this area is an important hub for Science and Technology, I trust that King Alfred’s will benefit from even closer future collaboration with these renowned organisations.
Twenty-five Year 11 and Year 12 students acted as Stewards and Tour Guides for the afternoon and impressed visitors with their knowledge and enthusiasm. The foyer of the building, beneath the atrium, features Carl Sagan’s famous quotation “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known” as voted for by Year 11 students from a list compiled by the Science team.
Earlier in the afternoon, the building was open to parents and members of the community to have a look round. Further opportunities to visit the new Science building and take a tour of all Centre Site’s new buildings will be organised in the New Year.