New SEND school to be built in Oxford

Orion Academy illustration[2]

Morgan Sindall Construction has won a competitive tender to deliver a new 108-place school for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) on the outskirts of Oxford.

Oxfordshire County Council appointed the main contractor to the £12 million project through the Department for Education construction framework.

It will provide a new home for the Orion Academy, which is one of six SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) schools in Oxfordshire operated by Oxford-based The Gallery Trust; a special multi-academy trust. The new development will be built on the site of the former Northfield School on Knights Road.

Northfield School became an academy on 1 February 2020, and was re-named Orion Academy as part of the conversion process. The school had been found to be inadequate by Ofsted in November 2018.

Plans for the larger, specially-designed facility will allow the Orion Academy to more than double its intake of pupils, which currently range from ages 10 – 16, with an accompanying increase in staffing numbers.

The project will be divided into two phases. The first, which started recently, involves the construction of the main single-storey 2,700 square metre building. It will comprise 14 general classrooms: 12 for pupils aged 10-16 and two for students aged 16-18.

In addition to specialist rooms for science, art, music and design, there will also be a dedicated space for life skills; where pupils can practice cooking and other domestic tasks to prepare them for independent living beyond school.

A space in the middle of the school called The Bridge will act as a therapeutic base and social area. It will be configured to accommodate group collaboration, and individual work. There will also be a large dining area and separate games hall, with an attached gym.

This phase of the project is scheduled to complete in time for the new school term in 2021.

It will be delivered as a tandem build, to avoid disruption to pupils’ education, with teaching continuing in the existing building while the new school is constructed on an adjacent plot.

Following completion of phase one, the school will transfer into the new building, with the old structure then demolished. In its place, the site team will lay an all-weather Sport England compliant pitch, MUGA (multi-use games area) tarmac court, and a grass pitch with running track. The second phase will complete early in 2022.

James York, area director at Morgan Sindall Construction, said: “Providing modern, considered learning environments is a vital component to ensuring pupils with SEND can develop and thrive. We’re well versed in designing and building these schools, and have taken the time to co-create our approach with experienced teachers, senior leaders and policymakers from within the sector. Success hinges on early collaboration with all of the stakeholders involved, and awareness of the important, nuanced design choices which render spaces suitable for a range of additional needs.

“We’re incredibly pleased to be working with the council and The Gallery Trust on this project, and look forward to seeing it develop.”

County Councillor Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, Cabinet Member for Education and Cultural Services, said: “Oxfordshire County Council is so pleased to see the appointment of the main contractor to deliver a new and enlarged 108-place school for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the Blackbird Leys area of Oxford. This state-of-the-art building will be the new home for the Orion Academy, which is one of six SEND schools in the region operated by the Gallery Trust.

“We are really excited to see the plans for the new building with construction due to start shortly and completion scheduled for September 2021. This long-awaited scheme will help produce huge educational benefits for children and young people.

“These are encouraging times for special educational needs and disabilities provision in the county, with plans well advanced for the construction of a new special school at Bloxham Grove (near Banbury); and a new special school in Didcot.

“This is another exciting project, delivering on our commitment to provide first class education for the county’s children and young people.”

Kay Willett, Chief Executive Officer, The Gallery Trust, said: “The Gallery Trust is pleased to be collaborating with Oxfordshire County Council and Morgan Sindall Construction in the development of this impressive building, which will greatly extend opportunities for pupils’ learning.  Pupils and staff at Orion Academy are already excited by the prospect of moving into this environment in 2021, and are looking forward to studying in purpose-built, state of the art facilities”.