One of Doncaster's biggest schools is set to be transformed with £12 million new building

Ash Hill Academy Principal John Higgins, pictured with some of his pupils. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Ash Hill MC 1
Ash Hill Academy Principal John Higgins, pictured with some of his pupils. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Ash Hill MC 1

One of Doncaster's biggest schools is set to be transformed.

At present, Ash Hill Academy, in Hatfield has a couple of modern buildings - but it also has an aging block dating back to the 1960s which is now in such poor condition that only half of it can be used.

But later this year, things are set to change, with a £12 million building scheme lined up which will see the school's B Block demolished, and replaced with a state of the art building on the site of the car park near the gate.

And a number of the other buildings are to be stripped down for a major refurbishment.

Work is due to start on the site in September, with the project expected to be completed in time for pupils to move into the new block in time for the 2018-19 school year. The land currently occupied by B Block will become leisure space.

Academy principal John Higgins is delighted that the scheme is close to fruition. Part of the school, was rebuilt in 2006. But in recent years, teachers and pupils had struggled to get by in rooms which were on their last legs.

The building which is to be put in place for next year will see new science labs, computer rooms, design and technology facilities, as well as a new dining room and multipurpose hall.

The changes will also see the sports facilities re-organised, so that they are all located close to one another. At present, the tennis courts are spread around several locations around the site, making it difficult to teach.

Mr Higgins said: "They have been round and drilled some holes, but they are planning to start building this year, and we're looking to complete in 2019."

The change will be the latest in a long line of developments for the school, which earlier this year was rated by Ofsted as requiring improvement. It was, however, rated as good for its leadership and management. Its 16-19 study programmes were also 'good'.

From 2012, the school was part of School Partnership Trust Academies, Now it is part of the Delta Academies Trust, a trust set up by Paul Tarn, previously of the Outwood Grange Academies Trust.

Delta appointed the current headteacher, Mr Higgins, shortly after it took control. Mr Higgins was a former Outwood deputy head.

When he arrived, he said he found a lot of issues to address. There were issues with behaviour in the school, around community support, and the quality of the building.

Mr Higgins, described by inspectors as highly ambitious for the school, has made a number of changes. Ofsted says he has effective action plans which are leading to improving results and behaviour.

Staff morale is high, and quality of teaching is improving.

However Ofsted also say there are still too many pupils excluded, teaching is variable and pupil absence remains high.

Since he has come in, Mr Higgins has made sweeping changes. He mothballed half of B Block and put resources into modern equipment in the classrooms that could still be used.

The school day has been changed so that children can have split lunchtimes, making for a calmer environment with less pupils trying to eat at the same time.

The school day also starts and finishes earlier, with staff having two hours of training every Thursday.

Mr Higgins is engaging with the community, and is adopting an open door policy to prospective pupils' parents, so they can drop in and take a look at the school.

Finances have also been addressed. The school had been losing money when Mr Higgins arrived, to remove in-year deficits, for instance where small numbers of pupils were taking a particular course. Now the average class sizes have evened out, and the curriculum 'reflects the needs of the pupils'.

Last summer showed encouraging signs. Ash Hill was rated in the top 10 most improved schools after GCSE results were announced, and achievement levels were the highest for many years.

But the principal knows there is more still to be done.

"We know we are on a journey," he said. "And we know that the journey is not over.

"Ofsted were keen to celebrate what we have done, and we have the right people and systems in place. We have made improvements in year one, so what can we do in years two and three?

"We are leading by example as staff. If we see litter, we pick it up and throw it away.

There are new discipline polices - to make sure those who want to learn can do.Those who continue to disrupt a lesson will get a detention, but after doing the detention will get a clean slate.

He added: "If we see a pupil out of lesson in the corridor, they are challenged about where they should be. That was not happening two years ago. There are rules, and if people don't follow them there are consequences. For most pupils this is not a problem."

The school has also introduced a teaching pack, which includes a random name generator to make sure different pupils are asked questions, and Countdown-style clocks which count down five minutes for pupils' tasks which have a time limit.

Mr Higgins added: "We are not a precious school. I may come to school with the best idea in the world, but if someone suggests something better at 10am, we'll adopt that.

"But the thing I'm most proud of is the staff and students who have shown what can be achieved over the last 12 months. In the early days, if they hit an obstacle, they may have said they could not do something. Now they are resilient and are learning how to learn."