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Second Doncaster free school opens its doors

It's only four years since XP School became Doncaster's first free school.

But now the borough has its second free school, after the £8.5 million XP East School opened its doors for the first time.

Jamie Portman, Headteacher, pictured taking a Humanities lesson with year nine pupils. Picture: NDFP XP East MC 6  'Byline:  Marie Caley

Jamie Portman, Headteacher, pictured taking a Humanities lesson with year nine pupils. Picture: NDFP XP East MC 6 'Byline: Marie Caley

XP East is run by the same trust which runs the existing school, located next door on Middle Bank, in the shadow of the Keepmoat Stadium.

But it will run as a separate entity which will receive its own Ofsted inspections, and have its own separate entry when the GCSE and A Level league tables come out each summer.

Just a couple of weeks on from opening, the school currently has 50 pupils coming through its doors. Numbers will rise over the next few years as each intake rises through the school.

Although it will share the same unusual learning methods, the school will have a number of differences from XP. The main and most obvious is that XP East will have a sixth form, due to open in September 2019.

Many of those who previously attended XP are expected to move across to XP East to attend that sixth form when they finish their CGSEs.

XP East also has 46 per cent of its children in the category of pupil premium - those are youngsters which receive extra funding from the authorities because they have had a disadvantaged background

It also has its own head of school, Jamie Portman, who has moved to the post from his previous job as vice principal at Darton College, in Barnsley.

He admits moving from Darton to XP is a big change.

He said: "All the classes here are 25 pupils, and there will only be 50 pupils in each year group. I have come from a school which had 1,500 pupils - coming here, it is very different."

XP teaches using a system it calls Expeditionary Learning. All the lessons are based on a project, which ends with the publication of a book.

The teachers weave the curriculum into the project.

Their first book is set to be published this month (July), called Society, Steam and Speed. It looks at the railway history of Doncaster, as well as the borough's railway future. It has included trips to the National Railway Museum in York.

The youngsters will also have to stand up and talk about their work. Not just in front of their friends - but also their parents.

"After every expedition, we have a conclusion of learning," said Mr Portman. "We invite their parents to come in, and they stand in front of an audience to present what they have done. The concept is, that if you're presenting in front of your peers, and your parents, you'll step it up. You shouldn't underestimate what teenagers can do. Everyone wants to look their best in front of that audience and I think it gets the best out of the pupils.

"We base ourselves on building character as much as qualifications."

To demonstate, Mr Portman asks a pupil to explain artwork being carried out as part of another 'expedition'. The youngster explains confidently that the pictures, created on on clear plastic show organs of the digestive system which will be arranged so that each individual picture will link together with the others when viewed,

The school will share some resources with XP, which was oversubscribed seven applications per place last year. They share heads of department, and some other areas of expertise, which is seen as a way of saving money.

Both schools are non selective, and the local education authority chooses the pupils who will attend both schools.

With such similarities and close geography, will there be intense competition between the two sites?

Mr Portman expects there will be some. "I think there will be a school rivalry, but in the soft sense of the word," said Mr Portman. "For instance I would be disappointed if our attendance was lower than XP. I think there will be a healthy competitiveness."

Community use

Clubs from all across Doncaster are set to head to XP East - to use its sports facilities.

The site has a major sports hall and tennis courts which received funding from Doncaster Council - on the condition that they were open for the local community to use.

The sports hall has seating that can be effectively pulled out from the wall, with the capacity for 250 people. It then concertinas back into the space when it is not needed.

The school has already received enquiries from a number of organisations about using the venue, which can be closed off from the main school building, to allow it to be used on its own without access to the rest of the school.

The tennis courts are set to be managed by Team Doncaster, the organisation which runs the sports facilities at the Keepmoat Stadium.

Part of the arrangement with Team Doncaster also allows for the school to use the sports facilities at the Keepmoat, which is right next door the the school.