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Friday, 26 April 2019 18:04

Greater choice for High Barnet school children

Written by
Ark Pioneer Principal Aishling Ryan Ark Pioneer Principal Aishling Ryan
Working together with other local primary and secondary schools and welcoming the involvement of community groups are among the key objectives of Aishling Ryan, newly-appointed principal of Barnet Ark Pioneer Academy which opens in September with its first intake of 180 pupils.

Construction of the super-size new school on the site of the former Barnet Football Club stadium at Underhill is now in its final stages.

Despite fears about traffic congestion and considerable controversy over its siting so close to Totteridge Academy and Queen Elizabeth’s Girls’ School, Ms Ryan is confident the 1,200-place academy will add to the success of local schools and will help satisfy a growing need for additional places.

She says strategies are in place to meet concerns about the choice of Underhill as the location for one of the government-inspired free schools and she has established good working relationships with both Barnet Council and other secondary heads.

The council’s latest assessment in March indicated a continuing shortfall of secondary school places in and around High Barnet and continuing evidence that local children were still taking places some distance away in Finchley and Potters Bar.

Several measures would be taken to ease potential traffic congestion, including personal visits during the summer months by Ms Aishling, or a member of her senior team, to each of the homes of the first 180 pupils during which they would discuss with parents best practice, such as walking to school or the use of public transport.

Ark Pioneer Academy would also operate an extended school day – starting at 8.25am and finishing at 4.30pm which would result in an earlier start and later finish than at Totteridge Academy.

“An extended school day is designed to encourage our pupils to take part in extra-curriculum and enrichment activities so they can develop their own interests as part of the school day. This will also allow time for extra lessons in English and maths.”

Initially the new academy, which is non-selective and co-educational, has no defined catchment area and applications are currently being processed for the first 180 places, for which there is already a waiting list.

Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, at Barnet Ark Pioneer Academy. From left to right, Ms Villiers, Ms Ryan, Laurie Grist, head of projects Ark schools, and Claire Barnes, chair of governorsTheresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, at Barnet Ark Pioneer Academy. From left to right, Ms Villiers, Ms Ryan, Laurie Grist, head of projects Ark schools, and Claire Barnes, chair of governors

"We are here to serve the community in and around High Barnet and we are looking forward to working with other local schools and we want to join them in strengthening still further the high standards that are being achieved.

“We are particularly keen to establish firms links with local primaries and we hope to collaborate with them in encouraging their pupils take advantage of our state-of-the art teaching facilities.”

Ms Ryan says pupils at the academy will benefit from a host of activity areas including a fully-equipped gym and sports centre, and specialist areas for arts, music, information technology and science laboratories.

These facilities will also be available for the use of local community groups, including sports clubs and dance classes, several of which have already expressed an interest.

During the planning process, the Ark Academy network promised that local organisations would have access to the new school’s facilities and Ms Ryan said she was keen to honour those undertakings.

When asked about newspaper reports that indicated some new schools in England were being built without internal sprinkler systems, Ms Ryan said she could give a personal assurance that all fire safety requirements had been met in full during the construction process.

Barnet is the fifth to be opened by the Ark Academy group of free schools.

Ms Ryan, who was appointed principal in September, was previously vice principal at the Wembley Ark Academy which opened in 2010.

“I was part of the team that took their first cohort of pupils through to university in 2017 and I bring to Barnet that spirit of fulfilment that goes with helping to establish a new school.

“All four of the Ark Academies in London are rated as outstanding by Ofsted and I hope to repeat that level of popularity here in Barnet. The Ark John Keats Academy at Enfield started with a catchment area of six miles, but that has now reduced to 0.3 miles which indicates its success.”

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