New beginnings

Meet the Headteacher Paul Dickinson, Archbishop Beck Catholic Sports College

Having returned to take the headship at Archbishop Beck school, Paul Dickinson was tasked with overseeing a multi-million pound new build for the school while maintaining improving results at the existing site. With the doors of the new-build finally open, he explains the work that has gone in to get the project off the ground.

The collapse of the £1.9 billion Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in 2010 saw 675 new school projects across the UK cancelled in one fell swoop. For Archbishop Beck’s headteacher Paul Dickinson, it was a significant blow for a school that was earmarked for one of the early stages of the ambitious scheme.

“In July 2010 we were due to sign on the dotted line and it was cut.” He explains. “We were pretty devastated. We’d done two years work preparing the school and it looked like it would be for nothing.”

When the plans for the new-build schools were scrapped, help came from a more local source. The day after the announcement Councillors Joe Anderson, the now Mayor of the city, and Jane Corbett pledged their support for a new, less expensive project to ensure the pupils would have a new home, something Paul is ‘eternally grateful’ for.
After four years of planning, design and construction the new school is set to open its doors in September and Paul can look back on a journey that stretches back nearly 20 years.

“I started in 1988 right here at Archbishop Beck, where I was a Geography teacher.” He says, admitting he has a strong affinity for the area of Walton and North Liverpool as a whole.

After several years away he returned to Achbishop Beck as headteacher in 2007. He adds: “It was interesting coming back because many of the staff who I came back to work with at the time were still here so it was nice to come back and work with old colleagues.”

Since his arrival, Paul has worked with improving the culture of the school and he speaks extensively about the hard work himself and the staff have put in to create a place where pupils respect themselves and others.

“Results have improved dramatically. It’s been a big improvement in the performance of the students. That’s come with a change in culture. There are higher expectations, greater emphasis on respect and making sure the children appreciate the education they’re receiving.

“If I go back to it when I arrived there are a lot of things that needed to be repaired. We spent money making sure the environment is right. If you respect the environment and respect yourselves you start to respect each other.”
The importance of the teaching environment is integral to Paul and his staff’s dedication working with the council to find the funds for a new school build. With space at a premium on the current site, Paul knew it was integral to build a state-of-the-art building for the next generation of pupils.

And so for the past four years everyday school life has clashed with designing and creating an entirely new school in a £17.2 million project that will open its doors this year.

The school, housed in a vast warehouse-like building, is unique. A central atrium that can be transformed into a theatre is overlooked by a chapel that includes an eye-catching stained glass window created by local artist Paul Kelly, while clusters of classrooms across several floors make up the main teaching spaces.

Paul says he and his staff had ‘total’ control over the new build, working with architects Sheppard Robson and contractor Willmott Dixon, who he describes as ‘outstanding’, to create the development.

“We’ve had four years planning the new build. We’ve got certain philosophies. In our existing site it was an old building and they just built extensions as the school grew. We wanted to create mini communities within the school. The design of the building is based around hubs, learning areas. It’s individual classrooms around a central area.”

Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of the build came from Paul’s own philosophy. “We have to make sure our children achieve academically but I’m also a strong believer to have a fulfilled life you need something more than academic achievements, whether that is music, dance, theatre, sport, art and as a catholic school the spiritual developement of the child. In the new college it’s about providing the facilities to do that.”

The school has a sports hall that includes six badminton courts and bleacher seating, while other facilities include a full size 3D sports pitch, three multi-use game areas, a fitness studio and dance studio. There’s also a music recording studio and music rooms, as well as the main theatre. Paul says the extracurricular activities are there to ‘prepare children for life’.

“We’re trying to create a facility for the community. It would be easy to charge high amounts and while we need to generate income we need to make sure there are clubs for the children in the north of the city. It’s a massive community aspect. We need to analyse how the rest of the building will be used for community benefit.”

For Paul, it has been a labour of love that will serve the next generation of pupils at the school. He mentions he has taught several of the parents of the existing children and hopes in 20 years the current crop of pupils will be proud they were the first to step through the doors.

He says: “I hope they can drive past this little oasis in quite an industrial area and be able to say ‘I was the first in there’. It always comes back to providing the environment where children can thrive.”

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