A SUNDERLAND headteacher has spoken of his delight after ‘life-changing’ plans for a new school building were approved by the city council.
James Waller, who was appointed headteacher of Sunningdale Primary School earlier this year, said that the move to a custom-built new facility at Doxford Park Way, will ‘transform opportunities’ for the city’s most vulnerable young people, and represents an exciting new chapter for the school.
James, who has worked at Sunningdale for eight years, said that he was blown away by the news that the school would be on the receiving end of a £13m investment from Sunderland City Council – part of a £35m capital programme that the local authority is paying for with its own resources to deliver new and renovated school buildings to support the city’s next generation.
Sunningdale, which caters for children aged two to 11 with severe and profound multiple learning difficulties, is currently based in the former Springwell Infant School, which has been adapted over the years to better support the specific needs of Sunningdale’s children.
The school has had to work tirelessly to give its children the right spaces and facilities, but the move to the new building will deliver specialist rooms and equipment for up to 136 children, as well as ample space for wheelchairs and equipment that the children need, something that has been a struggle in its current facility, which is old and restrictive.
James said: “The fact that the council had earmarked our school for investment was absolutely overwhelming.
“Our children have increasingly complex needs. It is absolutely wonderful to be able to provide them with the life-changing experiences we offer at school, but it is not without its challenges when we are operating out of an old building that is just not able to accommodate our children’s increasingly diverse needs,” James explained.
“It would be hard to overemphasise the difference the investment in Sunningdale will make to the care and support we will be able to offer to children who deserve this so much.
“So often, schools like ours – of which there are around 500 in the country – are forgotten when it comes to national policymaking and investment. We’ve always felt supported by the council, but we are absolutely delighted that they have made a commitment that will transform the way we can meet the needs of our children. It is a huge statement of support from Sunderland City Council, not only toward Sunningdale but to the most vulnerable children in the city.”
What has been most impressive for James has been the journey the council has been on with the school’s leadership team to shape the plans and designs for the building.
“When the council first came out and spoke to us about its plans, our jaws just hit the floor. And working with them – seeing how they have listened and responded to the things we have asked for – has just been amazing.
“We have jointly explored what the needs of pupils are, thinking about specific spaces, uses and facilities – and things to avoid. The new school will feature a range of features including wide hallways and corridors to ensure the whole building is wheelchair accessible; hoists that can help some of the least mobile children access spaces they may otherwise be unable to; a hydrotherapy pool, with easy temperature control; multi-sensory spaces where the school can provide light therapy; physical therapy rooms and a dedicated rebound therapy room, where we use trampolines to help children feel weightless and move their body in different ways. We will have a number of outdoor spaces, including grass playing fields, alongside a wetlands area, nature trail and habitat area.”
The school currently employs 100 members of staff – from teachers, teaching assistants, therapists and caretakers. It hopes to add to its team as it increases its capacity. Sunningdale Primary School’s children have a combination of cognitive and physical disabilities – often both – requiring specialist support to allow them to realise their potential.
The school is recognised as an exemplar, working with Northumbria University as a specialist training course provider and sometimes contributing to national initiatives when it comes to specialist education. James believes the new building will provide a facility that matches up to the high standard of education, care and support staff are able to offer.
“Our focus is on helping its students to ‘be more’ – whether that is more creative or more communicative. We want every young person to realise their potential, giving them individualised support to enable them to achieve their aspirations.
“’Be more’ sums up what we’re trying to achieve. And we do every day, in spite of the building we are in, which we have a real fondness for, but recognise is no longer fit for purpose.
“The new building will allow us to take the support and education we offer to the next level.”
He added: “This marks a new era for the school. Though I’ve been at Sunningdale for a long time, I’m a newly installed headteacher, and the leadership team is new too. We’re going through process of restructuring our approach, adopting a revised pedagogy and welcoming new staff members who will allow us to deliver more. When we move, we will welcome five new classes, as well as more children who we can deliver individualised support to. We’re really excited to begin this new chapter.”
Councillor Louise Farthing, cabinet member for children, learning and skills at Sunderland City Council, said: “Sunningdale Primary School is such an inspiring place, and the work that the team does truly is incredible.
“This new building will be lifechanging for so many young children – some of the most vulnerable in the city – and we’re thrilled to be able to deliver it to support James and his team who make such a difference every single day.
“This is part of a huge programme of work, that will deliver aspirational new school environments for our next generation, funded by the council, and representing a major commitment to our children. We’re incredibly proud of the difference this will make to the lives of our next generation.”