New science and technology block at Graveney School wins prestigious architectural prize

Published: Thursday, December 17, 2020

Students at Graveney School are studying astronomy, philosophy and a range of other subjects in a newly-built award-winning building designed to inspire their learning.

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The school’s recently completed Oppenheimer Observatory – so named because the school offers astronomy as a GCSE subject – has been named winner of the Learning Category in the 2020 New London Awards.

The judges highlighted the way the building “uses walkways, terraces and different teaching levels to facilitate the teaching of STEAM subjects and represents circular economy principles.”

The design encourages students to think about space, time and the universe through physical means: walkways, terraces and teaching spaces at all levels, while a cylindrical staircase leads to an observatory on the roof.

The new building is linked to an existing study centre via a three-storey staircase which grows as one moves up, with views to other parts of the building and the wider school campus. At the centre is a feature chandelier specially designed to allow students to code it to represent mathematical patterns and constellations.

The £1.8m building is made largely from sustainable materials, especially timber, which has dramatically reduced its carbon footprint.

There have been a range of separate upgrades at local schools since 2018 as part of a £15.6m council funded scheme to provide additional classroom places – providing an extra 1,000 places across the borough – including an additional 825 places at secondary level and a further 150 sixth form places.

The investment means these schools have enough classroom space to cater for rising demand and at the same time ensure that local parents have a wider choice of schools for their children to attend.

Additional resources have also been invested in special educational needs provision to support children with a range of disabilities with £17m spent constructing new school facilities at Greenmead School.

Education spokesman Cllr Will Sweet said: “The new observatory at Graveney is a stunning new building that richly deserves these plaudits. I’m sure its pupils find it a truly inspirational place to learn.

“I’m delighted too that we have been able to approve a significant level of town hall investment in our schools that is not only providing more places and increasing parental choice but also delivering high-quality classroom spaces for our young people.”

Graveney Principal Cynthia Rickman said: “We’re absolutely delighted that our new Oppenheimer Observatory building has won a prestigious New London Award for architecture. It is a wonderful new addition to our beautiful leafy campus, and perfectly complements our eclectic mix of Georgian, Victorian and more modern 1960s buildings.

“Our priority was to provide a superb space for learning, using fully sustainable materials, with generous circulation space and the highest possible design standards. We also wanted the building to inspire our students to think beyond the confines of everyday life by creating an environment where concepts such as space and time could be explored.

“I’m so pleased that what we’ve achieved here has been recognised with such a prestigious design award.”

  • Graveney School has also hit the headlines recently following a ground-breaking piece of research carried out by a national teachers’ support group,which number crunched last summer’s GCSE exam results and found that Graveney is in the nation’s top ten for closing the disadvantage gap among its pupils.

The research was carried out by a ‘We Are In Beta’, a network of teachers and school leaders who share ideas of best practice to improve school performance. It studied GCSE results in 2019 and found only a handful of schools had achieved success for their pupils across the board – regardless of their backgrounds. Its analysis found that pupils at Graveney from disadvantaged backgrounds performed just as well as their less disadvantaged peers.

An examination of the school’s GCSE results places Graveney within the top ten in the country – equivalent to the top 0.4 per cent of all schools - for closing the disadvantage gap.