With vastly improved GCSE marks and a steady community use, Barnsley’s Horizon College makes the case for school investment

Philip Watson

I was privileged to attend the recent official opening of Horizon Community college, the last of Barnsley’s nine BSF secondary schools.

During what was a genuinely moving event, hundreds of parents, pupils and members of the community gathered in the school’s ‘heart space’ to hear the head, Nick Bowan, talk passionately about a revolution in Barnsley which has seen the Local Authority commit millions to renew its entire schools estate. There’s no doubt that the mood of the day was fuelled by the school’s academic results – proof, some might say, that investment does pay off.

In its first year, Horizon (designed by Atkins, constructed by Laing O’Rourke and maintained by John Laing) can point to exam results which show a 16% improvement in the number of pupils with 5 grade A-C GSCEs, a fantastic achievement by staff and students who are excelling in their new environment.

But for me, perhaps a better measure of success is the extent to which a school is embraced by the community

But for me, perhaps a better measure of success is the extent to which a school is embraced by the community. Here, Horizon can point to a large car park which is frequently full from 08:30 till 21:00 – concrete proof that the community is engaging with the school in a big way, with an endless list of groups making the most of the excellent facilities. I’m sure this strong connection with the neighbourhood is making a huge impact on the quality of lives by breaking down barriers to education and enabling pupils to reach their potential in a myriad of ways – be it in the theatre, dance studio, gymnasium or IT labs.

I have no doubt that the passion and commitment of staff at schools such as Horizon will continue to improve the prospects for Barnsley’s young people. Whether Barnsley’s BSF programme represents money well spent only time will tell, but for now the signs look incredibly promising. In my view, the case for investing in education is being made in Barnsley.

Philip Watson is an architect and design director, heading the education sector for Atkins in the UK