Crown Street Primary School opens 2024 with a rooftop playground but are 210 spaces enough?
Heleyna Thompson (pictured above) of the Laurus Trust is forthright about what the new city centre primary school at Crown Street will deliver when it opens for the academic year in 2024.
Thompson will be head teacher and says: "There is a need for more primary schools in Manchester city centre. This is the opportunity for the Laurus Trust to bring our ethos into the heart of the city. As a trust we are unashamedly academic, unapologetically aspirational and we want all children to have access to an amazing education so that every door will be open to them."
CEO Linda Magrath backs Thompson up: "We want our young people to have high expectations and we expect high standards of discipline. It's all about providing an outstanding learning experience for our students. In our high schools we have a 65% success rate in getting young people into Russell Group universities compared to 12% nationally."
Laurus refers to the laurel shrub the leaves of which make up the wreath that bestows praise on the recipient for achievement. That seems apt.
We are unashamedly academic, unapologetically aspirational and we want all children to have access to an amazing education
Laurus Trust was founded in 2016 at Cheadle Hulme High School and now runs 13 academic institutions in south and east Greater Manchester and over the border in Cheshire. It looks after 8,000 students from primary school to sixth form level. It's non-selective, non-denominational (in other words free of religion) and successful, being heavily over-subscribed.
A cute quote came from Alistair McCall in the Sunday Times in 2019: ‘If you don’t want to pay, pray or sit an entrance exam, the first non-faith, non-selective school in the regional rankings is Cheadle Hulme High School’.
Laurus is an multi-trust academy, in other words it receives money from central government not local.
Crown Street Primary School will have 210 pupils, but not straight away. There will be thirty reception places initially and each academic year there will be thirty more reception places until the school is full, which therefore will take seven years which seems like a long time. There will be a twenty places at pre-school too for three and four year olds.
The design of Crown Street Primary School comes via concepts by SimpsonHaugh Architects that have been turned into reality by Manchester's Oxford Street-based firm Arkilab. The school will be three storeys and sport a rooftop play area.
The latter is a back to the future moment and marks a return, in areas of high population density, to rooftop playgrounds. The presently-closed Great John Street hotel, a twenty minute walk away, started life in 1912 as a school in the densely packed area of St John's/Castlefield and sported a rooftop playground.
When the former school became a hotel that rooftop became a cocktail bar with a jacuzzi: given the ethos of the Laurus Trust that doesn't seem a likely option for parents' evenings at Crown Street.
Crown Street Primary at 15.3m (50ft) tall will be dwarfed by the nearby towers which presently rise to 201m (659ft). The city council has provided £6.2m to help fund the project.
Construction will come from Renaker Build, of course, who are filling the whole site between the Mancunian Way and Chester Road around Crown Square with towers and also a small park. One of the towers yet to be built will be 213m (699ft). Eventually this relatively small area (see the image below) will eventually contain up to 15,000 vertically-stacked inhabitants, the same as sprawling Chorlton-cum-Hardy.
More amenity is arriving imminently when a doctors' surgery opens this month.
There appears to be only one negative about Crown Street Primary School and that's the number of pupils attending. Another of Laurus Trust's schools is Gorsey Bank in Wilmslow with 412 pupils, a nice number. The only other city centre primary school is the Co-op Academy at New Islington with 350 kids. That will mean in the charmed circle of the city centre there will be just 530 primary school places (after seven years) for a population substantially over 100,000.
Could Renaker Build have been more generous with their land on the site, should the school have been bigger? What is clear is if Manchester and Salford city centres want to hold on to residents as the latter start families more schools are needed. Or maybe the standards and reputations of schools located a short walk away in the inner suburbs need to improve. Or maybe the people who live in the central apartments can send their kids to those schools, become school governors and get involved with the people outside the charmed circle?
But we are where we are in 2023 and despite some nagging feelings of regret that state primary schools aren't still under the aegis of local authorities which have to be voted in through local democracy this academy seems the right choice. Any new primary school is good news for the city centre and Laurus Trust seem a very, very safe pair of hands.
If you want to have your say about the proposals then get down to Central Library in St Peter's Square on Wednesday 28th June 2023 4pm–7pm. 'Interested parties, including prospective parents/carers, are warmly invited to attend where you will be able to meet senior staff at the Laurus Trust as well as the Head of School for Crown Street Primary School. There will be plans showing the building, information on the vision for the school, curriculum (and) proposed admissions process'.
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