I always said surveying was ‘the best job in the world’. Every day different, and best of all, I’d spend most of my day in the fresh air, sometimes with just my dog, Pru, for company and at other times in a trench, marking foundations with a dozen bricklayers waiting to lay their blocks, and generally having a jolly old time doing it. And getting paid to do it too! I never thought of myself as ‘flying the flag for women in Construction ‘– I was simply one of the lads, and got on with my job. They didn’t treat me differently (well, I might have had the odd brew made!), and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Even my daughter says "Mummy, I'm glad I'm like you - I like pretending to be a boy!" Ouch.

I’ve really enjoyed surveying many schools across the north and south of England as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. I loved the buzz of children as they raced across the playground shouting “What’s that? What is it doing? Am I on TV?!” They were referring to my total station – a marvellous piece of surveying equipment which looks like a big camera on three legs. I’d tell them “I’m making ‘a map’ of your school”, and, once they’d persuaded their teachers to allow it, I’d let them have a go. I’d create an army of mini surveyors, all of them suddenly finding trigonometry incredibly fascinating “coz this machine measures angles, innit”, and soon they are repeating my words, explaining to their mates how it all works.

They were finding mathematics and technology fun, without even realising they were learning.

These new schools can provide a great learning opportunity for children but are often on a scale so vast that children can’t relate to them. So I set up Class Of Your Own, and wrote a workshop where children could design their own sustainable building of their own at a scale they could understand. They would take on the roles of surveyors, architects, landscape designers governed by their own management team, thereby appreciating the important roles that professionals play in construction. This ‘micro school’ would allow them to understand the importance of ensuring their building meets their own and their community’s needs yet preserves the environment for future generations. In simple terms, they would source locally produced materials and renewable energy that could be used without any adverse effect on their planet. The learning opportunities, both for children and their families, would hopefully result in a more energy efficient, greener community.

I was told that Accrington Academy were a dynamic, forward thinking school who would embrace the student classroom challenge, and was proven right.

Last Spring, Year 7, 8 and 9 students (that's age 11 - 14 to you and me) were involved in competitive workshop sessions where they formed individual ‘companies’ to design an independent environmental classroom and learning landscape. As project design and management professionals, students worked together researching information and producing plans and sketches, resulting in a final design ‘pitch’ to a panel of judges.

A team from each year group was selected as a winner with the ultimate prize of constructing the project ‘for real’. With the guidance of Class Of Your Own professionals, the winning 30 students formed their own company, “Roots”, and attended intensive surveying, architecture and landscaping sessions resulting in a final design.

We also set the students the task of writing a company Mission Statement which defined their 'company' principles. This resulted in a number of students being invited to visit Westminster to tell government ministers about their exciting projects. The winning statement at Accrington Academy was written by Year 10 student, Kamila Samin, with runners up Lauren Monk and Rebecca Lowe. It stated:

“One Name, One Meaning, One Goal. That's what Roots is all about. Our aim is to show that by working together, no matter your age, you can achieve anything. Building an Eco-Friendly classroom will prove this. When starting something new, and creating a project, you need foundations. You need Roots.”

Andy O’Brien, Accrington Academy’s Vice Principal, commented “The student’s Mission Statement really reinforces our aim to bring out the best in everyone, and their eco classroom project will enable them to understand what sustainability means in a very practical way. The Westminster trip will allow them to meet like-minded students from other schools and share their learning - all contributing towards best environmental practice in schools.”

Local construction firms Herbert Forrests, Barnfield, BAAS, Brammall and ROK generously funded the trip to Westminster, all of them agreeing that the project offered an authentic opportunity to demonstrate their industry and inspire the next generation of construction professionals.

Terry Hannon, Contracts Manager for Bramall Construction remarked "I think the concept is absolutely brilliant."

The visit was a huge success with then Business, Innovation and Skills Minister Rosie Winterton commented ““If all your ideas were put into practice and if you could capture the talent in this room, I think the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills could close down... We’re trying to get lots more entrepreneurs, and you are all entrepreneurs and will be leading the world out of the recession and onto new horizons.” She particularly endorsed the use of local companies to promote sustainability in Accrington as “absolutely right and very good.”

Finally, the students of Accrington Academy are ready to go live with their project and want to tell the whole world about it.

A recent official launch day saw local dignitaries, business leaders and members of the community join the students to hear of their plans for the future. Their speeches delivered messages of inspiration for a greener future for Accrington, both in learning and living.

Last week, the students submitted ther planning application, and also persuaded Hyndburn Council to part with a £25000 investment in their project. The Chief Planning Officer and Council members were hugely impressed.

So, the 2009/10 school year is nearly over. It's been a remarkable year for us, and we've made some fantastic friends, (not least the new friends on be2camp!), and now we've been invited to the Highlands of Scotland to work with NESTA in remote schools. But the best is yet to come....

This very evening, I received an email from Barbara Worth, Director of Strategic and Private Development at CEFPI (Council of Educational Facility Planners International), inviting COYO and our Accrington students to enter the Design Concept competition, and present the Roots Classroom at the opening plenary session. An honour indeed. And what an amazing way for these kids to start the new academic year.

Land surveying - probably the best job in the world....but working with kids? DEFINITELY.

Alison Watson

(Privileged) Director

Class Of Your Own Limited

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