At Dixons McMillan Academy, a secondary free school in Bradford, all students are climbing the mountain to university, regardless of their background.

This free school was started by Dixons Academies Trust, which already runs a number of successful schools in the city, including Dixons Trinity Academy – the first secondary free school to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Like all Dixons’ schools, it serves one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Bradford, but this has no impact on the school’s ambitions, with all children working towards entry into university.

The teachers at Dixons McMillan Academy talk a lot about how students are climbing a mountain to university and, like any challenging expedition, getting there requires a lot of hard work. For the students this means a school day which starts at 8am, in order to give them more time to learn, a focus on core academic subjects and strict routines, rewards and consequences - which lets everyone know where they stand at all times.

But there’s also lots of support to go along with these expectations. Motivational quotes are displayed all over the school to inspire the pupils, they receive extra teaching time in numeracy and literacy where this is needed and everyone starts life at the school by visiting a nearby university, to help them see what the summit of their mountain could look like.

NSN followed Dixons McMillan Academy as it got ready to open its doors for the first time in September 2014. This is their story: