Sir Isaac Newton, a 16-19 Free School that opened in September 2013, started out with its first 70 students in an unassuming office block in Norwich city centre.
As the name implies, the school has a specialist focus on maths and science and every pupil studies for at least three qualifications in the sciences, as well as completing an extended research project on a topic of their choice. It is just one way that the school seeks to go beyond the basic curriculum to give their pupils a real passion for what they are learning.
Their Wednesday afternoon lecture series is designed to offer the pupils what head teacher Dr Mark Evans calls “high aspirations in a humanised form”, allowing pupils to get a real feel for the opportunities being opened through the study of science subjects. Each week a guest speaker comes to the school to speak about their occupation. From volcanologists to vets these guests give pupils a picture of the range of science careers open to them. In March 2014, the school moved to its permanent site, a renovated fire station. The design of the new building means they can now extend an invitation to these lectures beyond their student body to the wider community and the flexible lab spaces that they have created within the new building will also enable practical examples to be incorporated into these talks.
In aiming to equip their students for careers in the sciences or engineering, Sir Isaac Newton puts a premium on preparing their students for the more independent style of study at university. They make use of ‘flipped lessons’ often setting as homework a requirement to watch a video of their teacher explaining a new concept or idea. This means that the lesson can be used to explore and apply these new theories as well as ask questions. The first week of the new school year was also dedicated to equipping students with core learning skills like graph drawing and effective note taking.
The School is part of Inspiration Trust which runs six schools and will open their seventh – a second Free School called Jane Austen College, in September 2014. Jane Austen will have an arts and humanities specialism which will complement the current offer at Sir Isaac Newton but, unlike the current school, will take pupils from Year 7 up. Pupils will be able to take subjects at both schools, ensuring that they have access to a broad range of knowledge and specialist teaching.