King’s Cross Academy – a Sensory Study

James Scott pays a visit to King’s Cross Academy and discovers how sensory techniques and community collaboration aren’t just finishing touches on the curriculum of a school with pupil wellbeing at its heart

Posted: Thursday 1st February 2018

King's Cross AcademyNew School, New Rules

Meeting the different emotional needs of young children is a key aim for King’s Cross Academy’s head teacher Emyr Fairburn. Housed in the first two floors of the Plimsoll Building, the Academy opened just over two years ago as part of the regeneration of the area by the King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership — one of the sponsors of the school. KX Academy is linked closely with Frank Barnes School, which caters for deaf children within the same building. In an age in which school partnerships are often forged as a means to a financial end, it is refreshing to see two institutions buying into a joint philosophy of ‘loving learning together.’

Along with the Academy’s teachers, students at King’s Cross Academy learn sign language from nursery age, a skill which is often put into practice both in the playground and at lunchtime when kids from both schools sit together. Ensuring students are comfortable emotionally is a prominent part of the curriculum, with mindfulness meditation being practiced by children in Year Two. “The students really like it,” says Fairburn. “It’s incredibly difficult for children to try to cut out the distractions they have around themselves. At all schools you have children with different behavioural needs, some of whom are very tense… You might think these children aren’t going to enjoy sensory techniques because there’s too much chaos in their lives, but actually they really love them.”

King's Cross Academy podAnother area which the kids can escape to, or rather in, is a large egg-like structure which plays music through the floor, lights up and vibrates. Designers, Safe Innovations’ Seed Pod (known as ‘the dinosaur egg’ by the kids) has been loaned to the Academy after students were enchanted by it while visiting this year’s designjunction exhibition in nearby Stable Street. “Whenever the students sit in the egg they are all really quiet and reflective,” Fairburn added. “It’s also great for children with autism because it’s such a calm space.” Catering for children with learning impairments is taken very seriously at the Academy, with much of the interior makeup of the building designed to help students who are profoundly deaf.

Unlike dark Victorian classrooms, characterised by high windows to cut out distractions, the academy has light and airy rooms with huge windows. The acoustics of the building have been designed to cut out sharp sounds and make lunchtime a more suitable experience for the Frank Barnes kids — who can feel the music being played in the room via the vibrations in the sprung floor. There are even bunk beds in all of the classrooms, a request made and pushed through by the students, a clear indicator that the teachers certainly aren’t taking the needs of their children lying down.

Nike King's Cross Academy mini marathon

Independent clothing label, Kin and Cloth and megabrand Nike create clubs with a difference for kids in the neighbourhood

With fears over extra-curricular school activities being squeezed out due to funding cuts, it’s refreshing to see grassroots clubs still springing up in London with ever-increasing vigour. One such hive of creative activity is Learn to Create, an after-school club run by London-based clothing label Kin and Cloth within the grounds of King’s Cross Academy. The label’s founder is Jasmine King, a Canopy Market stallholder and local resident who is keen to enhance the already burgeoning relationships between businesses in King’s Cross in the hope that children at the academy will reap the benefits.

A recent project done in collaboration with Nike at the afterschool club saw her create a series of designs with the children, before helping them to screen print their creations onto T-shirts for the Academy’s annual Sports Day. She says, “Since I started the club, those attending showed such amazing potential that they may well grow to study at nearby Central Saint Martins when they leave school.” It’s not just in the clothing department that Nike has been involved. Representatives from the retailer have been running mini-clubs during lunchtimes where Academy students and pupils from the Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children work on their fitness levels and play a variety of sports.

What is abundantly clear about the kids’ attitude to Nike’s involvement — which also saw them join up for a mini marathon around King’s Cross — is that they are more than willing to vote with their feet.

Eleni from Waitrose King's Cross Cookery School guides King's Cross Academy children in the art of making porridge

Community-minded businesses in King’s Cross offer primary school children fun opportunities to learn which would make most graduates envious

Thanks, in part, to the networking nature of teachers at King’s Cross Academy, who are somewhat cheekily encouraged to walk into nearby companies with their business cards, there is already a burgeoning relationship between the Wollstonecraft Street school and locally-based businesses keen to support pupils.

The Academy’s relationship with the local Waitrose, for example, has seen nursery-age kids who are reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears visit its cookery school to make (what else?) bowls of porridge. Likewise, a partnership with railway service Eurostar has resulted in the York Way company sending train drivers to chat about life on the rails with the kids. Whether exploring technology with Google; journalism with the Guardian newspaper, or medicine at the Francis Crick Institute, there is plenty of inspiration to suggest that these children might have even grander ideas than being on X Factor or a footballer when they’re older.

Grayson Perry talking to the children of KIng's Cross Academy

Grayson Perry

Academy pupils don’t have old-fashioned ‘houses’ or ‘forms’; instead, one of their daily reminders of what creativity can achieve is the signs on the classroom doors. Rather than going by Picasso or Van Gogh, the children belong to classes named after living British artists such as Grayson Perry and Sonia Boyce.

The aim is to get as many of these current iconoclasts to the school to meet the children and to run sessions of drawing, painting and craft. Turner Prize-winner Grayson Perry (pictured, right) visited in October to chat about his love of pottery, his career, and to inspect some of the pottery pieces made by five and six-year olds, inspired by his work. Yes, we’re a bit jealous too.