A library and 15 classrooms were destroyed in a devastating blaze at Cecil Jones Academy, but resolute staff insist it will open again for the start of term with no impact on pupils’ learning.
The fire at Cecil Jones, in Eastern Avenue, Southend, tore through one of the newer buildings of the school just over a week before students return from their break.
Bev Williams, executive principal at Cecil Jones, told how her day unfolded as she heard of the blaze, but she insists it will be business as usual when the new term starts.
Mrs Williams, also chief executive of Legra Academy Trust, which runs Cecil Jones, Belfairs and Darlinghurst academies, said: “I had a phone call at 4.30pm on Tuesday and went straight over to Cecil. I felt relieved that there was nobody hurt, which was the key thing.
“All the evacuation procedures worked extremely well. There were some staff just leaving the building when it happened and obviously the site staff, but no children.
“There are now 18 classrooms out of circulation so we are going to look to get demountable buildings because we don’t want them to lose out on their education - 15 of them are affected very badly and totally gone, three of them have smoke damage.
“The library has totally gone too. That area of the building was built in 2003 and isn’t the oldest part of the building.”
Mrs Williams has nothing but praise for the emergency services and said if it wasn’t for the decisions made by the fire service the whole school probably would have been affected.
She added: “We had 14 crews here and the fire officers worked so hard. I have never seen such fantastic team work. They were all from different stations and they were absolutely superb.”
“I can’t praise them enough. It would have taken the whole school if they hadn’t of managed to calm it. It was the call Rob made.
“So many of the community were out there concerned about the school, it’s lovely to see them all come together.
Pupils will be able to collect their GCSE results today as normal from the school.
Mrs Williams is confident that the school will open as normal on September 5 and says the fire will have minimal impact on the upcoming year as they will get portable cabins to make up for the lost classrooms.
She said: “We see no reason why we won’t be open fully in September- we are going to make it happen.
“It will be in the hands of the insurance and as far as I’m aware it will all be ok.
“At this moment in time I’m assuming that we will be open. We just need to find some Portakabins.
“We won’t let it affect the school year, we will have a plan in place by September.
“There will be no impact on the children’s education but it’s certainly going to take a few months to do all the work as it’s a whole section of the school.”
Parents are being updated and reassured via the school’s website and social media.
The school was placed in special measures by watchdog Ofsted back in 2014 and has spent the last 18 months striving forward and making improvements. Mrs Williams believes fighting back from the fire will prompt students and staff to do even better.
She said: “It will have a positive effect if anything. The team will come together like we have over the last 18 months with the staff stepping up and children all working together. It will have a positive effect rather than a negative effect.
I’m really pleased that no one has been hurt and at the end of the day it’s a building and we can sort it out.
“We want to make sure everyone has a smooth start to the beginning of the year and as a team we will make it happen.”