A LEGAL battle is underway as councils protest over the axing of a flagship education initiative which has transformed education in Leeds.
Six local authorities in other parts of England have won the right to challenge Education Secretary Michael Gove's decision to abandon Labour's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme after a Divisional Court ruled the case will now be heard at the High Court in January.
Meanwhile, staff and pupils at a school in Beeston are celebrating their good fortune in being among the last to benefit from the 250 million BSF programme in Leeds.
Cockburn College of Arts, on Gipsy Lane, is today being officially opened by the chief executive of Education Leeds, Chris Edwards.
Some 16m has been spent on new facilities at the school, including a three-storey atrium complete with dining room, sports facilities, fitness studio and open arts spaces.
Other innovative features include four laboratories with specialist equipment, maths rooms, ICT and business suites with state-of-the-art computers and modern foreign language rooms.
Cockburn has been granted specialist arts college status and its theatre – refurbished as part of the BSF programme – will today be the venue for a performance of West Side Story.
The school is even branching out into social enterprise and producing its own vegetables, eggs and honey as part of its involvement in the local community. Talented pupils also make their own glassware and jewellery.
OFSTED inspectors who visited the school last month praised its "strong and effective leadership" and the "outstanding progress" of many pupils.
Head teacher David Gurney said the new facilities would be a major boost in helping Cockburn carry on improving its exam results and developing the skills of the next generation.
He said: "The new facilities are fantastic.
"They have really changed the ethos of the school and allowed us to revisit our aims and attitudes.
"In the past we have had a few issues with vandalism and graffiti but everyone is now taking real pride in the new building. It has completely transformed the school.
"Our exam results are getting better all the time and our new building has made us look at what the values of the school are all about and how we want to work together better."
Cockburn pupils recently voted to ditch their previously casual uniform in favour of an old school version, complete with blazers, ties and badges.
Mr Gurney added: "Our pupils wanted to look smarter. They are taking a real pride in representing their school in the community and that is reflected in how they want to be dressed."
Chief executive of Education Leeds, Chris Edwards, said: "Every year young people at Cockburn stage an impressive show at the school's annual gala so this was the ideal time to officially open these state-of-the-art facilities.
"New school buildings give a huge boost to whole communities and these new facilities will ensure that thousands of young people in Beeston can learn and develop to their potential for many years to come."
The Leeds BSF project is being delivered through the Leeds Local Education Partnership, which brings together partners including Education Leeds and Leeds City Council.
The six local authorities battling to save their BSF projects via a Judicial Review in the New Year are Luton, Nottingham City Council, the London Boroughs of Newham and Waltham Forest, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and Kent County Council.
Games' learning power
COMPUTER games have an important role to play in learning power, according to a leading academic at Leeds Metropolitan University (LMU).
Sports science specialist Dr Andrew Manley says that active video adventures such as Nintendo Wii offer an effective way of getting key messages across.
Today, he is due to present his findings at the British Psychological Society's Division of Sport and Exercise conference in London.
Dr Manley's students go on to become everything from nutritionists and sports coaches to specialist advisers on physical performance in the Armed Forces.
His research at LMU involved some 130 sport and exercise undergraduates who took part in lectures and seminars on how traditional and more modern games can be used to explain concepts such as risk and mental and physical challenges in the field of sports performance.
They then played traditional games such as hoopla and darts, as well as active video games on the Nintendo Wii and completed questionnaires relating to their enjoyment, satisfaction, engagement and academic motivation.
The findings showed that AVGs – active video games – were just as effective as traditional games in creating a positive learning environment. Dr Manley said: "The increased sophistication of AVG technology provides teachers with new ways to engage sports science students. As AVGs can increase motivation and interest, they represent an effective resource for enhancing students' understanding of new and complex ideas. You can use activities like games to explain things you would normally read about in a book. Issues like anxiety, risk assessment and feeling threatened or challenged by experiences.
"AVG games also offer a good way of working through concepts and their increased sophistication provides teachers with new ways to engage students."
After today's lecture, Dr Manley will analyse the detailed findings of his research, which will then be presented to a spring conference organised by the British Psychological Society.
Student thrilled at green awards victory
Former Leeds University student Kim Cooper is a regional winner in an awards scheme celebrating the achievements of volunteers aged 16 to 25 across England.
Kim won the regional vinspired Legend Award for her leadership in developing a recycling project in the city's student quarter.
When Kim became an undergraduate after years of volunteering, she was elected as project co-ordinator for the Green Streets initiative, which aims to find new homes for furniture and other goods discarded by graduates leaving Leeds.
Over two years, Green Streets diverted more than 50 tonnes of re-usable material away from landfill and donated it to community groups and individuals in need of help.
Thanks to Kim's dedication, the project is now a city-wide scheme and backed by a range of partners, including Leeds City Council.
Kim, now studying for a Masters degree in Civic Design in Liverpool, said she was "absolutely thrilled" to be shortlisted for the national award.
She said: "When I came to Leeds I just couldn't believe the amount of rubbish you used to see on the streets and open spaces in areas like Headingley and Woodhouse.
"Sofas, computer equipment and all kinds of other debris were just left there to rot."
Regional winners will now go forward to the National Finals in January, with an awards ceremony in March.