CHILDREN returning to school on Portland made history as they started the term at a new academy.

Beginning an ‘exciting year’ for students and staff, pupils began school as normal but under the umbrella of the Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy.

The establishment, which was given the green light to open from the government earlier this year as part of national efforts to improve schools and education, opened at the sites of its four founding schools – The Grove , Brackenbury and Underhill , Southwell and Royal Manor.

The big changes will come in September 2013 when youngsters and staff move into a £15 million campus in refurbished buildings at Southwell Business Park plus a £8m campus at the Chesil Cove Federation School, Osprey Quay .

When works are completed, the academy will boast a 200-seat theatre, swimming pool, sports, arts and music facilities and professional kitchens.

The academy is a joint project with education charity the Aldridge Foundation as lead sponsor, Dorset County Council as co-sponsor and learning guru Professor Stephen Heppell as patron.

Principal designate Alison Appleyard said: “After years of planning, this is a tremendous time for the academy and for our students.

“It has been a superb effort by a great number of people since our Funding Agreement was announced in April to get to opening day.

“Now, however, is just the start of what will be an exciting journey. The welfare and education of our students is the overriding priority for me, our heads of campus and staff at all times and changes in this transition year will be phased in carefully.”

While heralding significant change for Portland with its aim to raise standards, transform learning and modernise facilities, the academy has not been without its share of controversy with concerns raised over the locations of sites, cost of uniforms, transport issues, and the fact that it has been downgraded with less funding.

Concerns about the academy prompted St George’s Primary School to elect not to be part of the scheme, although it will be working closely with the academy and pupils will be able to apply to enter the academy at year 7.

Parent Nicola Rowlands, one of Dorset County Council’s representatives on the governing board, added: “It is my hope that the academy will provide the building blocks and inspiration to enable the students to have the desire, ambition and enthusiasm to achieve.”