WITH many recently-passed GCSE students preparing to embark on the next stage of their education one school is preparing for a similarly large step.

The Appleton School, Benfleet, will be welcoming students to a new £1.5million sixth form building and offering full A-Level courses for the first time in its 49 year history.

Students will have use of ten new classrooms, a laboratory, an IT room, a sixth form library and a common room where students and staff can get food and drink.

It marks a period in south Essex where schools are creating their own sixth forms to retain their best students and attract new ones.

Karen Kerridge, headteacher at Appleton, said: “We’re really excited and can’t wait to get started.

I called a staff meeting when we got news building work on a new block could start and there was a lot of enthusiasm there, clapping, cheers and optimism too.

“We submitted an application to the Education Funding Agency in 2011 which took a long time to get sorted, but we were delighted when it was accepted in June 2013.

“We were thrilled when the school received two “outstanding”

Ofsted inspections, and opening our new sixth form block is equally as special.”

The wish to accept post-16 students had long been in the school’s plans, but took time to put into action.

Mrs Kerridge said: “Developing a sixth form had been in our minds for about seven or eight years, but we had to wait until the time was right.

“It got to the stage where students and parents were saying how it was a shame the school didn’t offer A-levels and we saw many of our students going on to other places.

“Fortunately we did have a temporary sixth form block that fitted our AS-level and B-Tec courses, apart from science.

“It definitely wasn’t large enough to accommodate two years worth of students.”

There will be 120 students joining the sixth form in September, bringing its total to 220. Appleton hopes its post-16 intake will increase to 140 next August.

The sixth form block and its fresh-faced students aren’t the only new additions to the school.

Appleton has taken on 14 new teachers in the last two years.

Mrs Kerridge is optimistic the move will be of benefit to students, both academically and socially.

She said: “We’re looking forward to building on our success at GCSE, 68 per cent of students achieved 5 A*-C grades, including English and Maths, and getting more great results.

“Having purpose-built classrooms can only help us to do so.

“The future looks very bright.”