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Wreake Valley Academy

A Grade II Listed Building in Syston, Leicestershire

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Latitude: 52.7042 / 52°42'15"N

Longitude: -1.0687 / 1°4'7"W

OS Eastings: 463025

OS Northings: 312241

OS Grid: SK630122

Mapcode National: GBR 9N3.DN3

Mapcode Global: WHFK9.K9B7

Plus Code: 9C4WPW3J+MG

Entry Name: Wreake Valley Academy

Listing Date: 3 October 2017

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1447001

Location: Syston, Charnwood, Leicestershire, LE7

County: Leicestershire

Civil Parish: Syston

Built-Up Area: Syston

Traditional County: Leicestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Leicestershire


Former Wreake Valley Community College (now academy) built 1967-1971 to the designs of Gollins, Melvin, Ward and Partners for Leicestershire Education Department.The sixth form/adult education block attached to the north-west elevation and extending to the north-west is of standard form and construction, is architecturally modest, and is not included in the listing.


Former Wreake Valley Community College (now academy) built 1967-1971 to the designs of Gollins Melvin Ward and Partners for Leicestershire Education Department.
Materials: The college is built around a steel structural frame on piled foundations. The first and second floor external frames are formed of 13 lattice trusses supporting roof beams above and floor beams under, on steel hangers, the trusses spanning 50ft to 90ft. Attached to the frame externally are precast concrete cladding units, with unglazed tiles cast into the panel. The internal faces of the trusses are lined with studding and foil-backed plasterboard. The floor is comprised of four, 1/2 inch thick, in-situ reinforced concrete floor slabs to the first and second floor levels and timber joist to the roof with Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) to the roof lights above the library and central resource area. The sixth form/adult education block and the physical education blocks are more conventional, and in contrast to the tile-clad main building, are built in brick and glass.

PLAN: roughly square in plan, the school is planned around a central core of assembly hall/auditorium at ground-floor level, and a two-storey high, library resource area above, with teaching areas grouped around the resource centre which acts as an information bank. A drama workshop is positioned adjacent to the main stepped auditorium and provides a central drama/ music/ dancing complex linked at the rear to music rooms and further back to painting and drawing areas, housecraft, wood and metal workshops and science teaching areas. Extending to the north-west is the sixth-form and adult education ‘limb’, and to the north-east is a pair of physical education gymnasiums attached by a covered walkway to the rear elevation of the main building.

EXTERIOR: the front elevation (south-west facing) is characterised by a slightly off centre glazed entrance area with an arched Perspex canopy attached above (not of special interest). The college is of three-storeys arranged in a terraced, stepped pyramid of successively receding levels to create a ziggurat appearance. The ground-floor walls are slightly battered, receding towards the top and reaching to the ground surface. Those to the upper two floors are again battered, but turn inwards slightly at their base, a feature which is thought to help provide clerestory glazing to teaching areas below. Flat terraces surrounding each storey incorporate roof lights, offering natural light to the classrooms below and supplementing the relatively narrow windows evident on all elevations. The treatment of the exterior remains consistent throughout (unless otherwise stated) with single and double width cladding panels used alternately across all the elevations of the core building, those of double width house a pair of vertically proportioned windows, except on the corner panels which are blind. The windows have been replaced throughout using uPVC.

To the right of the entrance, the ground floor breaks forwards by seven bays beyond that to the left to provide a single-storey range housing the science block. This extends around the right side of the building to incorporate the art department (originally described as the painting and drawing and craft area) and to the rear to include the music department and boiler room. Attached to the rear of the principal building, via a covered walkway, is a pair of large physical education gymnasiums; built in brown-brick with clerestory windows and a flat roof. The roofs and windows were replaced in 2014 but replicating the original steel structural frame. Originally it was intended to build a swimming pool between the two blocks but this was never realised and the area is now occupied by mobile classrooms/storage. The north-west elevation is slightly different; an eight bay recess not only provides a parking area but also accommodates the vast, brown-brick chimney. The sharply angled stack recedes from ground floor towards the roof and is in dramatic contrast to the cream coloured and relatively delicate tiles of the cladding. The chimney originally served the rear boiler room but has been replaced in function by a freestanding, tubular–steel structure, immediately behind the boiler room.

Also attached to the north-west elevation and extending to the north-west is the brick-built and flat-roofed, sixth-form and adult education block; a building of single storey with a slightly raised roof over a central ‘hall’. Sets of three casement windows are recessed at regular intervals around the building but the space is mainly lit by clerestory windows above the central hall. All the windows and doors in this block have been replaced in uPVC. External access to this wing is gained through a recessed, glazed double door to the south-west. A freestanding curved Perspex canopy has been inserted into the recess in a style similar to that of the main entrance (not of special interest).

INTERIOR: the principle entrance leads into an open plan foyer with a line of regularly spaced square plan columns supporting the floor above. To the left of the foyer are a series of small offices, toilets and a series of fixed tables and chairs immediately outside the kitchen. In the far corner a corridor provides access to the sixth-form block. To the right of the foyer are stairs to the first floor, an inserted lift and a corridor leading around to the science block. Immediately in front of the entrance is the central core of the building, clad in tongue and groove panelling with two short flights of stairs leading into the back of the raked auditorium. Adjacent to the auditorium on the right is the semi-sunken, double-height drama workshop.

Above the auditorium, on the first-floor, is the double-height library and resource area with a timber clad suspended ceiling in the centre surrounded by angled roof lights to allow natural light to enter the main work space. A gallery formerly accessed via a spiral stair (now removed) has been enclosed to create additional meeting rooms and offices on the second floor lit by the roof lights. On the south-west side of the library is the administration block with a series for small offices including the Head Teachers Room and Staff Room. Surrounding the library on the other three sides are a series of I.T., English and media classrooms, which were originally subdivided by sliding concertina partitions, but again stud walling has been inserted here to make more permanent divisions. On the second floor, surrounding the library core are the Humanities and Languages departments with classrooms and corridors lit by roof lights. WC’s are also positioned on all floors.

Internally, the single-storey sixth form and adult education centre is mainly open plan with areas of relaxed seating and small study and I.T. areas, but is architecturally modest both internally and externally and is therefore excluded from the listing.


School building was both a symbolic aspiration of post-war Britain and an urgent need, driven by the ‘baby boom’, the raising of the school leaving age, planned new towns and estates and the reconstruction of bomb-damaged buildings. Programmes of new schools were coordinated and designed by local education authorities with loans and oversight from central government. Demand was led by prefabricated ‘kits of parts’, either sponsored by public authorities or developed privately. Elsewhere, where bricks and bricklayers were readily available, traditional techniques were adapted to incorporate large windows and flat roofs. Collaboration between architects and educationists could result in expressive plans which facilitated patterns of learning and movement. The requirement for abundant daylight and outdoor access led to dispersed layouts, a trend which was countered by tight cost limits and constrained sites. In the best examples child-scaled proportions, landscaping, bright colour schemes or works of art combined to create a distinctive visual aesthetic.

The 1944 Education Act divided schooling into primary and secondary stages with a break at age 11. Most authorities implemented selective schemes, building secondary modern schools with smaller numbers of grammar and technical schools. The London County Council, Coventry and the West Riding of Yorkshire pioneered single-stream comprehensive schools, which took all children within a given catchment area; non-selective education became increasingly widespread from the mid-1960s. Compact or multi-storied blocks were favoured for their small footprints and architectural potential, although educationists generally favoured informal, single-storey layouts where space permitted. Larger schools could support more specialist subjects and a large sixth form. Pastoral care and dining were sometimes organised around mixed-age ‘houses’, horizontal year groups or lower, middle and upper schools. In response to the 1963 Newsom report, the raising of the leaving age to 16 and the trend for more pupils to stay on at secondary schools became more college-like in character, with more private study, centralised resources and the integration of sports and community facilities.

Leicestershire was a pioneer in the design of educational buildings as a result of the renowned Leicestershire Plan which was devised in 1957 by Stewart Mason, Director of Education 1947-1971. Its advanced approach to teaching, together with government cost restrictions which made corridors too expensive, had an effect on design. There was a move away from self-contained classes to mixing across groups, encouraging use of the entire school by all the children. Flexible and centralized planning was first applied to primary schools, with open teaching areas grouped round a central library, quiet study room, and assembly area, sometimes on a circular plan or in the form of pavilions around the central core.

Leicestershire, took a different approach to the upper and lower ends of the secondary school range. Mason’s was a selective scheme in which secondary moderns became 11-14 Junior High Schools. At the age of 14 the brighter pupils, started two-year Ordinary Level courses in the grammar and technical schools, the others staying for a final year of compulsory education in the High Schools. The plan was compatible with the county’s existing building stock.

Increased emphasis on private study and centralised resources led to a greater convergence in the planning of secondary schools and colleges from c.1970. In Leicestershire, a ‘new wave’ of school plans emerged at Manor High School, Oadby (finished 1968); Bosworth College, Desford (1967-1970 by Gollins Melvin Ward (GMW)); Wreake Valley College, Syston (1969- 1971, also GMW) and Countesthorpe (1967-1970 by Farmer and Dark). Flowing plan-forms of teaching areas, focused around a central library or resource centre, encouraged private study and small group project work. Sixth-form, youth and adult facilities were separated out, as were sports facilities, creating an amorphous plan with a central core and long limbs. The Leicestershire schools were widely published in the architectural journals, where they were favourably compared with John Bancroft’s 1,725-place Pimlico School in Westminster, built in 1967-1970 (demolished 2010).

Wreake Valley is the most architecturally striking of the new Leicestershire colleges, built in 1967-1971 by Gollins Melvin Ward and Partners. It was designed to house 1440 pupils aged 14-19, and was planned with both adult and youth facilities to serve the whole community. It was completed in September 1971 and cost about £750,000. Its monumental scale is meant to signify that education is the supreme unifying factor in a community, not only up to school leaving age but continuing beyond it. ‘In secular times, the school replaces the cathedral as the centre and symbol of our aspirations’ (Glass Age, 1974)

Rendered in cream coloured tiles the three-storey ziggurat comprises a double-height resources centre set over a fully-raked auditorium, ringed by classrooms and a sixth form block. The compact plan is a response to the poor ground conditions, a result of coal or gravel extraction, and the building was over-engineered in anticipation of being a storey higher. The open-plan, single storey science and crafts area are lit from above and spread around a central sculpture court, although no sculpture was placed there a moulded-concrete pond provides a calm water feature known as the biology pond. Richard Padovan, writing in the Architectural Review, described its appearance in its typical East Midlands suburbia as ‘a monumental building amid so much democratic drabness, it gives an immediate feeling of uplift and anticipation: a sense that life is an adventure’, and later in the same article as a ‘major public building, open to all and owned by all – the socialist cathedral’.

Wreake Valley College was built on a 50-acre site in rural countryside with a plan to build a high school on the site in the future that was never realised. There were 25 acres providing facilities for football, rugby, hockey, tennis, netball and athletics. There are also two large physical education blocks, connected to the building by a covered walkway, which are fitted out for badminton, basketball, golf and cricket practice, in addition to normal gymnasium activities. The area between the two blocks was designated for a swimming pool but this has never been built and is now home to port-a-cabin classrooms.

The building retains its overall appearance as designed but has been modified in places; all the elevational windows have been replaced with uPVC windows, retaining the same characteristics and proportions, but the roof lights remain as original. In the library area on the first floor, the spiral stair has been removed and the library gallery has been enclosed to create an additional classroom. Two lecture theatres on the first floor had raked seating originally but these have been removed to create more flexible teaching spaces. Likewise, the administration block, adjacent to the library/resource area has seen some modifications with the removal and insertion of partition walling to make the office spaces more conducive to modern working practices.

In around 2007-2008 the crafts and painting and drawing areas were reconfigured and many of the partitions were either moved, removed or new partitions added. All concertina, sliding partitions have been removed. Part of the science block also underwent change with the insertion of stud wall partitioning. While a new chimney adjacent to the boiler room attached to the rear of the building, serves the updated heating system the original chimney remains but is not functional.

A passenger lift has been inserted into the right side of the entrance foyer and self-supporting canopy’s have been erected outside the main entrance, outside the external access to the sixth form and adult education block and also within the sculpture court to offer protection from extreme weather. A small, freestanding kiosk, selling food also stands within the sculpture court. When first built a raised area of rock landscaping adorned the terrace outside the main entrance but this has now been levelled. The roofs of the two gymnasium buildings were re-roofed in 2014 replicating the original structure.

Reasons for Listing

Former Wreake Valley Community College (now academy) built in 1967-1971 to the designs of Gollins, Melvin, Ward and Partners for Leicestershire Education Department is listed for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as an innovative and sculptural building that has survived almost intact, including the rare survival of a biology pond;
* as a dramatic and iconic example of the work of Gollins, Melvin, Ward and partners, architects of considerable national repute;

Historic interest:

* the design of Wreake adopted a new pedagogical philosophy recognising the maturity of its students in contrast with the pre-war disciplinarian education implying, with its monumental character, that education is the unifying factor in a community, and imaginatively expressing the ideals of the progressive Leicestershire plan.

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