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Building a brighter future

The entrance to Merchants' Academy, Withywood

The entrance to Merchants' Academy, Withywood University of Bristol

29 January 2009

The Merchants' Academy, Withywood, has been developing fresh ways of teaching by working with the whole University.

Working in partnership with Withywood Community School and the Society of Merchant Venturers, the University helped the newly formed Merchants' Academy, Withywood, revolutionise its approach to academic and vocational education. By raising educational aspirations, confidence and achievement  of its students, the Academy hopes to serve more young people from the local community.

Academies are state-maintained independent schools, set up with the help of private organisations such as business, voluntary groups or Higher Education institutions. Working with the University and the Society of Merchant Venturers, the Merchants' Academy is now able to organise its curriculum, teacher recruitment and budget in a way that helps it respond to local priorities better.

Making use of its world-renowned research expertise, the Graduate School of Education has had considerable input to the Academy's teaching and learning strategy. Professor of Education Rosamund Sutherland said: "We are revitalising the whole learning experience for students and teachers. Being in a position to simultaneously develop teacher and student education offers an opportunity to build an academy oriented to lifelong learning and future careers.”

The Academy now offers young people a varied programme of coordinated academic and vocational subjects. These activities prepare students for their future lives, both in the workplace and as active citizens. A special emphasis is placed on developing the qualities needed to be an enterprising person such as ambition, initiative and perseverance.

Denis Burn, a Lay Member of Council and member of the Society of Merchant Venturers, first raised the idea of creating the Academy in partnership. He said: “The University has a wealth of experience working with many schools; researching and being able to apply what works best in education. Everyone at the University, including the Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar and a range of departments have reacted enthusiastically. This joint venture fulfils a real local community need, and also fits with government objectives.”

The University's involvement goes beyond helping to determine the Academy's teaching and learning strategy. A number of the University's support departments, from Personnel to Widening Participation and from Catering to Public Relations, have made a significant contribution. Derek Pretty, who is the University's Registrar and Secretary and has responsibility for all its support services, has been part of the high-level team that has steered the Academy project from its earliest days. He said: "The University's commitment to playing a positive role in the local community and using its academic and other expertise to contribute to an imaginative and inspiring development, is helping to enhance the learning experience and career opportunities for the Academy's pupils."

Further information

Professor Rosamund Sutherland can be contacted by email at:

The Graduate School of Education works in partnership with 70 schools providing secondary Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses and offers Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) training to an average of 250 trainee teachers per year in Citizenship, English, Geography, History, Mathematics, Modern Foreign Languages, Music, Religious Education and Science. See

The Society of Merchant Venturers, which donated £2 million to build the Academy, plays a prominent role in Bristol’s commercial life in order to contribute to the prosperity of the greater Bristol area. Further information is available on its website.

Rosamund Sutherland, Professor of Education, and Derek Pretty, the University’s Registrar and Secretary, have been involved in the project since 2004 and are now on the board of Governors.