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Head teacher of school based in South Norwood police station wants to turn cells into robotics labs


THE head teacher of a school based in a former police station plans to turn the cells into robotics training labs.

Adrian Miller is to lead STEM Academy Croydon Gateway, a new college to open in South Norwood police station in September.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and maths, and Mr Miller hopes the 16 to 19 school will help address a skills gap in those specialist industries.

In his first interview since being appointed, Mr Miller told the Advertiser the police station, which closed in 2012 as part of funding cuts and was later put up for sale, is an ideal location.

"Say 'police station' and one might not think 'college' but there's quite a lot of overlap," he explained.

"For instance, it has a canteen which is important because it's very helpful for the students not to have to leave the building for refreshment when doing the kind of work they will be doing.

"Because it was a police station it had lots of computers and monitors, so we're well placed with cabling and other technical requirements.

"I'm also quite excited about the custody suite being transformed into a robotics training lab.

"An industrial robot turns in 350th of a millisecond. If you're in the wrong place, you've had it.

"But, if you have a robot in a custody cell, then you can view it without having to be close to it."

Croydon's post-16 sector has expanded significantly in recent years, with sixth forms now attached to the majority of secondary schools alongside more established institutions such as Croydon and Coulsdon colleges.

Mr Miller believes STEM Academy will compete because it offers specialist, hands-on education and a 'tech-level' in mechatronic engineering, a new qualification not offered in the nearby area.

He has extensive experience in STEM education having worked at the Samuel Whitbread Academy, until recently a specialist engineering college, and then at Kimberley STEM College, both in Bedfordshire.

He also sat on the Perkins Review committee which advised the Government as to how to address the skills shortage in the UK's engineering industry.

Mr Miller was persuaded to move after reading about the borough's up-and-coming technology sector. He hopes STEM Academy students will one day work for the businesses involved in Croydon Tech City.

"I haven't had the chance to meet the group yet, though I do have an appointment," he said.

"I was certainly aware of [Croydon Tech City] and that's what influenced me to be prepared to move from Cambridgeshire to Croydon.

"One of the big problems facing tech start ups is being able to find the right manpower. My students have been very good, in the past, at working with businesses like that on afternoons and evenings."

The Gateway school is run by STEM Academy Education Trust, which opened an academy near Silicon Roundabout in East London in 2013.

It will be fitted out with the sort of robots used in the car or aerospace industries so students get direct experience of the equipment they will use in later life. They will also be asked to alongside companies on live business and engineering projects.

"There's nothing that motivates students more than to work on something that's of value to a company rather than something out of a text book," explained Mr Miller.

"For instance, one of my former students worked with a business which specialised in the lubrication of wind turbines. He came up with an algorithm which could calculate when the bearings where worn down. He was able to improve the productivity of the turbine."

Mr Miller said he is "hopeful" the former police station will be ready to take its first intake of 230 students in September. The college has already had 50 applications and, in time, he believes STEM Academy will establish itself in a crowded marketplace.

"I'm focused on getting young people progression routes," he said.

"I doesn't matter to me whether that's university, direct employment or apprenticeships, I want them to know where their learning can take them and how it is applied.

"We want to support technology and manufacturing in the UK, starting with Croydon.

"That's what I feel passionate about. We need to make education work in a definite and tangible way." 

Head teacher of school based in South Norwood police station wants to turn cells into robotics labs

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