A NEW era in the education of Braintree's teenagers will start on Wednesday as the first students enter the doors of the shiny new Braintree Sixth Form.
As the final touches were made to the striking £6 million facility in Notley High, Notley Road this week, the Chronicle had a first glimpse inside the corridors that will be teeming with 16-year-olds in just a few days time.
Finished on time and on budget, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) funded project is a source of pride for the centre's director, Rory Fox.
He said: "We are very pleased. It is beautiful. I have never seen a school sixth form with these type of facilities."
The immaculate new centre is light and airy, with windows the height of corridors and ceilings angled to allow extra windows to pour more light into classrooms. There's under-floor heating, motion-sensitive lighting, solar powered water heating and 150 laptop charging lockers.
A sophisticated theatre is crammed with £100,000 worth of top range lighting and sound equipment.
"We have tried to maximise natural light because it can help students learn, rather than artificial light," said Mr Fox.
"The theatre has got everything you could dream of. We have been told the equipment makes it the best theatre this side of London. We will be able to offer technical courses and put on some sophisticated productions."
The rows of 250 seats neatly fold back to provide a hall space suitable for anything from performance classes to exams and with huge glass windows equipped with blackout blinds, it can be plunged into theatre darkness in an instant.
There are 23 classrooms of various sizes plus two science labs, two IT labs and a dedicated music room, and a soundproof classroom designed for recording.
The centre is the result of a partnership between the three Braintree secondary schools and Honywood Community Science College in Coggeshall.
It offers 23 subjects at A and AS-level and 16 under the International Baccalaureate. There were nearly two applications for each of the 150 places available in the inaugural intake and Mr Fox said there would be room to expand the centre, if more funding became available.
He added: "By having 300 places we have got enough students to offer a good curriculum but also we haven't got so many students that they get lost in the crowd. It is part of our ethos that we have a family atmosphere here – we will know all of the students, and we want them to stay."
Full A-level round-up: Pages 20-23