A SCHOOL which offers troubled children a fresh start is having a new beginning of its own.
Reigate Valley College was officially launched on Thursday last week, with a new name to replace the South East Surrey Short Stay School.
Celebrity chef Tony Tobin was on hand to cut the ribbon and take a look around new facilities at the campus in Ironsbottom, Sidlow Bridge, including a new teaching kitchen.
The school takes 65 11 to 16-year-olds from schools across Tandridge district and Reigate and Banstead borough. It educates those who have been expelled, or those in danger of being excluded from mainstream school, largely due to behavioural problems.
Head teacher Dave Euridge says the school's approach, and changes to the way badly behaved children are dealt with in mainstream schools, are making a real difference to their futures.
"We are rebranding – we are proud of this now," he said.
"After all the effort students put in to turn their lives around, their exam certificates said they went to South East Surrey Short Stay School.
"Now, those certificates will say Reigate Valley College, like they are straight out of a normal school. We consider ourselves to be a normal school, just with a great deal more pastoral support."
There are some big differences, however. Class sizes are small – just five or six pupils – and the college has a number of chill-out areas where students can go to alone, or with a mentor, if they are having difficulties.
Last year, 95 per cent of leavers achieved at least one GCSE and 85 per cent went on to work, training, or further education – figures Mr Euridge is proud of.
Since he started at the school three years ago, the county council introduced the Surrey alternative learning programme. The school now offers a range of interventions so pupils can be helped – either within their mainstream school or at the college – before they are permanently expelled.
"Of 36 key stage 4 (GCSE) students, we only have three or four who have been permanently excluded," said Mr Euridge. "When I first joined, they had all been.
"The others are here for a two-year programme, sent by their mainstream schools because, if they hadn't, they would have ended up being expelled.
"For a lot of students, 30-in-a-class formal education just isn't suitable, so we can offer something different. If they have not been permanently excluded, they don't go on with that stigma attached, which is very important.
"The relationship between the other heads and the school has been what has made this place. The way we are doing things seems to be working and that means everyone comes out of it better."