AN Alton school is taking a bold leap of faith with a multi-million pound plan to upgrade and enhance its facilities to meet the needs of a changing world.

As it approaches its 80th year, Alton Convent School – an all-girls school at senior level – has announced radical changes and a major programme of development “to ensure the school remains a centre of excellence for generations to come”.

While maintaining its ethos, as from September it will drop the word ‘Convent’ and change its name to ‘Alton School’, and it will become co-educational.

Viewed as “the right time” for such a change, with more boys currently in the preparatory school than girls, it will go back to its roots by opening up the entire school to boys.

As from September 2018, boys will be accepted into year seven and year 12 (sixth-form), which will enable girls currently in years six to nine to experience a girls-only teaching environment until completion of their GCSEs.

According to headteacher Graham Maher, the plan will include the implementation of curriculum changes designed “to prepare pupils for a profoundly different future world”.

There will be significant development of sports facilities and provision, the building of a new design and technology facility, an expanded international programme with increased interaction with sister and partner schools around the world, and the reintroduction of boarding facilities to further develop this international programme.

Never afraid to change and develop with the times, it is a project inspired by the founding Sisters of Our Lady of Providence who, in looking to celebrate this landmark anniversary have determined to prepare for the next 80 years by seeking ways to ensure that all their schools, both here and abroad, continue “to be the best they can be” while at the same time reaching out more to the community.

Led by a tenacious lady, Sister Madeleine, Alton Convent School was opened in 1938 with the blessing of the Bishop of Portsmouth, the princely sum of £240, and just eight pupils. Having expanded to more than 100 pupils, the school moved to its present site at Anstey Manor in 1946.

The school now has 530 pupils of all faiths and the aim is not to grow the number but to develop what it offers.

Working with the staff, parents and governors, the school has come up with an 18-year development programme which, according to Mr Maher, has been three years in the making and initially needs £4m to “do things that will put us on the map”.

The plan is to raise the money by selling off two small parcels of land for development. This will include part of the gravel car park, fronting Anstey Lane. The school currently has 80 car parking spaces but the plan will provide 114 on a better surface. And the ‘potato field’, which has access onto Manor estate.

Currently operating under a 19th century model, if all goes to plan, over the next five years the school can be expected to witness a radical transformation, starting this summer with the refurbishment of the prep school and nursery.

The Manor House will be refurbished so that it can “return to the heart of the school”, with a new purpose-built home in the grounds for the sisters.

In time the school will see the building of a new design technology and indoor sports facility, a floodlit astro-turf pitch, three-lane cricket net, re-landscaping of the estate, and new parking facilities.

The hope is to open up some of these facilities, and especially tennis, to other local schools in the area. And to become more outward looking.

“We want to be more involved in the community and to have a more visible presence in the town,” said Mr Maher.

Commenting on the project, chairman of governors Clive Hexton said: “Our vision is of a modern, diverse, outward-looking school which nurtures intellectually brave, morally sound, confident young people who are prepared for life.”

Mr Maher added: “Alton Convent School is thriving and received an ‘excellent in all areas’ inspection report in March. We have a strong foundational ethos, outstanding academic and sports results, and excellent pastoral care.

“Allowing boys to stay with us into the senior school will not change this.

“Our small, friendly community feel will remain in place, with an additional international dimension. We have anexciting programme of development ahead of us, shaping our school for the next 80 years.”