Students at Summerhill School were today greeted with a very different scene from the one they left at the end of last term, with interior walls decorated with floor-to-ceiling designs featuring colourful images relevant to each curriculum area.
The corridor where French classes are based has been transformed into a Parisian street scene complete with a boulangerie. Continue walking a few paces and you’re in Barcelona for Spanish lessons.
The area around the sports hall has become a celebration of Britain’s triumphs in cricket, rugby, golf, and at the Olympics, while another corridor features murals depicting a chronology of key events in the nation’s history.
Legends including Louis Armstrong and Freddie Mercury welcome visitors to the school's music section, while English classes now take place surrounded by images of the world's great authors and their work.
In all, 950 square metres of wall space in the Kingswinford school has been covered with the art work, with designs selected and developed after ideas were put forward by heads of department.
The work has been carried out by Stourbridge firm Think Creative Studio – run by former Summerhill pupil Simon Grigg – which has also spruced up the interiors of other local schools including Crestwood.
Assistant headteacher at Summerhill, Daniel Bull, said the project had been nine months in the making, with the aim being to create a "spectacular environment" where returning students are "immersed in learning".
He said he hopes the transformation will be an inspiration to anyone who enters the school.
"Every step our students take around the school there are facts and knowledge that form part of the curriculum," he said.
"Post-Covid, with all the issues we have had to deal with in the past 18 months, we felt it was really important that our students came back to an even more incredible school.
"We're really proud of how it has turned out."
Tim Harris, who recently took over as headmaster at the 1,000-pupil school, said he was confident that this year would not see the levels of disruption that blighted schools over the past 18 months.
He said the school had kept in place some protective measures in an effort to maintain a safe environment for staff and pupils.
These include increased ventilation, while students are expected to sanitise their hands on entry to the building and complete twice weekly lateral flow tests. Face masks are optional.
"We're hoping to get back to a bit of consistency and I'm sure every headteacher across the country would say the same," he said.
"Our students are coming back to a new environment which we hope will inspire them, and where they can feel secure and safe. It's not about catching up, it's about making sure they have the time needed to get settled back in.
"We know Covid is not going away and we have kept quite a lot of protective measures that were in place last year. We will also be continually monitoring how things are going with the safety of students and staff in mind.
"The guidelines have changed so we don't need to be looking at bubbles. We are able to isolate individual students and there is obviously more testing for close contacts.
"We're certainly hopeful for a more consistent year as we move forward."
Speaking during a visit to the school, Mike Wood, Conservative MP for Dudley South, said: "So many children have lost so much over the last year and a half.
"Looking around schools like Summerhill you can see the amount of work that has been done by all staff to make sure students have the best possible learning environment to return to.
"It is absolutely vital that our children have the best possible chance moving forward."
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, MP for South Staffordshire, has been visiting schools across the region over the past week and said he was impressed with preparations for the new term.
"It is fantastic to see the work that schools have put in to prepare for the return of pupils.
"Schools are now ready to do what they did before the pandemic, which is what we all wanted to see return."
Summerhill School will be hosting an open evening on October 7.