A STRIKING new £19.2million college building aims to revolutionise education in south Essex.

After five years of planning and two years of construction, Futures Community College, in Southchurch Boulevard, Southend, has finally opened the doors of its boldly-designed, state-of-the-art upper school.

The large, two-storey, futuristic-looking facility houses a vocational training centre for apprenticeships and a new sixth form.

The spacious development, a mix of glass and multi-coloured cladding, includes the latest facilities for carpentry, brick-laying, and painting and decorating, for pupils aged from 14 to 19.

The college’s new principal, Simon Carpenter, said: “It’s an absolutely iconic building.

“There’s a sense of ‘wow’ when people see it and discover all the opportunities we have here.

“It’s a jaw-dropping moment.

“You would only get this quality of environment in the best workplaces or universities in the country.

“It’s not just about the building, but also making those opportunities for learning better and available to more young people.”

As well as traditional subjects, such as history and geography, the building also offers vocational training in business, IT, construction, hairdressing, beauty therapy, fashion and design, and engineering. The apprenticeships are open to local youngsters aged from 16 to 19.

With the facility, the college aims to blend academic and vocational learning in the same setting, and give pupils an important taste of life in the workplace.

Youngsters are able to learn their crafts in hands-on working conditions, just like a real job.

The painting and decorating pupils have a freshly-built staircase to sand and walls to paint, and the hair and beauty apprentices carry out their studies in a salon, complete with dummy heads.

There are also plenty of classrooms for academic learning and an IT and business suite upstairs.

Futures is co-run by Prospects Learning Foundation, which has training centres across south Essex, and has just moved its vocational courses from its old centre in Fairfax Drive, Southend.

Neil Bates, chief executive of the foundation, has high hopes for the centre. He thinks it will boost the self-esteem and ambitions of pupils, many of who are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Mr Bates said: “Offering vocational learning and apprenticeships in a school environment in this way is groundbreaking for education in this country.

“It means the young people of Southend have a unique opportunity to break through the barriers that have historically limited their educational attainment.”

The old upper school building, the former Thorpe Bay School, has become the lower building for pupils aged 11 to 14.