LSS 20th Anniversary Banner


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The 20th anniversary of the School of Languages and Social Sciences, which we are marking during 2018, offers us a chance both to take stock of where we have come from and to look forward to where the School is heading on the way to its 25th anniversary in 2023. 

Although we became a separate School in 1998, Modern Languages has a much longer tradition at Aston, dating right back to the University’s foundation in 1966. Aston was one of the pioneers of the integrated study of language, to encompass not only literature, but also history, politics and culture. We have also championed teaching in the target language and were the first university in the UK to introduce programmes in Translation Studies. 

Over the years, we have expanded our provision, and today our School comprises four distinct disciplines: English, Languages and Translation Studies, Politics and International Relations and Sociology and Policy. Our research is highly regarded internationally, notably in Forensic Linguistics and European politics. We are also on the cusp of the next phase of expansion, with the introduction of English Literature in 2018 and History in 2019. But our aims and values remain constant: to provide an excellent education to our students, irrespective of their background, to enable them to secure graduate level employment when they leave, and to conduct research with real world impact for stakeholders. 

Ultimately, of course, Universities are first and foremost about people. That includes the students whose lives are transformed by the opportunities afforded by an Aston degree, as well as the dedicated academics and support staff whose commitment to our students and to our research makes the School a truly special place to work at. It is they who are at the heart of what the School does, and they who are rightly celebrated on this website.

Thank you for your interest, and I for one cannot wait to see what the next 20 years will bring.

Professor Jonathan Tritter, Executive Dean

Over the coming weeks and months we will be adding more content to this page. We'd also like to include YOUR memories of time in LSS, whether as staff or student, or your thoughts about the future of the school. Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #LSS20Years, message us on Facebook or email us.


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Dr Ed Turner is a Senior Lecturer in Politics, the Head of Politics and International Relations, an Examinations Officer for the Politics and International Relations Group and a Member of Aston Centre for Europe (ACE). He has been working at Aston University for coming up to 9 years.

What I enjoy most about working in LSS is the smashing students and colleagues.  End of!

I teach undergraduate Comparative Politics and Government and also a module about whether parliaments still exercise real influence over what happens in Politics.

My students sometimes gave me the nickname “Tigger” because I tend to bounce around the lecture theatre!  I am passionate about the subject and try hard to convey that enthusiasm (not difficult since Politics students tend to be very interested in Politics!).  In our Comparative Politics classes, one week we might hold a mock “constitutional convention” to decide a new constitution for Belarus, complete with the national anthem playing in the background, another we may have a class debate on why women are under-represented in Parliament.  In my module about Parliaments, I have hosted numerous guest speakers who work in Politics, and taking part in a role play, where students form part of a Select Committee (as exists in the UK Parliament) is an important component of their assessment.

There are so many fond memories I have made working here! One of my fondest is probably the letter from a former student recently who told me that the support I gave her when she was having a rough time meant that she completed her degree rather than dropping out, and was able to go on and do something she’d really hoped to do.  I was pretty emotional when I read that letter and it was a good reminder of the difference you can make as a university teacher.

What has changed the most during my time here is the politics department now has three times as many staff as before, teaching a much greater number of students, that’s been a big change.  Also, the extent to which students use new media, especially social media, as a source of political information, has risen hugely.

It’s so hard to tell how the University will change over the next 20 years. If anyone had told me four years ago that Jeremy Corbyn would lead the Labour Party, Donald Trump would be US President and that Britain would be leaving the EU, I’d have thought that person had lost the plot!  I expect the role of technology will change the way we teach and learn – it’s hard to know where that takes us next.

When I am not working I’m a referee in semi-professional football (players have mixed views whether I’m any good at that), and enjoy watching the sport at home and abroad.  I’m also quite a keen runner and cyclist.  I’ve got two young children I love spending time with, adore foreign travel, and am known to enjoy relaxing in a pub chatting with my friends.

 

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Dr Abigail Boucher is a Lecturer in English Literature. She has been working at Aston University since April 2017.

I currently only teach the first-year 'Literary Genres' and 'Literature in Film' modules; this will expand to include 'Writing and Ideology', 'Post-Apocalyptic Fiction', and 'Crime Fiction' in 2018/19 as the English literature department enters its second year. In students' final year, I am slated to teach 'Marriage in the Novel: Money, Class, Race, and Gender', and 'Ghouls, Goths, and Vampires'.

The English literature modules were designed specifically to eschew boundaries: we currently do not offer any modules dedicated to sole authors, geographical locations, strict time periods, or literary movements (i.e. modules solely on Shakespeare, American literature, nineteenth-century literature, or Modernism). Modules are centred around a theme, and we provide as much textual breadth as possible under the remit of that theme so students can make greater connections and applications.

My time at Aston has only been brief, but in this time the expansion of humanities subjects has been impressive.

Firstly, what I enjoy most is that LSS is a highly congenial and welcoming environment. Secondly--and perhaps only particular to my first few years in LSS--it has been surprisingly refreshing to work in a school where I am only one of two people in my department; this has been a tremendous opportunity to look outside the boundaries of my subject specialism and collaborate with greater interdisciplinary frequency.

As might be suspected, I'm a heavy reader (although it's difficult to tell if that counts as 'working' or not). Otherwise, I spend a lot of time at the cinema, the theatre, running, traveling, and playing the piano.

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Dr Stephen Fay is a lecturer in Spanish and has been working in the school of Languages and Social Sciences since September 2017

I was drawn to the School because of its near unique combination of Modern Languages, Politics and International Relations and Sociology. The addition of English Literature and Modern History makes for a really interesting and innovative combination of disciplines that I’m sure will increase the School’s appeal to new colleagues and students alike. What I look forward to, however, is what will take place behind our attractive external image in terms of the thoughtful pursuit of genuine resarch and teaching synergies between our different disciplines that will truly fortify our contribution to national and international research agendas and outputs.

This year I have taught the final-year Spanish language course for LSS students, the first term of the final-year ‘Cultural Studies in the Spanish-Speaking World’ course, the Latin American content of ‘Introduction to Spain and Latin America’, and the Spanish seminars of the ‘Representations of Minorities’ course.

Next year I’ll teach these courses once more and take on exciting new teaching in two School-wide modules. I am also thrilled to have been invited to design a new course for next year and look forward to introducing final-year students to the theories and practices of ‘Hispanic Cultural Geographies’.

I always aim to hold onto and transmit a strong sense of the ‘universality’ of my teaching that goes well beyond its immediate application in student assessments. I encourage the students to be constantly conscious of the connections between the specific contents of the classes and their ‘broader socio-historical or cultural contexts’.

For example, in the ‘Cultural Studies in the Spanish-Speaking World’ course, some of our core texts are accounts of the first contact between America and Europe in the 15th century. The explicit learning objective is to come to comprehend the conquest of the Americas as not only a geopolitical event, but also a cataclysmic cultural clash between different theological, historiographic, and epistemological perspectives. But looking up from our specific learning goal, I also encourage the students  to listen for the echoes of these original and originary texts in subsequent centuries and their cultural milieus. So, students are led into considering the importance of the Maya cosmology for the ‘magical realism’ of the famous Latin American literary Boom of the 1960s; they are shown how Inca khipus (or knot records) are still deployed within contemporary Peruvian identity politics; and they are asked to analyse how the foundational motifs of ‘civilisation’ and ‘barbarity’ are still at work in contemporary museum policy and practice (with the Maya artefacts at the British Museum offered as case studies). 

I also make available the cognitive tools and techniques that will enable first-year students to begin to make the transition from being absorbers of information (as is often expected of them at FE level) to being critical analysts of information (as expected at university). Thus, in the opening class of ‘Introduction to Spain and Latin America’, I ask the students to consider whether Latin America can be classified as a machista part of the world (most think it can). I then show them a map of the region with all the presidentas (female presidents) marked and ask them to think again. I finish with the further challenge of asking them to reflect (and research for homework) whether the presence of a female president means an inevitable end to misogyny and machismo in their countries. In this way, by the time the students arrive at the second class, they have a clear sense that study at our level involves being critical of their sources (and themselves), of anticipating and analysiing ambiguities and nuances, and of taking precious little at face value.

My experiences at the School’s Open and Applicant Days have been some of the most enjoyable and gratifying so far. I’ve felt that beyond the all-important information about the pedagogical and personal aspects of student life at Aston, the most memorable ‘message’ transmitted by the members of staff leading the sessions has been their unequivocal examples of boundless enthusiasm, earnest dedication to  their students, and irrepressible sense of fun which have really impressed applicants and their parents alike.

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Dr Sue Garton is the Director of Postgraduate Programmes in English and a Reader in Applied Linguistics. She has been working in LSS since 2000! 

What I enjoy most about working in the school is the people, both colleagues and students. We work with such a variety of students of different ages and from different backgrounds and that is very rewarding.

I teach on the MA TESOL, MSc in TESOL and in EMT, UG English Language and joint honours programmes with English. I also supervise MA and PhD students. TESOL is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. 

I was an English teacher in Italy for over 15 years. I teach Course and Materials Design, and Teaching Young Learners at PG level and an introductory TESOL module at UG level. I also teach the ‘Space’ part of the 1st year UG module English language across Time and Space

Because TESOL is, by its nature, an international discipline, I’ve been lucky enough to do short courses and teacher training workshops around the world. I feel incredibly lucky that the subject that I love has taken me to so many different places, to meet so many interesting people and learn so much from them.  

I really enjoy working with the 1st year undergrads in their first term at university, seeing them settle in and find their feet. Equally, the MA students are brilliant to work with as they come from all over the world and you can draw on all their different experiences and learn so much from them. I’m also really lucky in my teaching because TESOL is my research and my interest and it’s also my teaching, so I’m in a really privileged position. The 2nd year UG module in TESOL really allows me to bring that all together as the students learn to basics of teaching English. They do micro-teaching (teaching each other) and the time and effort that some of them put into preparing really creative lessons is incredibly rewarding. 

Just about everything has changed in my time here! I guess it has to be the technology. VLEs, classrooms with internet access, recording classes, everything on-line – that’s all happened since I’ve been here and it’s been massive change. When I first started, I was working on the MSc in TESOL by distance learning and we used to send print-based modules out in big folders through the post. Blackboard, for all its faults, made a huge difference!

My fondest memory, well it’s not a memory as such, but it’s the people I’ve worked with. Lots of colleagues have come and gone in the time I’ve worked here but the one thing that remains the same is the friendly, welcoming and supportive atmosphere we work in. I know from friends that elsewhere there aren’t nearly so many open doors as there are in LSS

When I look back at how it’s changed over the nearly 20 years I’ve been here, I would never have predicted most of it, so I’m not going to even attempt to predict the next 20!

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Dr Katy Pilcher is a lecturer is sociology and has been working in LSS for 5 years. 

I really enjoy working in such a collaborative and supportive school, and being able to work alongside colleagues in different disciplines to me on a daily basis. Setting up the Aston Feminist Café with Dr Olga Castro, my colleague in Spanish and Translation Studies, has been such an enjoyable and productive endeavour, and we have established connections with colleagues and students across the university through this visitor – Dr Sharron FitzGerald, from Ludwig-Maximilian University Munich, Germany, who gave a talk to staff and students surrounding her research into trafficked women’s experiences of German criminal law. Dr Sarah Jane Page and I have held a number of events surrounding the intersections of religion, gender and sexualities, and we are currently developing an edited book on this subject together.

I teach across the Sociology & Policy undergraduate programmes, on the Sociology & Policy Masters programme, and on the DTP MSc Social Science Research which is a joint programme between the School of Languages and Social Sciences and Aston Business School.

As well as supervising dissertations and placement projects, I teach the final year module Racism, Class and Gender, a second year module Embodiment & Feminist Theory, and at Masters level I convene the modules Social Theory and Social Change and Foundations in Qualitative research.

For me the most interesting aspect of teaching is learning from students’ ideas and experiences. Teaching is a two-way process and I learn a lot each year from students’ engagement with sociological texts, as well as their own reflections on their lives, such as their experiences in the workplace or on their placements, and how they can apply their experiences to the research that we read in class to develop their understanding – and mine!

One of my fondest memories was whilst teaching the last class of the year for Racism, Class and Gender. We had a really enjoyable class discussing songs which students had suggested could be a means to challenge sexism, racism and class inequalities. At the end of the class the students clapped. It was such a lovely moment and meant a lot to me as I have known many of the students for 3 to 4 years.

When I’m not working I spend a lot of time with my friends and family, catching up over a glass of wine or two! I enjoy cooking, playing tennis, walking, watching crime dramas, and travelling to new places when I can.

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Dr Virginie Grzelczyk is a senior lecturer in International Relations. She started working in LSS in 2013.

What I enjoy most about working in the school is the people. Regardless of what we do, whether we are in a long meeting, rushing to teach, or struggling with a grant application, there are lovely people who are there to help, with kindness and humour.  

I work mostly on the Korean peninsula, and especially on North Korea. I have been interested in international relations and especially conflict resolution for a long time, and my initial research work was focused on trying to find whether there was a North Korean negotiation strategy, and whether we could have more cooperative outcomes. This was more than 15 years ago, even before North Korea tested its first nuclear weapons, and this question still very much stands today so I guess I will never stop researching

The most significant project I have worked on is my book on North Korea’s 21st century diplomacy. It was released no so long ago, so this is the book that crystallises most of what I have been working on for a number of years. 

My research is now taking a bit of a different turn as I will be looking at the politics of toys in conflict and conflict zones. My main work, North Korea, will still be part of the project that looks at toys that represents the enemy, and that carry within themselves a specific violent narratives that is not always recognised as such because these object are toys, and therefore not always taken very seriously…I will be working on this almost exclusively for 2018-2019 thanks to a Leverhulme Research Grant, and I am looking forward to sharing toy stories with my students, colleagues, the Aston community and beyond!

During my time here, campus has obviously changed a lot and especially the buildings that surrounds us. We used to feel very much at the northern end of Birmingham, and now we feel very much part of the city. In LSS, we have grown a lot over the past 5 years and so many wonderful and dynamic colleagues have joined, and I have developed deep friendships with some of my colleagues, which creates a great sense of community and family

Over the next 20 years, I would like to see LSS grow, but not too much as LSS feeling like a community (and not a sea of people), is important to me. I think we will keep on doing interesting and cutting-edge research, and that our ties with Europe and the world will be further developed, which will make us a great place for study, and research

When I am not working I run a lot! (I picked up running when I went to North Korea for a sport event some years ago), and I am always proud to take part in races in Birmingham that start on our lovely Aston campus (like the 10K in May and the half-marathon in October). I like to take care of my garden, and I like to motorcycle. And I have a small kid who makes time disappear in the most wonderful ways. 


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Dr Elisabeth Shimpfossil is a Lecturer is Sociology and Policy. She started working in LSS In October 2017.

What I enjoy most about the school is the colleagues are wonderful and so are the students. Over the next 20 years, I would love to see more students getting involved in PhD research.

I focus on two research topics. First is research into the sociology of elites, power and social inequality, and, second, comparative research into media and journalism in post-communist Europe.

In terms of outputs, I am obviously most excited about my first single-authored book: Rich Russians: From Oligarchs to Bourgeoisie(OUP 2018). This is partly because many years of research have come together in it. The book is partly also somehow a puzzle stone of my biography. This is neither because of any Russian ancestry (there is no Russian blood in my veins), neither because of any familiarity with wealthy circles or great aspirations to make my way into them (people have sometimes funny ideas). The story is much more innocent, although important for me personally: Back in 2005 I approached potential PhD supervisors at the University of Vienna where I studies. They were all discouraging me from pursuing such a project. I would have given up on it had my father not encouraged me. He thought differently about the idea. He looked at it from an historical per­spective and loved it: looking at rich Russians, he saw the first outline of a process where raw, brutal new money tries to establish itself and its owners become bourgeois – something he thought absolutely worth exploring. The day after a talk where my father convinced me that I should stick to it, he left for a Himalayan expedition. He was never to return from. A few days later he died at 23,000 feet above sea level from high altitude sickness.

I love human beings and I love writing. These are not necessarily the most essential requirements for academics, but I find it helps. I like my students and I like editing and re-editing. Most importantly, I massively enjoy collaborative research, like the one with my colleagues from the LSE and, of course, the one with my colleague from Leeds.

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Dr Andrew Glencross is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations. He started working in Aston University in January 2016. 

My research, ever since my PhD, has focused on the process of European integration, notably how it has been conducted and contested. Within that broad topic I have looked at the impact the EU has on national sovereignty and how the use of referendums affects democracy. Following the 2016 Brexit vote I have been very active in analysing the implications of leaving the EU for the UK and its relationships with key partners.

One of my most exciting projects was when I wrote a short book entitled Why the UK Voted for Brexit? (Palgrave Pivot, 2016), which was one of the first studies of the referendum and accompanied by a well-attended book launch at Aston. As part of a Jean Monnet Module project funded the European Commission, I wrote a textbook on the Politics of European Integration that was subsequently translated into Greek. 

What I enjoy most about the school is that it’s an extremely collegial environment and also very student-focused. That means there’s lots of support available to improve our teaching as well as the research that informs our lectures or seminars.

Universities are often considered stuffy and traditional places, but every day and certainly every semester there are different challenges as we adapt to new cohorts, regulations, or working practices. It keeps you on your toes.

The School has undergone a big expansion in student and staff numbers these past 20 years. My crystal ball (which might be a bit cracked in places) tells me that the next 20 years will see an evolution in how we teach and do research.

There are increasing links between LSS and institutions abroad, which offer great opportunities for collaborative work. The development of medical sciences at Aston and the business school’s international prestige also means we have fantastic possibilities for exploring questions in an interdisciplinary fashion.

My fondest memomory working in LSS is the departmental Christmas party of 2017. We were entertained by a troupe of stand up comedians, whose material was pretty hit and miss. I don’t think they were prepared for an audience of academics who could quote Nietzsche back at them.

When I am no working, I’m normally running after my young twins or shouting at a football match on TV. Sometimes it’s a case of doing both at the same time…

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Dr Stephan Manz is the Head of Languages and Translation Studies and Reader in German. He has been working at Aston University for 10 years and his fondest memories working here are the graduations. 

The main Topic of my research is German and global history; migration; First World War.

The most significant book I have worked on is ‘Constructing a German Diaspora'. I am also currently working on the book 'Enemies in the Empire. Interning German Enemy Aliens in the British Empire during the First World War.

The most exciting things about my research has to be communicating it to the general public. I am currently leading AHRC public engagement project which communicates the internment theme through theatre performances, educations packs for schools and prisons, German-English translations of historical texts, exhibition, and information centre.

What I enjoy most about working in the school is that the colleagues are nice all round and the students are lovely!

Over the next 20 years I see the school growing, especially in the humanities department 

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Dr Raquel Medina is a senior lecturer in Spanish. She has been working in LSS for 12 years.

Currently, the main topic of my research is ageing and dementia studies in literature and film, but I have done extensive research on Spanish poetry and women writers

 My last monograph, Cinematic Representations of Alzheimer’s Disease, to be published this year by Palgrave is one of my most significant projects that I have worked on. Similarly, the two international research networks I have co-founded and I direct or co-direct: CinemAGEnder and Dementia and Culture Network.  Both Networks have attracted a big number of international collaborators from different academic disciplines and from outside academia.

The most exciting thing about working in LSS is having the opportunity to work with people outside my discipline. The interdisciplinary nature of the school is definitely what I enjoy the most about working here.

My fondest memories working in LSS are from supervising some excellent final year dissertation projects!

In my time here, everything has changed! From the he size of the school, to the support offered, to researchers. Over the next 20years, I think that the school will adapt to the reality of Brexit

When I am not working, I like to watch films and take long walks. 

Emmanuelle Labeau Circle for 20th AnniDr Emmanuelle Labeau is a Senior Lecturer in French and Linguistics.

I came to Aston as a language assistant for one year… over 20 years ago. When I started teaching, I was so puzzled by my students’ struggles to distinguish between imparfait and passé composé that I started a PhD on their acquisition of French past tenses. My teaching has been based ever since on my results. This started a long-standing fascination for the French verbal system and its evolution. I have edited a dozen books, and authored some 40 papers on its various aspects in the last 15 years. Being in a school that mixes languages and social sciences has widened my horizons, and I am increasingly interested in the close link between language and society.

For my latest book project on the French past historic - that is deemed to be disappearing - I have worked on sports reports since 1950 and come to the conclusion that the lower frequency of that tense in recent years did not indicate a disappearance of the tense. Rather I have argued for a change of role for the written sports press that competes with new media: newspaper articles do not deliver hot news any more but provide analyses or highlights. As a result, narrative tenses like the past historic become less central in that genre while they appear in new contexts. Studies from the 1960s showed that the past historic never appeared in advertisements, but nowadays it is a staple of the marketing technique of storytelling…

As strange as it may sound, I am genuinely thrilled to discover things like these!In August, I was invited to publish a tribune on the survival of the past historic in Le Monde, the most prestigious French-medium newspaper. It got very positive feedback from readers and to my great surprise, a non-academic publisher contacted me to offer me to write a popularization book on the topic, which would be a completely new venture for me! Watch this space!Despite the years, intertwining research and teaching remains crucial for me, and I immensely enjoy involving students in my research projects, even publishing in collaboration with them. For instance, my final year elective on Contemporary French uses the methodology and tools from my Corpus du français parlé à Bruxelles project. Last academic year, I secured some money from CLIPP to develop a new student-centred project on the linguistic landscape (the presence of language in the social sphere) of Birmingham. I am looking forward to launch the project with my first year students in January, and I have applied for some funding to extend the initiative to local school pupils…The highlights of my years at Aston are my students’ success stories: the shy Northern boy who developed a love for language in my class and now teaches linguistics in an US university; the girls from minority backgrounds whom I helped to believe in themselves and have become successful professionals; the increasing number of students who discovered with me that grammar can be quite exciting and who now try to convince their pupils of this…

Aston has changed beyond recognition since I joined: the higher education system, the campus, the fees… and the number of language students… Challenging times have forced us to be more proactive, more efficient and to broaden our horizons. As a result, my role as an academic has evolved. One development I am excited about is the need to prepare students for a rapidly evolving job market, and to integrate future skills in my modules. I believe language graduates are well positioned to take up the challenge: adaptability, critical analysis, communication skills, and intercultural sensitivity are bound to be in high demand! Besides, some research skills on top of it won’t do any harm!During the (rare) times I am not working, I enjoy processing the products of our large garden, thus fulfilling my childhood ambition to be Laura Ingalls, writing books while living from the products of my little house in the prairy! Above all, I love spending time with my family. My little boy has just started playing the drums and, as I attend his music classes, I am secretly practising too… After all, it is predicted that in the future, people will have more than one job in their lifetime, and the Stones are still at it in their seventies so better plan a second career… just in case!

Sarah Hodgkinson studied a Bsc in French and graduated in 2006

After a wobbly start on another course, I ended up sticking to what I was good at and moved to the BSc Hons French course.

I enjoyed immensely the French Linguistics module taught by Emmanuelle Labeau – she is a fantastic lecturer that brings the best out of you and she knows her stuff!

I graduated in 2006 and within a month landed my first job in translation, which was just brilliant to be putting my degree to good use immediately

 Aston's LSS department is a world-class department and you truly know that the lecturers are leaders in their field. Their expertise means you really feel you're learning from the best. The calibre of the staff and students means a degree from Aston means more.

 My whole career has been based on my degree and I wonder how many of us can say the same. A degree is so worthwhile regardless of the subject but for me, my studies at Aston have been invaluable in me getting to where I am today. I am now working as an Account Director at the number 1 global language service provider, based in London. I went from LSS to a translation coordinator role and moved up the ranks within project management at two different translation companies, transitioning into sales/account management last year.]

My year abroad in Montpellier, teaching English at Sanofi-Aventis, was one of the best years of my life. The support I had while there meant I never felt alone and the partnership they have with the company gave me a fantastic experience I will always treasure.]

It seems the school really is modernising and developing in an exciting way. Gone are the days of tower blocks and it’s fantastic to see the state of the art technology being implemented in classrooms, as well as the new buildings springing up or being redeveloped, whilst the Astonite spirit never changes.