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Posted on: 9/09/2019

What a wonderful week

We have had a fantastic week! Our week began on Monday with two days of staff training. The most important feature of those days for me was allowing staff time to get to know each other and develop strong relationships. We began the two days with a service in our chapel and ended the two days with a welcome drink with our local board members in the Hall and Woodhouse pub opposite school. In between we did a lot of familiarisation training and professional development activities. On Wednesday, from the minute the first student arrived, I had to struggle to keep myself together. Seeing our school uniform finally being worn by our pioneering students was a very proud moment for me. It had been a long time coming! Families, staff and governors gathered outside Hall and Woodhouse for a networking opportunity and a welcome cup of tea, before being escorted over to school. One of the members of our local board said he would arrange a few flag wavers to come and welcome the children onto the plaza, I had not quite expected the ‘few’ turn into so ‘many’! The plaza was full of friends of the school, including Bishop Lee of Swindon and our contractors, our friends from BAM construction. After gathering at Hall and Woodhouse, we waited to allow the minibus to arrive and then I walked in front of the students and welcomed them into their school for the first time. What a memorable way to start secondary school and I am especially delighted that Swindon Advertiser were able to be there to mark the occasion, so families can have an official record of the event as well as I am sure many photographs of their own. I was overwhelmed by all the good wishes that we received just before and on the day of our opening. I received a card from my first ever employer, the Headteacher from Oakfield school, and many other cards from local schools and Headteachers, and even a text at 3 a.m. from a colleague who I used to work with! She was forgiven for texting at such an unearthly hour as she now lives in Australia – such is the amount of support for our school, we truly have had good wishes from all round the world! I even received a beautiful plant and card from one of our founding families, this was such a kind and thoughtful action, it now takes pride of place in my office. And a special treat for me today was to receive a cake that a student had made for me over the weekend and actually iced my name on top (see my Twitter feed). How thoughtful and I will enjoy that with my cup of tea at break time. Our first activity in school was assembly, where we were able to introduce members of staff from our school and our multi academy trust and also begin to get a feel for how wonderful the building is. It was really moving to see so many eager faces sitting in the theatre, and to imagine the potential sitting in front of me. We had our first proper assembly, which included a reading from the bible and some prayers and then we sang – our first hymn was chosen so most people would know it (“One more step”) and we even had our Chief Executive and our Diocesan Director of Education accompany us on the guitar and piano respectively! Bishop Lee gave us an inspirational talk at the end of assembly, then led the final blessing. After assembly students went off into their tutor groups and began getting to know each other and their tutors, with various activities planned to give them a chance to mingle and meet new people. Break time on the first day became a well-established pattern for last week – with lovely food on offer from our fantastic caterers Sodexo. They kindly agreed to give all food last week to students and staff for free, and I am afraid I took great advantage of that, so I am back on my WW app this week! One of the loveliest and distinctive features of last week for me was our lunchtimes – we have family dining in the Agora, which means at the end of morning lessons, students come to the Agora, find a table with their friends, sit down first and then we all say grace together. After that, students collect their cutlery and lay the table for each other and are invited up to collect their lunch a table at a time. This makes for a wonderful atmosphere and is a really great representation of how we are able to grow our culture from the outset. Our students had this process explained to them on the first day and now it is our established practice. Activities included getting to know you, grill your teacher and building a spaghetti tower. All the students entered into the activities with a huge amount of enthusiasm, and it was wonderful to see that despite a few tears first thing in the morning, everyone left the first day with huge smiles, having made new friends and feeling a lot more settled. One really unusual thing that happened for us, was a large collection of parents who gathered in reception at the end of the day, and students who would not leave the Agora until they could see their parents. This took me a bit by surprise, but of course it is exactly what the parents and students are familiar with from primary school, it was just completely unexpected for a secondary school!! After a bit of encouragement and the odd phrase such as, “this is big school now, you can just go,” by the second day families and students had soon got the hang of just leaving! Enrichment began on the first day, with Mr Scutt leading a ‘marble roller coaster’ activity on Wednesday and Mrs Kear-Luckman leading a ‘capture the flag’ activity on Thursday. Students were given the opportunity to opt for their term 1 enrichment activities on Thursday and they begin in earnest this evening. It is fantastic to think that our students are benefitting already from the Anchor partners who use the Deanery as their home venue now, with top class coaching available to students as part of their enrichment activities. Parents will be aware that we had faced some challenges with our ICT installation, which was completely unexpected and made me very sad. The company we had been working with had gone into administration and so the project for deployment of software and getting the ICT systems fully operational at the start of term took a bit of a pause. I am delighted to say that we had tremendous support from the Department for Education and our partners in South Gloucestershire (Integra) so that we were able to get as many of the systems fully functional before teaching began last week. And the best news of all is that it seems at the moment that our ICT providers may be able to continue functioning as before. Please do hold them in your prayers if you are able. To get Parent Pay fully functioning was our biggest challenge and I am delighted to say, we think it is! My biggest priority is getting myself an account, as the food served to the children in the Deanery Kitchen (the name for our actual servery) is so lovely – long gone are the days when I will have to get organised the night before and make myself lunch, then the next day realise I have forgotten and rush into a petrol station on the way to work to buy emergency sandwiches! Once we got to Friday at 2.15 p.m. we were all exhausted, but a little bit elated as well. It was amazing to think that we had finally done it. Students from all over Swindon had come together and made a fantastic start to what is going to be the most amazing journey. Staff had launched straight into teaching high quality lessons, and looked as if they were completely at home in their new classrooms. For me some of the highlights included seeing students hold the door open for each other, saying “good morning” to each other and to members of staff as they come in, seeing students beaming as they leave school and actually skipping on the plaza – now as a secondary school teacher, you do not see that happen very often! One final thought – although it was the weekend, of course we were not closed. We had some fabulous activities here at the weekend, including a hockey festival celebrating 100 years of Swindon hockey club, a commissioning service for our local Revd. Ali Boulton from our Methodist friends and our first celebration event in the theatre with cabaret style seating and catering provided. I popped down on Saturday and left feeling very proud, that not only had we made a very successful opening of the school, but we had also already achieved our commitment to being a truly accessible and well used community space. What a privilege to be able to host such diverse activities and be supported by such truly professional and dedicated staff. And as I finish writing this blog, I am so pleased to say that I have just attended our first Morning prayer event in our chapel, where Revd. Phill from Wroughton and Wichlestowe Parish church came and led a few members of our community in morning prayer for the school. I am delighted to say this is a weekly event – if you are interested in attending, please contact my PA Vickey Evans.Read More
Posted on: 30/08/2019

A moment in time

Monday 2nd September 2019 is a moment in time, as is Wednesday the 4th September 2019. On Monday the Deanery CE Academy opens its doors to staff for the first time; on Wednesday we welcome our first cohort of students. I almost cannot believe that finally the time has come. This building is finished. The students are enrolled. The furniture is in. The lessons are planned. We are just waiting now. Waiting for the staff to come, waiting for the students, waiting for the adventures to begin. I wish I had kept a tally of all the decisions I have made on the way. I had the privilege over the past 24 hours of showing my family around the school. When I told them that I had chosen the paint, the floor covering, the carpets, the chairs, the tables, the toilet roll holders, the doors, the door handles, the signs, the computers, the telephones, the projectors, the computers, the laptops, the programmes, the fitness equipment, the quotes on the walls, the fridges, the shredders, the goalposts…. Seriously, the list is just ridiculous! All the decisions that have needed to be made have been made. We are waiting… waiting for Monday, waiting for the staff to come, waiting for Wednesday, waiting for the children to come, waiting. And as you know, I have been waiting a long time! And those of you who know me well, know I am not good at waiting. So, some of the things I have been thinking about over the past few days have been more to do with lessons than ever. I remembered a quote from Haim Ginott that I was given once by an inspirational Principal I worked with, it goes like this: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” Teachers are critical. Great teachers are critical to making a school a great success. The Deanery teachers have already proved how great they are, I am so excited to put them altogether as a team and see just how amazing they can be. And so, as I showed our Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning at Swindon Borough Council, Gary Sumner round the school today, I explained that whilst we have the most amazing building ready and waiting for our staff and students to enter, it is not the building that is the most important part. Don’t get me wrong, the facilities are exceptional, world class even. But the Deanery school is not just about the building and the facilities – the beating heart of the school will be the people contained in it. The staff and the students. And that is why I am becoming increasingly excited, because very soon both the staff and students will be entering the building, inhabiting it, making it their own, breathing life into it, bringing it to life, helping the building fulfil its purpose. Which brings me to explain the title of this blog: one moment in time. I am reminded of this song by Whitney Houston, excerpts chosen by me: Each day I live I want to be, a day to give the best of me I'm only one, but not alone, my finest day is yet unknown… …I want one moment in time, when I'm more than I thought I could be When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away And the answers are all up to me… And in that one moment of time I will feel eternity I've lived to be the very best… …Give me one moment in time When I'm more than I thought I could be When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away And the answers are all up to me… …If you seize that one moment in time… This to me is a close a representation of our purpose: to live life in all its fullness. To be the best you can be. To be ‘more than I thought I can be’. This is my dream, my prayer for all those who are going to join me on the Deanery journey. The pioneering staff and the pioneering students. I hope my blog has been of interest to those of you who have followed it – I do intend to carry on, as I think it will be fascinating to record post-opening developments as well as pre-opening ones. Please, if you do, pray for us this weekend, as we make our final preparations and rest ready for our opening. Pray for the families who are about to step out on this journey with us. But most of all, pray for our students, as they enter into the Deanery as children and will leave as young adults: selfless individuals, loving life, bringing out the best in each other and living life in all its fullness.Read More
Posted on: 22/07/2019

Ofsted have been

I have to resist the temptation to start each blog post with “what a busy week that was”! Every day seems to be busy at the moment, but I am not complaining! We are having an amazing time, welcoming lots of visitors into the school, using the building in as many ways as we can before September to test all our systems, and also we are trying to get as many community groups in so that as many people as possible can benefit from our wonderful facilities. Some important news for parents: we had our Ofsted visit and I am delighted to report that our inspector was very pleased with what he saw. He reported to the Department for Education that he feels we are ready to open!! That is great news, we have completed all the legal activities prior to opening and can absolutely focus now on all the ‘nitty gritty’ aspects of making sure we are completely ready. The building is looking fantastic, with many more furniture deliveries having taken place since parents of our pioneering cohort visited. Last week we also invited into school those people who are considering places for 2020 – it seems amazing to think we are planning for those students, our second year group, when we haven’t even opened yet! On a visit last week to one of our feeder primary schools, I met with a group of three students Jamey, Joshua and Josh, who are joining us in September. I gave them the chance to interview me, I said they could ask any question they wanted and that I would use their questions in my weekly blog. So here goes: 1. How big is the football pitch? We have space on the field for 2 full sized and 1 junior sized football pitches! Our field is BIG! 2. Is the food going to be nice at school? Yes – I spent a long time choosing the right people to provide our food as I always have school dinners 3. Did the food taste delicious at open evening? Absolutely did! Sodexo did a fantastic job of showcasing their food 4. Who is your favourite football team? I’m not a huge fan of any one team, I do love watching good sport though, so I enjoy watching England when they play. If pushed I would say Norwich as that is my dad and brother’s team (but I don’t know anything about them really!) 5. Is Miss Cockwell (Headteacher at Oliver Tomkins school) your best friend? No, but I have built a really fantastic working relationship with her, as I have tried to do with all the other primary Headteachers, especially those who work in Church of England primary schools 6. Have you been a Headteacher before? No, but I have had some experience of being in charge when the Headteachers I have worked with in previous schools have been away from school. I also have been trained by some exceptional leaders who have given me a great insight into what it is like to be a Headteacher 7. What teams will we have? I want us to have all the traditional sports teams and more – I hope we can have a table tennis team, a badminton team, a chess team and a debating team as well as football, netball, hockey etc. 8. What is the stage like? The stage is amazing – it has a sprung floor, but you’ll notice it is not a raised stage, that is because the audience is raised 9. Have you got a trampoline? Yes! 10. Are your favourite colours grey and purple? Yes – actually I do like them and pink. I chose them for the logo and uniform because I think they look really smart and actually purple is a royal colour, so gives you an idea of the importance of what we are trying to do with our very smart uniform 11. Do you have your Alive model with you? Yes – always! 12. What car do you have? I love cars. I drive a Golf GTD at the moment, but lots of people in Swindon may remember my first real love – my yellow MG Midget that always used to be parked outside the front of St Joseph’s when I worked there. I love sports cars and I have owned 4 MG cars so far, I hope to get another one in the future! 13. Are we going to fill the school a year group at a time? Yes 14. Is sixth form boring? No, absolutely not, I loved being in the sixth form at my school and cannot wait until we have sixth form students at the Deanery! 15. How do SATs affect you in secondary school? Good question to end on! SATs will be used to give us an indication of your strengths and the areas where you may need some support. We will also do our own investigating to discover more about your ability, so SATs are not the only thing we will use to help us help you flourish. We just hope that you were able to do your best in your SATs and continue to try your hardest when you join us in September. Thanks for the great set of questions! Finally, I wanted to just finish with some news about an event that happened last Saturday. Our Deanery (our local group of churches) organised a prayer day in the school, to “pray the building in”. I was overwhelmed by the response – we had over 60 people come, both laity and clergy. I am so grateful to Revered Clive Deverell (our area Dean), Reverend Teresa Townsend (one of our Local Board of Governors) and Reverend Norma McKemey for all their organisation of the event and I am so grateful of the prayers of all – not just those who came to the event, but also I know that hundreds of people are praying for us. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.Read More
Posted on: 8/07/2019

What a week that was

We are just one week into being in the school building 'proper' and so far we have hosted a number of meetings, hosted a conference with local primary schools, held 2 'move-up' or 'transition' mornings, hosted our first lettings, hosted a 24 hour charity football event and hosted our first charity concert. Needless to say, we are still learning things andhave had one or two teething issues, like 'how do you turn the air con on?' but generally things have gone exceedingly well! Last Monday, as you know, was key handover and our Readiness to Open Meeting with the Department for Education. Both events were highly successful and I left on the evening of July 1st absolutely buzzing. On Tuesday I spoke with the uniform company about some of the teething problems the company have had with their website - I cannot thank parents enough for their patience regarding this. Trutex will be at the Open Evening on Wednesday, so please be prepared to ask them all your questions then and just so you know, we have taken a large delivery of items of uniform today for the 'sizing event' which will take place in the Agora before and after the Principal's talk. I think one of the proudest moments for me last week was standing on the plaza last Wednesday morning for the arrival of our first students for their 'move-up' morning. Having been involved in this project for such a long time, I had imagined myself on that morning very many times... when it actually happened I have to admit, I was close to tears (not again!). I spoke to the students in the Egg before they went off to their activities and I reminded them of our vision and values using the Alive model. As I spoke, I looked round at the expectant faces and remembered again the huge responsibility that lies ahead of us and the massive privilege of leading our students from childhood into adulthood. I saw enormous potential in the students and staff and already witnessed some fantastic relationships beginning to develop. Students met new people from other primary schools, made new friends and hopefully felt more comfortable having had a walk around the building. The look of astonishment on their faces when we took them into the sports facilities and the theatre was fantastic! The activities went really well - some students made art work which will be mounted and displayed before September, some made bath bombs and all our students were given the opportunity to decorate a cross for our 'installation' that is going in the chapel. On Thursday I had a planning meeting for a day of prayer that is being held in the Deanery on 20th July - this is a really important event as it will mark the first official time when we have gathered as a large group to pray in the building. And on Friday, after welcoming our students to the second 'move-up' morning (I thought I was ready for it this time, I thought I wouldn't feel emotional until someone asked to have a photo taken with me at the front of school....) I dashed off to get the train to London. Whilst on the train I took a very important phonecall from one of Her Majesties Inspectors from Ofsted, informing me details about our pre-opening registration visit. This takes place this week - more about that next week. The event I was going to was organised by a fantastic charity, the New Schools Network, who provided some excellent training on the First 100 Days of being open and then we had afternoon tea in the House of Lords. The permanent secretary for education, Jonathan Slater, spoke of his passion for education and reminded us of the reasons why we do what we do. And so onto Saturday, when we hosted our first concert in our theatre. This was a huge success, not least because of all the support we had from our fantastic staff. Some of our teachers and support staff volunteered to come along and help be stewards and front of house staff, and some of our community volunteers ran the sound and lighting desk and sound. The Swing Birds gave a fantastic show and we raised £1350 for Brighter Futures. I said afterwards that it was like we had been running events like that forever, I hope it appeared like that from 'front of house'! What strikes me already is the diversity of activities that have already taken place here. We are building an exceptional school, clear already from some of the work completed in our transition events and the relationships that have started to build. We are also providing an exceptional building for our community - as I sit here writing this, out of the window I can see people of all ages arriving for Leadership Martial Arts. I never imagined that my first Headship would be in such an amazing building, set in such a wonderful Community as Wichelstowe. I hope those of you who have had a chance already to see the building in action are as pleased as we are and I look forward to welcoming many more of you into the school in the coming months. Read More
Posted on: 1/07/2019

This is it!!!

It is 933 days since I was appointed as the Principal of the Deanery CE Academy back in December 2016. Today is a very important day for the Deanery and me. This morning we have just completed key handover so we now officially own the building. This afternoon we have our Readiness to Open Meeting (ROM) with the Department for Education. These meetings normally take place in Sanctuary Buildings, the headquarters of the Department in London. This is because often schools are sometimes only completed and handed over in the last 2 weeks of August, meaning school staff are rushing around trying to get everything ready before the children arrive. As you will know if you have been following us for a while, we have always been due to take over the building on 1st July. It is an incredibly exciting day and a real privilege to be able to welcome those people from the Department for Education who have been working so hard behind the scenes to support us here in Wichelstowe. It is such a complicated process to open a school and we have had fantastic support from our team, I cannot wait to be able to show them our amazing facilities and present our final plans to them. Last week we were busy both in the building and out and about at meetings making final plans and receiving training that is critical for all school staff. Monday I met Tom Bennett, who is the Department for Education’s behaviour tsar – Tom has been working with lots of Swindon schools to help us create a town wide strategy for decreasing exclusions and increasing engagement in schools. On Tuesday I attended Safeguarding and Child Protection training with our Designated Safeguarding Lead. And then for the rest of the week, Mr Scutt, Ms Pickett and I were busy in school making final preparations for this week. We also invited primary school teachers in who are sending students to the Deanery next year and so we met with lots of Year 6 teachers, SENDCo’s and some Headteachers who were eager to tell us all the wonderful things Year 6 can do and also were quite excited to have a tour of the building before anyone else. We decided to make cakes for our visitors last week and so held our first Bake Off competition. Now, I must say that I am probably better with a drill than a food mixer, but I like to think that I can bake a cake. However, I found last week that I am a very basic baker indeed. Ms Pickett, our Senior Estates and Lettings manager make the most delicious chocolate cake – I was outclassed on that one. But then Mr Scutt arrived. He is, in my estimation, close to being a professional baker and his children are pretty good as well! I hope you have seen the picture of his creations on Twitter, if not take a look. I am going to secretly enter him to the Great British Bakeoff, but don’t tell him! Oh and on Thursday we launched the date for our Meet the Principal evening for current Year 5 (admissions 2020) – we have an online booking system and to say that tickets went fast is an understatement. All I can say is that it is a good job we have a reasonably large school hall in which to accommodate all our guests! That’s it for now today as I need to go and prepare for our visitors from the DfE. This is the next part in the most amazing chapter of the life of the Deanery, and one of the things I am going to say at our meeting this afternoon, is that we’re not ‘ready’ to open, we are absolutely eager to open!Read More
Posted on: 24/06/2019

One life, live it....

In preparing for the final run-in to opening, I cannot get out of my head the purpose of why we are opening the Deanery. Our strapline is educating so children can enjoy ‘life in all its fullness’. I have been thinking a lot about what life in all its fullness means. It is easy to see, as you walk round the Deanery, how children with a wide range of skills and strengths will flourish at the academy. The physical space is flooded with light and spectacular panoramic views (mostly of countryside) and high ceilings make the classrooms seem even bigger than they actually are. The external natural environment has been maintained so that the outside parts of the school still retain many different natural habitats and as I arrived to work last Friday I was greeted by a low swooping fly-past from a swan, no doubt heading to the canal. The facilities are incredible as has been widely publicised and now that the furniture is going in, it is easy to see how we will be able to cater for students of all abilities and interests – the science labs are looking fantastic, with commanding views (probably the best in the school) and lots of very technical equipment. The facilities for the arts are spectacular – I was showing 2 visitors around on Friday who said that the hairs on their arms were standing up the second they walked in, but the theatre made them both emotional! I still get that feeling and I am pretty used to walking in there. And of course the sports facilities are fantastic – myself and one of the Governors (also an ex-P.E. teacher) took an imaginary P.E. lesson in the sportshall last Friday and it felt incredible! Both of us can’t wait to get our trainers on and get started!! But of course, as I have mentioned before, that the building is only a very tiny part of the story. What is far more important are the people in the building. I think by the end of today we will have secured all the staff who will be working with us as we open. Last week we interviewed more people in the space of a week than I think I have ever done before! We made some key appointments as well, and for any of you who saw my advertisement, you will know that we were looking for Superman or Wonder Woman – we found her!! We also recruited a Family Support Worker who has extensive experience and expertise in supporting students and their families. We have nearly sorted our classroom support roles and are just finalising details of the Facilities and Estates Team. This is the most exciting time, as we can see the staff finally coming together and I can begin to work on building a really strong team ethos. I have said at most of the interviews we have conducted that whilst the building is incredible and we will be working in the most amazing physical environment, the most important part is of course the people inside the building. The beating heart of the Deanery will be based on our aspiration to help people flourish and this is central to everything we are doing. Strong relationships, safe boundaries and empowered learning are the three key ingredients, we believe, in helping people flourish. So in amongst time spent interviewing last week, Mr Scutt and I also thought lots about our curriculum and met with our specialist curriculum advisors – they are supporting us with making the Deanery learning experience incredible, coherent, fit for purpose and robust enough that it will prepare students for life in jobs that may not have been created yet. We spent time last week building the school timetable and trying to find the best balance of lessons for students so that they can prosper while they are learning: I have found over the many years of my teaching career that sometimes it is the balance of lessons in a day that can help a student learn (or in some case not learn). Getting the balance right from the start is something we are working really hard on. The other thing we are committed to doing is helping students build strong relationships and so as we begin to meet all our primary school partners in our transition meetings, we are keen to learn about where strong friendships already exist and who works well with who. It is important to recognise that whilst we will be really careful to try to make the correct balance in tutor groups and teaching groups, occasionally things may go wrong. As children grow up they learn how to build friendships and working relationships, but sometimes this means they have to learn how to cope in situations where things may not go as we would always wish them to. Friendships sometimes change, sometimes young people make mistakes and have arguments and sometimes working relationships do not work as well as we would hope. And it is at these times that often the pressures of modern day living lead people to say and do things that they would not normally do and may live to regret later. This is why we will spend a lot of time talking with students and teaching them about how to build and keep strong relationships. One key thing is to teach students how to find a way back when things do go wrong. I often find when you ‘un-pick’ a friendship fall-out issue it is a relatively minor incident that has snowballed and become a large issue: we will teach students how to prevent this from happening. And we will support students in learning how to use modern forms of communication for their benefit and not their harm. You will know by now that I enjoy posting on Twitter, I wouldn’t say that I am a huge social media fan, but I do understand the benefit and interest of using such apps. However, I am very clear about boundaries with my accounts and I think this is where young people especially need help and support. So we have very clear social media policies at the Deanery and we are very clear about mobile phone use at school as well. I recognise that some parents/carers may wish their students to carry a mobile phone with them for the journey to and from school, and this is fine, but once at school mobile devices are to be put away and not used. I will explain this very clearly to students and parents/carers at our information evening in July, and I would really welcome the support of parents/carers with this as well. There is never an occasion when a student would need their mobile device to communicate with family during the school day – if there is an emergency then this is something that the adults in school should be helping the young person with, so we will help and support where it is appropriate. I started this week’s blog with a well-known advertising slogan (other cars are available!) and it is something that I have been thinking a lot about lately (especially since I turned 50 earlier this year!). I keep coming back to it in my head as I walk round the Deanery, putting the final plans in place for opening and working out where lessons will take place and how learning will be enhanced by our fantastic staff and incredible facilities. Many people have said to me, “I wish I could be 11 again and go to school here”! I do know what they mean, but I also believe we should all live life with no regrets, and to do this we have to embrace all the opportunities we have and throw ourselves in to each challenge that presents itself to us. We are going to give students at the Deanery the most amazing opportunities and sometimes students may be challenged by them, all we ask is that they have a go and try their best. Living life in all its fullness means being the best person you can be and if we do not try new things and experience new challenges, we do not give ourselves the opportunity to be the person we could be. I know some students are getting really excited now about the induction days and starting in September – this is excellent news. But I also know that some are anxious or apprehensive and this is natural as well. New beginnings and new people and strange places to go can all be a little bit daunting for some. Just to reassure those students and their families, try not to worry, we have done this lots of times before, we know how to look after you and we know that very soon you will look back on your transition with genuine pride and a sense of achievement. And before you know it, class of 2019, our “pioneers”, will be welcoming class of 2020, our second intake, who as you will have seen from the website, we are already making plans to welcome in with an open evening at the end of July.Read More
Posted on: 18/06/2019

How lucky I am....

Yesterday saw the start of the arrival of most of our furniture. Some of the fixed furniture is provided by the construction company, BAM, but most of it is procured separately. I think I have already spoken in previous blogs about all the choices I have made and now I am starting to see the choices turn into reality. I wonder how many actual choices I have made? I should have kept count I suppose – there must be thousands of choices to be made. And of course, now I am finding one or two things that, having chosen them, I now do not like them. It is a bit like ordering food at a restaurant – if there are lots of choices (and sometimes there are not, because I am vegetarian) then I often struggle to choose and end up picking something really quickly when the waiter comes over, because I feel under pressure as everyone else is clearly “ready to order”! I can honestly say that there are only a couple of minor things that are not to my liking and out of the many choices I have made, I think that is not bad! When you come to the school, see if you can spot what it is I now don’t like – I’m not going to tell anyone what it is, but I think you’ll be able to tell! Yesterday all the tables arrived on some really massive lorries – can you imagine how many student tables are needed for a school as big as the Deanery? All the tables were unloaded from the lorries and put in the Agora – that is a lot of tables all in one place! And today the furniture installers will begin to distribute the tables around the building to the correct classrooms. This is such a big project that the company who have supplied all our furniture (YPO – who by the way have been FANTASTIC) have actually sent a manager to be at the school all the time that the deliveries are arriving and they have also supplied us with a team of installers. The installers job is to help unload, then unpack all the furniture, count it, check it is not damaged, and then take it to the correct place and make sure it fits and works ok. It all sounds relatively simple, but when you consider just how many tables are needed in a school that houses 1470 students when it is full….that is a lot of tables! The chairs should arrive on Wednesday and of course there are a few more of those, because we need office chairs and meetings chairs and classroom chairs and dining chairs and chairs for people of different sizes! Luckily there are seats already installed in the lecture theatre, the Egg (theatre) and viewing gallery in the sports hall….there are going to be SO many places where you can sit down at the Deanery! Kind of ironic when you realise we actually do not have much time to sit down at all at the moment!! Last week we were busy reading application forms for all the latest jobs we have advertised. It was a fascinating time, reading the many hours of work people had put into their applications. I realise that it takes not only time to apply for a new job, but often lots of emotional energy as well. Good people who work in schools often do not want to leave the place where they work because they feel such loyalty to the children, families and colleagues that they work with. I remember leaving each of the jobs that I have had very vividly. When I left Oakfield school in 1992 I cried because that was my first job – I had wanted to be a P.E. teacher since I was about 11 and to have finally made it, I was so proud. When I left St Joseph’s I cried because I had been there 9 years and really felt that I had become the teacher I had always wanted to be. We had been inspected a number of times and done really well, especially in the P.E. department, and back in those days we won lots of sport competitions and trophies and athletic events. Mr Huish, Mr Dixon, Mrs O’Connell, Mr Ouldridge and I were quite a team! We spent many happy hours on the sports field together and we even managed to convince Mr Wells, the then Headteacher, to take a P.E. cover lesson. That was a sight to behold – it was so foggy that you could hardly see the rugby pitches, and it was freezing cold as well, but there was our Headmaster, standing on the field, whistle in hand (and his coat on!) making sure that the P.E. lesson continued, despite the member of staff being off ill. I cried for days when I left my next school, John Cabot Academy in Bristol, because I had made some really great friendships there and been at the school for 12 years through some of the most amazing times of development in education. We changed from being a City Technology College into an Academy. We started the now very successful Cabot Learning Federation. We wrote and taught and sold an amazing new and innovative curriculum for Year 7 students. We built a new part of the school, which housed Year 7, a fitness suite, a dance studio and also some sixth form classrooms. And we changed Principal a number of times, so I had the privilege of working for some really inspirational leaders. And then I cried when I left Nova Hreod, mainly because I was so proud at what a transformation we had made to the school during my time there. I remember in my leaving speech there I used a phrase from Winnie the Pooh who said, “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I think that sums up leaving any school – most people who work in schools feel this every time they leave somewhere. And the ‘something’ is usually the students that they are going to be leaving behind. And so today and tomorrow, as I prepare to interview the people who have applied for some key non-teaching jobs, I realise that some of the people who are coming to interview maybe actually quite heavy-hearted at the thought of leaving their current school. For those who have been successful in getting an interview and the ones who have already got a job with us, the thought of starting at the Deanery at the very beginning of our journey has far outweighed the heaviness of heart that they might feel. Staff have been attracted to apply because they want to be with us from the start, and set up and establish an amazing school. With our focus on the very highest of expectations for each and every member of our community, this is so important. I have been thinking a lot over the last week about what it really means to “live life in all its fullness” and it is this that we are seeking from each and every member of staff, the desire to be with us as we help every child to understand what this means and to discover in their own way how this can be true for them. So whilst I know that choosing furniture for the 292 rooms is really important, it goes without saying that I think the choices that we have made and will be making about the staff who will be working at the Deanery are far more important. There have been a lot fewer choices to make about staff (we will be a very small team for a few years), but it really is the people in a school who make a great school. We have met many of our families who are coming to the Deanery and already know we have some super students joining us for their secondary education. As I mentioned when we finished our teacher recruitment, we know we have recruited some exceptional teachers and we now will be making sure that we appoint some amazing staff to support them. You will be finding out more about our staff over the next few weeks, both in this blog and on our website, so keep an eye out for that. And of course, most of the team will be with us for transition evening on the 10th July. Please, if you can, spare a thought for the candidates who we are interviewing over the next couple of days and also the panels who will be conducting the interviews, and if you do, perhaps you would pray for us as we make these final arrangements as the day of opening is now only 78 days away!!!!Read More
Posted on: 7/06/2019

Sorry it's late, my dog ate it...

This is generally accepted as an excuse for handing in homework late. It normally reads, “sorry my homework is late Miss, my dog ate it.” I actually had to apologise to a student once because Izzy, my cocker spaniel who was a puppy back then, had taken a big chomp out of the corner of her maths homework whilst I was marking it! That was a long winded introduction by way of apologising for my weekly blog being late this week. Unlike many teachers who manage to make it to the first day of the school holidays and fall ill, I managed to (as is usual for me) do things in reverse: I waited until midnight last Sunday, a few hours before I was supposed to be returning to school after the holiday, to fall foul of the norovirus. This was my first personal encounter with the virus ever. I am generally blessed with having a strong constitution and I manage to resist many of the bugs encountered in school – I think sometimes being a teacher helps, it makes you build up immunity! I can safely say that I am so very glad that I haven’t encountered norovirus before and I certainly don’t want to see it again soon!! Suffice to say, writing my blog on Monday morning was not high on my list of priorities, as I lay in bed recovering all I could think of was trying not to think of food! I hope you all managed to have a wonderful break over half term. I had a magnificent short break in Rome, where I was absolutely overwhelmed by the beauty of the Sistene Chapel, the Vatican City and the Colosseum. I admit to not being a great lover of history lessons when I was at school, it tended to be very dry, mostly out of text books and just did not seem interesting to me. I remember standing in the middle of Rome at half term and thinking, “I wish I’d come here on a school trip” as a group of youngsters filed past me with their teachers. It was being there that really made me appreciate with awe and wonder the enormity of the buildings, the skill and ingenuity of the Romans and the divine inspiration of the artists. And of course this is why we are so committed to providing opportunities for trips and visits to the students who attend the Deanery – we recognise the value of ‘out of school’ experiences, allowing children to discover new things, experience new cultures and be away from home. On my return, you may have seen from my Twitter feed, that I had the privilege of visiting 10 Downing Street. The event was a celebration of the success of free schools and was hosted by the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary. We had afternoon tea, saw an exhibition of art work from children at local schools and listened to live music performed by 2 sixth formers. Mrs May and Mr Hinds made speeches, speaking inspirationally of how well free schools are doing and thanking teachers and leaders for all they do in our schools for our future generations. It was such an exciting day for me, to walk into the black door, and (I’m slightly embarrassed to admit) to be excited by the fact that it looked exactly as it does on the film, Love Actually! We walked up a staircase past pictures of all the previous Prime Ministers and that just made me gasp in awe, to think they had walked those stairs as well….. Finally, once the reception was over, we were allowed to regain our mobile devices (taken from us as part of the rigorous security checks on arrival) and pose for photographs at the front door. Needless to say it has become a bit of a thing for me to take selfies at most events and stages of the new build and so I waited patiently for 40 minutes, behind an equally excited group of Principals, Headteachers, Chief Executive Officers and Directors of Education, to stand under the number 10 and snap my now prized selfie at number 10. On return to work this week, things have been very busy (as usual). I noticed with sadness, that for the first time I didn’t go straight back to work in my ‘normal’ place. My table in the Waitrose coffee shop is sadly going to be more and more empty now, as I find that a lot of my time is now being spent in the building. Hopefully by now you will have seen some of the fantastic photographs of the finished building from the end of last term. We are currently working with BAM to allow them time to finish the inevitable snagging (although I admit there are hardly any snags with the building) and to take delivery of all out furniture and fittings. Thankfully (!) one of the first things that went in this week was toilet roll holders and soap dispensers, clocks and mirrors. Chairs and tables will be arriving the next couple of weeks as will most of other furniture such as cupboards, desks and filing cabinets. As time is marching on we are now finalising our recruitment and we have advertised for the rest of the staff that we think will be joining us in September (or earlier if they can hopefully!). Cheekily I have mentioned on the website that I hope either Superman or Wonderwoman are looking for jobs in Swindon, as my PA is going to have to be a real all-round super hero. Most of all they need to be flexible and adaptable, and most importantly they need to be able to manage me! I have learnt a lot about myself in this period of building the school. I am a teacher – a professionally trained teacher, passionate about bringing out the best in children, able to teach a range of subjects and ages, good with tricky children and able to motivate (most) teenagers, even to love their least favourite subject! As a leader I have learned so much and continue to learn as I document leadership in a values driven culture as part of my professional doctorate studies. But the thing that has struck me most recently is the absolute feeling of near desperation I am experiencing right now. I just want to get started, I want to get on with it, I want the children to come, the school to open, the registers to be taken, the lessons to start, the bell to ring, the lunch to be served, the clubs to start, the first trip to arrive back safely, the Christmas play to be rehearsed…… all the things that make a school a school, I want them, I need them, I cannot wait! To be honest, I have said this many times to most parents who I have met. The children coming to the Deanery have infinite potential and I cannot wait to meet them all, get started on helping them to flourish and set them off on living their lives in the fullest possible way. Mr Scutt shares this too I know, and all the other people who are helping set up the school. There is much to be done, we are doing so much, but equally we all want it to hurry up and just get started! And I am sure Year 6 and our new families feel this as well... So, let’s enjoy our excited anticipation together. Keep watching our website for new developments. Keep thinking of us as we make the last crucial decisions and plans. And keep praying for us as we are for you.Read More

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