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