Posted on: 22/07/2019
Ofsted have beenI 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?
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?
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 wasWe 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.
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
Posted on: 20/05/2019
888 daysIt was a really exciting day for us last Friday, our first chance to meet those students and their families who have accepted places at the Deanery for September. Huge thanks must go to the manager of Waitrose and his staff for allowing us to invade the front of the store at a very busy time! Myself, Mr Scutt Assistant Principal and our two wonderful consultants (Sue and Colin) distributed induction packs to nearly a hundred families, spoke about how excited we are and heard about the excitement growing amongst the students who will soon be joining us. It was also really nice to hear such positive stories of how students and their primary schools had approached the Year 6 SATs exams – hopefully receiving the induction pack at the end of the week served as a nice way to mark the finish of primary school exams and the start of your transition to secondary school.
Last week was a very busy one for us, as all weeks seem to be at the moment! Mr Scutt and I spent precious time thinking about the school curriculum and planning how we will design and implement our lessons to get the best out of students with all abilities. I met with a key group of people who are planning some amazing activities in Wichelstowe for families this summer and beyond – watch this space for more information about that. And I also had the privilege of talking to a group of visitors from our twin town of Salzgitter, I shared our vision for the school and how the Deanery will be a focus for our community. I have often been asked if students at the Deanery will have the chance to participate in school trips and especially go abroad. This for me is an essential part of the offer of a secondary school, I treasure my memories of going skiing with my school as a student and cannot wait to wave off the first coach load of intrepid travellers – who knows, they may be going to our twinned town in Germany.
Last Tuesday was a very unusual day for me, one that I had never imagined I would take part in as a Principal – I took my Personal License Exam in order that the Deanery may have a licence to sell alcohol on the premises. I must admit, at the start of the day, everyone else was a bit taken aback with me being there. The trainer asked us to introduce ourselves and where we currently work, so of course most people said, “restaurant” or “pub” or “hotel” and then I said “secondary school”. Everyone chuckled and of course lots of jokes about fun lessons followed! However, I then took time to carefully explain how many plans have been put in place to completely separate the entertainment part of the school from the educational part. I think it is a great idea to design the building so that the community and the school can truly benefit from a mutual partnership. The facilities in the school have been enhanced with grants and funding to provide professional standard facilities – these will be used by numerous community groups, professional touring theatre companies and we are currently investigating engaging a resident dance company to work with us. At the same time students will benefit from having fantastic facilities to learn in. I always think it is sad to see fantastic facilities standing empty at weekends and in the school holidays – I visited a school recently where they had amazing facilities but hardly any community use out of school hours at all. The Deanery is going to do things differently – we have already made a commitment to being open extended hours during the day and we will be open at weekends and during school holidays as well: remember me saying that my aspiration is to be open 365 days of the year? I think we are pretty close to being able to achieve this already.
The last thing we worked on last week were our final round of job descriptions for the last group of jobs we will be recruiting for before we open. At one point while I was compiling the list of ‘essential activities’ for one of the jobs, I sat back from my computer and said “I hope Superman or Superwoman is currently looking for a job in Swindon!” Each of the jobs we have recruited for up until now have been fairly straight forward, with obvious duties and roles. I have said at the start of each interview that staff we appoint must be prepared to be flexible – teachers have been asked to teach more than just their primary specialist subject and both the Business and Facilities managers have already been planning which enrichment activities they will be running! The next round of jobs we will be advertising are going to hopefully attract the most adaptable and flexible people – those who are prepared to job share, for example, do 2 days a week as a librarian and maybe a day as a science technician and 2 days as a Teaching Assistant! I know that running the school is a huge responsibility for me, but I often sit and reflect that recruitment is where the real responsibility lies. If you get recruitment right, then actually running the school is much more about leadership than management: people thrive when they work well together and adults in schools that are well staffed encourage the children to flourish. I spend a lot of time thinking and praying about recruitment, prior to the interview day, during the day and then afterwards. It is really important to me that the people who come to work at the Deanery share my vision and want the very best for the children who are going to come to us for the secondary part of their formal education. The same will be true for the volunteers who we are currently recruiting and the staff who we buy in to come to run clubs and activities for us. We come that children may enjoy life in all its fullness and every single person who works with our children will share this vision.
I read somewhere of President Kennedy touring a NASA centre and asking one of the workers sweeping the floor what he did. The reply was “I'm helping to put a man on the moon”. Now I know that this might be a mythical story, but I like it and use it often when I speak about the importance of everyone who works in a school. Myself as Principal, the teachers, the person on reception, the staff who prepare the playing fields, the caterers, the cleaners – all of us – we are all contributing to the education of our future generations: our future leaders, our future doctors, our future nurses, our future plumbers, our future shop assistants.
I think one of the nicest things for me about Friday was learning that students and their families are actually reading my blogs! I remember a long time ago thinking about writing a blog to try to explain where some of the thinking behind the school had taken place. I imagined being able to tell students why I had chosen certain colours for their lockers, where the logo came from, how we chose the uniform. But I don’t think I had really imagined that anyone would be interested! As I told many people last week, I often sit with my laptop writing away, wondering if anyone is ever going to read what I write. But I was encouraged by so many people last Friday who actually read my blogs and I would just like to reassure everyone who asked that I absolutely intend to keep blogging when the school is open. I truly believe that when people know each other well and have an open heart to work together, amazing things can be achieved. I aspire to know each and every student well who comes to the Deanery and I hope people will get to know me over the years as well. This blog is an important part of that. One of the nicest things about the blog is that it will give me the chance to celebrate the success of other people as well, and to give an insight into how the school is performing on a day to day basis. Sometimes families lose touch with what happens in secondary school, I think we have a lot to learn from our primary colleagues about how to keep families informed and to continue to build strong relationships.
And so I think that is it for this week. I am very conscious that the next time I will be blogging, the building will be finished. Project completion is set for Friday 25th May 2019 – of course for me, this end is only the beginning! It will be exactly 888 days since I was appointed as Principal of the Deanery to when the building is finished. I will take a photograph from the identical spot and show you the difference! I am taking some time off next week as it is half term and I look forward to sharing with you some of the highlights of the building this time in a fortnight. Happy half term everyone when we get there!Read More