Posted on: 2/05/2019
I am not alone!!I hope you had an enjoyable Easter holiday and managed to restrain from eating too much chocolate! Those who are practising Christians will know that Easter is always a busy time for church goers, and especially for those who lead services. I am a volunteer in the Anglican (Church of England) team of churches where I grew up (Corsham, Lacock, Neston and Gastard) and I find that while I may not take services on Easter Sunday, I am always on the rota for the following Sunday – I think this is because the clergy people are usually so exhausted after all the main services and events of the previous weekend! As I prepared for my sermon last Sunday, I thought it was about time I wrote in my blog a little bit about this, as my faith is a large part of who I am and why I do what I do. The exact title of my volunteer role is ‘Licensed Lay Minister’, this means that I lead worship in church. Lay ministers take on many roles in the Church of England, leading services, youth groups and teaching Sunday school to name but a few – I have been a Youth Leader in the past, but try to leave that to other people now so I’m not tempted to slip too much into ‘teacher’ role! Lay ministers can take a wide range of services, but cannot normally lead the sacramental parts of worship such as holy communion, weddings and baptisms. I have had the privilege of leading quite a few funerals in the past and can honestly say that it is a real source of pride to me to be asked to do this – to lead the final service of a person, usually known to me, and to bless and comfort their friends and families at what is their most broken time. I trained as a lay minister over 20 years ago and actually did my final placement at Wroughton which is now the parish church of Wroughton and Wichelstowe. I really do believe that all of the things I had experienced and achieved in my professional life bought me to be the Principal of the Deanery and of course my training and experience in worship leading no doubt helped me in securing the role. It is really exciting for me to be able to put my professional expertise to such good use and to be working alongside friends from the parish where my official ministry all began; it is just fantastic!
It has been a busy couple of weeks at the school again – we didn’t actually stop over Easter as there is so much to be done at the moment. The building is really taking shape now, we are only 3 weeks away from what is called ‘Practical Completion’ (PC), when the builders will finally put down their last paint brush and hammer and hand over the Deanery to us…. well almost. PC will happen on the Friday (24th May) and then on Monday 27th May the very same company will pick up their hammers and spades again and begin work on Kingfisher Academy next door. Many of you will probably have noticed that the hoardings have come down around the Deanery and the wood has been re-used to construct new hoardings a little further down the road, this is for the new Kingfisher site. I am doubly delighted about this, as of course we are absolutely thrilled to be opening a DBAT primary school (with nursery) right next door (currently due to open in 2020), but it also means that actually our construction company will not be too far away for the whole of our first year! I am sure everyone reading this will know that with any new buildings there may be a few initial ‘snags’ to sort out, don’t worry, we have already started writing a list but I have to say it is pretty short – the quality of finish in the building is fantastic. So if there are any small things that we miss, I can literally open the front door of the Deanery and call across to the staff from BAM to come and help – pretty much exactly the same team are building Kingfisher Academy as the team who built the Deanery, so we will no doubt keep closely in touch!! I am delighted about this, not just so that we can get them to sort out any minor problems, but I am thrilled that they are going to be able to see the building being open and used for what it is truly intended. It is easy to see that the core team from BAM genuinely love their work and have a tremendous amount of pride in the Deanery and so I cannot wait for them to be able to come into assembly in the theatre and see it in action, to visit lessons and see the exceptional learning taking place and to join the students in sampling the wonderful food that is going to be prepared in the kitchens.
And…. I have saved the best bit of news until last: I am not alone anymore! Mr Scutt, one of our Assistant Principals, started work with me last Tuesday. He has already made a significant contribution to the project and I am absolutely sure that my first appointment to the teaching staff was a fabulous one. It was a slightly strange start for Mr Scutt, as he is such a dedicated teacher that he didn’t want to leave his Year 11 class at his last school at this crucial time so close to the GCSE examinations, so on his first day of work at the Deanery he actually went back to his old school and taught there. Then his first activity with us was to join me for a meeting in my ‘other’ office – the coffee shop at Waitrose! I will really miss the staff from there, as they have made me so welcome and I actually do now have a regular order and my ‘own’ table where I usually sit!! The manager, Simon, has been fantastically supportive of us and I can only echo what people say of the store there and its staff: they are all fantastic. No doubt I will still pop in when the Deanery opens! On Wednesday of last week, I took Mr Scutt down to meet everyone at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school (SMRT) in Bristol as they are our partner school. We had a fantastic day there, meeting the Headteacher (Mrs Gilpin) and all her Senior Team and some students from the student council and worship committee. It was really good for Mr Scutt to see the school in action and on a day when he was little more relaxed than the last time he was there! We held the interviews for his post at SMRT back in November 2018, so it was nice to be able to take him back and learn more about where the educational vision for our school began. Then on Saturday Mr Scutt and I got all the new teachers who are going to be working at the Deanery together for the first time and took them on a tour of the school. To say they were excited is an understatement! It was fantastic to see them all as one group and to see how they immediately got on – I think they all realised how exciting it is going to be to be the pioneering group of staff who take our first students into the Deanery school. We got to know a few things about them and shared more dreams of how we are going to work together to make the school the most amazing educational experience for our children.
This week Mr Scutt and I have been extremely busy interviewing for two of the most important support staff posts to be appointed to the school. On Monday we appointed our Business and Commercial Manager – this is a crucial post as it will be the person who not only oversees all the financial activities of the school but also coordinates all the amazing commercial activities that are associated with our building. And on Tuesday we began the process of appointing our Facilities and Premises Manager, a key role in working with the Business Manager in maintaining and developing those facilities. We have such a complicated and specialist building that we are actually having a state of the art system for managing all the technical, mechanical and specialist equipment and of course this will be something that our Business and Facilities managers have to understand and oversee. I can honestly say that the sound and lighting box in the theatre is looks more like the cockpit of a jumbo jet at the moment, there is no doubt in my mind that we need some real technical expertise and help there! Gone are the days of school productions where I was in charge back stage and my technical support was to dim the lights and fade in and out the music on a (then) state of the art cassette player! Yesterday Mr Scutt and I had the absolute pleasure of showing our new Archdeacon of Malmesbury, Rev. Christopher Bryan round our school. We were accompanied by our Diocesan Director of Education, Liz Townend, who has visited before and was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the building!
Once we had walked round the Deanery we visited two Church of England primary schools – one that is in our Multi Academy Trust and one that isn’t. First we visited Tadpole Farm academy where we saw the most amazing project based learning and had a lovely lunch! And then we went onto Oliver Tomkins school, which is of course named after one of the Bishops of Bristol and here we saw students busily learning their PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education). It was fantastic to see two schools in action, both using very different styles of learning and to try and understand a bit more about the fantastic work of our church education partners in the primary sector.
And finally, one thing I have noticed on all of the site tours now, but have not mentioned it before, despite the fact that the site is so busy (and it always is), every time I have visited and gone into the chapel, even though we have not dedicated this space yet, there is the most amazing feeling of calm and serenity – you can really feel God’s presence there. As a practising Christian I am so honoured to be the founding Principal of our first Church of England secondary school in Swindon. I cannot wait to be part of worship there, seeing people of all faiths coming together, to praise and worship. I am also really excited about the fact that we have deliberately set out to serve all people: we look forward to welcoming people of no faith, some faith and a strong faith, because of course this truly reflects what it is like in our local communities. Learning to respect differences and be tolerant of each other is a key message that we will be promoting from the very beginning. But most of all, I thank God every day for the opportunity given to me, to bring together my professional and faith journeys and to share the talents and blessings I have been given in the knowledge that we can transform lives by building hope: empowering learners who have safe boundaries and strong relationships with each other.Read More
Posted on: 17/04/2019
Holy week and EasterIt is the school holidays and also Holy Week, so I have taken some time away from school work to be with family, friends and also to study and spend time engaging in Holy Week activities in preparation for Easter Sunday.
I hope by now students have received their postcards of welcome from me and look out for the post after Easter when I will be sending induction, uniform and registration information home. Dates of transition days will be finalised and published.
I am reading some really interesting articles at the moment about leadership and autoethnography (my research for my Doctorate is in this area) and I have been noticing three things.
First, an auto-ethnographer is described either as being 'a self-indulged narcissist' or 'self-reflexive and vulnerable'. It strikes me that the same could be said about bloggers, of which apparently, I am now classed as one! I hope my posts are interesting and I often wonder who reads them. I offer my thoughts and insights just as that - I hope they are interesting and perhaps go some way to answering the question I was asked on Twitter a while back, "just what does a Headteacher with no students actually do?!".
The second thing I have noticed, is the parallel drawn between medicine and teaching. This occurs a lot in 'evidence-based' practice: evidence-based medicine is held to be the gold standard of operating (pardon that pun!) and similarities are suggested that mean teachers should follow the lead and practice evidence-based teaching. Real evidence-based medicine (argued by Greenhalgh at al, 2014):
makes the ethical care of the patient its top priority (all teachers would agree with this for students);
should make care individualised (again all teachers would agree with this for students);
is characterised by expert judgement rather than mechanical rule following (emphasis is mine);
shares decisions through meaningful conversations (all teachers would agree with this for students);
builds on strong relationships (all teachers would agree with this for students)
applies these principles at community level for the good of many (all teachers would agree with this for students).
The reason I put the middle bullet in bold is because I feel very strongly that teachers have to find their own way. What works for me in the classroom or on the playing field, may not work for my colleagues. We are individuals and whilst we will certainly have many well-established routines at the Deanery, I will resist saying to staff "you have to teach this (my) way" as that detracts from their professional integrity and personal style.
Finally I am chuckling to myself that a) we have decided that there will be minimal homework for students at the Deanery in Key Stage 3, as we have a longer school day we want students to enjoy family time, rest and participate in out of school activities in evenings, at weekends and in the holidays. Here I sit in the library at University, doing my homework! I am amongst thousands of books, academic papers and my half-written essay, remembering that I have chosen to do this study (probably because I was inspired by all those who have taught me to love learning) and I am still studying at the very ripe-old-age of 50! I passionately believe in lifelong learning and will hope to instill this in our students at the Deanery and hopefully bring a few members of their families along with us - watch out for evening classes run by Deanery staff in the future. But b) I have also realised that I am writing this (for school) when I should be working (Uni work) and enjoying the holiday (family, friends and church activities). Well, those of you who know me well will understand why, my work is also my passion, and I openly admit to enjoying every minute of it. I was on a course recently with a friend, and during the introduction the course leader explained that you could either complete the course by attending for 5 days or complete the course with an essay submission at the end (involving quite a lot of reading and studying). My friend was filled with fear, no-one had mentioned an essay to her, to be honest, she wouldn't have signed up for the course if they had! Without saying anything, my friend looked across at me - I was smiling, excited at the prospect of more study, books, papers and an essay at the end to add to the fun!!
Happy Easter everyone – have a great holiday, a really uplifting Easter weekend and watch this space: next term so many things are going to happen and happen really fast. There will be less than 100 days until opening; all the furniture will start arriving; the building will be finished; we’ll get the keys and by the time the next (summer) holidays come around, the Deanery will be open!
Greenhalgh, T., Howick, J. and Maskrey, N. (2104) Evidence based medidine: A movement in crisis? BMJ, (348), pp. 3725Read More
Posted on: 9/04/2019
Tony on floor 5 smells of sardinesI think looking after the details are important. “Tuck your shirt in”, “do your top button up”, “put your jacket on” are all familiar phrases for any member of staff on duty at the end of the school day: we want students to leave school looking as smart as they did when they first arrived. Tomorrow I will be spending the day looking after the details of some of the very important parts of the building. I have my penultimate monthly update meeting with the construction company. Some of you may remember the original estimated completion date for the building was 1st April 2019, a date I was never that comfortable with! For reasons completely out of the control of BAM construction, there have been some minor delays: this is to be expected on an 18-month project and is no cause for concern. During the build we have suffered some extremes of weather: last summer was very hot (not good for concrete pouring, rendering or plastering) and we have had 2 significant snowfalls (great for sledging and snowballing, not great for concrete shipping and Health and Safety on construction sites!). One of the other challenges has been to ensure that we have telephone lines (essential for the safe operation of the lifts) and broadband service to the building. I really did not comprehend quite how tricky this would be! However, with patience and some really determined chasing, the building’s telecoms are now live. The delay to the project completion has had no impact whatsoever on the development of the Deanery, instead of the building standing empty for 3 months, only being used by our furniture suppliers to make deliveries, there will now be a full occupation of the building by the construction company right up to building handover. We will work alongside BAM to put all our furniture and fittings in while they are ‘finishing off’. Tomorrow I will get my first glimpse of the reception desk that has been custom made (apparently it looks amazing) and I will be able to use the feature revolving door to enter the school for the very first time. Many classrooms now are ‘finished’, with only the ICT equipment (state of the art flat panel interactive screens) left to go in; the projector, screen and speakers have been installed in the Egg; the theatre is looking fantastic and the Sportshall even has nets up (2 cricket nets and the half way dividing curtain). Either side of my meeting with BAM tomorrow, I am working with our furniture suppliers to make all my final choices. Desks, chairs, cupboards, storage units: they are the easy bits. It is all the other things that we need to buy, the tiny things that sometimes get forgotten. I have spoken before about how I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time on toilet choices, well here we go again. I spent 2 hours last Friday discussing signage and fittings, you would not believe quite how many different toilet roll holders there are!
I am really aware that I have tried throughout this project not to be too bogged down (could not resist that pun!) with the building and equipment, as I really do believe that schools are outstanding as a result of the people in them, not just the buildings and facilities. So, alongside making sure I spend more time out and about meeting people and building relationships than sat at my computer answering emails (apologies if my replies are sometimes a little slow) I have also been spending a lot of time lately thinking about other small but very important details. There are three priorities in everything we will do at the Deanery: strong relationships, empowered learning and safe boundaries. These exist not only for the students but also the staff. Our priorities are founded on a culture of hope. This is what makes us distinctive as a school. To put these priorities in place from the outset, I have been working on two really important things. I have been developing materials for our Attachment Aware status and commitment. This will help all our community understand from the very start how important strong relationships and safe boundaries are, modelling firm but fair and consistent practice and providing students with a safe and calm learning environment. There are a few weblinks at the bottom of this blog for you to find out more about Attachment if you are interested. In order for teachers to be at their very best in the classroom, I have made a commitment to protect staff wellbeing from the outset. This is in line with the Department for Education new recruitment and retention strategy launched in January 2019 (you can read that in the weblink at the bottom of this blog as well). With the Deanery local Governing body, I have created a Staff Charter, which sets out ways we can reduce teacher workload and start with the most supportive culture for us all. We will give outstanding support to our least experienced teachers: those of you who have heard me speak will know that I thoroughly enjoy teaching and there have been moments when I truly believe it is the best job in the world. I want to encourage and support those who are drawn to teaching as a vocation and help them develop and be the very best teachers and leaders they can be. As a multi-academy trust we believe in transforming communities by improving educational outcomes for everyone: to do this we want the very best change-makers to work in our academies. As I have said, we have already recruited some exceptional teachers and are now looking to appoint equally outstanding support staff. We have committed to making sure working at the Deanery is a very attractive proposition, placing a real emphasis on Continual Professional Development. And finally, we are going to encourage young people to aspire to become teachers and leaders: I am reminded of the quote “be the change you want to see in the world”, we will equip and teach our students to be leaders in their own right.
And so what about poor Tony in the title of this week’s blog? Well actually it was a hoax. The Huffington Post published an article claiming that the phrase “Tony on floor 5 smells of sardines” was embedded on page 46 of the Apple Terms and Conditions for the release of its new operating system iOS 7 back in 2013. It was done to make a point. The article claimed that thousands if not millions of people would have clicked ‘Agree’ to those terms and conditions without even reading 6 pages, let alone 46 pages of dull and boring detailed terms and conditions. The point was, no one was checking the details of what they were agreeing to. I admit to being a bit of an Apple fan myself and I can safely say I have NEVER read the terms and conditions but I have faithfully ticked the box ‘Agree’ each time I have upgraded my operating system. My point is this. There is SO MUCH to do on the Deanery project at the moment as I have tried to begin to tell you in these blog posts. I can only begin to give you a flavour of all the work that is going on behind the scenes to get the school ready for September 4th. From the many hours spent by our volunteer Governors preparing for opening by reading through pages and pages of policies, to the planning meetings being done by our consultants with our community groups, lesson plans being written, schemes of work being developed, light bulbs fitted, computers bought online, catering contracts being sought, community groups being contacted – I can only begin to imagine the people hours being put in to make sure we are ready to open. I believe it is the details that are the important things in schools: how people treat each other, how we work together when things are going less well than we would have hoped, how we help children find a way back when they have made a mistake, how we encourage young people to be the best they can be, how we embed hope in the hearts and minds of our next generations. This is what makes the Deanery distinctive – I hope that I have made the detail of the Deanery very clear. We believe in the infinite potential of each and every one of our students who will join us.
Help students explore, develop and deepen their understanding of their personal faith in order that they may have life in all its fullness; we will inspire a life-long love of learning, independent thought and the courage to think and act differently;
Enable each student to receive a truly personalised learning experience, encouraging them to achieve their highest academic potential, and to have the confidence to follow their aspirations;
Encourage students to develop a strong sense of responsibility to the community and to improve the quality of the local environment for its residents;
Provide excellent pastoral care, by supporting every student in their learning with skilled mentoring to develop the best understanding of students’ strengths passions and purpose.
We will be members of the Attachment Research Community when we are open – read all about this here:
A blog post written by our current Chair of Governors:
And the Government recruitment and retention strategy is here:
Posted on: 1/04/2019
155 days to go....I cannot quite believe that I am writing this with only 155 days to go until we open to students. I started my countdown to the school opening from well over 900! Things are getting a bit busier now. The most exciting news is that I have very nearly finished teacher recruitment for the first year. The main teaching posts are full now and I can tell you that I am VERY excited about the teachers who are going to be joining us, as they are a very talented group of staff. We did our last big interview days last Monday at East Wichel primary school, which was in itself an amazing day. We were welcomed to the school by the new Headteacher, Mrs Phillips and the candidates actually taught some students in Year 6 who will be the first students at the Deanery. We are very excited about the prospect of working closely with East Wichel primary and building links with all primary schools in the town. This is one of my biggest priorities, as our interviews have given all our new teachers the opportunity to see just how talented Year 6 students are: the expectations we will have of students coming to the Deanery are already being set high.
I finalised the names of the last remaining rooms with the construction company last week and there is a definite Latin theme in some of the room names – I am really hoping to offer Latin as an extended day club, and I have just the teacher in mind to be teaching it. We have begun to put some more detail into planning the extended day provision, as we need to book some of the exciting activities in early. The activities are going to be a blend of academic, learning support, arts, creative and sport. One of the most important parts of being successful at school, for teachers and students, is to build positive relationships and it is often at after school clubs that this really happens. The adults who read this blog will probably be able to remember their best teacher really easily and it is likely that this is the teacher with whom they had the best relationship – people often say things like, “Mr Jones really got me” or “I would do anything for Miss Smith, as she believed in me”. I always wanted to be a P.E. teacher, I grew up knowing this from an early age. My Dad was a teacher (at Lackham College of Agriculture) and my sister is still a teacher (in a successful school in Bath) and of course I can easily recall some of my fantastic teachers who inspired me to want to be the best I could be. Mr Shaw, my first primary school Headteacher was an inspiration to all my family; Mr Williams, my fantastic Geography teacher, actually taught me for 7 years at secondary school (I got a grade A at ‘A’ level Geography, that’s how much I liked his lessons!); and Dr Margaret Whitehead at Bedford College of Higher Education, who absolutely inspired me to further study, to name but a few. All of those people went the ‘extra mile’ for me, wanted the very best for me and helped me to achieve my goals: it is this quality that we believe we have seen in the teachers we have appointed to the Deanery.
Our next round of recruitment is just about to begin – we already have an advertisement out for our Business and Commercial Manager, and we will soon advertise for other support staff, including Facilities Manager, Personal Assistant to the Principal and our Teaching Assistants. I think it is crucial that all the staff we appoint share our vision and are also prepared to share their talents in the extended day activities – you never know, we may find some real hidden talents in the support staff, some aspiring singers, dancers or even musicians!
During the school holidays I am meeting the furniture providers to finish choosing the exact tables, chairs and other pieces of furniture for important areas such as the Agora and the Library. We are choosing colours and fabrics that fit in with our colour scheme, look really smart and are hard wearing. Remember also that one of the reasons we have chosen to work with this furniture company is that they share our feelings about doing all we can to protect the environment. Sadly, everything we buy now comes wrapped in lots of packaging, usually plastic but not always: one of the things I asked about in the interview where we chose our suppliers, was how responsibly the packaging is disposed of, and I gained assurances that everything that could possibly be being done to ensure safe and least harmful waste disposal would be.
Last week I showed the team from the new Pattern Church around the school – we are going to be working very closely with them. Have you seen their amazing plans for the Pattern Store at the Designer Outlet? And do keep an eye out on the activities they are leading over Easter – this is a fantastic group of people and we have been dreaming of the things we can do together to grow faith in young people in the town. I am also very excited to being able to show Bishop Viv, the Bishop of Bristol around the school for the first time during the Easter holidays. Our link with our Diocese is very strong: we will be very much part of a fantastic network of people, organisations and churches who will be supporting the school, each and every one of the children who come to the school and their families.
And so I’m off on another primary school visit now – talking to Year 5, who are already considering which school to choose for September 2020! Perhaps I should start a countdown for them as well….?Read More
Posted on: 25/03/2019
Partners and community useThe Department for Education and Swindon Borough Council are providing the most fabulous facilities at the Deanery for the benefit of not only the students who attend school there, but also for the community of Wichlestowe and the wider Swindon area. Last week was a busy one for us in terms of project management. We have been putting a lot of work into our community projects recently, not least working out which community groups will be using the magnificent facilities in our building and how we can make best use of the Deanery as a hub for the widest range of activities possible. As you know we have already signed an ‘Anchor partnership’ with Swindon Hockey Club; we have recently joined forces with two more fabulous groups: Raychem netball club and Prime Theatre, both of whom will join us as Anchor partners. We are just finalising plans for our next group of ‘Partners’ to come on board and I am delighted that the groups we are working with are diverse and give opportunities for minority sports and activities. More about them in the future. Our vision is for the facilities to be used both during the school day, in the evenings and at weekends. Do not worry, the building was designed so that the facilities can be completely separate from the school, so there will be no compromise of security between members of the public and students attending lessons. I am delighted to be able to give a sneak preview about the Wichelstowe card, which is our loyalty card that will be distributed to families who attend the Deanery and also people who work in Wichelstowe and those who volunteer at the school. The card will have many benefits, not least offering discount to holders for the use of the facilities at the Deanery. We are going to host a number of launch events for the Wichelstowe card, so keep a close eye on our website for more details.
I spent a long time with our ICT providers last week, inspecting every single classroom where ICT equipment is being installed and deciding on the height and placement of the interactive panels (when I started teaching these were called ‘blackboards’!!!). We are phasing the installation of equpment, so the first rooms to be equipped will give us enough general teaching classrooms and specialist areas such as science, computer science and Design Technology. The servers were successfully installed and are humming away in the ‘Server Room’ and the ‘Hub’; most of the wireless access points have been installed. These are the similar to the WiFi hubs we have at home and will allow remote access to our network for authorised users. Very soon the specialist equipment will be installed in the lecture theatre, the projector in there has to be on a special mount which was put into the ceiling a long time ago now! And the most amazing news is that last Monday the seats in the auditorium were installed. I must admit to being a little bit overwhelmed when I walked in – it really is looking FANTASTIC now.
I made a couple of big decisions last week – I had meant to post some more up-to-date pictures on the website for you all to look at of finished corridors, the fully furnished science labs and the house-colour locker combinations. However, I think I want to keep you waiting for a little longer. Let’s not spoil the surprise! You have waited this long, a little longer will only make it more exciting. And this got me to thinking about transition days. I know that it is really important to families to visit the school as soon as is possible. And I also know that some students will be really looking forward to finding out when they will come up and meet their new friends and class mates. Most secondary schools now ensure that the new Year 7 students have at least a day together before breaking up in the summer term of Year 6. This helps the students make friends and settle before actually moving into Year 7. For our new students joining us at the Deanery, starting at secondary school will be the most amazing day. This is also going to be a historic day – the opening of the Deanery is a hugely important moment in the educational life of Swindon and also the Diocese of Bristol. Bearing this in mind, I have decided to hold a series of transition days, so students can feel fully prepared and really get to know us and the school before our opening in September. I am going to work with all our feeder primary schools (of which there are nearly 30 at last count) to find times when students are not away on residentials or completing exciting project work or away on a trip. We will help students make friends with new class mates, get to know their way round the building and start to have an idea of what lessons will feel like in September. But…..and this is a decision I have taken recently…….we will not get the whole year group in altogether UNTIL the first day for students, which is 4th September 2019. This is going to be a very special day and so we want students to be able to savour it, to have the opportunity to cherish their first day in the Deanery and make the first time the whole year group was there the most amazing time. As I said last week, I will be in touch with families prior to the Easter holidays with more details about joining us for family tours, transition days and logistical things like how to start thinking about ordering uniform.
The next few weeks promise to be very busy. Tomorrow (Monday) we are going to probably hold our last teacher interviews for now, which is why I am posting this blog a little early, as I will be busy on Monday when I normally post my blog! I will release details of our new staff soon, suffice to say there are some exceptional teachers joining us in September. I’m delighted to announce that our Business and Commercial Manager recruitment process started last Friday. This is another key appointment; this person will play a crucial role in establishing and building the school community. I am so excited about this and have already had such a lot of strong interest in the post.
And to end with, a special thank you to those who have given feedback on the Principal’s blog. Sometimes I sit in a coffee shop writing and wonder if anyone will ever even read it! It is so nice to be able to share the development of the school with you all and also really wonderful to know that people are reading it and are getting as excited as I am about the prospect of opening. Have a great week and if there are any questions about the school, please do get in touch.Read More
Posted on: 19/03/2019
From the macro to the microLast week my mind was filled with more recruitment, more visits to local primary schools, a Governors meeting and deciding on room names for the building. It always amuses me how many times each day I have to switch my mind from thinking about ‘big’ (macro) ideas such as vision and values, to the small (micro) details such as room numbers.
One of the really important functions of the Governing body of any school is to challenge the Principal on all aspects of the functioning of the school: I always look forward to my Governors meetings as I love a challenge! Last week we were thinking about how we will represent our vision and values in easy to remember and clear formats for all the different audiences who might be interested. This is a great opportunity for us to share our mission and I know from having worked with students at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school that it is always the students who are the best ambassadors for any school. I think it is not only a case of students being able to articulate the vision and values, whilst this is vitally important, it is also crucial to consider how students live out these values. We want to inspire in our students to hold the very highest of personal standards and to flourish in their lives. The type of person who is successful in today’s world does not have to necessarily be the person who is the fastest, the cleverest or the most articulate – much more important is their persistence or resilience. I have been reading a very popular book recently titled “Grit” and this explains the concept very clearly: it is essentially a macro idea, a way of being, an attitude to life. But I actually think alongside this we have a real duty to teach students much more than just persistence – how to act when things do not go well, how to get on with other students after a disagreement, indeed, how to disagree with someone without it turning into an argument. These are micro skills – specific to certain situations, but already in the planning. Of all the things students learn at school, sometimes I think it is these skills and attitudes that are arguably more important than the knowledge, skills and content of subjects. Our world is a tough place to be growing up in: children have to hear terrible news from around the world, such as the terrorist atrocity in New Zealand, they have to listen to our politicians failing to agree on Brexit and nearer to home they have to hear tales of knife crime being on the rise in our towns and cities. We need to equip students with the capacity to understand these situations, know how to make careful judgements about how they feel about them and how to keep themselves and each other safe in the myriad of situations they may find themselves in. This is all going to be done through our Values in Practice (VIP) programme, which will teach them safe boundaries, strong relationships and empowered learning.
And so to the room names: one of the names given to us by the architects was the name for our dining area, the agora. This is turning into one of my favourite places in the academy, not least because I love eating so much! The potential for this space is actually enormous, which is appropriate because the space is enormous as well! I am planning all sorts of exciting things for the agora, not least having live music playing on the ‘bridge’ (above the agora) while we eat together. I am really keen that this area is used by most, if not all, students at the academy and I also hope that as many students as possible will join us for hot food at lunchtime. It is so important that we sit together to eat, talk and get to know each other. I have named every single room in the academy now: offices, classrooms, meeting rooms and even the ‘staffroom’ (which is not actually a staffroom and is not actually called the staffroom!). The building is really starting to take shape and the furniture designers have been busy helping us choose the best furniture for all the classrooms as well.
With only 169 days to go until we open for students, it is easy to see why we are so busy! I hope all those who have received confirmation of their places are as excited as I am, for the most amazing opportunity to be the pioneers in this incredible new secondary school. We will be contacting all those who have received a place before we break up for Easter and in the next 2 weeks our uniform supplier has promised that the weblink to our direct sales website will be made live.Read More
Posted on: 11/03/2019
Finding calm in the busy-nessIt has been an amazingly busy two weeks at the Deanery. The most important and exciting activity has been the next round of teacher recruitment. I am delighted to say that some of our new Year 7 students may actually have been involved in interviewing and recruiting their first teachers! Our teaching staff interviews have been taking place in local primary schools, and I am so grateful to the Headteachers, teachers and students of those schools for hosting us. First, we were at Tadpole Farm CE primary academy, one of our DBAT primary schools, where we interviewed teachers of RE. Then we interviewed teachers of Modern Foreign Languages at Oliver Tomkins CE primary school and finally last Friday we interviewed for a mathematics teacher at Shaw Ridge primary school. One of the really nice aspects of the last two days of interviews was the opportunity to use some space at Great Western Academy for our afternoon activities with the candidates – this gave us a wonderful opportunity to see a brand new school that is actually open, built by the same construction company, and get some idea of what it will be like to work at the Deanery in the first few years. Suffice to say we had 4 classrooms to ourselves, in a corridor that is not used at all yet, and on the first day of interviewing there, we did not actually see anyone else in the building, apart from the wonderful welcome we received at reception! We have been so impressed with all the staff that we have interviewed, and of course it goes without saying that the choices we have made have been really tough. I am really confident that those who have been selected will complement each other very well and will form a fantastic team. I am passionate about recruiting teaching staff who are outstanding teachers with deep, expert subject knowledge and as soon as we are able, we will let you know a bit more about those who we have appointed.
The Deanery building is moving on fast and this week I am getting on with the important task of choosing furniture and perhaps more importantly making sure all the signs in the building point the right way. We have designed smart ‘way-finding’ signs to point out where each department in the school is, which way the toilets are, where the lecture theatre is and so on. It is a pretty complicated task, as most of the design has to be done from the architects’ drawings, so tomorrow I am going to walk round the building again, just so I can be sure that we get things in the right place. I already know that I am going to have to choose my footwear carefully when the school is open. I must admit, I do not think I will be wearing my lovely heels at work quite so often. I know it has become fashionably acceptable on the London Underground to slip a pair of trainers on with your smart business suit, I may have to resort to the same when walking round the school! Some of the corridors are VERY long and it is a VERY big school. Just to reassure Year 6 who are coming up in September though, do not worry, we will make sure no-one gets lost in those first few weeks and we will help everybody find their way round.
You will perhaps have seen the tweets this weekend about the fantastic new footbridge being delivered yesterday. It is really great to see how the community is starting to take shape now, with the new gastro-pub being so popular it is really hard to book a table there! The houses will soon start to go up and I am sure before we know it Wichelstowe will be one of the most popular places to live in Swindon.
And finally, a word about how important it is to find moments of calm in all this busy-ness. I hope you enjoyed some pancakes last Tuesday and last Wednesday we marked the start of Lent, a period of refection and preparation for Easter. As Christians we often get asked about giving something up for Lent, indeed some people like to do this, and I have been known in the past to give up crisps for Lent (which incidentally for me is really challenging). But this year I have decided to be more ‘strategic’ with my Lenten promises. I am trying out a new method of working which I hope will enable teachers at the Deanery to keep a better work-life balance. And I am making sure that I spend less time on my phone and more time reading my book (I have actually deleted all my games from my phone and have made sure I always have my book with me in my handbag so in those spare 10 minutes I often have before a meeting I can read instead of playing Crossy Road!). We have a real duty to look after ourselves, because as Christians we believe we are created by God and have a real part to play in the world if we live life in all its fullness. We cannot do this if we are overwhelmed by work and too busy to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. So, I hope you will share this Lenten journey with me, spending less screen time, sharing precious time with friends and family and finding more time to be out walking in the fresh air and beautiful countryside all around us (and of course for me is being out with my gorgeous 3 dogs).Read More
Posted on: 25/02/2019
Exciting times aheadI hope you had a fantastic half term holiday, enjoying relaxation, family time and refreshment. I travelled to Finland to celebrate my 50th birthday and admit it was one of the most memorable times I have had abroad. I was so excited to be able to fulfil a lifetime ambition of mine, to drive a dog sled of huskies and to see the Aurora Borealis. I must admit it was a bit of a shock to the system to come back to Gatwick and find the temperature was a sunny 18 degrees centigrade, having left the Arctic Circle in minus 29 degrees of cold! Whilst I really enjoy and treasure my holidays and time away with my family, I must admit I am very excited to be back and get on with some of the most crucial parts of opening the Deanery.
We are entering one of the most exciting phases of the development of the school. In less than a week’s time, the first students to sign up to the Deanery will be notified of their place. This is a hugely significant time for the young people and their families, and I hope that in seven year’s time they will look back on their secondary education with fondness, exhilaration and pride. I am also entering the next phase of recruitment, beginning at the end of this week. It is really important for me to recruit staff who share our vision of an exceptional values-based education with the core values of hope, family and excellence at the centre. We will soon choose our catering company and I have also made quite a bit of progress choosing furniture.
Just before half-term we were able to welcome lots of visitors to the site to look round at the facilities we will have on offer once we open. I was so pleased that we had a really wide range of activities represented, from martial arts to dance, team games to individual sports; singing groups, drama groups, theatre groups and even interest from a chess club. The building boasts some of the best facilities in the region – I am still shocked every time I walk into the theatre at its sheer enormity and the astro-turf just looks even more stunning every time I see it! But of course, fantastic facilities are all well and good, what will really make this school exceptional and distinctive is the people who use it and how they are changed by it. I showed some of the construction company round with the people looking at the facilities and afterwards one of the team said to me, “what you said today really made me feel humble. We are building a fantastic building which will really contribute to and affect people’s lives for a long time, won’t it?” She said that it is very easy for them to become wrapped up in their jobs, making sure the project is delivered on time with the best building materials, ensuring the health and safety on site is adhered to, the drains are in the right place etc. but sometimes they forget how important that facility is they are actually providing. This building will set young people and their families up for life, giving them skills and competencies for jobs that may not even exist yet; building relationships and friendships that will last a lifetime; helping to secure firm foundations of knowledge, wisdom, hope, dignity and respect as well as equipping people to live well together and enjoy life in all its fullness.
I really hope you are as excited as I am about the prospect of making a real change in people’s lives, and amidst all the sad news in our country and local community recently, I hope that you, like me, can see the hope shining out of Wichlestowe as we build a better future for us all.
And finally, a word to the students who will be joining me in September - let me know your thoughts on gaining a place at the Deanery via Twitter – I’ll be praying for you and your families this week and cannot wait to welcome you into your new school in September 2019. Keep an eye on the website for details of our open-door events from July onwards and also our transition days.Read More