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Posted on: 8/07/2019

What a week that was

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

This is it!!!

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

155 days to go....

Posted on: 01/04/2019

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….?