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Posted on: 20/05/2019

888 days

It 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

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….?