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Posted on: 21/04/2020

I have been here before

This time last year we were busy making final preparations for opening. I remember sitting on my sofa, with my laptop on the floor in front of me, writing postcards to the new students about to join us. I have just done exactly the same exercise for our new students! I must admit, I had imagined that I would not have to hand write all the addresses again – I thought I would have a PA who would be able to print address labels for me! Social distancing and working from home has prevented that from happening, although there is something very satisfying about addressing 210 postcards by hand! At least you don’t have to lick the stamps these days. I am a bit sad that we had the postcards printed well before any of this pandemic had started, so the last part of the postcard says that we hope you enjoy the last few terms at primary school. I do hope our Year 6 students get a chance to go back to school and say their goodbyes properly. Closure is very important. Whilst we are very excited about welcoming the class of 2020 to the Deanery, we feel strongly that there needs to be a really good ending to our students’ time at primary school. And so here we are again. Planning not an opening this time, but a re-opening! We are desperate to get our students (class of 2019) back into school, but of course we have to wait until we are told that it is safe to do so. Mr Scutt and I spoke yesterday about how strange it is, he has been working with me for a year now, having started his new post straight after Easter 2019. We spent some time working together in various coffee shops and the rest of the time we spent working from our respective homes. We really did not imagine we would be doing that again this year!!! So much has happened since we became “clo-pen”, our phrase for being “clo-sed” but “o-pen” for vulnerable children and children of key workers. We have tried to carry on with some things as normal. For example, we still think it is really important to celebrate the birthdays of our students (and staff) and so have continued to send them cards to make these happy but different times. I was moved last week to receive this wonderful message from one of our students in response to her receiving her birthday card: “Dear Miss Culling, I have just got your lovely card. Thanks for thinking of me even if school is closed. Both my mum and I got very moved. The card almost had me in tears! I miss school very much but am working very hard on the homework. I really wish we could come back in for the last term at least...fingers crossed. Xxx much love Abigail”. We have continued to have our weekly whole year group assembly, via Zoom, and it is wonderful to see the delight on the face of the children as they see us and each other. Our tutor worship is posted on the website weekly and forms a resource now that families can use with each other, I am very proud of this and hope it is helpful to people. And of course we, like many other schools, are setting work for our students to complete at home. We are not being as prescriptive as some, as we also believe it is really important for children to be spending valuable time with their families, and whilst our teachers have set plenty of tasks for students to get stuck into we are encouraging them to take regular breaks away from their screens, and make time for having fun and connecting with friends and family. We feel strongly that students should go outside if at all possible for their one hour of daily exercise, following government guidelines, and make the most of the wonderful weather to play, run, walk, cycle, search for insects, make mud pies, climb trees, complete scavenger hunts, pick up fallen leaves, smell blossom, listen to the birds singing and soak up some healthy fresh air and sunshine. Lots of things are new. I have overcome my fear of video conferencing and now find I can hop from one platform to the next with ease, even remembering (most of) my passwords! I never thought I would hear myself say this, but email communication has been vital. Those people who know me well know that I much prefer ‘face-mail’ and in fact when we opened last September I specifically asked the staff not to send emails to each other if they were in school; I even threatened to ignore some emails if I thought the person sending the email could have come and spoken to me! Of course now we find ourselves being drawn into whole conversations on email, text, chat and even live on documents. Who would have thought?! I have learnt about etiquette on video conferencing as well, often finding I am having to bite my tongue as I now know that I am rather prone to interrupting…. Who would have known?! And I have occasionally turned up to a formal meeting in either pyjamas or even shorts….tactical placement of the camera and blurred backgrounds have become my thing! I am sure there have been many changes in everyone’s households. One significant change to mine has been the loss of Fuzzy, our oldest school dog. Fuzzy was happy until the day before she died, actually she was last seen chasing a chicken around the garden late into her last evening! She awoke next morning and had to visit the vets for the last time. I had always made it clear at school that Fuzzy was a very old lady and probably would not be with us for much longer. I explained this on many occasions to the students and staff. However, not only did Fuzzy have the most amazing last 6 months of her life, becoming part of the Deanery family, it also gave us a small way in to talking about loss and bereavement with our students. I was overwhelmed with the kindness of students and their families who messaged me to send their condolences. Fuzzy was put to sleep on the last day of school and I did not have the heart to tell anyone until the following week. I even was sent a picture of Fuzzy that one of the students had drawn, how kind. We have had to deal with the sad news that one of our members of staff has had a bereavement since we closed. Mrs Cornish lost her husband after a very short and aggressive bout of cancer. Again I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of our families and friends of the school, sending messages of condolence to Margaret and her family. I am incredibly proud to say that, as a Lay Minister in the Church of England, I was asked if I would perform the funeral for Chris. This was such a privilege for me and a moment I will not forget for a long time. As a minister I have both performed and been involved in many funerals, but this one will stand out for many reasons. Not least the fact that there were only 7 mourners. I am so pleased to be able to report that despite this, the funeral felt just as it should have – a very dignified moment for us to focus our attention on Chris, celebrate his very full life and say goodbye to his earthly body. I am struck by the horror of the situation we are living through. I, like many others no doubt, look for the statistics every day and hope desperately to see the number of deaths going down. But taking Chris’s funeral made me stop and think. Each and every one of those statistics are people, not just in our country but worldwide, and each and every one has a family and friends who are now mourning their death. The effects of this pandemic are being much talked about, economic, social, political. I am considering all of these, thinking often about how to re-open the school and like many others desperately hoping we can get back as soon as possible. But I am also very aware that we need to keep in mind so much more. The effects of all these deaths take their toll on people. Not least the families and friends of the victims, but also the undertakers, ministers, crematorium staff to name but a few more who are working so much harder than normal. And so in that respect, I have actually never been here before and know that hopefully we probably will not see another pandemic like this in my lifetime. I have spoken to the staff this week and said that we really do need to mark this moment in time for our students – they are living through history being made and will talk to their children and grandchildren about this. I do hope that if you are reading this you are in good health and that you will remain in good health, keep safe and until we do meet again, keep in your minds (and prayers if you do) our school, our families and the many thousands of people who are affected by Covid-19.Read More
Posted on: 20/03/2020

I feel really flat

We have just closed. The last student has gone home. Staff are just finishing off work before packing up for the weekend. It is really quiet in the building, as if no-one else is here. The road outside my office is quiter than normal. The school dogs appear to know, they seem sad. And even the building site opposite is empty. I just did not think it would be like this. Today was the last time we will see these students for some time, we know that. There is just so much uncertainty. When will we be able to get back to normality? When can we bring our community back together? When can we begin to mend the brokenness that now exists. There is just so much unknown right now. I admit, I am exhausted - the emotional energy expended over the past few weeks has been enormous. Trying to keep everyone positive and focused, trying to reassure everyone that things will be ok, trying to plan for the unknowable. And I have huge admiration for my colleagues with full schools, this is how I feel with just one year group, I can only imagine how hard it has been for colleagues with full cohorts, and those with exam aged year groups. However, I was reminded again today of how much strength is to be gained from our faith, our students and our staff. The students sang better than ever today, "Here I am Lord", they meant it when they sang it. The staff excelled once again, dropping everything, rallying round, changing plans at the last minute, making new plans, caring, noticing. And we ended as we began, with a service. We thought about and talked about what our faith means. We prayed, for each other, our world and our futures. And we sang, lifting our praises to God and lifting our spirits. I might have mentioned, this is my first job as a Principal, and I absolutely never imagined I would be leading a group of colleagues, students and their families through a pandemic. But as I have said, it might be hard, I might be exahusted, but it remains to be a privilege beyond even what I had imagined. We have coined a new phrase - we are now "clo-pen". So whilst we closed the school today, we re-open differently on Monday, to look after those children of the essential key workers who need to stay at work to fight the Corona virus, to look after us and to ensure essential services continue. We are proud to be playing our part, to be looking after children of nurses, NHS workers, TAs, HLTAs, railway workers etc. This will be a new challenge for us, and one that we relish. Playing our part. Helping in any way we can. We are also going to spend the weekend working out creative ways to keep in touch with each other, because already we recognise that the students are extremely anxious about not seeing us and each other for an unknown amount of time. I have just looked back at where I started blogging....14th January 2019. My first news blog was entitled "what does a Principal with no students do?" - I had no idea when I wrote that back then, that here I am a year and half later and of course again, I have no students! That is not strictly true, I currently have 150 wonderful students in our first cohort and another 210 signed up and ready to join us in September. So we have decided that for the next period of time we are going to do all we can to keep in touch with all of our students - current and new - and rest assured, we will be working hard in the background, planning the most amazing work for you, making sure we know how well you are doing when you are working at home and preparing to get you back into school just as soon as we can. Whilst you are not with us, take care. Take care of yourselves, of each other, your friends and familes. Eat well. Sleep well and get plenty of fresh air. And please, follow the advice of the Government closely, try to avoid too much social media. And definitely remember, that we are with you, we were here for you, we are still here for you and we will be here for you when you can come back. Miss Culling 20th March 2020 Read More

Tony on floor 5 smells of sardines

Posted on: 09/04/2019

I 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.  

We will:

  • 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:

https://the-arc.org.uk/   

A blog post written by our current Chair of Governors:

https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/student-behaviour-motivation-and-the-potential-of-attachment-aware-schools-to-redefine-the-landscape

And the Government recruitment and retention strategy is here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-recruitment-and-retention-strategy