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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

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