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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

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