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Posted on: 9/09/2019

What a wonderful week

We have had a fantastic week! Our week began on Monday with two days of staff training. The most important feature of those days for me was allowing staff time to get to know each other and develop strong relationships. We began the two days with a service in our chapel and ended the two days with a welcome drink with our local board members in the Hall and Woodhouse pub opposite school. In between we did a lot of familiarisation training and professional development activities. On Wednesday, from the minute the first student arrived, I had to struggle to keep myself together. Seeing our school uniform finally being worn by our pioneering students was a very proud moment for me. It had been a long time coming! Families, staff and governors gathered outside Hall and Woodhouse for a networking opportunity and a welcome cup of tea, before being escorted over to school. One of the members of our local board said he would arrange a few flag wavers to come and welcome the children onto the plaza, I had not quite expected the ‘few’ turn into so ‘many’! The plaza was full of friends of the school, including Bishop Lee of Swindon and our contractors, our friends from BAM construction. After gathering at Hall and Woodhouse, we waited to allow the minibus to arrive and then I walked in front of the students and welcomed them into their school for the first time. What a memorable way to start secondary school and I am especially delighted that Swindon Advertiser were able to be there to mark the occasion, so families can have an official record of the event as well as I am sure many photographs of their own. I was overwhelmed by all the good wishes that we received just before and on the day of our opening. I received a card from my first ever employer, the Headteacher from Oakfield school, and many other cards from local schools and Headteachers, and even a text at 3 a.m. from a colleague who I used to work with! She was forgiven for texting at such an unearthly hour as she now lives in Australia – such is the amount of support for our school, we truly have had good wishes from all round the world! I even received a beautiful plant and card from one of our founding families, this was such a kind and thoughtful action, it now takes pride of place in my office. And a special treat for me today was to receive a cake that a student had made for me over the weekend and actually iced my name on top (see my Twitter feed). How thoughtful and I will enjoy that with my cup of tea at break time. Our first activity in school was assembly, where we were able to introduce members of staff from our school and our multi academy trust and also begin to get a feel for how wonderful the building is. It was really moving to see so many eager faces sitting in the theatre, and to imagine the potential sitting in front of me. We had our first proper assembly, which included a reading from the bible and some prayers and then we sang – our first hymn was chosen so most people would know it (“One more step”) and we even had our Chief Executive and our Diocesan Director of Education accompany us on the guitar and piano respectively! Bishop Lee gave us an inspirational talk at the end of assembly, then led the final blessing. After assembly students went off into their tutor groups and began getting to know each other and their tutors, with various activities planned to give them a chance to mingle and meet new people. Break time on the first day became a well-established pattern for last week – with lovely food on offer from our fantastic caterers Sodexo. They kindly agreed to give all food last week to students and staff for free, and I am afraid I took great advantage of that, so I am back on my WW app this week! One of the loveliest and distinctive features of last week for me was our lunchtimes – we have family dining in the Agora, which means at the end of morning lessons, students come to the Agora, find a table with their friends, sit down first and then we all say grace together. After that, students collect their cutlery and lay the table for each other and are invited up to collect their lunch a table at a time. This makes for a wonderful atmosphere and is a really great representation of how we are able to grow our culture from the outset. Our students had this process explained to them on the first day and now it is our established practice. Activities included getting to know you, grill your teacher and building a spaghetti tower. All the students entered into the activities with a huge amount of enthusiasm, and it was wonderful to see that despite a few tears first thing in the morning, everyone left the first day with huge smiles, having made new friends and feeling a lot more settled. One really unusual thing that happened for us, was a large collection of parents who gathered in reception at the end of the day, and students who would not leave the Agora until they could see their parents. This took me a bit by surprise, but of course it is exactly what the parents and students are familiar with from primary school, it was just completely unexpected for a secondary school!! After a bit of encouragement and the odd phrase such as, “this is big school now, you can just go,” by the second day families and students had soon got the hang of just leaving! Enrichment began on the first day, with Mr Scutt leading a ‘marble roller coaster’ activity on Wednesday and Mrs Kear-Luckman leading a ‘capture the flag’ activity on Thursday. Students were given the opportunity to opt for their term 1 enrichment activities on Thursday and they begin in earnest this evening. It is fantastic to think that our students are benefitting already from the Anchor partners who use the Deanery as their home venue now, with top class coaching available to students as part of their enrichment activities. Parents will be aware that we had faced some challenges with our ICT installation, which was completely unexpected and made me very sad. The company we had been working with had gone into administration and so the project for deployment of software and getting the ICT systems fully operational at the start of term took a bit of a pause. I am delighted to say that we had tremendous support from the Department for Education and our partners in South Gloucestershire (Integra) so that we were able to get as many of the systems fully functional before teaching began last week. And the best news of all is that it seems at the moment that our ICT providers may be able to continue functioning as before. Please do hold them in your prayers if you are able. To get Parent Pay fully functioning was our biggest challenge and I am delighted to say, we think it is! My biggest priority is getting myself an account, as the food served to the children in the Deanery Kitchen (the name for our actual servery) is so lovely – long gone are the days when I will have to get organised the night before and make myself lunch, then the next day realise I have forgotten and rush into a petrol station on the way to work to buy emergency sandwiches! Once we got to Friday at 2.15 p.m. we were all exhausted, but a little bit elated as well. It was amazing to think that we had finally done it. Students from all over Swindon had come together and made a fantastic start to what is going to be the most amazing journey. Staff had launched straight into teaching high quality lessons, and looked as if they were completely at home in their new classrooms. For me some of the highlights included seeing students hold the door open for each other, saying “good morning” to each other and to members of staff as they come in, seeing students beaming as they leave school and actually skipping on the plaza – now as a secondary school teacher, you do not see that happen very often! One final thought – although it was the weekend, of course we were not closed. We had some fabulous activities here at the weekend, including a hockey festival celebrating 100 years of Swindon hockey club, a commissioning service for our local Revd. Ali Boulton from our Methodist friends and our first celebration event in the theatre with cabaret style seating and catering provided. I popped down on Saturday and left feeling very proud, that not only had we made a very successful opening of the school, but we had also already achieved our commitment to being a truly accessible and well used community space. What a privilege to be able to host such diverse activities and be supported by such truly professional and dedicated staff. And as I finish writing this blog, I am so pleased to say that I have just attended our first Morning prayer event in our chapel, where Revd. Phill from Wroughton and Wichlestowe Parish church came and led a few members of our community in morning prayer for the school. I am delighted to say this is a weekly event – if you are interested in attending, please contact my PA Vickey Evans.Read More
Posted on: 30/08/2019

A moment in time

Monday 2nd September 2019 is a moment in time, as is Wednesday the 4th September 2019. On Monday the Deanery CE Academy opens its doors to staff for the first time; on Wednesday we welcome our first cohort of students. I almost cannot believe that finally the time has come. This building is finished. The students are enrolled. The furniture is in. The lessons are planned. We are just waiting now. Waiting for the staff to come, waiting for the students, waiting for the adventures to begin. I wish I had kept a tally of all the decisions I have made on the way. I had the privilege over the past 24 hours of showing my family around the school. When I told them that I had chosen the paint, the floor covering, the carpets, the chairs, the tables, the toilet roll holders, the doors, the door handles, the signs, the computers, the telephones, the projectors, the computers, the laptops, the programmes, the fitness equipment, the quotes on the walls, the fridges, the shredders, the goalposts…. Seriously, the list is just ridiculous! All the decisions that have needed to be made have been made. We are waiting… waiting for Monday, waiting for the staff to come, waiting for Wednesday, waiting for the children to come, waiting. And as you know, I have been waiting a long time! And those of you who know me well, know I am not good at waiting. So, some of the things I have been thinking about over the past few days have been more to do with lessons than ever. I remembered a quote from Haim Ginott that I was given once by an inspirational Principal I worked with, it goes like this: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.” Teachers are critical. Great teachers are critical to making a school a great success. The Deanery teachers have already proved how great they are, I am so excited to put them altogether as a team and see just how amazing they can be. And so, as I showed our Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning at Swindon Borough Council, Gary Sumner round the school today, I explained that whilst we have the most amazing building ready and waiting for our staff and students to enter, it is not the building that is the most important part. Don’t get me wrong, the facilities are exceptional, world class even. But the Deanery school is not just about the building and the facilities – the beating heart of the school will be the people contained in it. The staff and the students. And that is why I am becoming increasingly excited, because very soon both the staff and students will be entering the building, inhabiting it, making it their own, breathing life into it, bringing it to life, helping the building fulfil its purpose. Which brings me to explain the title of this blog: one moment in time. I am reminded of this song by Whitney Houston, excerpts chosen by me: Each day I live I want to be, a day to give the best of me I'm only one, but not alone, my finest day is yet unknown… …I want one moment in time, when I'm more than I thought I could be When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away And the answers are all up to me… And in that one moment of time I will feel eternity I've lived to be the very best… …Give me one moment in time When I'm more than I thought I could be When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away And the answers are all up to me… …If you seize that one moment in time… This to me is a close a representation of our purpose: to live life in all its fullness. To be the best you can be. To be ‘more than I thought I can be’. This is my dream, my prayer for all those who are going to join me on the Deanery journey. The pioneering staff and the pioneering students. I hope my blog has been of interest to those of you who have followed it – I do intend to carry on, as I think it will be fascinating to record post-opening developments as well as pre-opening ones. Please, if you do, pray for us this weekend, as we make our final preparations and rest ready for our opening. Pray for the families who are about to step out on this journey with us. But most of all, pray for our students, as they enter into the Deanery as children and will leave as young adults: selfless individuals, loving life, bringing out the best in each other and living life in all its fullness.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