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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

Holy week and Easter

Posted on: 17/04/2019

It is the school holidays and also Holy Week, so I have taken some time away from school work to be with family, friends and also to study and spend time engaging in Holy Week activities in preparation for Easter Sunday.

I hope by now students have received their postcards of welcome from me and look out for the post after Easter when I will be sending induction, uniform and registration information home.  Dates of transition days will be finalised and published.

I am reading some really interesting articles at the moment about leadership and autoethnography (my research for my Doctorate is in this area) and I have been noticing three things. 

First, an auto-ethnographer is described either as being 'a self-indulged narcissist' or 'self-reflexive and vulnerable'.  It strikes me that the same could be said about bloggers, of which apparently, I am now classed as one!  I hope my posts are interesting and I often wonder who reads them.  I offer my thoughts and insights just as that - I hope they are interesting and perhaps go some way to answering the question I was asked on Twitter a while back, "just what does a Headteacher with no students actually do?!".

The second thing I have noticed, is the parallel drawn between medicine and teaching.  This occurs a lot in 'evidence-based' practice: evidence-based medicine is held to be the gold standard of operating (pardon that pun!) and similarities are suggested that mean teachers should follow the lead and practice evidence-based teaching.  Real evidence-based medicine (argued by Greenhalgh at al, 2014):

  • makes the ethical care of the patient its top priority (all teachers would agree with this for students);
  • should make care individualised (again all teachers would agree with this for students);
  • is characterised by expert judgement rather than mechanical rule following (emphasis is mine);
  • shares decisions through meaningful conversations (all teachers would agree with this for students);
  • builds on strong relationships (all teachers would agree with this for students)
  • applies these principles at community level for the good of many (all teachers would agree with this for students).

The reason I put the middle bullet in bold is because I feel very strongly that teachers have to find their own way.  What works for me in the classroom or on the playing field, may not work for my colleagues.  We are individuals and whilst we will certainly have many well-established routines at the Deanery, I will resist saying to staff "you have to teach this (my) way" as that detracts from their professional integrity and personal style. 

Finally I am chuckling to myself that a) we have decided that there will be minimal homework for students at the Deanery in Key Stage 3, as we have a longer school day we want students to enjoy family time, rest and participate in out of school activities in evenings, at weekends and in the holidays.  Here I sit in the library at University, doing my homework!  I am amongst thousands of books, academic papers and my half-written essay, remembering that I have chosen to do this study (probably because I was inspired by all those who have taught me to love learning) and I am still studying at the very ripe-old-age of 50!  I passionately believe in lifelong learning and will hope to instill this in our students at the Deanery and hopefully bring a few members of their families along with us - watch out for evening classes run by Deanery staff in the future.  But b) I have also realised that I am writing this (for school) when I should be working (Uni work) and enjoying the holiday (family, friends and church activities).  Well, those of you who know me well will understand why, my work is also my passion, and I openly admit to enjoying every minute of it.  I was on a course recently with a friend, and during the introduction the course leader explained that you could either complete the course by attending for 5 days or complete the course with an essay submission at the end (involving quite a lot of reading and studying).  My friend was filled with fear, no-one had mentioned an essay to her, to be honest, she wouldn't have signed up for the course if they had!  Without saying anything, my friend looked across at me - I was smiling, excited at the prospect of more study, books, papers and an essay at the end to add to the fun!!

Happy Easter everyone – have a great holiday, a really uplifting Easter weekend and watch this space: next term so many things are going to happen and happen really fast.  There will be less than 100 days until opening; all the furniture will start arriving; the building will be finished; we’ll get the keys and by the time the next (summer) holidays come around, the Deanery will be open!

Reference:

Greenhalgh, T., Howick, J. and Maskrey, N. (2104) Evidence based medidine: A movement in crisis?  BMJ, (348),  pp. 3725