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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

I am not alone!!

Posted on: 02/05/2019

I hope you had an enjoyable Easter holiday and managed to restrain from eating too much chocolate!  Those who are practising Christians will know that Easter is always a busy time for church goers, and especially for those who lead services.  I am a volunteer in the Anglican (Church of England) team of churches where I grew up (Corsham, Lacock, Neston and Gastard) and I find that while I may not take services on Easter Sunday, I am always on the rota for the following Sunday – I think this is because the clergy people are usually so exhausted after all the main services and events of the previous weekend!  As I prepared for my sermon last Sunday, I thought it was about time I wrote in my blog a little bit about this, as my faith is a large part of who I am and why I do what I do.  The exact title of my volunteer role is ‘Licensed Lay Minister’, this means that I lead worship in church.  Lay ministers take on many roles in the Church of England, leading services, youth groups and teaching Sunday school to name but a few – I have been a Youth Leader in the past, but try to leave that to other people now so I’m not tempted to slip too much into ‘teacher’ role!  Lay ministers can take a wide range of services, but cannot normally lead the sacramental parts of worship such as holy communion, weddings and baptisms.  I have had the privilege of leading quite a few funerals in the past and can honestly say that it is a real source of pride to me to be asked to do this – to lead the final service of a person, usually known to me, and to bless and comfort their friends and families at what is their most broken time.  I trained as a lay minister over 20 years ago and actually did my final placement at Wroughton which is now the parish church of Wroughton and Wichelstowe.  I really do believe that all of the things I had experienced and achieved in my professional life bought me to be the Principal of the Deanery and of course my training and experience in worship leading no doubt helped me in securing the role.  It is really exciting for me to be able to put my professional expertise to such good use and to be working alongside friends from the parish where my official ministry all began; it is just fantastic!

It has been a busy couple of weeks at the school again – we didn’t actually stop over Easter as there is so much to be done at the moment.  The building is really taking shape now, we are only 3 weeks away from what is called ‘Practical Completion’ (PC), when the builders will finally put down their last paint brush and hammer and hand over the Deanery to us…. well almost.  PC will happen on the Friday (24th May) and then on Monday 27th May the very same company will pick up their hammers and spades again and begin work on Kingfisher Academy next door.  Many of you will probably have noticed that the hoardings have come down around the Deanery and the wood has been re-used to construct new hoardings a little further down the road, this is for the new Kingfisher site.  I am doubly delighted about this, as of course we are absolutely thrilled to be opening a DBAT primary school (with nursery) right next door (currently due to open in 2020), but it also means that actually our construction company will not be too far away for the whole of our first year!  I am sure everyone reading this will know that with any new buildings there may be a few initial ‘snags’ to sort out, don’t worry, we have already started writing a list but I have to say it is pretty short – the quality of finish in the building is fantastic.  So if there are any small things that we miss, I can literally open the front door of the Deanery and call across to the staff from BAM to come and help – pretty much exactly the same team are building Kingfisher Academy as the team who built the Deanery, so we will no doubt keep closely in touch!!  I am delighted about this, not just so that we can get them to sort out any minor problems, but I am thrilled that they are going to be able to see the building being open and used for what it is truly intended.  It is easy to see that the core team from BAM genuinely love their work and have a tremendous amount of pride in the Deanery and so I cannot wait for them to be able to come into assembly in the theatre and see it in action, to visit lessons and see the exceptional learning taking place and to join the students in sampling the wonderful food that is going to be prepared in the kitchens. 

And…. I have saved the best bit of news until last:  I am not alone anymore!  Mr Scutt, one of our Assistant Principals, started work with me last Tuesday.  He has already made a significant contribution to the project and I am absolutely sure that my first appointment to the teaching staff was a fabulous one.  It was a slightly strange start for Mr Scutt, as he is such a dedicated teacher that he didn’t want to leave his Year 11 class at his last school at this crucial time so close to the GCSE examinations, so on his first day of work at the Deanery he actually went back to his old school and taught there.  Then his first activity with us was to join me for a meeting in my ‘other’ office – the coffee shop at Waitrose!  I will really miss the staff from there, as they have made me so welcome and I actually do now have a regular order and my ‘own’ table where I usually sit!!  The manager, Simon, has been fantastically supportive of us and I can only echo what people say of the store there and its staff:  they are all fantastic.  No doubt I will still pop in when the Deanery opens!  On Wednesday of last week, I took Mr Scutt down to meet everyone at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school (SMRT) in Bristol as they are our partner school.  We had a fantastic day there, meeting the Headteacher (Mrs Gilpin) and all her Senior Team and some students from the student council and worship committee.  It was really good for Mr Scutt to see the school in action and on a day when he was little more relaxed than the last time he was there!  We held the interviews for his post at SMRT back in November 2018, so it was nice to be able to take him back and learn more about where the educational vision for our school began.  Then on Saturday Mr Scutt and I got all the new teachers who are going to be working at the Deanery together for the first time and took them on a tour of the school.  To say they were excited is an understatement!  It was fantastic to see them all as one group and to see how they immediately got on – I think they all realised how exciting it is going to be to be the pioneering group of staff who take our first students into the Deanery school.  We got to know a few things about them and shared more dreams of how we are going to work together to make the school the most amazing educational experience for our children. 

This week Mr Scutt and I have been extremely busy interviewing for two of the most important support staff posts to be appointed to the school.  On Monday we appointed our Business and Commercial Manager – this is a crucial post as it will be the person who not only oversees all the financial activities of the school but also coordinates all the amazing commercial activities that are associated with our building.  And on Tuesday we began the process of appointing our Facilities and Premises Manager, a key role in working with the Business Manager in maintaining and developing those facilities.  We have such a complicated and specialist building that we are actually having a state of the art system for managing all the technical, mechanical and specialist equipment and of course this will be something that our Business and Facilities managers have to understand and oversee.  I can honestly say that the sound and lighting box in the theatre is looks more like the cockpit of a jumbo jet at the moment, there is no doubt in my mind that we need some real technical expertise and help there!  Gone are the days of school productions where I was in charge back stage and my technical support was to dim the lights and fade in and out the music on a (then) state of the art cassette player!  Yesterday Mr Scutt and I had the absolute pleasure of showing our new Archdeacon of Malmesbury, Rev. Christopher Bryan round our school.  We were accompanied by our Diocesan Director of Education, Liz Townend, who has visited before and was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the building! 

Once we had walked round the Deanery we visited two Church of England primary schools – one that is in our Multi Academy Trust and one that isn’t.  First we visited Tadpole Farm academy where we saw the most amazing project based learning and had a lovely lunch!  And then we went onto Oliver Tomkins school, which is of course named after one of the Bishops of Bristol and here we saw students busily learning their PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education).  It was fantastic to see two schools in action, both using very different styles of learning and to try and understand a bit more about the fantastic work of our church education partners in the primary sector.

And finally, one thing I have noticed on all of the site tours now, but have not mentioned it before, despite the fact that the site is so busy (and it always is), every time I have visited and gone into the chapel, even though we have not dedicated this space yet, there is the most amazing feeling of calm and serenity – you can really feel God’s presence there.  As a practising Christian I am so honoured to be the founding Principal of our first Church of England secondary school in Swindon.  I cannot wait to be part of worship there, seeing people of all faiths coming together, to praise and worship.  I am also really excited about the fact that we have deliberately set out to serve all people: we look forward to welcoming people of no faith, some faith and a strong faith, because of course this truly reflects what it is like in our local communities.  Learning to respect differences and be tolerant of each other is a key message that we will be promoting from the very beginning.  But most of all, I thank God every day for the opportunity given to me, to bring together my professional and faith journeys and to share the talents and blessings I have been given in the knowledge that we can transform lives by building hope: empowering learners who have safe boundaries and strong relationships with each other.