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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

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.