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Posted on: 24/06/2019

One life, live it....

In preparing for the final run-in to opening, I cannot get out of my head the purpose of why we are opening the Deanery. Our strapline is educating so children can enjoy ‘life in all its fullness’. I have been thinking a lot about what life in all its fullness means. It is easy to see, as you walk round the Deanery, how children with a wide range of skills and strengths will flourish at the academy. The physical space is flooded with light and spectacular panoramic views (mostly of countryside) and high ceilings make the classrooms seem even bigger than they actually are. The external natural environment has been maintained so that the outside parts of the school still retain many different natural habitats and as I arrived to work last Friday I was greeted by a low swooping fly-past from a swan, no doubt heading to the canal. The facilities are incredible as has been widely publicised and now that the furniture is going in, it is easy to see how we will be able to cater for students of all abilities and interests – the science labs are looking fantastic, with commanding views (probably the best in the school) and lots of very technical equipment. The facilities for the arts are spectacular – I was showing 2 visitors around on Friday who said that the hairs on their arms were standing up the second they walked in, but the theatre made them both emotional! I still get that feeling and I am pretty used to walking in there. And of course the sports facilities are fantastic – myself and one of the Governors (also an ex-P.E. teacher) took an imaginary P.E. lesson in the sportshall last Friday and it felt incredible! Both of us can’t wait to get our trainers on and get started!! But of course, as I have mentioned before, that the building is only a very tiny part of the story. What is far more important are the people in the building. I think by the end of today we will have secured all the staff who will be working with us as we open. Last week we interviewed more people in the space of a week than I think I have ever done before! We made some key appointments as well, and for any of you who saw my advertisement, you will know that we were looking for Superman or Wonder Woman – we found her!! We also recruited a Family Support Worker who has extensive experience and expertise in supporting students and their families. We have nearly sorted our classroom support roles and are just finalising details of the Facilities and Estates Team. This is the most exciting time, as we can see the staff finally coming together and I can begin to work on building a really strong team ethos. I have said at most of the interviews we have conducted that whilst the building is incredible and we will be working in the most amazing physical environment, the most important part is of course the people inside the building. The beating heart of the Deanery will be based on our aspiration to help people flourish and this is central to everything we are doing. Strong relationships, safe boundaries and empowered learning are the three key ingredients, we believe, in helping people flourish. So in amongst time spent interviewing last week, Mr Scutt and I also thought lots about our curriculum and met with our specialist curriculum advisors – they are supporting us with making the Deanery learning experience incredible, coherent, fit for purpose and robust enough that it will prepare students for life in jobs that may not have been created yet. We spent time last week building the school timetable and trying to find the best balance of lessons for students so that they can prosper while they are learning: I have found over the many years of my teaching career that sometimes it is the balance of lessons in a day that can help a student learn (or in some case not learn). Getting the balance right from the start is something we are working really hard on. The other thing we are committed to doing is helping students build strong relationships and so as we begin to meet all our primary school partners in our transition meetings, we are keen to learn about where strong friendships already exist and who works well with who. It is important to recognise that whilst we will be really careful to try to make the correct balance in tutor groups and teaching groups, occasionally things may go wrong. As children grow up they learn how to build friendships and working relationships, but sometimes this means they have to learn how to cope in situations where things may not go as we would always wish them to. Friendships sometimes change, sometimes young people make mistakes and have arguments and sometimes working relationships do not work as well as we would hope. And it is at these times that often the pressures of modern day living lead people to say and do things that they would not normally do and may live to regret later. This is why we will spend a lot of time talking with students and teaching them about how to build and keep strong relationships. One key thing is to teach students how to find a way back when things do go wrong. I often find when you ‘un-pick’ a friendship fall-out issue it is a relatively minor incident that has snowballed and become a large issue: we will teach students how to prevent this from happening. And we will support students in learning how to use modern forms of communication for their benefit and not their harm. You will know by now that I enjoy posting on Twitter, I wouldn’t say that I am a huge social media fan, but I do understand the benefit and interest of using such apps. However, I am very clear about boundaries with my accounts and I think this is where young people especially need help and support. So we have very clear social media policies at the Deanery and we are very clear about mobile phone use at school as well. I recognise that some parents/carers may wish their students to carry a mobile phone with them for the journey to and from school, and this is fine, but once at school mobile devices are to be put away and not used. I will explain this very clearly to students and parents/carers at our information evening in July, and I would really welcome the support of parents/carers with this as well. There is never an occasion when a student would need their mobile device to communicate with family during the school day – if there is an emergency then this is something that the adults in school should be helping the young person with, so we will help and support where it is appropriate. I started this week’s blog with a well-known advertising slogan (other cars are available!) and it is something that I have been thinking a lot about lately (especially since I turned 50 earlier this year!). I keep coming back to it in my head as I walk round the Deanery, putting the final plans in place for opening and working out where lessons will take place and how learning will be enhanced by our fantastic staff and incredible facilities. Many people have said to me, “I wish I could be 11 again and go to school here”! I do know what they mean, but I also believe we should all live life with no regrets, and to do this we have to embrace all the opportunities we have and throw ourselves in to each challenge that presents itself to us. We are going to give students at the Deanery the most amazing opportunities and sometimes students may be challenged by them, all we ask is that they have a go and try their best. Living life in all its fullness means being the best person you can be and if we do not try new things and experience new challenges, we do not give ourselves the opportunity to be the person we could be. I know some students are getting really excited now about the induction days and starting in September – this is excellent news. But I also know that some are anxious or apprehensive and this is natural as well. New beginnings and new people and strange places to go can all be a little bit daunting for some. Just to reassure those students and their families, try not to worry, we have done this lots of times before, we know how to look after you and we know that very soon you will look back on your transition with genuine pride and a sense of achievement. And before you know it, class of 2019, our “pioneers”, will be welcoming class of 2020, our second intake, who as you will have seen from the website, we are already making plans to welcome in with an open evening at the end of July.Read More
Posted on: 18/06/2019

How lucky I am....

Yesterday saw the start of the arrival of most of our furniture. Some of the fixed furniture is provided by the construction company, BAM, but most of it is procured separately. I think I have already spoken in previous blogs about all the choices I have made and now I am starting to see the choices turn into reality. I wonder how many actual choices I have made? I should have kept count I suppose – there must be thousands of choices to be made. And of course, now I am finding one or two things that, having chosen them, I now do not like them. It is a bit like ordering food at a restaurant – if there are lots of choices (and sometimes there are not, because I am vegetarian) then I often struggle to choose and end up picking something really quickly when the waiter comes over, because I feel under pressure as everyone else is clearly “ready to order”! I can honestly say that there are only a couple of minor things that are not to my liking and out of the many choices I have made, I think that is not bad! When you come to the school, see if you can spot what it is I now don’t like – I’m not going to tell anyone what it is, but I think you’ll be able to tell! Yesterday all the tables arrived on some really massive lorries – can you imagine how many student tables are needed for a school as big as the Deanery? All the tables were unloaded from the lorries and put in the Agora – that is a lot of tables all in one place! And today the furniture installers will begin to distribute the tables around the building to the correct classrooms. This is such a big project that the company who have supplied all our furniture (YPO – who by the way have been FANTASTIC) have actually sent a manager to be at the school all the time that the deliveries are arriving and they have also supplied us with a team of installers. The installers job is to help unload, then unpack all the furniture, count it, check it is not damaged, and then take it to the correct place and make sure it fits and works ok. It all sounds relatively simple, but when you consider just how many tables are needed in a school that houses 1470 students when it is full….that is a lot of tables! The chairs should arrive on Wednesday and of course there are a few more of those, because we need office chairs and meetings chairs and classroom chairs and dining chairs and chairs for people of different sizes! Luckily there are seats already installed in the lecture theatre, the Egg (theatre) and viewing gallery in the sports hall….there are going to be SO many places where you can sit down at the Deanery! Kind of ironic when you realise we actually do not have much time to sit down at all at the moment!! Last week we were busy reading application forms for all the latest jobs we have advertised. It was a fascinating time, reading the many hours of work people had put into their applications. I realise that it takes not only time to apply for a new job, but often lots of emotional energy as well. Good people who work in schools often do not want to leave the place where they work because they feel such loyalty to the children, families and colleagues that they work with. I remember leaving each of the jobs that I have had very vividly. When I left Oakfield school in 1992 I cried because that was my first job – I had wanted to be a P.E. teacher since I was about 11 and to have finally made it, I was so proud. When I left St Joseph’s I cried because I had been there 9 years and really felt that I had become the teacher I had always wanted to be. We had been inspected a number of times and done really well, especially in the P.E. department, and back in those days we won lots of sport competitions and trophies and athletic events. Mr Huish, Mr Dixon, Mrs O’Connell, Mr Ouldridge and I were quite a team! We spent many happy hours on the sports field together and we even managed to convince Mr Wells, the then Headteacher, to take a P.E. cover lesson. That was a sight to behold – it was so foggy that you could hardly see the rugby pitches, and it was freezing cold as well, but there was our Headmaster, standing on the field, whistle in hand (and his coat on!) making sure that the P.E. lesson continued, despite the member of staff being off ill. I cried for days when I left my next school, John Cabot Academy in Bristol, because I had made some really great friendships there and been at the school for 12 years through some of the most amazing times of development in education. We changed from being a City Technology College into an Academy. We started the now very successful Cabot Learning Federation. We wrote and taught and sold an amazing new and innovative curriculum for Year 7 students. We built a new part of the school, which housed Year 7, a fitness suite, a dance studio and also some sixth form classrooms. And we changed Principal a number of times, so I had the privilege of working for some really inspirational leaders. And then I cried when I left Nova Hreod, mainly because I was so proud at what a transformation we had made to the school during my time there. I remember in my leaving speech there I used a phrase from Winnie the Pooh who said, “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I think that sums up leaving any school – most people who work in schools feel this every time they leave somewhere. And the ‘something’ is usually the students that they are going to be leaving behind. And so today and tomorrow, as I prepare to interview the people who have applied for some key non-teaching jobs, I realise that some of the people who are coming to interview maybe actually quite heavy-hearted at the thought of leaving their current school. For those who have been successful in getting an interview and the ones who have already got a job with us, the thought of starting at the Deanery at the very beginning of our journey has far outweighed the heaviness of heart that they might feel. Staff have been attracted to apply because they want to be with us from the start, and set up and establish an amazing school. With our focus on the very highest of expectations for each and every member of our community, this is so important. I have been thinking a lot over the last week about what it really means to “live life in all its fullness” and it is this that we are seeking from each and every member of staff, the desire to be with us as we help every child to understand what this means and to discover in their own way how this can be true for them. So whilst I know that choosing furniture for the 292 rooms is really important, it goes without saying that I think the choices that we have made and will be making about the staff who will be working at the Deanery are far more important. There have been a lot fewer choices to make about staff (we will be a very small team for a few years), but it really is the people in a school who make a great school. We have met many of our families who are coming to the Deanery and already know we have some super students joining us for their secondary education. As I mentioned when we finished our teacher recruitment, we know we have recruited some exceptional teachers and we now will be making sure that we appoint some amazing staff to support them. You will be finding out more about our staff over the next few weeks, both in this blog and on our website, so keep an eye out for that. And of course, most of the team will be with us for transition evening on the 10th July. Please, if you can, spare a thought for the candidates who we are interviewing over the next couple of days and also the panels who will be conducting the interviews, and if you do, perhaps you would pray for us as we make these final arrangements as the day of opening is now only 78 days away!!!!Read More

888 days

Posted on: 20/05/2019

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!