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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

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!