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Posted on: 22/07/2019

Ofsted have been

I have to resist the temptation to start each blog post with “what a busy week that was”! Every day seems to be busy at the moment, but I am not complaining! We are having an amazing time, welcoming lots of visitors into the school, using the building in as many ways as we can before September to test all our systems, and also we are trying to get as many community groups in so that as many people as possible can benefit from our wonderful facilities. Some important news for parents: we had our Ofsted visit and I am delighted to report that our inspector was very pleased with what he saw. He reported to the Department for Education that he feels we are ready to open!! That is great news, we have completed all the legal activities prior to opening and can absolutely focus now on all the ‘nitty gritty’ aspects of making sure we are completely ready. The building is looking fantastic, with many more furniture deliveries having taken place since parents of our pioneering cohort visited. Last week we also invited into school those people who are considering places for 2020 – it seems amazing to think we are planning for those students, our second year group, when we haven’t even opened yet! On a visit last week to one of our feeder primary schools, I met with a group of three students Jamey, Joshua and Josh, who are joining us in September. I gave them the chance to interview me, I said they could ask any question they wanted and that I would use their questions in my weekly blog. So here goes: 1. How big is the football pitch? We have space on the field for 2 full sized and 1 junior sized football pitches! Our field is BIG! 2. Is the food going to be nice at school? Yes – I spent a long time choosing the right people to provide our food as I always have school dinners 3. Did the food taste delicious at open evening? Absolutely did! Sodexo did a fantastic job of showcasing their food 4. Who is your favourite football team? I’m not a huge fan of any one team, I do love watching good sport though, so I enjoy watching England when they play. If pushed I would say Norwich as that is my dad and brother’s team (but I don’t know anything about them really!) 5. Is Miss Cockwell (Headteacher at Oliver Tomkins school) your best friend? No, but I have built a really fantastic working relationship with her, as I have tried to do with all the other primary Headteachers, especially those who work in Church of England primary schools 6. Have you been a Headteacher before? No, but I have had some experience of being in charge when the Headteachers I have worked with in previous schools have been away from school. I also have been trained by some exceptional leaders who have given me a great insight into what it is like to be a Headteacher 7. What teams will we have? I want us to have all the traditional sports teams and more – I hope we can have a table tennis team, a badminton team, a chess team and a debating team as well as football, netball, hockey etc. 8. What is the stage like? The stage is amazing – it has a sprung floor, but you’ll notice it is not a raised stage, that is because the audience is raised 9. Have you got a trampoline? Yes! 10. Are your favourite colours grey and purple? Yes – actually I do like them and pink. I chose them for the logo and uniform because I think they look really smart and actually purple is a royal colour, so gives you an idea of the importance of what we are trying to do with our very smart uniform 11. Do you have your Alive model with you? Yes – always! 12. What car do you have? I love cars. I drive a Golf GTD at the moment, but lots of people in Swindon may remember my first real love – my yellow MG Midget that always used to be parked outside the front of St Joseph’s when I worked there. I love sports cars and I have owned 4 MG cars so far, I hope to get another one in the future! 13. Are we going to fill the school a year group at a time? Yes 14. Is sixth form boring? No, absolutely not, I loved being in the sixth form at my school and cannot wait until we have sixth form students at the Deanery! 15. How do SATs affect you in secondary school? Good question to end on! SATs will be used to give us an indication of your strengths and the areas where you may need some support. We will also do our own investigating to discover more about your ability, so SATs are not the only thing we will use to help us help you flourish. We just hope that you were able to do your best in your SATs and continue to try your hardest when you join us in September. Thanks for the great set of questions! Finally, I wanted to just finish with some news about an event that happened last Saturday. Our Deanery (our local group of churches) organised a prayer day in the school, to “pray the building in”. I was overwhelmed by the response – we had over 60 people come, both laity and clergy. I am so grateful to Revered Clive Deverell (our area Dean), Reverend Teresa Townsend (one of our Local Board of Governors) and Reverend Norma McKemey for all their organisation of the event and I am so grateful of the prayers of all – not just those who came to the event, but also I know that hundreds of people are praying for us. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.Read More

One life, live it....

Posted on: 24/06/2019

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.