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Posted on: 10/01/2020

Can you keep a secret?

It’s the end of the first week of our new term and I would like to let you all into a small secret. Please don’t tell anyone though. I have an image to protect! I have to be strong. Sometimes I have to hide my emotions even though inside I really could do with letting them show. This week I had to use all my Ninja skills to prevent anyone from seeing my eyes well up - not just once, but on three separate occasions. Yesterday we had the Ugandan Youth Choir join us, they performed some of their songs, spoke to us about their faith, taught us some Swahili, got us up singing and dancing and sang with our choir. And that was what got me. The combined choirs singing ‘I the Lord of sea and sky’. This is one of my favourite worship songs and has always been an inspiration to me. Luckily I sat on the side of the students in the theatre and was able to examine the configuration of the lighting rigs in great depth at the key moment - surprising how looking up helps when you are blinking away tears. The other two moments this week were brought about by comments from students. Both boys. And both mature beyond their years. I am so proud of how far the students have come already this year, I was even corrected by a student the other day when I jokingly reminded them how young they are and their instant retort was, “don’t forget Madam, you said in assembly that we are fast becoming young adults!” We had such a great end of term before Christmas, it is hard to look back and talk about all the wonderful events that took place as there are so many. The advent service at the start of December was enchanting, where our students led the beginning of the first ever Wichelstowe Christmas festivities. we were able to come together and celebrate with local business and families. Our decorations on the footbridge between Hall and Woodhouse and Waitrose certainly proved popular and our living Christmas trees (kindly donated by Waitrose) seem to be doing ok so far! The end of term saw the most wonderful Chrsitingle service in the theatre, with all the students making their own Christingle. We ended by lighting our candles and, surrounded by friends and families, sang ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ to send us all out to enjoy the festivities filled with hope in our hearts. We had our first monitoring visit from the Department for Education just before the end of term and I reflected at the end of the day on how I had felt in the build up. Before the visit I had tried to capture just a small part of what it is like to be at the Deanery in the documentation I had to submit. When proof reading it I thought it all seemed a bit too good to be true. It puzzled me. Would the visitor be able to see past the policies and procedures and really understand us? I needn’t have worried, right from the welcome he received at reception to the very end of the day after enrichment, he was able to see and understand the Deanery. The students spoke with confidence and articulacy beyond their years. Parents spoke honestly and reflexively about how we are doing. And as usual all the Deanery staff were their own amazing selves. We received feedback from the Department for Education just before we broke up for the Christmas holiday, and I am proud to say that they have reported that our inspector felt that we are doing very well, have got off to a really good start and look forward to seeing us grow and flourish in the future. The first week of our new term in 2020 has seen lots of excitement already. Enrichment has taken on new activities, with our first Forest school beginning on the field. Recruitment planning is well underway - both for students next academic year and for the new staff that will be joining us. Suffice to say this is going to be a very busy term ahead. Lettings have begun again with new activities coming on board all the time - I am so proud of how well the Anchor partners have been doing and look forward to being able to open up our fitness suite sometime later this year. And one last observation from me, today I have been in London at a conference for the Anglican Association of Secondary School Headteachers. It was great to be back in London at about the same time as last year when I had one of the pre-opening meetings with the Department for Education. I sat in the conference today and looked out of the window to Sanctuary Buildings opposite (the DfE headquarters) and thought that I could almost see myself sat there just about a year ago. Today gave me a chance to reflect on how far we have come in one year. This time last year I was still in hard hat and builder’s boots when I walked round the school. I had not chosen any of the computer equipment and had not even thought about ordering furniture yet! The school was purple still on the outside and parts of the floor was still not even down. Fast forward one year and we have a fully functioning school, with vibrant young people who are already flourishing. And I have to admit, there I go again..... I may have had to swallow hard and blink rapidly when I realised just how proud I am, of the people I work with and the students I have the privilege of calling my pioneers.Read More
Posted on: 8/11/2019

Tempus fugit

It is a real privilege to be able to write to you at the start of our second half term. As a staff body we are all bursting with pride at how well the students have settled in. In our first term review meeting before our half term holiday staff commented on how well behaved our students are, how smart they look in their uniform – they really do wear it with pride - and especially how well the new student leadership positions have been received. As you may be aware, we had a visit on the last day of term from Lord Agnew, who is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System, which means Lord Agnew works in Government for the Department of Education and has overall responsibility for Free Schools (of which we are one). Lord Agnew and his team were hugely impressed when they visited, loved meeting our fantastic pioneer students and commented on our “flying start and such strong leadership”. It was great to see so many people supporting the Cornerstone over half term - the Gruffalo events certainly seemed like a real draw (pardon the pun, but some of the colouring competition pictures were beautifully done!). Thank you to those people who came and made this event such a success. Thankfully everyone enjoyed a happy and healthy half term holiday and came back to school bursting with enthusiasm and energy! We have had a busy first week, with five days worth of activities to cram into four school days for students. Monday saw our first ever opportunity to gather all the school staff together from the Diocese of Bristol Academies Trust in our newest academy. Over 400 staff came together to share an amazing and inspiring day, with a wonderful key note address from Andy Wolfe, Deputy Chief Education Officer for the Church of England Education Office. We then broke off into workshops which ranged from playground games to theology, career planning to mental health first aid. When the students returned they began their first assessment week at the Deanery, and I am proud to say they have approached this week with tremendous spirit, dedication and enthusiasm. In assembly we heard from our local Road Safety Team and I was proud to see that just about everyone arrived at school the very next day wearing lots of high visibility clothing and accessories. On Thursday and Friday our attention turned to Remembrance, and students were involved in making artefacts during tutor time, ready for our acts of Remembrance on Sunday and Monday. For the first time ever our school will lay a wreath during the Church parade on Sunday in Wroughton, to remember and honour those who gave their lives in service of their country, and on Monday we welcome the British Legion to lead us in our act of remembrance at the 11th hour. I am so proud of the range of activities that we are already engaged with: you may have seen the school featured on BBC Points West last week, with the fencing club featured and the excellent work that is being done to develop this minority sport. Next week sees squash lessons beginning as part of our PE curriculum, a planning meeting for one of our really big conferences coming up and also our Christmas festivities are already being planned, so watch this space for more information on how and when you can come and celebrate with us. We are well under way with our plans already for next academic year and we will soon begin advertising for our next round of staff recruitment. The students will begin to choose their House names for the remaining four Houses and they will help us decide which classrooms we will move into for next academic year. It seems amazing to me, having had such a long 'run in', to now realising that whilst we may have only just started, we need to plan our second year of opening virtually straight away! And when speaking with Year 7 students on their return to school assembly, I mentioned the fact that they had already completed 1 out of the 28 half terms that they have at secondary school - only 27 to go! How time flies!Read More

Ofsted have been

Posted on: 22/07/2019

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.