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Posted on: 20/03/2020

I feel really flat

We have just closed. The last student has gone home. Staff are just finishing off work before packing up for the weekend. It is really quiet in the building, as if no-one else is here. The road outside my office is quiter than normal. The school dogs appear to know, they seem sad. And even the building site opposite is empty. I just did not think it would be like this. Today was the last time we will see these students for some time, we know that. There is just so much uncertainty. When will we be able to get back to normality? When can we bring our community back together? When can we begin to mend the brokenness that now exists. There is just so much unknown right now. I admit, I am exhausted - the emotional energy expended over the past few weeks has been enormous. Trying to keep everyone positive and focused, trying to reassure everyone that things will be ok, trying to plan for the unknowable. And I have huge admiration for my colleagues with full schools, this is how I feel with just one year group, I can only imagine how hard it has been for colleagues with full cohorts, and those with exam aged year groups. However, I was reminded again today of how much strength is to be gained from our faith, our students and our staff. The students sang better than ever today, "Here I am Lord", they meant it when they sang it. The staff excelled once again, dropping everything, rallying round, changing plans at the last minute, making new plans, caring, noticing. And we ended as we began, with a service. We thought about and talked about what our faith means. We prayed, for each other, our world and our futures. And we sang, lifting our praises to God and lifting our spirits. I might have mentioned, this is my first job as a Principal, and I absolutely never imagined I would be leading a group of colleagues, students and their families through a pandemic. But as I have said, it might be hard, I might be exahusted, but it remains to be a privilege beyond even what I had imagined. We have coined a new phrase - we are now "clo-pen". So whilst we closed the school today, we re-open differently on Monday, to look after those children of the essential key workers who need to stay at work to fight the Corona virus, to look after us and to ensure essential services continue. We are proud to be playing our part, to be looking after children of nurses, NHS workers, TAs, HLTAs, railway workers etc. This will be a new challenge for us, and one that we relish. Playing our part. Helping in any way we can. We are also going to spend the weekend working out creative ways to keep in touch with each other, because already we recognise that the students are extremely anxious about not seeing us and each other for an unknown amount of time. I have just looked back at where I started blogging....14th January 2019. My first news blog was entitled "what does a Principal with no students do?" - I had no idea when I wrote that back then, that here I am a year and half later and of course again, I have no students! That is not strictly true, I currently have 150 wonderful students in our first cohort and another 210 signed up and ready to join us in September. So we have decided that for the next period of time we are going to do all we can to keep in touch with all of our students - current and new - and rest assured, we will be working hard in the background, planning the most amazing work for you, making sure we know how well you are doing when you are working at home and preparing to get you back into school just as soon as we can. Whilst you are not with us, take care. Take care of yourselves, of each other, your friends and familes. Eat well. Sleep well and get plenty of fresh air. And please, follow the advice of the Government closely, try to avoid too much social media. And definitely remember, that we are with you, we were here for you, we are still here for you and we will be here for you when you can come back. Miss Culling 20th March 2020 Read More
Posted on: 13/03/2020

So much to do, so little time!

It has been such an incredibly busy time. I remember a parent asking me in September if I would continue to write my blog and I said "of course!" *kicks oneself realising it has been a long time since I last wrote* Last week a student came to me and asked me my date of birth....I'm not shy, so told him and he came bouncing back to tell me that I have been asleep for more hours in my lifetime than he has been alive! It is always exciting working with students in this age group. Today I was covering a lesson and we were considering how different life is for 11 year olds today than it was when I was 11. Mobile phones were a thing of the future...you should have seen the look on the students' faces when I told them about our lack of computers at my school (and we were one of the better equipped ones) and their puzzlement when I tried to explain that I didn't know what the internet was, I owned a camera that was not on my phone (I didn't have one of those until my 30s!), and I used to take pictures and send the film away to have the pictures processed and did not get them back sometimes for up to 2 weeks! The point of the discussion was to look at future jobs and employment possibilities. It is hard to imagine that some of the jobs people my age are doing now had not been invented when we were at school. The technology to do this was a mile off. Schools were so different then. And now, here we are, some 40 years later and we as a staff body are trying to prepare our students for uncertain futures. Not withstanding the terrible events unfolding around us with relation to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of the technologies that will be part of every day life in our students have not been thought about yet. Their jobs will be in industries that may not exist yet. But somehow we are trying to prepare them for their futures in the best way we can. I have learnt in the past 6 months that the key to running the school successfully has been based around the strong relationships we are building. Those students and families who have really engaged with us, been open and prepared to grow with us, have no doubt been the most successful. We have already seen some amazing flourishing, some incredible moments and witnessed huge amounts of progress in students' character development, maturity and learning. In any large collection of children and people, sometimes relationships do not always go as well as we would hope. We have had some occassions where this has happened, but we have used our skill and dedication to help teach our students how to find their way back with dignity and respect. We have only just got half way through our first year and we are already well into our planning for next year. Our recruitment work was a resounding success, and we were heavily over subscribed for students about to join us in September 2020. I am so proud of this. We will be sending admission information out to families at the end of March/beginning of April and look forward to welcoming all our new students here in September. We are alreayd well under way with recruitment of our new staff for next year. We have already recruited some very talented teachers, bursting with enthusiasm and ideas to bring to us and look forward to meeting lots more new people as we seek to fill all our staff vacancies before the end of May. Our Lettings continue to be a huge success and I am about to attend a wonderful performance in our theatre by the Judith Hockaday school of dance and drama. Who could imagine this time last year as the building was still unfinished. There were no children here, flourishing and growing into young adults, no fixtures, no hockey, no dance, no fencing, no Leadership Martial Arts! Now we have events on most weekends, lettings every day/evening and soon there will be 360 students in the school. The world is facing an unprecendented challenge in this modern age. We continue to pray for a swift end to the spread of the virus. If you can, join us in this prayer: Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy in this time of uncertainty and distress. Sustain and support the anxious and fearful, and lift up all who are brought low; that we may rejoice in your comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. I pray that the school will continue to flourish, the new families who are looking forward to joining us are as excited as we are, and we will continue to grow together from strength to strength. 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.