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Posted on: 21/08/2020

Getting ready for re-opening

It has been a long time since I wrote here. This is primarily because there was so much to do and so much to read to prepare and plan for both the end of our first year and now the re-opening in September. When reflecting over the summer on my first year as Principal with students at the academy, I am reminded of how proud I felt as we looked back on all the things we crammed into the shortened time we had with our students actually physically in the building. I can only imagine the impact that the pandemic has had on their lives, changing their futures and all our daily lives. However, I am mindful and thankful that the Deanery has remained relatively unscathed both during the pandemic andin the most recent problems associated with public examinations. I hope that by the time our Class of 2019 get to the end of Year 11, we may, as an education system have sorted out a fair, reliable and just system. We have been very busy over the summer, preparing for our reopening. I realise that we have assimilated phrases and words into our daily vocabularly that meant either different things before or certainly were not used as often: lockdown (we have a policy for that, but it cetainly wasn't as planned!), isolation (we don't do that as a general rule, but we all did that), shielding (as a PE teacher that means something completely different to me), social distancing (I just thought that was me being a bit introspective and wanting time to study!), PPE (to me this previously stood for Pre-Public Exams)and Zoom (that was my favourite ice-lolly as a child). Now I find our procurement is very different - normally we are spending hours pouring over stationery catalogues and choosing new exercise books, this year we've been sourcing hand sanitiser, tape measures and for the floor, one way signs, face shields and clear perspex to make screens. And I kick myself that after only one year we now need to buy more and new bins for classrooms, all with lids. It has been a strange time to be a novice Principal, but then everyone has been a novice this year, no-one has ever really had to do any of this before, so I guess I was suddenly not new at it, just travelling the same path as all other leaders of schools. One thing is for sure, we always take particular care over our newly qualified teachers, especially in September when all things are new to them - this year we are all effectively newly qualified - having to go back to school to completely new ways of working and being. We will all have to learn to teach in a slightly nuanced way, perfect our craft in new ways, I suspect use non-verbal communication much more, use many more reassuring smiles and to a large extent lose proximity from our behaviour management toolkit. I, like many others, cannot wait to get back. I know it is going to be hard work and different, but challenge accepted. Who knows what will happen in the next 12 months, this time last year I wrote about one moment in time, obviously not knwoing what was ahead. We continue to pray for healing in our world, for a safe and swift return to school and 'normal' and that we can continue to build our exceptional school so that all our students and their families can live life in all its fullness. Read More
Posted on: 21/04/2020

I have been here before

This time last year we were busy making final preparations for opening. I remember sitting on my sofa, with my laptop on the floor in front of me, writing postcards to the new students about to join us. I have just done exactly the same exercise for our new students! I must admit, I had imagined that I would not have to hand write all the addresses again – I thought I would have a PA who would be able to print address labels for me! Social distancing and working from home has prevented that from happening, although there is something very satisfying about addressing 210 postcards by hand! At least you don’t have to lick the stamps these days. I am a bit sad that we had the postcards printed well before any of this pandemic had started, so the last part of the postcard says that we hope you enjoy the last few terms at primary school. I do hope our Year 6 students get a chance to go back to school and say their goodbyes properly. Closure is very important. Whilst we are very excited about welcoming the class of 2020 to the Deanery, we feel strongly that there needs to be a really good ending to our students’ time at primary school. And so here we are again. Planning not an opening this time, but a re-opening! We are desperate to get our students (class of 2019) back into school, but of course we have to wait until we are told that it is safe to do so. Mr Scutt and I spoke yesterday about how strange it is, he has been working with me for a year now, having started his new post straight after Easter 2019. We spent some time working together in various coffee shops and the rest of the time we spent working from our respective homes. We really did not imagine we would be doing that again this year!!! So much has happened since we became “clo-pen”, our phrase for being “clo-sed” but “o-pen” for vulnerable children and children of key workers. We have tried to carry on with some things as normal. For example, we still think it is really important to celebrate the birthdays of our students (and staff) and so have continued to send them cards to make these happy but different times. I was moved last week to receive this wonderful message from one of our students in response to her receiving her birthday card: “Dear Miss Culling, I have just got your lovely card. Thanks for thinking of me even if school is closed. Both my mum and I got very moved. The card almost had me in tears! I miss school very much but am working very hard on the homework. I really wish we could come back in for the last term at least...fingers crossed. Xxx much love Abigail”. We have continued to have our weekly whole year group assembly, via Zoom, and it is wonderful to see the delight on the face of the children as they see us and each other. Our tutor worship is posted on the website weekly and forms a resource now that families can use with each other, I am very proud of this and hope it is helpful to people. And of course we, like many other schools, are setting work for our students to complete at home. We are not being as prescriptive as some, as we also believe it is really important for children to be spending valuable time with their families, and whilst our teachers have set plenty of tasks for students to get stuck into we are encouraging them to take regular breaks away from their screens, and make time for having fun and connecting with friends and family. We feel strongly that students should go outside if at all possible for their one hour of daily exercise, following government guidelines, and make the most of the wonderful weather to play, run, walk, cycle, search for insects, make mud pies, climb trees, complete scavenger hunts, pick up fallen leaves, smell blossom, listen to the birds singing and soak up some healthy fresh air and sunshine. Lots of things are new. I have overcome my fear of video conferencing and now find I can hop from one platform to the next with ease, even remembering (most of) my passwords! I never thought I would hear myself say this, but email communication has been vital. Those people who know me well know that I much prefer ‘face-mail’ and in fact when we opened last September I specifically asked the staff not to send emails to each other if they were in school; I even threatened to ignore some emails if I thought the person sending the email could have come and spoken to me! Of course now we find ourselves being drawn into whole conversations on email, text, chat and even live on documents. Who would have thought?! I have learnt about etiquette on video conferencing as well, often finding I am having to bite my tongue as I now know that I am rather prone to interrupting…. Who would have known?! And I have occasionally turned up to a formal meeting in either pyjamas or even shorts….tactical placement of the camera and blurred backgrounds have become my thing! I am sure there have been many changes in everyone’s households. One significant change to mine has been the loss of Fuzzy, our oldest school dog. Fuzzy was happy until the day before she died, actually she was last seen chasing a chicken around the garden late into her last evening! She awoke next morning and had to visit the vets for the last time. I had always made it clear at school that Fuzzy was a very old lady and probably would not be with us for much longer. I explained this on many occasions to the students and staff. However, not only did Fuzzy have the most amazing last 6 months of her life, becoming part of the Deanery family, it also gave us a small way in to talking about loss and bereavement with our students. I was overwhelmed with the kindness of students and their families who messaged me to send their condolences. Fuzzy was put to sleep on the last day of school and I did not have the heart to tell anyone until the following week. I even was sent a picture of Fuzzy that one of the students had drawn, how kind. We have had to deal with the sad news that one of our members of staff has had a bereavement since we closed. Mrs Cornish lost her husband after a very short and aggressive bout of cancer. Again I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of our families and friends of the school, sending messages of condolence to Margaret and her family. I am incredibly proud to say that, as a Lay Minister in the Church of England, I was asked if I would perform the funeral for Chris. This was such a privilege for me and a moment I will not forget for a long time. As a minister I have both performed and been involved in many funerals, but this one will stand out for many reasons. Not least the fact that there were only 7 mourners. I am so pleased to be able to report that despite this, the funeral felt just as it should have – a very dignified moment for us to focus our attention on Chris, celebrate his very full life and say goodbye to his earthly body. I am struck by the horror of the situation we are living through. I, like many others no doubt, look for the statistics every day and hope desperately to see the number of deaths going down. But taking Chris’s funeral made me stop and think. Each and every one of those statistics are people, not just in our country but worldwide, and each and every one has a family and friends who are now mourning their death. The effects of this pandemic are being much talked about, economic, social, political. I am considering all of these, thinking often about how to re-open the school and like many others desperately hoping we can get back as soon as possible. But I am also very aware that we need to keep in mind so much more. The effects of all these deaths take their toll on people. Not least the families and friends of the victims, but also the undertakers, ministers, crematorium staff to name but a few more who are working so much harder than normal. And so in that respect, I have actually never been here before and know that hopefully we probably will not see another pandemic like this in my lifetime. I have spoken to the staff this week and said that we really do need to mark this moment in time for our students – they are living through history being made and will talk to their children and grandchildren about this. I do hope that if you are reading this you are in good health and that you will remain in good health, keep safe and until we do meet again, keep in your minds (and prayers if you do) our school, our families and the many thousands of people who are affected by Covid-19.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.