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Posted on: 19/10/2019

Dignity and respect

I cannot believe it is nearly a month since I last wrote this. How time is flying by. So what have we been up to since I last wrote? Well, we held our first Open Evening for next year’s prospective students in the actual building where children will be going to school. Last year I held Open Evening’s in various (slightly drafty) church halls and churches, not so this year. Thursday 26th September saw over one thousand people come and visit the Deanery and I am proud to say they saw it at its best. We were delighted to be able to have the support of 30 of our current Year 7 students to act as welcomers and show off some of the wonderful activities we have been doing in lessons. Our staff put on some wonderful demonstration lessons and showed off Talbot wing where Year 7 are based. Our community facilities were in full use, with netball, Leadership Martial Arts and Hockey being played, as well as football on the field. It is safe to say we were exhausted at the end of the evening, but delighted with how much interest there was in our fantastic school. Since then we have had Open Morning tours every Friday, either for people who could not make the Open Evening or for those who wanted to see our school in action, with lessons taking place. We estimate that at least another 450 people have visited on the Fridays, how wonderful it is that people are taking the time to make a really considered choice with regards to their secondary school choices. I am so grateful to Miss Evans, my PA, who has run these tours with the Principal’s students. The morning after Open Evening we had some student visitors from Costa Rica come and join us for a day at the Deanery. Some of our students got to talk to them in their home language of Spanish, and then we treated them to one of the wonderful Deanery lunches. After lunch we played sports with them – basketball, cricket, table tennis and football. The following week saw an unexpected turn of events. I took a phone call at about 8.15pm from one of my DBAT colleagues informing me that a group of caravans had arrived in the car park. I had only left school about half an hour previously, as we had been at our first Science evening lecture. We had two fantastic scientists come from the University of Bristol and talk about ‘Gases in the Air’ to students from some of our local primary schools during the school day and then they repeated the same lecture in the evening for parents and other children. I was a bit taken aback at the telephone call, but after some discussions with our security and site team and the local police I was reassured that all was calm. The next morning I arrived early at school to check that the site was safe for our students to come to school as normal. That is one of the fantastic benefits of our facilities, that we actually have a very secure safeguarding line and can have members of the public on site whilst the students are safely in school, behind securely mag(netic)-locked doors. I was delighted that we were able to show hospitality to our visitors – they were invited to use our community toilet (especially helpful for two of the ladies who were pregnant) and also when I visited the caravans to talk to the visitors, they asked if they could have some bin bags so they could tidy up after themselves when they left. My experience of our visitors was a positive one – I was able to speak directly to our students and say that we respect the way our visitors choose to live their lives and that our Alive values call us to live well together and be selfless human beings. I was very proud of how our community - staff, students and families – reacted to our unexpected guests and am proud that we demonstrated dignity and respect to them before they left 2 days later. ‘Dignity and Respect’ was the theme of the conference I attended a few days later in London with the Anglican Association of Secondary School Head teachers. We were staying at a beautiful sanctuary in London, at The Royal Foundation of St Katherine in Limehouse. It is both an amazing place to stay and rest (without televisions in the rooms I hasten to add) and also a good place to go if you just wish for a good wholesome meal in a yurt! Situated right next to the heart of the bank business district, it really is the most remarkable oasis of calm. We had lectures from Bishop James Jones, who was the independent panel chair for the Hillsborough Disaster; Nigel Genders, the Chief Education Officer of the Church or England; Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, a former Bishop in New Zealand, now Bishop of Ripon, who after her lecture led us in a beautiful communion service. A really proud moment was when the school choir from St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school in Bristol joined us to lead our worship on the first day – their Head teacher, Mrs Gilpin, is Chair of the Committee, so she had invited her students to lead our worship and I have to say she cried tears of pride pretty much throughout! We also had a fantastic lecture from Dr Robert Loe from Relational schools, who reminded us how important positive relationships are in schools and from Dr Paula Gooder, who gave the most amazing lecture on bible stories relating to dignity and respect and then she took us to her place of work for a short tour (!) and choral evensong. St Paul’s cathedral nonetheless! I was really excited to go back there as I had visited there in July 2018 for the consecration of our Bishop of Bristol, Bishop Viv. And to have the opportunity to sit in the choir stalls, right next to the choir as they sang, was just uplifting. My time spent following Evensong was a little strange. I had planned to Skype into school, so I could attend the Local Board (Governors) meeting – just one of the advantages of having high tech ICT kit in such a modern school! What I hadn’t accounted for though was how long it would take to get back from St Paul’s after Evensong, so I realised I was going to have to Skype in, not from the comfort of my room back at St Katherine’s, but from somewhere on the way home! I chose a bench outside St Paul’s, used my mobile phone as a hotspot and dialled in on my laptop! I thought I would be fine, sat snuggled in a corner with my coat, my scarf and my headphones on. What I hadn’t accounted for was the slightly strange looks I got from passers-by at 7.30pm and the sudden drop in temperature once it got dark (pretty much straight away!!). After a few long items and some good discussions on the agenda, my wonderful Local Board members told me to pack up and get the Tube back home…..I didn’t need telling twice! Suffice to say, I had to walk right past a very well-known Sushi bar on the way back to the station, so I may just have popped in there for a warm-up supper! Being able to be out of school at the conference was not only very uplifting personally for me, but also taught me a very important lesson. I spoke to a lot of Head teachers last year who said that I probably wouldn’t want to be out of school for any conferences or meetings at all in this first year. This puzzled me. Part of my responsibility as a Principal is to attend meetings and conferences – there are going to be times when I have to go and represent the Deanery or continue my own professional learning and development. This was one of those times, and I am very proud to say that I did not hesitate in accepting the invitation to attend the conference, knowing very well that the Leadership team and staff I have appointed back at school would cope very well without me being there. The students did me proud and I was so moved when one student came up to me on Monday morning and said, “welcome back Miss Culling”! The students really have been fantastic this term – they have adapted to life at the Deanery exceptionally well. We have already established some excellent norms – family dining at lunch is a pleasure, and the students now have a rota to lead grace before we eat. We were moved by the donations received from students and their families for our wonderful harvest celebration assembly, and we were delighted to welcome some of our friends from Uganda to come and speak during the assembly. Our Student Council have had their first meeting of the term, our prefects have been busy at work already and our student librarians have now taken up their posts and have begun to make a difference already. Have you seen the wonderful professional pictures of our library on Twitter? Our Principal students have been busy and have excelled at leading tours on Open Mornings. Our catering company have really excelled themselves, our Cornerstone coffee shop has already become a lovely community hub and I have to admit I have put on a few pounds this term as the food and coffee is so good! Don’t forget to visit the Cornerstone during half term, with Gruffalo activities for the children. And finally a word about the school dogs, who have become very popular already. Izzy has just about completed her induction. She is very popular with students asking if they can walk her a break times and lunchtimes – she’ll never say no to a walk (unless it is raining!). She completes her morning inspection of the corridors, checking that no crumbs have been left, and she has even managed to behave well enough to be present in a couple of lessons. However, today she injured her foot while out taking some well-earned weekend exercise. Hopefully it will heal quickly and she’ll be able to come into school before we break up for the holiday. Elsa hasn’t done quite as well as I thought she would – she is taking a bit longer to get used to being in school and I fear this is because she is used to being with Fuzzy all day. Sadly Fuzzy is a bit too old to come to school, so we will just need to take our time to get Elsa used to being at the Deanery. Despite this, the impact of having the dogs in school has been remarkable, with both staff and students benefitting hugely from their presence. Sorry this has been a bit longer than normal, but there is so much to say! And sorry I have been blogging slightly less frequently than before, but I am sure you understand!Read More
Posted on: 24/09/2019

The dog has just started snoring....

It seems hardly a week since we started, but we are actually now in week 4! So much has happened in such a short time. We have had much positive feedback from students, families and community users, it is fantastic to see how our school has already had such a positive impact on the those who attend school here and use our fantastic facilities. Springing from our culture and ethos, we have established norms and routines for all aspects of our life at school. This was especially pleasing to be able to demonstrate yesterday to Tom Bennett, who is the Department of Education behaviour tsar. Tom was in the Deanery leading the final day of a four-day course for Swindon school leaders looking at how to run an effective school. Tom and the 24 delegates on the course joined us for lunch in the Agora and were hugely impressed with the calm and inclusive nature of family dining, with one member of staff commenting that the atmosphere was “wholesome” (and that wasn’t just the food!). Last Friday (20th September) saw our first parent and student tours during the school day. Two students accompanied me on the tours and actually it became evident very early on the tours that I was actually surplus to requirements. The parents were very much more interested (of course) in what the students had to say about the school and actually the students did a better job in most cases of explaining our systems and processes and the accompanying rationale! Well done Freddie and Sasha. This Thursday (26th September) sees our first Open Evening of this academic year. We are busy making plans for the evening, as we want to show off our school in its best possible way, but also to give a true picture of what life at the academy is like. We have been inundated – with students wanting to stay behind to help in various ways, and I think the offer of free pizza for their tea for them has been well received! It is fabulous to see how many students are already very proud of their school and want to encourage others to come here next year. Enrichment activities have been going really well, with students taking part in a wide variety of activities. We are still looking for volunteers to run activities later in the year, so if you are interested, please contact Mrs Kear-Luckman via reception. Students have been busy writing letters of application for various posts of responsibility – the first posts to be announced will be prefects, student council members and eco-monitors. I am going to have a very hard job, with my team of staff, to decide who takes up these positions of responsibility. One of the first letters of application I read started, “Dear Miss Culling, I would like to be on the school council because I can help the school be greater than it already is”. Whilst I am so pleased to hear a student already describe their school as “great”, to have such confidence in a young person is fantastic: ambition, drive and passion for making the school even better is just fantastic! We will announce the successful candidates in assembly and publish their names on the website shortly afterwards. We had an introduction assembly to our Harvest celebration yesterday, where Mr Duffy from the Swindon Food Collective came and spoke to us about how vital the volunteer run food bank is in Swindon. We will be collecting non-perishable goods to support the food bank in the run up to harvest, so please bring any donations to reception – students will be given details about ways they can contribute and details of our service will be released soon. Our school dogs have been busy already, having both completed their first induction days, they will continue to be introduced very slowly to the children. I am overwhelmed by the positive support I have received regarding the dogs and to see the joy on children’s faces as they meet Izzy and Elsa reinforces the rationale for having school dogs. Research has demonstrated the psychological and physical benefits of therapy dogs and I am delighted to be able to say that two students who suffer from anxiety (one completely dog-unrelated) have already benefitted hugely from the calming effect of two very waggy tails! In addition to the benefits for children, I am also aware that staff are benefitting from the presence of the dogs as well – there is something very soothing about stroking a dog and it is noticeable that my office gets many more visits on those days that ‘the girls’ are in! I would just like to point out that Izzy is curled up asleep while I write this and has just begun to snore, so maybe I have written enough for now! I hope this blog continues to be of interest and is providing an interesting insight into life at the academy.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.