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Posted on: 9/09/2019

What a wonderful week

We have had a fantastic week! Our week began on Monday with two days of staff training. The most important feature of those days for me was allowing staff time to get to know each other and develop strong relationships. We began the two days with a service in our chapel and ended the two days with a welcome drink with our local board members in the Hall and Woodhouse pub opposite school. In between we did a lot of familiarisation training and professional development activities. On Wednesday, from the minute the first student arrived, I had to struggle to keep myself together. Seeing our school uniform finally being worn by our pioneering students was a very proud moment for me. It had been a long time coming! Families, staff and governors gathered outside Hall and Woodhouse for a networking opportunity and a welcome cup of tea, before being escorted over to school. One of the members of our local board said he would arrange a few flag wavers to come and welcome the children onto the plaza, I had not quite expected the ‘few’ turn into so ‘many’! The plaza was full of friends of the school, including Bishop Lee of Swindon and our contractors, our friends from BAM construction. After gathering at Hall and Woodhouse, we waited to allow the minibus to arrive and then I walked in front of the students and welcomed them into their school for the first time. What a memorable way to start secondary school and I am especially delighted that Swindon Advertiser were able to be there to mark the occasion, so families can have an official record of the event as well as I am sure many photographs of their own. I was overwhelmed by all the good wishes that we received just before and on the day of our opening. I received a card from my first ever employer, the Headteacher from Oakfield school, and many other cards from local schools and Headteachers, and even a text at 3 a.m. from a colleague who I used to work with! She was forgiven for texting at such an unearthly hour as she now lives in Australia – such is the amount of support for our school, we truly have had good wishes from all round the world! I even received a beautiful plant and card from one of our founding families, this was such a kind and thoughtful action, it now takes pride of place in my office. And a special treat for me today was to receive a cake that a student had made for me over the weekend and actually iced my name on top (see my Twitter feed). How thoughtful and I will enjoy that with my cup of tea at break time. Our first activity in school was assembly, where we were able to introduce members of staff from our school and our multi academy trust and also begin to get a feel for how wonderful the building is. It was really moving to see so many eager faces sitting in the theatre, and to imagine the potential sitting in front of me. We had our first proper assembly, which included a reading from the bible and some prayers and then we sang – our first hymn was chosen so most people would know it (“One more step”) and we even had our Chief Executive and our Diocesan Director of Education accompany us on the guitar and piano respectively! Bishop Lee gave us an inspirational talk at the end of assembly, then led the final blessing. After assembly students went off into their tutor groups and began getting to know each other and their tutors, with various activities planned to give them a chance to mingle and meet new people. Break time on the first day became a well-established pattern for last week – with lovely food on offer from our fantastic caterers Sodexo. They kindly agreed to give all food last week to students and staff for free, and I am afraid I took great advantage of that, so I am back on my WW app this week! One of the loveliest and distinctive features of last week for me was our lunchtimes – we have family dining in the Agora, which means at the end of morning lessons, students come to the Agora, find a table with their friends, sit down first and then we all say grace together. After that, students collect their cutlery and lay the table for each other and are invited up to collect their lunch a table at a time. This makes for a wonderful atmosphere and is a really great representation of how we are able to grow our culture from the outset. Our students had this process explained to them on the first day and now it is our established practice. Activities included getting to know you, grill your teacher and building a spaghetti tower. All the students entered into the activities with a huge amount of enthusiasm, and it was wonderful to see that despite a few tears first thing in the morning, everyone left the first day with huge smiles, having made new friends and feeling a lot more settled. One really unusual thing that happened for us, was a large collection of parents who gathered in reception at the end of the day, and students who would not leave the Agora until they could see their parents. This took me a bit by surprise, but of course it is exactly what the parents and students are familiar with from primary school, it was just completely unexpected for a secondary school!! After a bit of encouragement and the odd phrase such as, “this is big school now, you can just go,” by the second day families and students had soon got the hang of just leaving! Enrichment began on the first day, with Mr Scutt leading a ‘marble roller coaster’ activity on Wednesday and Mrs Kear-Luckman leading a ‘capture the flag’ activity on Thursday. Students were given the opportunity to opt for their term 1 enrichment activities on Thursday and they begin in earnest this evening. It is fantastic to think that our students are benefitting already from the Anchor partners who use the Deanery as their home venue now, with top class coaching available to students as part of their enrichment activities. Parents will be aware that we had faced some challenges with our ICT installation, which was completely unexpected and made me very sad. The company we had been working with had gone into administration and so the project for deployment of software and getting the ICT systems fully operational at the start of term took a bit of a pause. I am delighted to say that we had tremendous support from the Department for Education and our partners in South Gloucestershire (Integra) so that we were able to get as many of the systems fully functional before teaching began last week. And the best news of all is that it seems at the moment that our ICT providers may be able to continue functioning as before. Please do hold them in your prayers if you are able. To get Parent Pay fully functioning was our biggest challenge and I am delighted to say, we think it is! My biggest priority is getting myself an account, as the food served to the children in the Deanery Kitchen (the name for our actual servery) is so lovely – long gone are the days when I will have to get organised the night before and make myself lunch, then the next day realise I have forgotten and rush into a petrol station on the way to work to buy emergency sandwiches! Once we got to Friday at 2.15 p.m. we were all exhausted, but a little bit elated as well. It was amazing to think that we had finally done it. Students from all over Swindon had come together and made a fantastic start to what is going to be the most amazing journey. Staff had launched straight into teaching high quality lessons, and looked as if they were completely at home in their new classrooms. For me some of the highlights included seeing students hold the door open for each other, saying “good morning” to each other and to members of staff as they come in, seeing students beaming as they leave school and actually skipping on the plaza – now as a secondary school teacher, you do not see that happen very often! One final thought – although it was the weekend, of course we were not closed. We had some fabulous activities here at the weekend, including a hockey festival celebrating 100 years of Swindon hockey club, a commissioning service for our local Revd. Ali Boulton from our Methodist friends and our first celebration event in the theatre with cabaret style seating and catering provided. I popped down on Saturday and left feeling very proud, that not only had we made a very successful opening of the school, but we had also already achieved our commitment to being a truly accessible and well used community space. What a privilege to be able to host such diverse activities and be supported by such truly professional and dedicated staff. And as I finish writing this blog, I am so pleased to say that I have just attended our first Morning prayer event in our chapel, where Revd. Phill from Wroughton and Wichlestowe Parish church came and led a few members of our community in morning prayer for the school. I am delighted to say this is a weekly event – if you are interested in attending, please contact my PA Vickey Evans.Read More

A moment in time

Posted on: 30/08/2019

Monday 2nd September 2019 is a moment in time, as is Wednesday the 4th September 2019.  On Monday the Deanery CE Academy opens its doors to staff for the first time; on Wednesday we welcome our first cohort of students.  I almost cannot believe that finally the time has come.

This building is finished.  The students are enrolled. The furniture is in.  The lessons are planned.  We are just waiting now.  Waiting for the staff to come, waiting for the students, waiting for the adventures to begin. 

I wish I had kept a tally of all the decisions I have made on the way.  I had the privilege over the past 24 hours of showing my family around the school.  When I told them that I had chosen the paint, the floor covering, the carpets, the chairs, the tables, the toilet roll holders, the doors, the door handles, the signs, the computers, the telephones, the projectors, the computers, the laptops, the programmes, the fitness equipment, the quotes on the walls, the fridges, the shredders, the goalposts…. Seriously, the list is just ridiculous!  All the decisions that have needed to be made have been made.  We are waiting…  waiting for Monday, waiting for the staff to come, waiting for Wednesday, waiting for the children to come, waiting.  And as you know, I have been waiting a long time!  And those of you who know me well, know I am not good at waiting.

So, some of the things I have been thinking about over the past few days have been more to do with lessons than ever.  I remembered a quote from Haim Ginott that I was given once by an inspirational Principal I worked with, it goes like this: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”  Teachers are critical.  Great teachers are critical to making a school a great success. The Deanery teachers have already proved how great they are, I am so excited to put them altogether as a team and see just how amazing they can be.  And so, as I showed our Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning at Swindon Borough Council, Gary Sumner round the school today, I explained that whilst we have the most amazing building ready and waiting for our staff and students to enter, it is not the building that is the most important part.  Don’t get me wrong, the facilities are exceptional, world class even.  But the Deanery school is not just about the building and the facilities – the beating heart of the school will be the people contained in it.  The staff and the students.  And that is why I am becoming increasingly excited, because very soon both the staff and students will be entering the building, inhabiting it, making it their own, breathing life into it, bringing it to life, helping the building fulfil its purpose.

Which brings me to explain the title of this blog: one moment in time.  I am reminded of this song by Whitney Houston, excerpts chosen by me:

Each day I live I want to be, a day to give the best of me
I'm only one, but not alone, my finest day is yet unknown…

…I want one moment in time,  when I'm more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me…

And in that one moment of time I will feel eternity
I've lived to be the very best…

…Give me one moment in time
When I'm more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me…

…If you seize that one moment in time…

This to me is a close a representation of our purpose: to live life in all its fullness.  To be the best you can be.  To be ‘more than I thought I can be’.  This is my dream, my prayer for all those who are going to join me on the Deanery journey.  The pioneering staff and the pioneering students.  I hope my blog has been of interest to those of you who have followed it – I do intend to carry on, as I think it will be fascinating to record post-opening developments as well as pre-opening ones.  Please, if you do, pray for us this weekend, as we make our final preparations and rest ready for our opening.  Pray for the families who are about to step out on this journey with us.  But most of all, pray for our students, as they enter into the Deanery as children and will leave as young adults: selfless individuals, loving life, bringing out the best in each other and living life in all its fullness.