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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

The dog has just started snoring....

Posted on: 24/09/2019

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.