What a wonderful weekWe 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
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.