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Posted on: 20/03/2020

I feel really flat

We have just closed. The last student has gone home. Staff are just finishing off work before packing up for the weekend. It is really quiet in the building, as if no-one else is here. The road outside my office is quiter than normal. The school dogs appear to know, they seem sad. And even the building site opposite is empty. I just did not think it would be like this. Today was the last time we will see these students for some time, we know that. There is just so much uncertainty. When will we be able to get back to normality? When can we bring our community back together? When can we begin to mend the brokenness that now exists. There is just so much unknown right now. I admit, I am exhausted - the emotional energy expended over the past few weeks has been enormous. Trying to keep everyone positive and focused, trying to reassure everyone that things will be ok, trying to plan for the unknowable. And I have huge admiration for my colleagues with full schools, this is how I feel with just one year group, I can only imagine how hard it has been for colleagues with full cohorts, and those with exam aged year groups. However, I was reminded again today of how much strength is to be gained from our faith, our students and our staff. The students sang better than ever today, "Here I am Lord", they meant it when they sang it. The staff excelled once again, dropping everything, rallying round, changing plans at the last minute, making new plans, caring, noticing. And we ended as we began, with a service. We thought about and talked about what our faith means. We prayed, for each other, our world and our futures. And we sang, lifting our praises to God and lifting our spirits. I might have mentioned, this is my first job as a Principal, and I absolutely never imagined I would be leading a group of colleagues, students and their families through a pandemic. But as I have said, it might be hard, I might be exahusted, but it remains to be a privilege beyond even what I had imagined. We have coined a new phrase - we are now "clo-pen". So whilst we closed the school today, we re-open differently on Monday, to look after those children of the essential key workers who need to stay at work to fight the Corona virus, to look after us and to ensure essential services continue. We are proud to be playing our part, to be looking after children of nurses, NHS workers, TAs, HLTAs, railway workers etc. This will be a new challenge for us, and one that we relish. Playing our part. Helping in any way we can. We are also going to spend the weekend working out creative ways to keep in touch with each other, because already we recognise that the students are extremely anxious about not seeing us and each other for an unknown amount of time. I have just looked back at where I started blogging....14th January 2019. My first news blog was entitled "what does a Principal with no students do?" - I had no idea when I wrote that back then, that here I am a year and half later and of course again, I have no students! That is not strictly true, I currently have 150 wonderful students in our first cohort and another 210 signed up and ready to join us in September. So we have decided that for the next period of time we are going to do all we can to keep in touch with all of our students - current and new - and rest assured, we will be working hard in the background, planning the most amazing work for you, making sure we know how well you are doing when you are working at home and preparing to get you back into school just as soon as we can. Whilst you are not with us, take care. Take care of yourselves, of each other, your friends and familes. Eat well. Sleep well and get plenty of fresh air. And please, follow the advice of the Government closely, try to avoid too much social media. And definitely remember, that we are with you, we were here for you, we are still here for you and we will be here for you when you can come back. Miss Culling 20th March 2020 Read More
Posted on: 13/03/2020

So much to do, so little time!

It has been such an incredibly busy time. I remember a parent asking me in September if I would continue to write my blog and I said "of course!" *kicks oneself realising it has been a long time since I last wrote* Last week a student came to me and asked me my date of birth....I'm not shy, so told him and he came bouncing back to tell me that I have been asleep for more hours in my lifetime than he has been alive! It is always exciting working with students in this age group. Today I was covering a lesson and we were considering how different life is for 11 year olds today than it was when I was 11. Mobile phones were a thing of the future...you should have seen the look on the students' faces when I told them about our lack of computers at my school (and we were one of the better equipped ones) and their puzzlement when I tried to explain that I didn't know what the internet was, I owned a camera that was not on my phone (I didn't have one of those until my 30s!), and I used to take pictures and send the film away to have the pictures processed and did not get them back sometimes for up to 2 weeks! The point of the discussion was to look at future jobs and employment possibilities. It is hard to imagine that some of the jobs people my age are doing now had not been invented when we were at school. The technology to do this was a mile off. Schools were so different then. And now, here we are, some 40 years later and we as a staff body are trying to prepare our students for uncertain futures. Not withstanding the terrible events unfolding around us with relation to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of the technologies that will be part of every day life in our students have not been thought about yet. Their jobs will be in industries that may not exist yet. But somehow we are trying to prepare them for their futures in the best way we can. I have learnt in the past 6 months that the key to running the school successfully has been based around the strong relationships we are building. Those students and families who have really engaged with us, been open and prepared to grow with us, have no doubt been the most successful. We have already seen some amazing flourishing, some incredible moments and witnessed huge amounts of progress in students' character development, maturity and learning. In any large collection of children and people, sometimes relationships do not always go as well as we would hope. We have had some occassions where this has happened, but we have used our skill and dedication to help teach our students how to find their way back with dignity and respect. We have only just got half way through our first year and we are already well into our planning for next year. Our recruitment work was a resounding success, and we were heavily over subscribed for students about to join us in September 2020. I am so proud of this. We will be sending admission information out to families at the end of March/beginning of April and look forward to welcoming all our new students here in September. We are alreayd well under way with recruitment of our new staff for next year. We have already recruited some very talented teachers, bursting with enthusiasm and ideas to bring to us and look forward to meeting lots more new people as we seek to fill all our staff vacancies before the end of May. Our Lettings continue to be a huge success and I am about to attend a wonderful performance in our theatre by the Judith Hockaday school of dance and drama. Who could imagine this time last year as the building was still unfinished. There were no children here, flourishing and growing into young adults, no fixtures, no hockey, no dance, no fencing, no Leadership Martial Arts! Now we have events on most weekends, lettings every day/evening and soon there will be 360 students in the school. The world is facing an unprecendented challenge in this modern age. We continue to pray for a swift end to the spread of the virus. If you can, join us in this prayer: Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy in this time of uncertainty and distress. Sustain and support the anxious and fearful, and lift up all who are brought low; that we may rejoice in your comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. I pray that the school will continue to flourish, the new families who are looking forward to joining us are as excited as we are, and we will continue to grow together from strength to strength. 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.