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Posted on: 31/01/2020

1 year ago today....

Last January I sat in a conference in London listening to advice from the New Schools Network, Principals and the Department for Education aimed at supporting Principal Designates in their final preparations before opening. And here I am one year later, having been invited back, to speak about my experiences! What a privilege. I hope I can begin to get across today what an amazing 365 days it has been, and how fantastic a school instantly becomes when the students and staff arrive. I am going to be talking this morning about some of the final preparations we did and all the policies we wrote and the furniture we purchased, but I’ll be honest that this is not really what the Deanery is about. I had the privilege this week of interviewing our next Head Girl and Head Boy. We decided in September that we would rotate the duties and responsibilities for the Principal students, especially in the first year, as it is a huge task and we did not want to over burden any one student. I was delighted with the founding Principals students, their confidence, eloquence and ability to translate our vision and values into actions and behaviours. Our next two Principal students will, no doubt, be as special but also I sense they will take the roles in different directions and bring new dimensions to the roles. Term continues to fly by. We are already well into writing the assessments for our second assessment week. We are re-launching our lettings booking system soon. We are doing a full review of the facilities and seeking lots more new and exciting clubs and activities to come and use the Deanery facilities. We have done our first thorough review of progress data. We are already planning and writing schemes of work for next year. We are beginning to buy all the new resources for next year. We have just launched the Accelerated Reader scheme. We are planning trips and visits for this and next year. And of course we are recruiting staff for next year already. Perhaps some of the delegates here today might imagine that this time next year the pace of a Principal’s work would slow down once the school opened, I must remember to get that message across, that it absolutely does not! Despite having all my wonderful colleagues working with me on planning and writing and teaching and leading, our days still seem to be as busy as ever, if not busier! My poor PA keeps saying that “it just about feels like we are getting on top of our to do list” and that is the point at which I grin quietly to myself and give her another 20 jobs to add to the list! I really had no idea that my career would take me in this direction back in 1987 when I set out on my training to be a PE teacher. I have had some wonderful opportunities in my career and continue to be overjoyed at the transformation we are making in our students’ lives. As I sat and listened this week to the hopes and aspirations of our students for their careers, I quietly prayed for them. For success. For resilience. For opportunities. For creativity. And for good people to guide them on their way. And of course, it dawns on me that 1 year ago, neither myself or the current Year 7 students at the deanery knew each other. That seems almost impossible! And there is another group of Swindon families and students out there waiting to hear if they have a place with us for next September. I hope and pray for them as well, that they have made the right choice and are as excited about their prospects as we are. I wonder what exciting tales I will have to tell by next January?!Read More
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

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.