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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

Can you keep a secret?

Posted on: 10/01/2020
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.