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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
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

I feel really flat

Posted on: 20/03/2020

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