Posted on: 25/02/2019
Exciting times aheadI hope you had a fantastic half term holiday, enjoying relaxation, family time and refreshment. I travelled to Finland to celebrate my 50th birthday and admit it was one of the most memorable times I have had abroad. I was so excited to be able to fulfil a lifetime ambition of mine, to drive a dog sled of huskies and to see the Aurora Borealis. I must admit it was a bit of a shock to the system to come back to Gatwick and find the temperature was a sunny 18 degrees centigrade, having left the Arctic Circle in minus 29 degrees of cold! Whilst I really enjoy and treasure my holidays and time away with my family, I must admit I am very excited to be back and get on with some of the most crucial parts of opening the Deanery.
We are entering one of the most exciting phases of the development of the school. In less than a week’s time, the first students to sign up to the Deanery will be notified of their place. This is a hugely significant time for the young people and their families, and I hope that in seven year’s time they will look back on their secondary education with fondness, exhilaration and pride. I am also entering the next phase of recruitment, beginning at the end of this week. It is really important for me to recruit staff who share our vision of an exceptional values-based education with the core values of hope, family and excellence at the centre. We will soon choose our catering company and I have also made quite a bit of progress choosing furniture.
Just before half-term we were able to welcome lots of visitors to the site to look round at the facilities we will have on offer once we open. I was so pleased that we had a really wide range of activities represented, from martial arts to dance, team games to individual sports; singing groups, drama groups, theatre groups and even interest from a chess club. The building boasts some of the best facilities in the region – I am still shocked every time I walk into the theatre at its sheer enormity and the astro-turf just looks even more stunning every time I see it! But of course, fantastic facilities are all well and good, what will really make this school exceptional and distinctive is the people who use it and how they are changed by it. I showed some of the construction company round with the people looking at the facilities and afterwards one of the team said to me, “what you said today really made me feel humble. We are building a fantastic building which will really contribute to and affect people’s lives for a long time, won’t it?” She said that it is very easy for them to become wrapped up in their jobs, making sure the project is delivered on time with the best building materials, ensuring the health and safety on site is adhered to, the drains are in the right place etc. but sometimes they forget how important that facility is they are actually providing. This building will set young people and their families up for life, giving them skills and competencies for jobs that may not even exist yet; building relationships and friendships that will last a lifetime; helping to secure firm foundations of knowledge, wisdom, hope, dignity and respect as well as equipping people to live well together and enjoy life in all its fullness.
I really hope you are as excited as I am about the prospect of making a real change in people’s lives, and amidst all the sad news in our country and local community recently, I hope that you, like me, can see the hope shining out of Wichlestowe as we build a better future for us all.
And finally, a word to the students who will be joining me in September - let me know your thoughts on gaining a place at the Deanery via Twitter – I’ll be praying for you and your families this week and cannot wait to welcome you into your new school in September 2019. Keep an eye on the website for details of our open-door events from July onwards and also our transition days.Read More
Posted on: 11/02/2019
I don’t want to spoil one of my favourite assemblies, but I do want to explain a little about what is happening with the Deanery at the moment, and therefore I have to talk about choices.I am being asked to choose so many things.The first thing I was asked to do as Principal was to help the Governors choose our school logo.We went for the logo that represents the story of our school – growing out of the ground, new life bursting forth.It contains the colours purple, silver and grey: purple is a royal colour and is worn by Bishops and will form the main theme of our school uniform and school colours.It was actually by pure chance that our building was purple for such a long time, that colour was the ‘weather board’ that goes into the walls to help protect us inside from wind and rain.I did ask BAM construction if they could use purple bricks as the colour had become so popular, but sadly they were unable to help with this request, seems like that is only an estate agent (others are available as well)!You will know that I have already chosen our school uniform and I am delighted that so many students, parents and colleagues have said how much they like it.We chose the uniform so it looks really smart, is distinctive and reflects our aspirations.The company who produces the uniform has values that are in line with ours, not least in terms of their efforts to protect the environment.You have perhaps already heard that each jacket in our uniform is made of 31 recycled plastic bottles, and do not worry, they don’t ‘crinkle’ as one parent asked me recently!
I have also chosen carpet colours, paint, lockers, door types, locks and keys, electric sockets, where the signs will go to show people round and even what type of font we want to use on all our signs and letterheads!These are just a few of the choices I am having the make and that is before I even begin to tell you about the furniture catalogues I have sitting on my desk....
All these exciting and interesting bits are actually only a tiny bit of my job at the moment.Far more important choices are being made about staffing, which subjects to teach, methods of teaching and policies and procedures for the school.I am enjoying the building choices, but I am finding that I am taking so much more time and care over the other educational choices, as I know they will affect the futures of our students, families, staff and their families for years to come.I am trying my best, working with as many people as I can who have experience in lots of different areas, in order to try and get things right from the start.However, I do know that some things, no matter how well thought through, will need changing pretty much as soon as we open! Thomas Hoerr (2005) said, “strong leaders are artists because they recognize there is no one formula, no particular policy, no set of procedures, that will always work with everyone or, even, with any one person all the time.”We will need to work together to make the Deanery a fantastic place, full of vibrancy, learning, laughter and love.We will make mistakes and we will never be afraid to make mistakes, because we know that mistakes make your brain grow.We will be open, listen to each other and learn together from any mistakes we make.
To finish I will tell you a little bit about my assembly on choices.Sometimes what appears to be the best choice is actually the least good.I often wonder where the student is now from my days at John Cabot Academy who participated in my choices assembly there and ended up covered in flour (he made the less good choice!).A simple illustration using a very famous brand of chocolate helped the students at East Wichel Primary school recently understand what I was talking about.Everyday we face choices about how we act and how we react.Something as simple as choosing to smile instead of choosing to frown can make a big difference to the outcome of a situation.I’m about to choose our catering company this week, so wish me well, because this partner is going to be really important to us.One thing is already clear to me – we will choose to sit together, to eat together and to talk to each other over lunch, as this is one of the places where we will build our Deanery family.
Posted on: 4/02/2019
Brexit and roundersTeacher wellbeing. This is a well-written and much-spoken about topic at the moment. Before I talk about that, I have one thing to get off my chest: the thing that I am most delighted about regarding Brexit. Rounders is often the poor relative in sporting circles yet was one of the most popular games I taught as a PE teacher. Getting students to lunchtime team training was often challenging, but not with rounders. In fact, I would be leading training for the girls’ team at St Joseph’s lower school on Queen’s Drive back in the early 1990’s, and lots of other students would be begging to join in – and I have to say it was usually the boys! They loved their cricket, but rounders is much quicker and potentially more exciting!! There is not really a strong tradition for adult rounders in this country, maybe at summer bar-b-ques and family get togethers on the beach, but Rounders England is working hard to raise the profile of the game and get more people involved. *see their website here
As I have been writing job adverts, person specifications and job descriptions for the staff we are going to appoint to the Deanery, two things have been very much in the forefront of my mind. How can we recruit and keep the very best teachers at the Deanery? And how can we develop our very distinctive focus on high standards for all and positive relationships? Part of what makes us distinctive in the Diocese of Bristol Academies Trust is that we focus on family and building strong and positive relationships. Last week I attended a meeting of Headteachers, Directors of DBAT and Clergy to look at what it means to be distinctive for teachers in our multi-academy trust, specifically in terms of their wellbeing. We want our staff to have ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10) as well as our students and their families. It is really important to us that our teachers are the highest quality professionals and that they work to the best of their ability, to get the very best out of the students in their care, and they do this whilst remaining happy and healthy.
I have worked in many different schools and have witnessed teachers experiencing immense pressures and performing well below their best as a result. Late night emails, over-burdensome marking loads, poorly led performance management, over-complicated assessment systems; I have witnessed first-hand the effects that these things can have on families and students and therefore will not allow this to happen at the Deanery. It is not an easy fix and I do appreciate that all jobs are challenging, and everyone is busy. However, I do stress to all staff that I work with, that, above all, we have a personal professional responsibility to keep ourselves healthy. You do have to be ‘well’ emotionally and physically to be a teacher. It is a tough job, physically demanding and often emotionally draining. So what are we going to do at the Deanery to ensure staff are well and can be at their best to teach the exceptional quality of curriculum? All staff will be joining in with the many sports teams we will be running, in fact, it is written into staff job descriptions. This is really important, as not only will it enable students to experience lots of team games, it is also the place that strong bonds and good relationships can be developed. Those people who played in school teams themselves will often remember their PE teacher fondly (unless they were a bit too much like Mr Sugden in Kes). There will also be an opportunity for staff to play together (watch this space for the staff rounders team – we will be looking for opponents!) and to train together in the gym. Bonding through physical struggle and endeavour is really important, both in physical activities but also in active learning. There will be lots of high-quality learning taking place in the academy and lots of it will be active. We will encourage staff to steer away from purely didactic lessons and encourage them to engage the students actively in their learning. And we will take time to teach people how to make and develop strong and safe boundaries. This is illustrated best by rugby players – tackling hard during the game and then the moment whistle goes turning and shaking hands, patting each other on the back and becoming the best of friends. People often talk about ‘working hard together and playing hard together’, this will be our philosophy as we develop character and resilience in our students.
And so, as we struggle as a country to make sense of our future, I am delighted that my favourite fielding position in rounders has become such a part of our every day language. And I do hope that you will forgive me for my flippancy as I have tried to begin to unpack what will make our school distinctive in terms of wellbeing.