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Posted on: 25/03/2019

Partners and community use

The Department for Education and Swindon Borough Council are providing the most fabulous facilities at the Deanery for the benefit of not only the students who attend school there, but also for the community of Wichlestowe and the wider Swindon area. Last week was a busy one for us in terms of project management. We have been putting a lot of work into our community projects recently, not least working out which community groups will be using the magnificent facilities in our building and how we can make best use of the Deanery as a hub for the widest range of activities possible. As you know we have already signed an ‘Anchor partnership’ with Swindon Hockey Club; we have recently joined forces with two more fabulous groups: Raychem netball club and Prime Theatre, both of whom will join us as Anchor partners. We are just finalising plans for our next group of ‘Partners’ to come on board and I am delighted that the groups we are working with are diverse and give opportunities for minority sports and activities. More about them in the future. Our vision is for the facilities to be used both during the school day, in the evenings and at weekends. Do not worry, the building was designed so that the facilities can be completely separate from the school, so there will be no compromise of security between members of the public and students attending lessons. I am delighted to be able to give a sneak preview about the Wichelstowe card, which is our loyalty card that will be distributed to families who attend the Deanery and also people who work in Wichelstowe and those who volunteer at the school. The card will have many benefits, not least offering discount to holders for the use of the facilities at the Deanery. We are going to host a number of launch events for the Wichelstowe card, so keep a close eye on our website for more details. I spent a long time with our ICT providers last week, inspecting every single classroom where ICT equipment is being installed and deciding on the height and placement of the interactive panels (when I started teaching these were called ‘blackboards’!!!). We are phasing the installation of equpment, so the first rooms to be equipped will give us enough general teaching classrooms and specialist areas such as science, computer science and Design Technology. The servers were successfully installed and are humming away in the ‘Server Room’ and the ‘Hub’; most of the wireless access points have been installed. These are the similar to the WiFi hubs we have at home and will allow remote access to our network for authorised users. Very soon the specialist equipment will be installed in the lecture theatre, the projector in there has to be on a special mount which was put into the ceiling a long time ago now! And the most amazing news is that last Monday the seats in the auditorium were installed. I must admit to being a little bit overwhelmed when I walked in – it really is looking FANTASTIC now. I made a couple of big decisions last week – I had meant to post some more up-to-date pictures on the website for you all to look at of finished corridors, the fully furnished science labs and the house-colour locker combinations. However, I think I want to keep you waiting for a little longer. Let’s not spoil the surprise! You have waited this long, a little longer will only make it more exciting. And this got me to thinking about transition days. I know that it is really important to families to visit the school as soon as is possible. And I also know that some students will be really looking forward to finding out when they will come up and meet their new friends and class mates. Most secondary schools now ensure that the new Year 7 students have at least a day together before breaking up in the summer term of Year 6. This helps the students make friends and settle before actually moving into Year 7. For our new students joining us at the Deanery, starting at secondary school will be the most amazing day. This is also going to be a historic day – the opening of the Deanery is a hugely important moment in the educational life of Swindon and also the Diocese of Bristol. Bearing this in mind, I have decided to hold a series of transition days, so students can feel fully prepared and really get to know us and the school before our opening in September. I am going to work with all our feeder primary schools (of which there are nearly 30 at last count) to find times when students are not away on residentials or completing exciting project work or away on a trip. We will help students make friends with new class mates, get to know their way round the building and start to have an idea of what lessons will feel like in September. But…..and this is a decision I have taken recently…….we will not get the whole year group in altogether UNTIL the first day for students, which is 4th September 2019. This is going to be a very special day and so we want students to be able to savour it, to have the opportunity to cherish their first day in the Deanery and make the first time the whole year group was there the most amazing time. As I said last week, I will be in touch with families prior to the Easter holidays with more details about joining us for family tours, transition days and logistical things like how to start thinking about ordering uniform. The next few weeks promise to be very busy. Tomorrow (Monday) we are going to probably hold our last teacher interviews for now, which is why I am posting this blog a little early, as I will be busy on Monday when I normally post my blog! I will release details of our new staff soon, suffice to say there are some exceptional teachers joining us in September. I’m delighted to announce that our Business and Commercial Manager recruitment process started last Friday. This is another key appointment; this person will play a crucial role in establishing and building the school community. I am so excited about this and have already had such a lot of strong interest in the post. And to end with, a special thank you to those who have given feedback on the Principal’s blog. Sometimes I sit in a coffee shop writing and wonder if anyone will ever even read it! It is so nice to be able to share the development of the school with you all and also really wonderful to know that people are reading it and are getting as excited as I am about the prospect of opening. Have a great week and if there are any questions about the school, please do get in touch.Read More
Posted on: 19/03/2019

From the macro to the micro

Last week my mind was filled with more recruitment, more visits to local primary schools, a Governors meeting and deciding on room names for the building. It always amuses me how many times each day I have to switch my mind from thinking about ‘big’ (macro) ideas such as vision and values, to the small (micro) details such as room numbers. One of the really important functions of the Governing body of any school is to challenge the Principal on all aspects of the functioning of the school: I always look forward to my Governors meetings as I love a challenge! Last week we were thinking about how we will represent our vision and values in easy to remember and clear formats for all the different audiences who might be interested. This is a great opportunity for us to share our mission and I know from having worked with students at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school that it is always the students who are the best ambassadors for any school. I think it is not only a case of students being able to articulate the vision and values, whilst this is vitally important, it is also crucial to consider how students live out these values. We want to inspire in our students to hold the very highest of personal standards and to flourish in their lives. The type of person who is successful in today’s world does not have to necessarily be the person who is the fastest, the cleverest or the most articulate – much more important is their persistence or resilience. I have been reading a very popular book recently titled “Grit” and this explains the concept very clearly: it is essentially a macro idea, a way of being, an attitude to life. But I actually think alongside this we have a real duty to teach students much more than just persistence – how to act when things do not go well, how to get on with other students after a disagreement, indeed, how to disagree with someone without it turning into an argument. These are micro skills – specific to certain situations, but already in the planning. Of all the things students learn at school, sometimes I think it is these skills and attitudes that are arguably more important than the knowledge, skills and content of subjects. Our world is a tough place to be growing up in: children have to hear terrible news from around the world, such as the terrorist atrocity in New Zealand, they have to listen to our politicians failing to agree on Brexit and nearer to home they have to hear tales of knife crime being on the rise in our towns and cities. We need to equip students with the capacity to understand these situations, know how to make careful judgements about how they feel about them and how to keep themselves and each other safe in the myriad of situations they may find themselves in. This is all going to be done through our Values in Practice (VIP) programme, which will teach them safe boundaries, strong relationships and empowered learning. And so to the room names: one of the names given to us by the architects was the name for our dining area, the agora. This is turning into one of my favourite places in the academy, not least because I love eating so much! The potential for this space is actually enormous, which is appropriate because the space is enormous as well! I am planning all sorts of exciting things for the agora, not least having live music playing on the ‘bridge’ (above the agora) while we eat together. I am really keen that this area is used by most, if not all, students at the academy and I also hope that as many students as possible will join us for hot food at lunchtime. It is so important that we sit together to eat, talk and get to know each other. I have named every single room in the academy now: offices, classrooms, meeting rooms and even the ‘staffroom’ (which is not actually a staffroom and is not actually called the staffroom!). The building is really starting to take shape and the furniture designers have been busy helping us choose the best furniture for all the classrooms as well. With only 169 days to go until we open for students, it is easy to see why we are so busy! I hope all those who have received confirmation of their places are as excited as I am, for the most amazing opportunity to be the pioneers in this incredible new secondary school. We will be contacting all those who have received a place before we break up for Easter and in the next 2 weeks our uniform supplier has promised that the weblink to our direct sales website will be made live.Read More

What does a Principal with no students do?

Posted on: 14/01/2019

I started my countdown to opening with over 900 days to go!  And now there are only 213 left...  Let me explain.  I was appointed as the Principal Designate for the Deanery in December 2016.  To begin with I worked on the Deanery project about a day a week, as I was still working as a consultant in Bristol, supporting schools with maths and leadership help.  Last January (2018), I began working on a much more regular basis for the Deanery and come September 2018 I was full time.  It is usual for a Principal to be in place for a brand-new school for a year before opening, so they can get all the things in place that are needed to open a school.  I have had a bit longer to prepare for our opening, so I really hope I do not forget anything!  I have the most wonderful group of people supporting me to get ready, so I think I should be ok.

There are so many things to think about when you open a brand-new school.  In this preparation phase we have tried to include young people and local people as often as possible when we have been making decisions about the school.  First the Governors and I chose the logo and next came the uniform.  I am really lucky to have been invited to work in St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school in Bristol for a day a week, so have been able to talk to their students about all the decisions we have taken so far.  In fact, it is volunteers from their student council who are modelling the Deanery’s uniform on our website.  Apart from working in Bristol (usually on a Wednesday), I seem to have spent most of the rest of my time either on the building site or working out of various coffee shops in Swindon.  If I am not meeting the wonderful construction company (BAM construction – more about them later), then I can be found either writing policies or meeting prospective students and parents while drinking ‘skinny flat white’ coffee and trying to avoid eating too many croissants!  ‘Office work’ for me includes answering hundreds of emails asking questions about the school, either from prospective parents or staff who are really excited about possibly working at the school.  Policies are very important too, so I have worked really closely with the Governors to make sure we have all the right policies in place ready for opening.  I must admit though, I am trying not to spend too much time in my office this year as I think it is much more important to be out building relationships with people who we can work with in the future.

Meetings with the team from BAM construction are usually particularly important.  I have had to chose colours for everything, including the toilet doors (very important); I have chosen science desks, plug sockets, carpet colours, reception desk styles and locker designs.  You would be surprised how long every single decision takes, as there is so much to think about and consider.  Luckily, we have had huge support from BAM construction, who are building the Deanery.  Richard, the project manager and Cat, the design manager have done a fantastic job, helping me make all the critical decisions, and Jack has been the favourite tour guide with local primary school groups!  We have also had amazing help from the architects that have designed the school, and I cannot wait to show you the finishing touches they have planned.

So, what are we doing now?  We are working really hard with the Department for Education to get the final things in place ready for opening.  Of course, we are making sure we have all the right policies and procedures in place; Sue, our construction consultant is helping with all the purchasing of equipment and furniture and is helping me choose our caterers (a very important job); Colin, our education consultant, is working hard to make sure lots of community groups come and use the wonderful facilities we have and is also helping me with staff recruitment.  I am focusing on staff recruitment and also visiting lots more primary schools to talk to staff and students there, as we are already planning recruitment of new students for our second year of opening, 2020!

So, in answer to the question that lots of people have asked me, “what does a Principal with no students do?”, I hope I have given you some idea.  I must admit though, whilst this stage is very exciting and a huge privilege (to have the chance to choose and plan everything in detail), this Principal would much rather be a ‘Principal with students’ and so I am particularly excited to see that the countdown now seems to be racing down at an ever accelerating rate!