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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

Brexit and rounders

Posted on: 04/02/2019

Teacher 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.

*www.roundersengland.co.uk