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Posted on: 17/04/2019

Holy week and Easter

It is the school holidays and also Holy Week, so I have taken some time away from school work to be with family, friends and also to study and spend time engaging in Holy Week activities in preparation for Easter Sunday. I hope by now students have received their postcards of welcome from me and look out for the post after Easter when I will be sending induction, uniform and registration information home. Dates of transition days will be finalised and published. I am reading some really interesting articles at the moment about leadership and autoethnography (my research for my Doctorate is in this area) and I have been noticing three things. First, an auto-ethnographer is described either as being 'a self-indulged narcissist' or 'self-reflexive and vulnerable'. It strikes me that the same could be said about bloggers, of which apparently, I am now classed as one! I hope my posts are interesting and I often wonder who reads them. I offer my thoughts and insights just as that - I hope they are interesting and perhaps go some way to answering the question I was asked on Twitter a while back, "just what does a Headteacher with no students actually do?!". The second thing I have noticed, is the parallel drawn between medicine and teaching. This occurs a lot in 'evidence-based' practice: evidence-based medicine is held to be the gold standard of operating (pardon that pun!) and similarities are suggested that mean teachers should follow the lead and practice evidence-based teaching. Real evidence-based medicine (argued by Greenhalgh at al, 2014): makes the ethical care of the patient its top priority (all teachers would agree with this for students); should make care individualised (again all teachers would agree with this for students); is characterised by expert judgement rather than mechanical rule following (emphasis is mine); shares decisions through meaningful conversations (all teachers would agree with this for students); builds on strong relationships (all teachers would agree with this for students) applies these principles at community level for the good of many (all teachers would agree with this for students). The reason I put the middle bullet in bold is because I feel very strongly that teachers have to find their own way. What works for me in the classroom or on the playing field, may not work for my colleagues. We are individuals and whilst we will certainly have many well-established routines at the Deanery, I will resist saying to staff "you have to teach this (my) way" as that detracts from their professional integrity and personal style. Finally I am chuckling to myself that a) we have decided that there will be minimal homework for students at the Deanery in Key Stage 3, as we have a longer school day we want students to enjoy family time, rest and participate in out of school activities in evenings, at weekends and in the holidays. Here I sit in the library at University, doing my homework! I am amongst thousands of books, academic papers and my half-written essay, remembering that I have chosen to do this study (probably because I was inspired by all those who have taught me to love learning) and I am still studying at the very ripe-old-age of 50! I passionately believe in lifelong learning and will hope to instill this in our students at the Deanery and hopefully bring a few members of their families along with us - watch out for evening classes run by Deanery staff in the future. But b) I have also realised that I am writing this (for school) when I should be working (Uni work) and enjoying the holiday (family, friends and church activities). Well, those of you who know me well will understand why, my work is also my passion, and I openly admit to enjoying every minute of it. I was on a course recently with a friend, and during the introduction the course leader explained that you could either complete the course by attending for 5 days or complete the course with an essay submission at the end (involving quite a lot of reading and studying). My friend was filled with fear, no-one had mentioned an essay to her, to be honest, she wouldn't have signed up for the course if they had! Without saying anything, my friend looked across at me - I was smiling, excited at the prospect of more study, books, papers and an essay at the end to add to the fun!! Happy Easter everyone – have a great holiday, a really uplifting Easter weekend and watch this space: next term so many things are going to happen and happen really fast. There will be less than 100 days until opening; all the furniture will start arriving; the building will be finished; we’ll get the keys and by the time the next (summer) holidays come around, the Deanery will be open! Reference: Greenhalgh, T., Howick, J. and Maskrey, N. (2104) Evidence based medidine: A movement in crisis? BMJ, (348), pp. 3725Read More
Posted on: 9/04/2019

Tony on floor 5 smells of sardines

I think looking after the details are important. “Tuck your shirt in”, “do your top button up”, “put your jacket on” are all familiar phrases for any member of staff on duty at the end of the school day: we want students to leave school looking as smart as they did when they first arrived. Tomorrow I will be spending the day looking after the details of some of the very important parts of the building. I have my penultimate monthly update meeting with the construction company. Some of you may remember the original estimated completion date for the building was 1st April 2019, a date I was never that comfortable with! For reasons completely out of the control of BAM construction, there have been some minor delays: this is to be expected on an 18-month project and is no cause for concern. During the build we have suffered some extremes of weather: last summer was very hot (not good for concrete pouring, rendering or plastering) and we have had 2 significant snowfalls (great for sledging and snowballing, not great for concrete shipping and Health and Safety on construction sites!). One of the other challenges has been to ensure that we have telephone lines (essential for the safe operation of the lifts) and broadband service to the building. I really did not comprehend quite how tricky this would be! However, with patience and some really determined chasing, the building’s telecoms are now live. The delay to the project completion has had no impact whatsoever on the development of the Deanery, instead of the building standing empty for 3 months, only being used by our furniture suppliers to make deliveries, there will now be a full occupation of the building by the construction company right up to building handover. We will work alongside BAM to put all our furniture and fittings in while they are ‘finishing off’. Tomorrow I will get my first glimpse of the reception desk that has been custom made (apparently it looks amazing) and I will be able to use the feature revolving door to enter the school for the very first time. Many classrooms now are ‘finished’, with only the ICT equipment (state of the art flat panel interactive screens) left to go in; the projector, screen and speakers have been installed in the Egg; the theatre is looking fantastic and the Sportshall even has nets up (2 cricket nets and the half way dividing curtain). Either side of my meeting with BAM tomorrow, I am working with our furniture suppliers to make all my final choices. Desks, chairs, cupboards, storage units: they are the easy bits. It is all the other things that we need to buy, the tiny things that sometimes get forgotten. I have spoken before about how I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time on toilet choices, well here we go again. I spent 2 hours last Friday discussing signage and fittings, you would not believe quite how many different toilet roll holders there are! I am really aware that I have tried throughout this project not to be too bogged down (could not resist that pun!) with the building and equipment, as I really do believe that schools are outstanding as a result of the people in them, not just the buildings and facilities. So, alongside making sure I spend more time out and about meeting people and building relationships than sat at my computer answering emails (apologies if my replies are sometimes a little slow) I have also been spending a lot of time lately thinking about other small but very important details. There are three priorities in everything we will do at the Deanery: strong relationships, empowered learning and safe boundaries. These exist not only for the students but also the staff. Our priorities are founded on a culture of hope. This is what makes us distinctive as a school. To put these priorities in place from the outset, I have been working on two really important things. I have been developing materials for our Attachment Aware status and commitment. This will help all our community understand from the very start how important strong relationships and safe boundaries are, modelling firm but fair and consistent practice and providing students with a safe and calm learning environment. There are a few weblinks at the bottom of this blog for you to find out more about Attachment if you are interested. In order for teachers to be at their very best in the classroom, I have made a commitment to protect staff wellbeing from the outset. This is in line with the Department for Education new recruitment and retention strategy launched in January 2019 (you can read that in the weblink at the bottom of this blog as well). With the Deanery local Governing body, I have created a Staff Charter, which sets out ways we can reduce teacher workload and start with the most supportive culture for us all. We will give outstanding support to our least experienced teachers: those of you who have heard me speak will know that I thoroughly enjoy teaching and there have been moments when I truly believe it is the best job in the world. I want to encourage and support those who are drawn to teaching as a vocation and help them develop and be the very best teachers and leaders they can be. As a multi-academy trust we believe in transforming communities by improving educational outcomes for everyone: to do this we want the very best change-makers to work in our academies. As I have said, we have already recruited some exceptional teachers and are now looking to appoint equally outstanding support staff. We have committed to making sure working at the Deanery is a very attractive proposition, placing a real emphasis on Continual Professional Development. And finally, we are going to encourage young people to aspire to become teachers and leaders: I am reminded of the quote “be the change you want to see in the world”, we will equip and teach our students to be leaders in their own right. And so what about poor Tony in the title of this week’s blog? Well actually it was a hoax. The Huffington Post published an article claiming that the phrase “Tony on floor 5 smells of sardines” was embedded on page 46 of the Apple Terms and Conditions for the release of its new operating system iOS 7 back in 2013. It was done to make a point. The article claimed that thousands if not millions of people would have clicked ‘Agree’ to those terms and conditions without even reading 6 pages, let alone 46 pages of dull and boring detailed terms and conditions. The point was, no one was checking the details of what they were agreeing to. I admit to being a bit of an Apple fan myself and I can safely say I have NEVER read the terms and conditions but I have faithfully ticked the box ‘Agree’ each time I have upgraded my operating system. My point is this. There is SO MUCH to do on the Deanery project at the moment as I have tried to begin to tell you in these blog posts. I can only begin to give you a flavour of all the work that is going on behind the scenes to get the school ready for September 4th. From the many hours spent by our volunteer Governors preparing for opening by reading through pages and pages of policies, to the planning meetings being done by our consultants with our community groups, lesson plans being written, schemes of work being developed, light bulbs fitted, computers bought online, catering contracts being sought, community groups being contacted – I can only begin to imagine the people hours being put in to make sure we are ready to open. I believe it is the details that are the important things in schools: how people treat each other, how we work together when things are going less well than we would have hoped, how we help children find a way back when they have made a mistake, how we encourage young people to be the best they can be, how we embed hope in the hearts and minds of our next generations. This is what makes the Deanery distinctive – I hope that I have made the detail of the Deanery very clear. We believe in the infinite potential of each and every one of our students who will join us. We will: Help students explore, develop and deepen their understanding of their personal faith in order that they may have life in all its fullness; we will inspire a life-long love of learning, independent thought and the courage to think and act differently; Enable each student to receive a truly personalised learning experience, encouraging them to achieve their highest academic potential, and to have the confidence to follow their aspirations; Encourage students to develop a strong sense of responsibility to the community and to improve the quality of the local environment for its residents; Provide excellent pastoral care, by supporting every student in their learning with skilled mentoring to develop the best understanding of students’ strengths passions and purpose. We will be members of the Attachment Research Community when we are open – read all about this here: https://the-arc.org.uk/ A blog post written by our current Chair of Governors: https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/student-behaviour-motivation-and-the-potential-of-attachment-aware-schools-to-redefine-the-landscape And the Government recruitment and retention strategy is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-recruitment-and-retention-strategyRead More

From the macro to the micro

Posted on: 19/03/2019

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.