Wednesday, 28 March 2012

It's Still All About The Students

If it’s possible, things are just getting more and more hectic, hence the early post as there’s so much to talk about. Everything is becoming concrete at a rapid rate, and all things that parents and our students care about.

We have now firmed up our term dates, both for next year and the year after. They are designed to follow Halton’s term dates, but with a slight change; as we are having a longer school day (so that the students can get the most from the time they have), we have decided to cut the long Autumn Term with a two week half term. This will enable everyone to recharge their batteries so that we make the most of the run through to the Christmas break. You can see and download our term dates from our website.

We have also confirmed the school uniform. This has been based around the premise that it must be cost efficient to parents’ household budgets. We believe a school uniform is a good thing, for lots of reasons (mainly the mental attitude to study that is created when people are dressed appropriately), but are also aware of the pressures on family accounts. So, every item on the school uniform list is available from local superstores, apart from the school badge (which needs to be sewn onto the blazer) and the school tie. Again, the list of items is on the school website and we will be putting photos of students in the uniform on the site shortly.

Thirdly, we have started the recruitment of all the rest of the staff we will require for September. This is a really exciting step, as it will really make everything firmed up. In the last few weeks, I have been receiving emails on a daily basis from people wanting to work at Sandymoor in September, and we are now in a position to start recruiting. All these details are also on our website, along with the timeframes we will be working to for the process. I am so excited about the prospect of selecting nothing but the best teachers and support staff to help me provide the outstanding education we are offering.

And if that wasn’t enough, now that the site(s) have been agreed, we will be applying for planning permission for the school literally in the next few days. This is where politics may well get in the way of what is best for the students and I pray and hope that the elected councillors see that they cannot stop the planning permission being granted, but can only make futile gestures. A joint Policy Statement from the Secretary of State for Communities and the Secretary of State for Education issued earlier this month clearly sets out the requirements for local councils:

“It is the Government’s view that the creation and development of state-funded schools is strongly in the national interest and that planning decision-makers can and should support that objective, in a manner consistent with their statutory obligations.”
“A refusal of any application for a state-funded school, or the imposition of conditions, will have to be clearly justified by the local planning authority. Given the strong policy support for improving state education, the Secretary of State will be minded to consider such a refusal or imposition of conditions to be unreasonable conduct, unless it is supported by clear and cogent evidence.”

I sincerely hope that the animosity felt by the local elected members can be put aside and that they will work with us to provide this unique school for Sandymoor. In fact, if any members read this, I ask that they get in touch with me directly, so I can engage in dialogue with them about this.

Sandymoor School will open and I hope with their support, rather than their opposition.

It’s not about politics, it really is about the students.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Can it get any busier ... ??

What a week it’s been! Driving home Friday after meeting Graham Evans, MP, reflecting on how fast-paced everything seems to be, I was reminded of the adage; if you want something done, give it to a busy person. . . And I am certainly busier than I’ve ever been before. I really am doing two full time jobs at the moment, meeting my duties with my current employer and working with the Project Group to ensure we meet all the deadlines needed.
I think the highlight of the week, from the project’s point of view has been some amazing bringing together of the building plans. On Saturday last, I had a three hour meeting with a couple of the group where we went through the site locations and plans to date, ensuring that everything was going to meet our requirements. By far the best meeting so far, however, was the Wednesday evening where we met with the architects to look in detail at both the temporary school and the new build.
After technical conversations, they asked me to talk about how I saw the school and as I talked, they sketched. After about an hour and a half, we paused and they said “Something like this, then?”, holding up their sketches, and I could see Sandymoor school drawn on paper, just as I imagined it! That was so spectacular - it actually took my breath away, seeing for the first time the building there in front of me.
I’m hoping to get an artist’s impression of it in the next few days; watch out for it on Facebook. I’ll wait until I have these drawings before trying to describe it. And the temporary school has shaped up too, with classrooms, science labs, technology rooms, and the offices, assembly space, etc. I am confident that this building will be a perfect start for us while we watch the main building grow.
And it’s not just been buildings that have been coming together; I’ve almost met a promise I made to parents at last week’s information evening of publishing term dates not just for this coming year, but the year after that too. I’ve also worked out the staff I need to provide the exciting curriculum right from day 1; this has all been costed and gives me exactly what I wanted to ensure that our year 7s in September start with the outstanding curriculum I promised as well as then growing as the school grows to support all the students. A key appointment for me will be a Literacy & SEN specialist to ensure that all our students have full access to the curriculum and the support they need.
If that wasn’t enough, we’re almost at the point of finalising the school uniform, designed to ensure our students are smart and ready for school, whilst being as cost effective as possible. Virtually every item required will be able to be found in all major superstores, with a school badge and school tie being needed from us.
It’s also been a fabulous week from the publicity viewpoint. I mentioned last time that we’d had a great interview with a reporter from the local paper; well, we made the front page, with a really good story about our vision. “I Won’t Let Our Parents Down” was the headline and I mean it. I take the responsibility of leading a school, looking after the most precious people, the children of the parents, so seriously. And a live interview just after the 8:00am news on BBC Radio Merseyside. Following a recorded interview with a local councillor. It also went really well and I had the opportunity to address some mis-conceptions the councillor was stating as fact. I get cross with this disingenuous approach, as if saying something loud enough and often enough makes it true. We are not taking anything like a tiny fraction of the money he claimed we were taking away from the local authority as over 90% of the children he is talking about are not educated in Halton anyhow. And to claim that we’re going to steal all the best teachers; I take that as a compliment that we’re going to be such an attractive place to work. I understand he is a former teacher … perhaps he’d like to send me his CV, like the significant number I’ve already had, even before we advertise our posts. It’s such a shame when politics gets in the way of doing the best for all the young people of an area.
I also had time to have a meeting with Professor Colin Whitehouse, the head of Daresbury labs. As a scientist myself it was wonderful meeting him and talking about the amazing things going on there as well as the opportunity to discuss ways we might hope to work together, along with all the other local schools.
On the horizon, the next important event is the next Sandymoor on Tour event, Windmill Hill Primary School, starting at 2 pm. I’m really looking forward to this as it’ll be an opportunity to explain so much of the concrete things that are now falling into place at such a rapid pace. 

Friday, 16 March 2012

Has it only been a week!

I’m sitting in a pub waiting for another meeting, it’s Friday evening and I have not been this tired in a long time! But I’m still smiling inside and out over this amazing opportunity to lead a brand new school.
Last Thursday, I turned up at the DfE offices in Runcorn, to attend the interview for this post. I’d done all my preparation; the research on the school background, what Free Schools were all about, who the people were who would be interviewing me. But still not sure what the day would feel like. The first thing was getting into the building, with a gated car park, I was informed that there was no on-site parking and had to park in the public car park the other side of the dual carriageway. . .
Interviews are stressful and tiring events in any circumstances and this one was different, for obvious reasons, and so more stressful than most. But everyone was eager to put us at our ease. With coffee and friendly conversations, we started the day by being driven to the site. An empty field, but Richard and Jon talked so passionately about the process of getting this far, it was impossible to not see the finished school standing there on what is currently grass and footpaths for dog walkers. Looking back, it was at this point that any doubts I had about wanting the job vanished. I knew I could do the job and knew I would enjoy working with this team of people.
A lot of the interview process is already becoming vague in my mind, but one piece that stands out was the final exercise before the last interview; Prepare a talk to prospective parents, to last ten minutes, and by the way, if you are successful, you will be doing this next week. . . In the end, I talked for precisely seven minutes.
Thursday evening was then a rollercoaster of emotions, waiting for a phone call, but when Richard rang to offer me the job, I was in shock. I’d got it! What had I done, though? I knew that Sandymoor was already a passion and I would be throwing myself into it fully to make it the outstanding school I know it will be.
Sunday, then, and our first meeting as a group of six, rather than five and I begin to really understand what lies in front of me. We go through all the processes to date, I get briefings on finance, building plans, infrastructure and ICT. Oh, and drink lots of coffee and eat lovely biscuits…. We also start to plan for the next public event, ‘Meet the Head’, at the Sandymoor Community Centre that Wednesday. The words of the interview exercise come back loud and clear in my mind.
The hard work has now begun; Sunday, Monday, Tuesday night, return from work, turn the computer on and put myself back into Sandymoor mode, logging off after midnight each night. When I applied for the post, I talked it through with my partner, and we agreed that if I got it, it would be incredibly hard work, but she was completely supportive of me (and still is). I said that if I got it, I’d see her again in September. Her reply: Which one?
Wednesday evening and I’m driving back to Sandymoor for the information evening. No-one has any idea how many people will turn out or how the event will shape out, and I was nervous about doing the school proud. In the end, we had between sixty and seventy people turn up and I find myself speaking and answering questions for the two hours non stop. There was definitely an amazing feeling in the room, with the announcement that the site had been secured, along with the parents being able to see the new head, and hear him (me) talk with passion about the school. There were those who challenged, and rightly so, but the vast majority of people there were so behind the school.
And today? Earlier I found myself standing  back on the school site, being photographed and interviewed by the local press and now I’m sitting waiting for the local MP to meet him and discuss the progress of the school. It never stops, but as the saying goes, if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
Plans for next week, so far? Well, buildings meetings over the weekend, but my priority will be to make contact with the schools around, both Primary and Secondary. I need to ensure that we always keep our eyes and minds on the important issue, which is that the young people we’re providing a school for deserve nothing but the best we can give.

Monday, 12 March 2012

It's ALL about the students

Hello and welcome to my first blog as Head Teacher.

Sandymoor is an amazing school already, if not unique, and through this blog, I hope to chart our continuing progress as we prepare for September, welcoming our first pupils. If you’ve not done so already, please do look us up on Facebook ( and follow us on Twitter (  or @SandymoorSchool).

You already know that Sandymoor is a new Secondary School for the local community. Our preparations have shown that there is a need for Sandymoor, with so many young families having to look to travelling long distances to other schools, or moving out of the area. Sandymoor will fill that gap. Opening this September, the school will grow with the community, with a Sixth Form opening in two years time.

What you might not know is that it is a school founded with passion, the creation of five local residents. They saw the need and decided to do something about it and Sandymoor became more than an idea. With the introduction of more freedoms in education through the Coalition’s Academies bill, the ability for interested people to set up their own school became a reality. Last year, the first wave of these schools were launched, and we are now in the second wave.

Sandymoor is, as I said, amazing, if not unique. This is for a couple of reasons, first of all, the vision for the school: “A Fresh Approach to Education”. Secondly, the fact that this is truly going to be a free school; there is no large, anonymous charity behind us, dictating how we do things, we are a group of people with the vision and determination to make a difference to the education in this area.

When I saw the advert for head teacher, I can truly say that a tingle ran down my spine. This was the job I had been waiting for all my teaching career. The chance to lead a school that creates intelligent global citizens, to lead a school founded on a vision of being at the heart of the community, to lead a school that is passionate about the personal dreams inside each individual was all I wanted to do.

Sandymoor is a school that intends to be outstanding in all aspects from day one. Through this blog, I aim to enable you to see the historic processes that we go through in ensuring that happens, as we know it will.