Saturday, 28 April 2012

Everything is coming together so fast

As the weeks go on, everything just gets more and more hectic, but in a good way!

Last Friday, I continued to make contact with the local primary school heads. Carolyn Roberts, the head at Daresbury Primary School & I had a lovely meeting, where she kindly took time to talk through how we could work together once the school was up and running and then gave me a tour of her amazing school.
Then there was another ‘Meet the Head’, this time at Moore Primary school. The head, Jan, has been so welcoming and it was lovely to see a large turnout of parents to hear about where we are at. I will be looking to hold more of these in the next few weeks as they are the best way to discuss the amazing opportunity Sandymoor School will offer the young people.

I have also met Joy, the head at Windmill Hill primary school, with a tour of her establishment. All the primary schools I have visited have been so amazing places, with the clear focus on the young pupils in their care; it has been a privilege to meet them and share the vision. At Windmill Hill, I was particularly excited by the outdoor classroom they have and make such use of.

I have also been meeting with businesses in the local area, both on the Daresbury Park and outside, talking to them about the Business and Enterprise Mentoring Scheme and have firm offers of support from so many. A particular highlight was the tour of the Thermo Fisher Scientific factory; with a Medical Physics background, it was fascinating to see how they work with both chemists and assembly floor technicians to create the tools so essential in today’s medical industry.

The Business and Enterprise mentors will work alongside the school and interact with the academic & pastoral tutors every student will have. They will be in school, on average, every couple of weeks to help the young people develop the ‘soft’ skills so essential to help them in the outside world.

Alongside this, there’s been a couple of major milestones as far as the project goes; we had confirmation that all the funding we require to get the school ready to open (called our lead in funding) was agreed and then shortly after that, we received confirmation that our budget plans for the next seven years have been approved as realistic and workable by the DfE and the organisation that will be funding the school (The EFE – Education Funding Agency; this organisation funds all free schools and academies across the country). Also, something I thought I would, as a teacher, never say, but I was delighted to receive notification from OfSted that they are ready to conduct their pre-opening inspection!

Every Free School has to pass this, where OfSted will inspect our policies and procedures, meet with myself and discuss the buildings to ensure that everything is in place to provide the education they expect. The date for this is the week of 11th June, but all our paperwork for this is already ready and has been sent off to the DfE to enable us to receive our school reference number. Following this initial inspection, we will continue to have monitoring inspections by OfSted, and will remain part of the school cycle of inspections by OfSted as every other state school is.

For me, though, the real highlight was the setting up and publication of our teaching job adverts in the Times Educational Supplement (TES). All the jobs are on the website and I was able to secure a half page advert on the front page of one of the ‘jobs’ sections. These positions are the real top location, as everyone sees these adverts as they are opening up the packaging when the TES arrives. I felt a real thrill when I opened up my copy of the TES & saw the Sandymoor School advert sitting there!

And then the fun began; all day Friday I was dealing with a string of emails and telephone calls from people interested in hearing more about these opportunities. The phone starting ringing shortly after 9:00am. One email in particular that made an impact came in from someone who currently would not apply for any of our positions because they are in a different subject area, but still felt they had to make contact, but still rang up to see if they could help; to quote from their email:

It was a pleasure to talk to you this morning about your inspiring school and I have had a chance to take a look at your excellent school website.” …
“Please let me know if at any time there would be anything available and I would be delighted to be given the chance to talk to you about any opportunities.”

In terms of the non-teaching posts, we’re also getting a lot of interest for all of these; I have sent out a good number of packs of information for the posts of our Business and Finance Manager, Catering Manager and my Personal Assistant, even though adverts for these posts have still not been placed; The Business and Finance Manager post will be handled by a firm of head hunters we are about to employ and the PA and Catering Manager adverts will be going into the local papers in the next couple of weeks. The IT Network Manager post is already in appropriate media, with adverts on the IT forum ‘Edugeek’ & in the industry standard magazine, Computer Weekly.

The most important thing for me to do now, which I will be planning over this weekend, is to meet every student currently signed up for Sandymoor. My plan here is to arrange to meet the child in his/her primary school, taking time to see them in action with their friends and in class, and take time to talk to their class teacher. However, I also want to meet the parents / guardians as well and will be writing to every family to ask if I could make a home visit, so that I can see the whole picture. In education, it is often said that there’s a triangle of connections, between the school, student and parents/guardians, but the link between the school and parents/guardians is often the weakest link and I am determined that Sandymoor School builds these relationships from the beginning.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Each Student an Individual

As I said, like London buses! First a long wait, then two in quick succession...

As an educationist, I am passionate about helping every student achieve their potential, not just the most able or the least. In far too many schools these days, time (and  money) are spent on helping the ‘Able and Talented’ and the ‘Special Needs’ pupils, but those in the middle are largely ignored. I have to confess that this passion of mine stems from being one of the ignored middle myself in school. And so I have always done my best, wherever I have found myself, to ensure that every student has the opportunity to experience success and find their path in life. At Sandymoor, it is my goal to start the school with that at the very heart of the academic and pastoral systems.

Personalised learning is far more than paying lip service by having teachers prepare differentiated lessons. In fact, differentiated lessons are more to do with the craft of teaching, proper pedagogy. No. Personalised learning is more an ethos about a school and embedded in how each individual is known and understood by every other member of the community. In order to make this a reality at Sandymoor, there are a number of key elements that will be in place from day one (and grow as the school grows).

To start with, every student at Sandymoor will take a set of tests on entry to the school, not designed to find out what they know, but to help understand the individual strengths and areas for development of each student. These are more diagnostic tools and will form the initial stages of personalisation. These diagnostic assessments will provide insights into cognitive potential (the brain’s ability to process information and apply knowledge) as well as suggesting any potential learning support issues (such as dyslexia). The tests give an understanding about how the brain interprets the external world around it from a visual (or pictorial) view, a linguistic (language) view and a spatial (physical) perspective. They also look for issues in memory language processing skills. These tests combine to give a detailed insight into how the individual will interact with the world around.

This is just the beginning, however. These tests will form part of the student’s individual education plan (or Individual Development Plan, IDP) that will grow with the student. These scores will be interpreted and discussed with the student and parents early on in the first term. Every student will have two teachers involved in their development; an academic tutor and a personal tutor.

The academic tutor will be along the lines of a traditional ‘form tutor’, with a group of students all of the same year group. This tutor will be responsible for monitoring and guiding year-group specific issues, daily attendance, but also subject-based issues. This will involve progress monitoring, report collation and guidance regarding subject specific issues as the student progresses through the school. As the school grows, each year group will have assigned to it, with staff from the same (or group of) department(s). Also, each year group will have a member of SLT assigned to it and every year group will have a year secretary, who will be the first port of call for following up absences, letters and reply slips, etc.

The personal tutor will be from a different subject area to the academic tutor. The personal tutor will be responsible for liaising with the student over more ‘skills for learning’ aspects. The personal tutor will have a group of students similar in number to the academic tutor, but this group will (as the school grows) a mixed age group, with students from different year groups.

These two systems will not work independently, but will work together to support the student. The personal tutor will liaise with the academic tutor and year group secretary to ensure that information about every individual is shared with everyone who should know.

Every time either of these tutors meet with a student, the details will be recorded on the IDP, a document that will be accessible by all staff, the student and parents/guardians. This document will also form the starting point for parent – teacher – student consultation evenings. These will also not be recognisable from the more standard parents’ evenings from most schools, because they will be dialogues between the school, the parents and the student. They will also be flexible times, unlike the fixed booking schedules in most schools. (I did say that these were more akin to speed dating events than professional meetings about the development of a young person, but I have no knowledge of how speed dating works except through what I have seen & read in the media…). I did, however, hear someone say that, if Post-it’s can be bought in 37 different designs, shapes and colours, schools really should be able to come up with better ways of interacting with parents….
And central to all this is the individual student. Every student will have contributed to their development plan and helped to be reflective learners.

But there will also be one other adult associated with this system too, something even more unique to Sandymoor. This is the student’s Business and Enterprise Mentor. We are seeking members of the local community to work with us to provide adults from the business and/or enterprise communities to work alongside us to help the students develop those soft skills necessary to make global, employable citizens. (I already have the support of Barclays Bank and some of the businesses in Daresbury Science and Innovation Centre). This scheme is a blog post in its own right, and I will post about it sooner rather than later.
So, every student will have three adults involved in tutoring and mentoring them throughout the school, and a strong pastoral support structure that will monitor their progress. This system will integrate fully with the academic subjects as well, but that is also the contents of a further post in its own right.

Every student an individual, treated as an individual and taught as an individual.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

And the Staff

It’s been such a hectic time since the Easter break, I am aware that I’ve not posted for a while. . . so, like London buses, there’ll be a few in quick succession. I was so excited to be talking to parents again, this time at Moore Primary School; it was wonderful having the opportunity to talk to a group of parents about everything that’s shaping up for September.

I said in my last post that I’d go into more details about the unique elements of the Sandymoor Curriculum, but before I do, I feel it would be best to discuss the staff we are recruiting for September.

That has been one of the things that has excited me so much and taken so much time over the break, shaping up the staff we will have for September. For me, the first key thing all staff, both teaching and non-teaching staff, will need to show will be the creativity and excitement about being involved in such a unique project. Beyond that, each role I’ve chosen will have particular talents that work to make Sandymoor outstanding. The recruitment process will be thorough and rigorous to ensure that each person is the very best for our students.

The first post is the Assistant Head post, the most senior post in the first year. This person will have the responsibility of working with me to ensure the personalised learning is transformed into a reality and will be the school’s Learning Support teacher (SENCO).

 Every student at Sandymoor will have an individual education plan, which will start when they first join the school. We will use modern educational research to profile each individual, using cognitive tests to identify how they interact with the world as well as screening for specific learning needs and learning styles and emotional intelligence. These tests will be overseen by the Assistant Head and will form the starting point of each child’s individual education plan (or personal development profile).

The assistant head will then be responsible for ensuring that every teacher has the information necessary to provide the best classroom experience for each student and will work with all the other teachers to keep the individual at the heart of everything we do.

As well as this, the Assistant Head will also have the responsibility for ensuring that our numeracy and literacy provision is of the highest quality.

In terms of the core subjects, I will, initially, deliver the Science curriculum. I am a Physicist by training and have been a Head of Science before moving into senior leadership. I have taught all three sciences and have a track record of achieving strong results in all three sciences.

We are also recruiting full time teachers in English and Maths, and these posts will be strongly involved in the development of the curriculum, being full time.

We are also looking for a part-time teacher of Spanish (and, hopefully, Mandarin). With our vision for creating global citizens, we need to ensure they have the skills to engage with the majority of the world. This is why we are looking to deliver the global languages; with English, Spanish & Mandarin, Sandymoor students will possess the three most widely spoken global languages.

Our students need to be given the opportunities to see themselves as part of a wider community, and so we are looking to recruit a high calibre Humanities teacher, with the skills to weave the story, both the history and geography that influences our lives, and also the philosophical, religious nature of our lives.

As a school dedicated to 21st century citizenship, we are also recruiting a technology teacher to deliver the practical skills necessary. And the arts are so important too, with an arts teacher being the last (but not least) member of the teaching staff.

Between us, we will also deliver the PE, and will make use of connections we already have to take the students to unique opportunities to work with professional sports people around the area. Physical Education, like all aspects of Sandymoor, will be rooted in the experiences of the ‘real’ world.

We will also deliver the Curriculum Enhancement lessons, but that is a post in its own right. Music education will be delivered by making use of local peripatetic music teachers, bringing in experiences into the school for everyone to benefit from.

And then there’s the non-teaching staff. These people are also crucial and will be important people in the lives of Sandymoor Students.

We are looking for an outstanding, organised person to be my Personal Assistant, someone who will, as the school grows, take on a responsibility for organising all the support staff in school. This individual will also get to know all the students and parents as well.

The Business and Finance Manager will be crucial in helping us keep track of the money, but also in helping us make the most of the whole resources the school has. Also, the school’s IT Network Manager will be responsible for keeping all the school’s IT working well, which will be such an important part of the school’s structures, as well as communication with parents.

And the final post is our Catering Manager. We are convinced that our young people need the best in all aspects and that includes the food that is on offer to them. Sandymoor students will be offered high quality, locally sourced food, from day one and we are looking for an outstanding individual to make our school food the exact opposite of the public perception of school meals.

And that is us. A total of eleven individuals (myself included) dedicated to making Sandymoor Students the centre of what matters in all aspects of the school. All the posts are on our website, the teaching posts will be in the TES for Friday 27th April and the non-teaching posts will appear in appropriate media. 

Monday, 9 April 2012

Has It Only Been A Month

Easter Sunday, and reflecting over the last month, I have just realised that it’s been exactly one month since being appointed at Head of Sandymoor School. I felt I had to mark this with a brief post, just as I’ve been thinking about everything we’ve achieved over that time. And what a lot we’ve done!
  • The site for both the temporary school and main build have been agreed.
  • Planning permission has been put in for the temporary site (the first time we’ve applied for planning permission).
  • Plans for the temporary school have been finalised.
  • Plans for the main building are very exciting and are coming on fast.
  • Staff required for September have been agreed (and I’ve spent the last week writing Job Descriptions, Person Specifications and related documents, ready to go on the website shortly).
  • Term dates for the next two years have been agreed and set.
  • The School Uniform has been agreed.
  • All our compulsory school policies and procedures are complete and will be on the website soon.
  • We’re in the process of planning the school trips, starting with a whole school (students, teachers, non-teaching staff & governors) team building experience in an outdoor pursuits centre in Wales.
  • I’ve just spent the last week writing the school’s curriculum document, which is already over 220 pages long.
In my next blog, I will be focussing on the unique elements of Sandymoor’s curriculum offer, but as a taster for you, here’s an outline of them:
  • Focus on ‘skills for learning’ through the Building Learning Power
  • Project-based Learning
  • Community Engagement Lessons
  • Business and Enterprise Mentoring Scheme
These four elements are woven throughout every lesson and every aspect of the school. Each half term will have a ‘Big Question’ that will form the focus of every aspect of school life through that time. Every lesson will have an element of Building Learning Power associated with it (a technique referred to as ‘Split Screen’ teaching, with the soft skill alongside the subject knowledge, just as explicitly delivered). The Business and Enterprise Mentor will work at developing the ‘soft’ skills for employability and the Community Engagement lessons will put the whole package in context, with members of the local community coming into school to work alongside the teachers and help the students see themselves as part of the community.
And to finish, with the teaching unions promising strikes in state schools for the Autumn Term, I can promise you that Sandymoor School will not close and will deliver a continuous, full education throughout the school year, outstanding from day 1.