Friday, 29 June 2012

10 weeks and counting!

In under 10 weeks, we open! Now that's an exciting thought. . . So much has happened and everything is shaping up nicely. Since my last post, we've now finalised all the staff and now have a full compliment of teaching and non teaching staff on board. There was a small hiccup with one appointment, but all that is to be expected. Do look on the school's website for details of the teaching staff. (I'll be getting the non-teaching staff on the site as soon as possible too.)

In the background, there's been a lot of meetings going on to get everything sorted; we're meeting to finalise the IT provider, who will be responsible for ensuring we have all the best equipment and software to support the provision, we've had our 'Readiness to Open Meeting' with the DfE and they are happy with everything we've done. And our pre-opening Ofsted inspection is booked. I am actually looking forward to showing them everything we have in place & showing off Sandymoor. (And as a teacher, I never thought I'd hear myself say that I'm looking forward to seeing Ofsted .....!)

Last weekend, I was down in the South of England at the Sunday Times Festival of Education, taking part in a weekend of exciting and stimulating talks. Lord Adonis, confirming what the shadow education minister said on the television, that a Labour government would not shut down successful free schools, in fact, going further and confirming that the idea was, actually, a rebranding of a Labour idea in the first place. It was also good to hear Rachel Wolf (founder of New Schools Network) taking part in a discussion about the changing needs of education and how free schools fit into that agenda by having the freedom to innovate and provide different experiences.

And talking of NSN, it was good to meet Rachel again last Wednesday, in Manchester and help NSN in showing how free schools provide opportunities for local businesses to get more involved in education. Sandymoor's Business and Enterprise Mentoring scheme attracted a lot of attention.

Then,this week, I've also met with most of the teachers, where we were planning exciting activities to put on as part of Sandymoor School's contribution to the summer fair - do come along and meet us all, this Saturday in the heart of Sandymoor!

So lots going on and very exciting things happening. Everything is nicely on track for opening this September and I am getting so excited now about meeting our students and making Sandymoor School the reality the founders envisaged when they wrote their proposal.

We are still receiving requests to enroll students into both our year 7 & year 8 groups; if you would be interested in finding out more about this, do please get in touch visit the website!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Back to what matters - the students

With the last few staff being recruited over the next couple of weeks, and with the teachers now in place, it’s time to get back to planning and building the student experience. And it’s good to get back to that, in my head, because that is what has always been at the heart of Sandymoor!

One thing that has been occupying a lot of my time over the last few weeks has been a document called the Education Brief. This forms part of what is called the Education Plan for the school and is assessed by both the Department for Education and Ofsted. The Brief goes into the details of the school, in minute detail – the contents page alone runs to 3 pages and the whole document is over 100 pages long. . . In writing it, I have been able to refocus back onto the students and the experience they will receive.

We have decided on the first term’s focus – every topic covered will be related to the concept of ‘Reflection’. In Maths, this will look at the concept of geometry and 3-D shapes, linking to technology, whereas Art will be looking at the concept of reflecting the world through different movements in art. English lessons will be focussed on the concept if reflective writing, biographical / autobiographical, both real and fictional. In science, the concept of reflection and light in general will be the starting point for exploring many aspects of the world and in Humanities, the concept of reflecting our impact on the physical world will be the link. Community engagement will look at three aspects of reflection; locally exploring the issue of different ages’ perceptions on being a local resident, regionally looking at the different perspectives of faith communities and how that reflects on being ‘British’ and internationally, looking at different perspectives of global issues. Within all this, we will also be developing the students’ ability to reflect on their own learning and progress. This is core to the Sandymoor way – the skills for life-long learning at the front of what we do.
One key difference is going to be the integration that takes place – in far too many secondary schools, each subject is treated as a discrete item in the curriculum, in its own box, unaffected by other subjects. As a science teacher, for example, I’ve found myself frustrated by other departments unwilling to change the order in which they teach their subject to make links, and I’m determined that this won’t happen at Sandymoor. Or when secondary schools do claim to run an integrated course, it’s often taught by non-specialists. At Sandymoor, we are developing a curriculum where the subjects are taught by specialists, but in an integrated way, with each element of the curriculum placed in sequence to match other subjects.

For example, the Maths department will be working with Technology to look at geometry and shapes. This will tie in with Art, looking at the use of shapes and colour in compositions, so the Science department will look at light and colour, how we see the world around us. This then leads into the humanities subjects, with our interactions with the world, and so the links grow. These links will also be made explicit with the students too, with time for them to reflect on these links as they work in multi-age groups on projects of their choosing, but tied into the curriculum.

This all takes effort and time, and that is often why schools don’t do it; it is simpler to buy a scheme of work from a publisher, with all the worksheets and student text books all linked together. But that then stops the creativity in linking the subjects together. The text book and bought in scheme takes the priority – “we can’t do that now because it’s not the next chapter in the text book…”.

And all of that is built into Sandymoor; collaboration between departments, creativity in the curriculum and freedom for teachers to teach to the individual needs of the students.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Planning Permission

The planning committee chose to defer making a decision on planning permission due to concerns expressed by elected members about the traffic safety around the site. This was despite a complete recommendation by the council officials and a verbal report that directly addressed the concerns - the committee members wanted a full written report. We completely support and appreciate the committee's concern for the safety and welfare of our students and are grateful that they take their job seriously; it is reassuring to see the concern that the elected members have for our students. We look forward to submitting the reports they have asked in ample time for the next meeting on July 2nd. It is encouraging that they did state their support for schools and they did not question any aspect of the educational provision the site will provide. There was a question raised about the ability of temporary accommodation to provide a full experience to the students, but the replies about the quality of temporary accommodation being excellent and the fact that there is a new build that will replace the temporary site (which will, of course, go through it's own planning process) answered their concern. Whilst disappointed that permission was not granted, it is encouraging that it was not refused and the issues raised were not related to the core purpose of the building, which is to provide outstanding education for the students of Sandymoor and the wider East Runcorn area.

I personally take this to be tacit agreement with the aims of Sandymoor. At present, with deferral to the 2nd July, we are still on schedule to open in time on 3rd September.