Thursday, 30 August 2012

How Sandymoor is different part 4 - Community Engagement

'No man is an Island'

Parental Involvement

Parents/Guardians are an essential element in the success of any young person and at Sandymoor we want to work in partnership with every family.

In the term before joining Sandymoor, we like to do a home visit to the family home. One of the school tutors will arrange to visit, to discuss the specific nature of Sandymoor and answer any questions you may have, as well as start the process of building the relationship betweeen the school and home.

During the school year, the students' Individual Development Plans are available, securely, online for parents to read, giving them information about their child's progress at any time through the school year. This replaces the traditional 'school report' sent home at the end of the year, often when intervention can be too late.

At regular points through the school year, there are opportunities for parents/guardians to come into the school for an 'IDP review'. Throughout an IDP review week, there are a number of opportunities for parents to book to come into school, where they will meet with teachers as appropriate to discuss progress to date.

Local Community

As part of the Community Engagement lessons, strong links with local community groups are forged. Students develop the skills of project work through delivering a service to a local group, working together to ensure it is of the highest quality and then delivering the product. This could be a 'befriending' service to a local handicapped or elderly support group, or something more tangible, but it will be developed by the students, working with the group.

International Community

We are living in a global village, with modern technology shrinking the world. To enable Sandymoor students to become leaders in this village, we have links with groups around the world and students mirror the project model locally on a global stage. Working with an group providing education, for example, in Africa, there is lots Sandymoor students can learn from them whilst providing support to young people the other side of the world.

How Sandymoor is different part 3 - Pastoral Support

With the emphasis on the individual child, Pastoral Support is also an essential aspect of Sandymoor. Each student has three adults specifically associated with them as part of the pastoral structure; an Academic Tutor, a Personal Tutor and a Business and Enterprise Mentor.

Academic Tutor

The Academic Tutor is the person who the student will see each day, primarily for morning and afternoon registration, but also to ensure that work is all up to date. The academic tutor monitors the academic progress of their tutees against the baselines identified at the beginning of the year. Whenever a student falls below their progress targets, the academic tutor will investigate the reason and update the IDP with agreed actions to bring the student back on track.

Personal Tutor

The Personal Tutor will have less regular contact with their tutees, but will meet them as a group a number of times a week as part of the timetabled curriculum. The Personal Tutor is responsible for monitoring the student's progress in the areas of 'skills for learning', ensuring that every student is developing the skills necessary for them to take ownership of their own learning. Again, where there are concerns, the Academic Tutor will investigate and update the IDP with agreed actions.

The personal tutor groups are arranged vertically, with students of all age groups working together. This provides opportunities for younger students to aspire to the successes of the older, and the older students to gain self esteem by supporting the younger.

Business and Enterprise Mentor

This person is a successful member of the local community, whether a nurse, business leader, office worker or pilot. These are volunteers who we have recruited to work alongside us, so that every student has someone outside of school to work with in building an understanding of the modern workplace. 'Work experience' traditionally is reserved for much later in a student's school career and is often condensed into a single week, where it has limited impact. At Sandymoor, we bring the workplace into the school, and from year 7, so that the students get a real understanding of the skills required to be successful beyond school.

Pastoral support is also about helping every student see themselves more clearly and this can best be learnt by being a mentor to other people. Through strong links with local primary schools, Sandymoor students get opportunities to work with younger children, helping them with as necessary, whether in reading or writing, or spending time with someone who needs a friend.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Restoring one's faith in the goodness of people

When I commented over a month ago on how fast things were moving, I really did not appreciate just how fast paced things would get! But .....

We have been blessed with some amazing people working on this project.

With just four days to go before opening, it has been a good time to reflect on where we are at and where we have come from (particularly such in torrential rain on the M56 driving home...!)

In less than 18 months, a group of local residents decided that they wanted to take charge of choice for education in the community and became the Sandymoor Free School Project Group. Completing detailed plans and jumping through countless hurdles, they have been instrumental in getting the school to the position where we open on Monday. The power of the individual to make change in the local community is still a reality & that is independent of any political leaning.

But we've also had amazing people joining the project too.

The teachers and non-teaching staff we have recruited have shown excitement and dedication to the Sandymoor vision above and beyond the call of duty; they have taken on board every initiative I have introduced that makes Sandymoor unique and have contributed to the development of a curriculum and wider environment that is going to be stimulating, innovative and totally engaging to every Sandymoor student. I am honoured to be leading such a talented team.

The construction company also deserve special mention. It is refreshing to find a company that is prepared to put their actions where some would make excuses. Roan have worked tirelessly to ensure that we are ready to open on Monday and have never sought excuses, but provided solutions. I want to personally thank Matt for being so accommodating and holding himself and Roan to such high standards.

Today, the interior of the building is taking shape, with final painting and flooring being completed, electrics are being finalised and furniture has started to arrive on site. The kitchen equipment also arrived today and has started to be fitted and all the IT equipment (key to the delivery of any modern curriculum) arrives and is installed on Friday. The perimeter fencing has also been completed.

Tomorrow, the Tarmac is being laid and work will continue on the landscaping (although I understand that the turf will be laid early next week....!). Also, tomorrow and Friday the furniture will be finalised, including the kitchen, and the interior will be tidied up, ready for handover. Electrics, water and sewerage will also be connected, making the building ready for opening.

Over the weekend, all the staff and governors will be on site, finalising the building - over the last couple of weeks, all the equipment, stationary and resources has been arriving in Sandymoor and will come out of the garages of the governors, where it all is currently stored, and brought into the building. The teachers will be working on making the classrooms welcoming environments and the governors will be tidying up other loose ends (including installing the CCTV system for added security).

I will be on site Friday, Saturday and Sunday and will only go home Sunday when I am happy that Sandymoor is ready to open on Monday morning, 8:45, to welcome our outstanding students and provide the education they deserve!

What a journey it has already been and what an exciting journey we have ahead of us!

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep"

Prospero: The Tempest, act 4, scene 1


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

How Sandymoor is different part 2 - Student Ownership

In the modern world, knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge is no longer king. The traditional view, of the teacher knowing the answer and the student having to guess, the teacher being the gate-keeper of knowledge, is no longer valid. With modern technology, anyone can find out any information at the click of a mouse of tap of a screen. At Sandymoor, we embrace this.

Skills for Learning

It is no longer enough to just learn a lot of facts - with the Internet, there will always be more facts unknown. Instead, in today's world, it is also important to be able to synthesis knowledge into new theories, take on new ideas and adapt them. In other words, it is important for students to specifically develop the skills to be independent learners. At Sandymoor, the essential skills are woven into the curriculum and explicitly taught alongside the more traditional knowledge content.



Traditional homework is flawed. Recent research suggests that any educational benefit gained from it is marginal, at best, and actually potentially damaging. It follows the work covered on class and if the student understands the work, the homework is a waste of time and if the student didn't understand it, homework can be demoralising and damage self-esteem.

Sandymoor homework, by comparison, uses modern technology to break this cycle. Homework is delivered to the student using the school's cutting edge Virtual Learning Environment and is available before the lesson. The activities provide opportunities for students to explore the topic and gain an understanding of the material before the lesson. The teacher will be able to view the work submitted by the students and thereby adapt the lesson to suit the needs of the individuals.

Monday, 27 August 2012

How Sandymoor is different part 1 - Personalised Learning

Every one of us is unique, with our own strengths and weaknesses, passions and desires. With this in mind, Sandymoor aims to provide a personalised curriculum for every student. This is achieved in a number of different ways:

Enhanced diagnostic testing

Using the most up to date findings from educational and psychological research, every student takes a number of tests to enable us to understand how they, as an individual, learn and grow. These effectively help us gain an insight into how the brain interprets the world around it and how it then extends itself out onto the world. We also test every student for a wide range of identifiable 'learning support' conditions; all modern educationalists now recognise that things such as dyslexia & dyspraxia are conditions that exist across wide degrees of severity. Rather than diagnosing and labelling only students who exhibit moderate to severe signs, all students are tested. This way we can support all students needs.

Individual Development Plans

These tests are carried out during the Flying Start / induction week, along with a number of one-to-one interviews with members of staff. These interviews are designed to enable us and the student to fully understand what the results of these tests mean, but they do more than that. If we were car mechanics, diagnostic tests would tell us all we needed to know about the car, but with people, it's never that simple! We talk with each student to find out their desires and passions, but also try to help them to understand themselves as learned more. What their barriers to learning are. All of this is then written up into the student's IDP (Individual Learning Plan), a document that grows with the student. This plan replaces the more traditional school report and is added to throughout the school year by every teacher involved in the student's development.


Where possible (& where needed), students will engage in activities working with students from different age groups. The traditional school model, where children are taught in rigid age-related groups, is based on the assumption that all students learn and develop at the same time. Or, to quote Sir Ken Robinson, as if the most important thing about a young person is their 'date of manufacture'! Families and workplaces are made up of people of different ages, working alongside each other and learning off each other & at Sandymoor, there will be opportunities for all students to work together too.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Two Weeks and Counting

It's been a very busy few weeks, with lots of development in the background (and not just on site)!

From a curriculum point of view, as a body of teachers (& wider staff), we've met a number of times since other schools closed for the summer, working on:

  • Curriculum plans
  • Assessment processes
  • Trips and visits
  • IT training &
  • Statutory Child Protection Training
Also, plans are shaping up around other aspects, including catering provision, before and after school support and clubs for the students. I'm in the process of sending out packs of information to Sandymoor students and families, with lots of information - if you're a Sandymoor School family and haven't received your pack by the middle of next week, do let me know! I will also be following this up with details of our catering service, menus and how to 'sign up'The week of Monday 20th Aug is a milestone in Sandymoor School's timeline because the buildings (which have been constructed over in Ireland) arrive on site and will be put up ready for work to continue inside. I can only praise the firm, Roan, who have bent over backwards to work with us in the design and planning of the site and in the dedication to ensuring the site is handed over ready to go. It's been refreshing to work with a firm with such strong beliefs in 'doing a good job' (& I must also mention the firm they sub-contracted fixtures and fittings to, British Thornton, who also were keen to work to the tight deadlines and are in fact providing some items free of charge!)

Also, the outer perimeter fence will be installed, ensuring the site is safe and secure from early on. That and the alarm and sophisticated CCTV system that will be installed will ensure that the site is as safe as humanly possible.

The only 'fly' in the ointment has been negativity from a couple aspects. We are, as we always have been, willing to engage in genuine discussion and debate about the school, but when people start to tell blatant lies about the school, it is galling. We will do anything necessary to stop lies and rumours being spread about the school, but to address the key lies being spread:

  • We are only employing highly qualified staff, in all aspects of the school. Yes, we could employ unqualified teachers, but why on earth would we, when we had such a high quality field apply? And all Academies can also employ unqualified teachers - are they being challenged?
  • We have viable class sizes in both our year 7 & 8 streams. (not the 2 students in year 8 some people have been told....!)
  • We are delivering the National Curriculum, and then some! Our year length is the same as all Halton schools, and our school day is significantly longer, so we have time to deliver every aspect of the National Curriculum and enhance it with everything Sandymoor will become known for.
  • And finally, there is no flood risk! As part of the school designs (both temporary and permanent), we have had to consider the flood risks and mitigate them. In fact, the drainage infrastructure even on the temporary site will reduce the risk of flooding to the surrounding area.
I'm going to be posting more frequently over the last couple of weeks, as the fine detail of the school takes shape, so watch this space ....! It's an exciting time for Sandymoor, Halton and education in the region and I'm looking forward to leading the school into this exciting future.