Thursday, 31 May 2012
Sunday, 27 May 2012
Last week was an exciting time as we were interviewing for our first teachers to join the school! I have been very determined that the process would be thorough and rigorous, but also enjoyable (or as enjoyable as possible for the candidates...!). If Sandymoor is going to be outstanding, then we need to make sure that every aspect is outstanding and this includes, for me, the process of selecting staff.
Last week, we interviewed five exceptional teachers for two posts. This followed a detailed selection process, where we had to shortlist from 25 applications for just these posts. As an aside, there are two things that I've realised through this process; first that there is a lot of amazing talent out there in the education profession - every application we received was a strong one, and secondly, how much of a passion there is to have the opportunity to be involved in real education from the beginning. I have really had my faith in my profession re-affirmed.
After shortlisting, we then had to ensure that we would be able to find the best candidates through the interview process. This, for me, had to include seeing them in front of students as it's that rapport with young people you can't test any other way. I am extremely grateful to Daresbury Primary School for lending us one of their classes for this process! Over two mornings, each candidate had to deliver a brief micro-lesson on a topic around skills for learning & each candidate rose to the challenge! In fact the class teacher (who observed each lesson with me) said how impressed she was with quality & variety of the lessons, saying that I had a difficult choice to make, because they were so good.
Then we visited Sandymoor, so that they could see where the school will be. This was important and I remember visiting the sites when I was interviewed & the impact it had; the location, in the heart of the community, is just right. And we were blessed with good weather, which helped...
After lunch, the serious business then began, with a formal interview and various tasks to test different aspects of the jobs. This included a presentation to a group of parents (on a topic they were only given 1/2 hour earlier) - the inclusion of every element of the school's community is important and thank you to the parents who took part.
Through all this, we also gave the candidates time to talk and ask questions; I believe it's so important to give candidates time to feel the ethos and see if they want to be part of it - Sandymoor School is so much more than a job & I wanted to give time for them to understand that.
And then decision time. It was a hard choice, but because all the candidates were so good. However, there were two candidates who stood out and we are very pleased that they both said yes. I would like to thank the other candidates, who put a huge effort into the process and showed themselves to be outstanding professionals. I would consider it a privilege to work with any of them. It was hard to break bad news to them.
But now we are three! Joining me, delivering the science at first, is Emma Simpson, Assistant Head and Maths, and Sarah O'Hanlon, SENCO / learning support and English. We will put more details about them on the website soon, but here's a brief biography of each:
Emma Simpson comes to Sandymoor with 14 years of teaching experience behind her, a degree in Maths from UMIST, Manchester and further qualifications in coaching & mentoring. She will take on responsibility for ensuring the quality of our curriculum is outstanding and work with me to develop all our staff procedures.
Sarah O'Hanlon joins us with 6 years of teaching experience and a degree in English Studies from Manchester Metropolitan University. She has travelled widely, teaching in both Japan and Abu Dhabi, where she joined a school that, like Sandymoor, was starting from scratch. Sarah will take responsibility for student monitoring and the personalisation of the curriculum.
I know that both Emma & Sarah are keen to be introduced to the community and I will be working with them to arrange a number of events for them to meet everyone.
Looking ahead, we are interviewing for the remaining teaching posts this week; Humanities, Spanish, Art & Technology. Again, we had over 50 applicants for these posts and have shortlisted an outstanding set of candidates. They will go through a similar process and I wish them all the very best of luck - I am excited to meet them all. We are also finalising the interview processes for all remaining posts, and will have the full team by the end of June.
We are also going to be on national radio: if you can, listen into Women's Hour this Tuesday, where they are doing an article on Free Schools and Sandymoor is the example they are discussing!
Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Saturday, 19 May 2012
Monday, 7 May 2012
The plans for the temporary school are completely firmed up (and you can view them on the school's website) and the planning process is well underway. If you look at the plans, you will see that we have everything planned for our students to experience a full curriculum right from day 1. There's 'ordinary' classrooms, as well as a science lab and technology room; we also have a dinning and assembly space (which will also double up as an indoor area for PE). But there's also space for 'break-out' sessions. These are where small groups of students and individuals will meet to work through the more personalised aspects of their curriculum. . . not every lesson will be spent in a classroom with a whole class because doing things that way, although easier for the school to organise, does not help the individuals make the learning their own.
I've written already about the pastoral and mentoring support that will make Sandymoor unique, but the academic curriculum will also be unique as we will never treat students like products in a factory, where the 'date of manufacture' is the most important thing about them.
In the background, I'm working on the school's education brief; a weighty document that sets out how the school will cover all the legal requirements of the department for education. This document is ready to go off to them, but in doing it, I realised that it doesn't ask for what I consider the most important part of the whole thing, the 'how' of the delivery. I've prepared the outline of the school day, detailed how many lessons per subject and gone into detail about policies on ICT and the like, but couldn't help but include details about the how as well.
With every student known as an individual, it will be crucial that there is time for each student to engage with their learning as an individual. Here we have one of my big bug-bears and that's that most schools focus more on the teaching than on the learning. The teacher, seen as the sage, controlling the flow of knowledge into the students in front of them. This takes power away from the student and puts it firmly into the teacher and this leads to the student wondering why they go to school. The ethos of Sandymoor School will be the exact opposite, with the teacher acting as guide and support to the students. This means that the student is more in control and so enjoys the process. It also means that the education is more organic and evolves with the student.
Time in the classroom should be active, should involve the student asking questions and forming their opinions about the topics being discussed. Learning should be collaborative, with students working in groups to solve problems. This is what happens in the 'real world', so why not in school? It certainly will be what happens at Sandymoor.
Over the next few weeks, I will be short listing and interviewing staff to join me in September. This is going to be a huge task, not least due to the number of applications we are receiving, but also because of the importance to it - I will only want the best teachers joining me, teachers who share my passion for working with young people not seeing them as products to 'do' education to. I am working with a retired head who is helping me shortlist and will interview with me. I'm also very grateful for three of the local primary schools who have offered their classrooms and students so that we can observe the candidates in front of students. And I hope to be able to share with you the Sandymoor teachers by the end of May, so watch this space for that exciting news!
Also, like I've said, I will be posting out to parents/guardians who have registered their child(ren) a letter explaining how the transition will work, with me visiting each student in their primary school, talking to them and their class teacher. I will also be asking to meet each parent/guardian, so I can explain how Sandymoor will work and answer any questions. I know that everyone has busy lives, but I am hoping that people will be willing to meet me; I am more than happy to visit in an evening, in the family home. I believe the link with parents is so important in making the process work, everyone working in partnership to make the best experience possible for the young people. This is something I think we've let slip in the west - when I was in Tanzania, working with the Maassi, the way everyone in the community works to support the children is a lesson we could all learn and is why I am so dedicated in my pursuit of getting everyone involved in the mentoring and support of Sandymoor School's students.