I’ll Be There…

I’ll Be There

What a wonderful celebration to end the academic year; a wonderful feast of drama, dance and choir, our second at the Southbank, this time at the Royal Festival Hall. The show, I’ll Be There, a self penned performance of the Mahabharata was put on by children, from Avanti House secondary and primary along with some of the older pupils from Krishna Avanti. To a packed audience, we were taken through the great epic with far too many ‘stars of the show’ to mention. Once again, as these images suggest,

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our children really rose to the occasion and reminded us all why we do what we do and exactly why we call ourselves, at Avanti House, the family! Thank you to parents and friends who joined is this afternoon and well done and thank you to the supremely wonderful and talented Vandna Synghal, a volunteer at the Trust, the writer and director of this show and also thanks to our Director of Performing Arts, Paul Nash and the many staff who made sure that this wonderful event happened – particularly to Eyvonnie, our new Head of Year 7 and drama teacher, who stepped up to the plate with a level of organisation and attention to detail that is fast becoming her trademark.

Moving On

True to the title of our epic performance, “I’ll be there”, I shall be there, at Avanti House School, in September, to oversee the start of our fifth year of operation. Sadly, however, I shall not be returning to the Trust or to the school in January. As most of our existing parents will know already, my family has decided to move the United Arab Emirates in 2017 and I shall be leading the way in late December. It was always an aspiration for the family that our remaining two daughters, if we could make it possible, would attend school and study in an international setting; the middle or the far East and study the IB Diploma in an International School. I know that when I do move on, in around five months from now, I shall leave my other family, Avanti House, in very safe hands.

We have a brilliant Deputy and succession leader, in Nadira Morris, an excellent day to day head of primary in Richard Halliday and a wonderful and growing body of staff teaching and support, secondary and primary to serve our fantastic children. The Avanti Schools Trust are already putting in additional capacity to support the handover process, once two new Principals are appointed, one for secondary and one for primary, for January. Indeed a Consultant Headteacher will join us at secondary, similar to the one who has recently been supporting Richard at primary – all with a view to adding capacity for the smoothest of handovers to new leadership.

I officially leave my appointed role as Senior Education Officer (deployed as Principal at Avanti House) at the end of December. I will then take up the position of Senior Inspector in the schools’ inspection service in Dubai. Excited by the move, I shall nevertheless be very sad to leave but happy that in my short time, we managed to stabilise what had been a very vulnerable project, find suitable temporary homes, secure full planning permissions, achieve outstanding early years and KS1 outcomes and look set to perform at GCSE in the top 10% of similar schools nationally. I shall spare my thanks and reflections until later in the year.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our families and friends for another fun packed year, the one where we secured with absolute certainty the future of both the secondary and primary phases of the school – and just in time, given how popular and oversubscribed our schools are! The overwhelming majority of parents and families are so incredibly supportive of the school, it makes it a privilege to serve.

Have a lovely holiday and remember..

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Hare Krishna

What Do You Want to Be?

Happy and Strongprincipal-MAB-blog-150x150

There is a now quite infamous story of a pupil in school who when he responded to an assignment given to his class; “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, he replied “happy”. This young pupil went by the name of John. He was told by the teacher that he did not understand the assignment. Rather cheekily he is then said to have suggested that the teacher perhaps did not understand life!

Some time later, of course, John (Lennon) was the founding member of the group, The Beatles; a group of young, untrained but fiercely ambitious musicians from Liverpool, who went on the be turned away by almost every record label at the time, being told that ‘guitar music is on the way out’. Later, some would say, they played a very significant part in changing popular culture in the ten years they were together. They also wrote and sang quite a few nice tunes! There are two messages here; the first is this really is what we all want to be when we grow up – ‘happy’ – and there are probably just as many full grown adults who would say that they have not yet fully achieved this status. The second is a message about the importance of resilience. In our bid to be ‘happy’ and to bring happiness to others, how hard are we going to try and how many times will we be prepared to pick ourselves off the ground. Things do not always go according to plan, life takes unforeseen twists and turns; surely as teachers and as parents, we would want, above all else, to ensure that our children are fully equipped to meet all of life’s challenges and all eventualities, head on. Looking at John’s life journey there is some irony in that one of the last song lyrics he ever wrote was ‘life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans..’ only to have his life cut short by an assassination just outside his home in New York. At Avanti of course, we would also have encouraged respect and self-discipline as two of our values – answering the teacher back was perhaps not the best choice he ever made! But, truthfully, we really do not know what the future holds and it is our duty, I believe, to educate young people in resilience and tenacity (or ‘grit’ as some people call it) – this is as important as the best examination results in my view. As the school starts to settle into a new consolidation phase, with full planning permission now granted (just waiting for the six week, compulsory Judicial Review to close), we are looking at the broader curriculum – the one that develops character, spiritual insight but critically, also all the skills for young adults to be enterprising and world-ready.

Library Preparation at Pinner

As we bring the academic year to a close, the school is busying itself getting ready for the new year in September; the fifth year since opening. One exciting development is that of the library at Pinner. We are blessed to have one of our kind parents, Srirangapriya, recently join us as a volunteer to support the mammoth task of getting the library ready.

Srirangapriya is building on the good work of our Head of English and Literacy, Miss Vasudeva and some of our enthusiastic students who have got most books on the shelves. However, within each section there is a good deal of sorting out to do so that is the first priority followed by cataloguing (Shakespeare is already done!).  Srirangapriya also has some good ideas to promote the library electronically via a library website; showcasing the brilliant books that we have for loan – perhaps with a discussion forum and other features. I think it is worth saying that we should all watch this space – and as a school we are grateful, as always, for voluntary support and this is yet another example of time given up to serve the mission and vision of the school.

The plans are already in place to appoint a librarian, for the first time in the history of the school, hopefully to start with us in September.

Principal Designate Appointment – Avanti House Primary School

As parents and carers will have already heard, following the decision to de-merge the primary and secondary phases of the all-through school into two legally independent schools, an advert is out for the appointment of a Principal Designate of the primary school, for September 2016. We shall keep family and friends posted via this website as and when there are developments in this.

A Weekend of Celebrations

Last weekend really was a weekend of celebrations with both the FOAH organised summer fair as well as the consecration of Sri Sri Radha Krishna deities taking place at Pinner.
As planned and mentioned in recent months in this blog, the months of planning finally came to fruition on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd July we saw the consecration of Sri Sri Radha Krishna deities at Avanti House Secondary School in Pinner. This auspicious ceremony marks an important landmark for Avanti House secondary school and was performed in the presence of His Grace Jananivas Das and His Holiness Bhakti Rasamrita Swami. The rituals were performed by Sri Radharaman Das.This wonderful event was attended by a large group of guests invited by Avanti Schools Trust and which included a number of our own students, who will each day have opportunities to access the shrine. Daily Aarti is now being performed and we look forward to opening up the Altar Room for private and group worship for staff and students. Our thanks to the Trust and to Sahil Agarwal in particular for organising for this auspicious event to take place and for the opportunities it affords the community, going forward.

Our thanks to all who were able to support, yet again, another highly successful summer fair, organised by the Friends of Avanti House. We are particularly grateful as a school to Yogi, Hemang and the Committee for making it such a wonderful and well-attended event. We look forward to hearing of the fund raising totals; family and friends can see some of the excitement of the day at the Facebook page by clicking here.

As with everything that we do at Avanti House, it really is the family spirit and the team that pulls things together; even under the most challenging of circumstances. There are no egos at play here – everyone plays their part, to the best of their abilities and whether it is the design of a new building and curriculum, moving from one site to another, putting on a show at Wembley Stadium or the Royal Festival Hall, a long weekend in the Isle of Wight, installing a new library or inviting Sri Krishna and Sri Radha to reside at the school, although working to a common vision, it is never the work of one person – it is always a collaboration. It is always team work. I look forward to sharing this spirit of Avanti when this week we meet the parents of year 6 children for an information evening and also we welcome many of our new teachers for an induction day. An exciting week ahead!

Last Chance to Get your Tickets

As you well know, Avanti House Primary and Secondary, are with Krishna Avanti, performing a spectacular musical production this summer on the Mahabharata. The performance is taking place at London’s prestigious Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre on Sunday 17th July 2016 at 4.30pm.

Tickets are available at the primary and the secondary sites.

Please contact Mrs Mistry sonal.mistry@avanti.org.uk and Mrs Gupta anuja.gupta@avanti.org.uk at respective sites.

chodronMindfulness and Resilience

I leave you with a quote this week from one of my favourite Tibetan Buddhist writers and teachers, Pema Chodron. Here Pema reflects on our tendency to blame  ourselves and others and to go in search of greater security and certainty – especially when things do not go according to plan. Whereas, it is actually the nature of things to frequently not go according to plan (physicists call this entropy!) – the key to a happier life, perhaps, is to detach – to accept things as they are (if they cannot be changed), then adapt to the circumstances and do something different!

Krishna said something very similar, in a very positive way, to Arjuna, on the battlefield, as we read in Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6, Verse 5:

“Elevate yourself through the power of your mind, and not degrade yourself, for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.”

Have a great week

Haribol

 

Mixed Messages…

Coach Incident – Isle of Wight

One of the coaches on our year 8 trip to the Isle of Wight had an incident on Friday afternoon. It did not turn out to be a serious incident and all parents/carers were contacted by the party to reassure them. Deputy Principal Mrs. Morris was heading up this coach. There were other staff on board and 58 pupils heading to a castle visit. The coach then had a low speed collision with an object on a narrow road. No other vehicles or pedestrians were involved.

Nobody was hurt in the incident. The outside layer of some of the coach windows at the side were damaged but there was no damage or glass inside the coach. The children were quickly and safely evacuated, obviously a little shocked but with no sign of major distress. The party then walked, on a footpath the short distance to their castle destination. Parents/carers were all being contacted by the party and reassured soon after the incident.

A new coach (and driver) were to pick them up from the castle and return them to where they were staying. All have now arrived home safely.

Working Togetherprincipal-MAB-blog-150x150

As both a father and a teacher I frequently think about the confusing and mixed messages that the adult world seems to offer our children. At Avanti House for example, we espouse the six values of ‘respect’, ‘integrity’, ‘courage’, ’empathy’, ‘gratitude’ and ‘self-discipline’. We talk about them with students in tutor time, in collective worship, in PRE and citizenship lessons and we remind students about them on the corridors and in the playgrounds. Our students understand these values and much of the time seem really pleased to have such a framework to set the standard of conduct at school. They really do, in large measure, live and breathe these values at Avanti House. However, the very same children, fast becoming young adults in our midst, must oftentimes think as though they are surrounded by quite the opposite. Whether it is in the media of entertainment – soap operas, blockbuster movies, computer games, magazines and the like, or whether it is real-world news; they witness cheating, lying, backbiting, aggression right up to graphic violence and terrorist threats or actions.

The mixed messages we send the next generation abound – and in an information age, these messages are relentless. This is why, I think, that schools will only succeed in nurturing globally aware, socially confident and enterprising young adults if we work closely with parents and families. There has to be a consistent, purposeful, optimistic and positive (yet realistic) message that we send to those who are inheriting the successes and failures of our generation and the one before it. Indeed, in my 33 years teaching and leading in a wide variety of schools and particularly where youngsters have been troubled, challenged or disadvantaged in some way the success in moving things to a better place rests entirely in the relationship between the school, the family and the child – it is a three-way relationship and it must, I believe, lie at the very heart of everything that we do. Schools cannot work in isolation – children’s characters are substantively formed in the first 9 years of their lives – half of which they spent entirely at home.

Nor can families work in isolation – children from age 4/5 – 16/19 spend two thirds of their waking life at school. In the very best schools, this time is a partnership – where values are shared, support is mutual and there is an understanding, as in any relationship, that things do not always go according to plan – but that children get one chance at an excellent education so we should be compelled to keep trying for them.Radhanath-swami-on-parenting

Some things in the news are almost impossible to explain – and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Jo Cox; who was so senselessly taken away from them last week in an unimaginable act – a public servant who only gave to others.

At Avanti House parents, students and the school sign a Home School Agreement. This sets out exactly what the parent and the child can expect of the school and exactly what the school expects of the child and his/her family. Most schools have such an agreement. Our current Home School Agreement is found at this link: Home School Agreement May 2016 v2 1. I think you will agree, it is quite an elaborate agreement for the parent and the school alike; whereas for the student, it is quite simple:

  • Behave impeccably and follow the six school values of Respect, Integrity, Courage, Empathy, Gratitude and Self-Discipline;
  • Work hard in my studies – in school and at home and in partnership with school staff;
  • Look after my school environment and its equipment.

School Lunchesvegan-pad-thai-e1429117378854

One of the non-negotiables in the Home School Agreement is that of parents agreeing to pay the daily school lunch fee (currently £2.35) for the healthy, nutritious and tasty lacto-vegetarian meal that is served in our restaurant each day.

These meals are cooked freshly on site by a subsidiary company of the Avanti Schools Trust  – Govinda’s and the meals are blessed as prasadam. We talk often with students about receiving this food with gratitude and respect, with a sense of offering and of eating together and not wasting food. Govinda’s continues to work hard to listen to the views of youngsters as to which foods they prefer to eat (within the faith-scope of an onion/mushroom-free facto-vegetarian context) and what are the less popular choices. Our school lunch provision has come a long way this year and we are still looking to work with students and Govinda’s to ensure that it continues to improve.

Voluntary Contributions

Are-school-trips-worth-th-007A number of parents have asked recently about ‘paying for trips, visits’ and the like. UK Education law is very simple in this area – schools cannot charge for any activity that takes place mostly during school time (in our case 8am – 4.30pm; Monday to Friday. If most (51%+) of a trip, visit or residential takes place outside of this time, then schools are able to charge. The charges have to be reasonable and competitive.

If a trip, visit or residential is wholly or mainly taking place during the school day then it cannot be charged for – but the school can still ask for a voluntary contribution. There must be no pressure to comply and no reason need be given for choosing to not contribute. If the contributions gathered do not cover the cost of a trip and the school has not budgeted to subsidise it, then the school might have to go ahead and cancel/refund. We are changing our paperwork for when we ask for voluntary contributions, so that there can be no doubt about this.

Parent View and Student Surveys

One of the ways that a school can gather some intelligence on how parents/carers and students view the education on offer is through a survey. We plan to run a full student end of year survey within the next few weeks and results will be published on our website and in this blog. Conveniently, Ofsted put a Parental Survey up on their website, called Parent View. My thanks to over 70 parents who have recently completed this survey – we had hoped for a lot more (there are 700 of you, even if only one parent completes the survey) but we are grateful to those who have. During parents’ evenings, starting with year 7 coming up, we are going to have older students showing parents how to get onto this site so that they can see it only takes a few minutes to complete. The majority of questions scored well over 90% strongly agreeing or at least agreeing. However, it appears as though ‘homework’ and ‘reports to parents’ are the main two areas where less than 80% (around 76%) agreed or strongly agreed that these were in a good place. But one parent is more than 1% with less than 100 respondents so far. Once we hit the 200 parent respondent mark, we shall consider carefully how to then respond to this survey as a school. If you have yet to get online and complete the 5 minute survey (anonymous) you can register here

quran-quote-peace-meditateTo end. An inspirational quote from the Quran during this festival of Ramadan – a reminder to us to tread gently, offer peace, to never stop learning about ourselves and to put the needs of others before our own – even when we are faced with unreasonable problems (or unreasonable people).

Have a lovely week

 

Taking a Deep Breath…

Welcome Back

principal-MAB-blog-150x150Welcome back. I hope that our friends and families enjoyed a restful half-term break. The first week back has been frantic as we set off on the last half term of this academic year. At the moment most of what I seem to be doing is interviewing candidates for jobs from September. These interviews are across all key stages and in most subject areas – for our still growing school. We are also replacing some last minute resignations as some of our existing colleagues look to move on for a host of reasons – (closer to home, abroad, moving with the family, taking some time out to travel or for promoted positions to name but a few!).

Once all new teacher and leader appointments have been made we shall announce the staffing changes for September and introduce families and friends to our new colleagues. We have made some fantastic appointments in all areas. In addition to this, we are welcoming a number of volunteers to the school, both at primary and secondary and for a number of reasons – from the long-overdue re-opening of our library at Pinner through to additional support from the Trust for Mr. Halliday in senior leadership at primary. We are always grateful for the time given up by so many, in a voluntary capacity, to support our work at Avanti House. On top of so many things going on at the school, as an existing, registered Ofsted Inspector (a significant number of inspectors now are practicing Headteachers and Principals) I am bringing so much back from the excellent, ongoing training that we receive, as we prepare ourselves in anticipation of an inspection in the next academic year. Indeed, next Monday evening 20th, I shall sadly have to miss a meeting with September 2016 Reception year parents (Mrs. Morris and Mr. Halliday will of course lead) as I am due to inspect a school, elsewhere in the country, on Tuesday.

Secondary students came back to school buzzing last week, not just about the wonderfully organised Sports Day at the end of the last term (thanks to Mr Hindes and his team) but also about the many wonderful trips, visits and visitors they have enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) in drop down days, activities week and at other times. They are really fired up to make the very best of these opportunities (including international visits) – the curriculum is all the richer for it.

Heatwave and Uniform

A few secondary parents have queried where the school stands with regard to the heat of the building as temperatures creep up to 25 degrees and above. Avanti schools do not currently have a summer uniform. However, at the suggestion of the Trust, we have agreed, when we look as though we are in for a very hot spell, to firstly encourage all students to carry and drink plenty of water and secondly, if they wish, to put their blazers, sweaters, cardigans and tie into their lockers during the day. We have done this for two weeks now with some success. Less than 10% of students choose to enjoy the relaxation of the uniform and they are asked, if keeping their tie and blazer on, to keep their top button done up. Shirts, at all times, must be tucked in and there is no flexibility in any other area of the uniform (shoes etc.) Students MUST wear their full uniform to school in the morning and leave the building wearing it too.

It is getting a little cooler this week, so I anticipate that we shall revert to normal uniform at the start of the week and take it day by day – looking at the medium term forecast. It is important that our students look really smart, but they must also be comfortable for learning and not be at risk of overheating.

Another Performance for the Prime Minister

Hot off the heels of the school’s performance at Wembley a few months ago, for the Prime Ministers of both the UK and India, the Avanti Schools Trust invited our Director of Artistry, Paul Nash, to pull together a troupe of singers to speak and to perform for the Prime Minister, David Cameron at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Haveli at Bhaktivedanta Manor – where devotees are also celebrating 50 years since the beginning of ISKCON.

All that I have so far heard, from those invited guests who were present, report that our youngsters (as usual) did us really proud on the day as they performed excerpts from the forthcoming I’ll Be There performance at the Royal Festival Hall. Our sincere thanks to Paul and others for making this possible and hastily arranging rehearsals.

A short video of the event can be found here.

A Track Record for a Homeless School

As we receive the final acceptances for year 7 places this coming September, it is looking likely, that for the first time in the short history of Avanti House School, we shall have a full intake of 180 students, with a significant waiting list behind this. With other year groups (including year 10 going into 11) still growing – by the week – it says an awful lot about how Avanti House (currently in its third temporary building – and for secondary at the wrong end of town) is viewed by the vast majority of our community of parents, as a school they really want to continue and to flourish – in spite of the challenges faced with premises and planning permission.

These challenges continue. Whilst conditional planning consent was agreed back in February of this year – driven and unbelievably well supported by parent voice – our own ground has yet to be broken and at the current rate of development between the EFA and Harrow Council, which is slow to say the least, we are at risk of not being able to send the contractors in until late Autumn – possibly the very end of the year. All of this is incredibly frustrating and puts at very high risk any hope of being able to move the school to the Whitchurch site until the summer of 2018. We are really fortunate that the Governors and incoming Headteacher of Pinner High School are so supportive of our co-location plans as we plan for a third year here, where we shall be around 1000 in number to Pinner’s 360.

Friends of Avanti House Summer Fair

As we wind up to the end of term, a major event for the whole community will, of course, be the PTA, Friends of Avanti House (FOAH) Summer Fair. This will be held at the Pinner site on Sunday 3rd July from 11am – 3pm. More details on the FOAH website (Click HERE). I would like to take this opportunity to thank FOAH for all of their fantastic work, in my time, over the past two years – entirely voluntary, they have been both ambassadors for the school and excellent fund-raisers too (as well as traffic marshals, providers of refreshments etc. etc.) Let’s hope the weather holds this year!

A Reminder: I’ll Be There…

As mentioned above, a reminder to all our families and friends to quickly book your tickets for our stage performance at the Southbank – the Royal Festival Hall – next month, of the performance of the Mahabharata entitled I’ll be there.

Tickets are now on sale at both the Pinner and Common Road sites (also at Krishna Avanti) for the event taking place on Sunday 17th July.

 

Theme for the Term

The school’s theme for this bhagavad-gita-h-r-m-12-728term is based around our core value of Self Discipline and one of my favourite quotes from the Bhagavad Gita that I used in assemblies last week

I have to remind myself of this optimistic quote all too often in these challenging times.

 

Ramadan e-belgique 1

 

And to our Muslim families and friends, at this wonderful time, we wish you Ramadan Mubarak.

During this time you demonstrate, through your fasting and service, a self-discipline which is devotional.

I wish you all fruitful and wonderful week ahead.

 

Evaluation and Planning…

principal-MAB-blog-150x150Parent Evaluation – Your help needed

As schools come towards the end of the academic year, they tend to go into the mode of evaluating the successes and lessons-learned from the year and Avanti House School is no different. Indeed, it is even more important, I feel, for a relatively new school, still growing to do this robustly and in particular, to listen to our stakeholders – parents, students, staff and others.

To help in this I ask that, as a parent or carer, you click the link HERE or below, register with Ofsted’s Parent View and then take the short online survey. It really does only take five minutes but if offers so much to the school, to know where we should put our greatest attention. We have over 700 children – both parents can complete the survey, so we could have 1400+ responses. Even a couple of hundred would give the school and the Governing Body a clear steer as to what the priorities are. So please do not just assume ‘somebody else will do it’ – your voice counts – as it did, loud and clear, when we came to secure our planning permission for Whitchurch.

At the moment, as I write, there are only 43 responses this year and although overwhelmingly positive across all questions (so far), it is clear that two areas are slightly less positive. One of these is ‘homework’ (only 79% positive) and the other is ‘information home to parents about progress’ (only 84% positive at the moment). With even more responses from parents – and your voice heard, if these are still the poorest performing questions, we shall write to all parents to find out more about views on homework and progress reports and listen to ways that we might be able to improve in these areas. If other areas are flagged up (<80% positive), we shall address these too.

So please take the chance right now and click HERE to register and log onto Ofsted Parent View to respond to 12 short questions (each one you simply choose from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree) and help us to get our planning priorities right. All of it is anonymous. Please ask other parents/carers to do the same.

Reflections: Two years in

We have been gathering student evaluations throughout the year as we have been conducting faculty reviews but a similar questionnaire to Parent View, will be issued to secondary students (and a different approach at primary) over the next few weeks once the exciting activities week is over and end of year examinations are marked and returned. These evaluations will be a little more focussed on what goes on in the classroom and also across our growing, extra-curricular provision. Staff too will have their views taken on board as we wind the year up, into early July.

For my own part, I am starting to look back on two years in post as Principal at Avanti House and Senior Education Officer for the Avanti Schools Trust. I have to say that these were two very unique years in my 33 years in teaching. Until the secondary phase of the school secured its planning permission, a few months ago, this Free School project, already with 700 children on roll, remained a vulnerable one. It has taken an inordinate amount of energy, time, understanding and dedication from a lot of people and groups of people behind the scenes – at the DfE, the Trust, the school, the Harrow Academies Trust (set up by Headteachers at Harrow), their consultants, the incoming Headteacher of Pinner High School, the Friends of Avanti House (FOAH), members of the local authority and others to get us to this point. As a school (and the children and parents in particular) we can only express one of our six core values – our gratitude for keeping the vision of Avanti House alive. I look forward to the day – and the latest estimates are late August/early September – when the contractor’s diggers move onto the site and break ground. When we actually then do start to see our final building for secondary go up (around about the same time as almost completing on the primary refurbishment/extension), it will mark something of a end of one phase (the long and rather painful birth of a school) and a new beginning too – with fantastic possibilities.

During the same two years I have come to realise what a very special group of youngsters we have on roll at Avanti House. With parents and carers who are overwhelmingly supportive and keen to get involved, the sky really is the limit for our students – youngsters, the majority of whom, model our six ‘character values’ to perfection – most of the time. The vast majority of our pupils in primary and students in secondary join us each day, fully equipped and ready for and keen to move their learning forward.

All-in-all, although far from being what I might have expected when I came on board, I have thoroughly enjoyed the past two years in post and felt very supported through these uncertain times as we steadied the ship and begun setting a standard for others to follow. We are on course for a fantastic first set of examination results, as our oldest students go into year 11 this September. Furthermore, and in spite of the national challenges of recruiting high calibre staff in some subject areas, we have made some excellent appointments already for growth in September; staff who will join the existing, dedicated team who we have on board.

Attendance

At Avanti House, attendance is typically over 97% – well above national averages and really excellent. However, we have seen some slippage of late, in some year groups. This has been compounded by unauthorised absence that has been taken for term time holidays. I know this matter is quite alive in the national media at the moment, but the legislation is quite clear. As a Principal, I am simply not able to authorise term-time holidays (and these include weddings and religious festivals more than 2 days in the year – over and above the Christian and additional Hindu holidays we take). I am just not permitted to authorise them, even if I thought they were a good idea. With attendance beginning to slip a little to 96% and under in some year groups, attendance will become a key priority area to chase and to improve as we go into next year.

Friends of Avanti House Summer Fair

As we wind up to the end of term, a major event for the whole community will, of course, be the PTA, Friends of Avanti House (FOAH) Summer Fair. This will be held at the Pinner site on Sunday 3rd July from 11am – 3pm. More details on the FOAH website (Click HERE). I would like to take this opportunity to thank FOAH for all of their fantastic work, in my time, over the past two years – entirely voluntary, they have been both ambassadors for the school and excellent fund-raisers too (as well as traffic marshals, providers of refreshments etc. etc.) Let’s hope the weather holds this year!


A Reminder: I’ll Be There…

IBT poster PINK jpegA reminder to all our families and friends to quickly book your tickets for our stage performance at the Southbank – the Royal Festival Hall – next month, of the performance of the Mahabharata entitled I’ll be there. Tickets are now on sale at both the Pinner and Common Road sites (also at Krishna Avanti) for the event taking place on Sunday 17th July.
Beginners-MindAlways Room to Improve

So, as we enter a period of reflection, evaluation and planning for the future at Avanti House, it is a time to show humility and to ‘start again’ and be on a course for constant improvement.

To quote from one of my own favourite spiritual texts, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi:

Now please do have a go at that short Parent View Survey – by clicking HERE🙂 and have a really wonderful week and an enjoyable half-term break

Hare Krishna

 

 

 

Drop Down Days…

principal-MAB-blog-150x150Drop Down

In common with our other schools at the Trust, at Avanti House, we have longer days than typical schools – six hours of learning time each day (compared to the national average of between 5 and 5.5) – so up to a whole 5 hours of additional learning each week. The additional holidays in October and December claw some of this back but overall, Avanti House School students enjoy up to an extra 180 hours of learning each year than they would in some other schools regionally! One thing that this additional time allows us to do is to broaden the curriculum (normally quite difficult for a young, small school) – and particularly at key stage 4. Another is that as a school we can enjoy more ‘drop down days’ than we might otherwise. ‘Drop down days’ are where we suspend the timetable for one or more groups of students, year groups or even the entire school and do something completely different – quite often involving visiting speakers and/or visits off site. This might be related to a festival, to some important life skill development or any other aspect of an extended curriculum. In the week after next, the last one before the half-term break, we are really excited to be having our first ever ‘drop down week!’ (Activities Week). With a programme planned quite brilliantly by our Deputy Principal, Mrs. Morris and with many of our staff stepping up to the plate to organise special workshops, sports events, visits and visitors the prospect is good for a thoroughly enjoyable (as well as educational) week for all students in all year groups. Some of the highlights of Activities Week (which starts on 23rd May – a welcome relief at the end of year examination period):

Amongst other things, year 7 can look forward to a visit to the science museum – including a IMAX film on artificial intelligence, a range of dance workshops, drama workshops followed by a trip to see Wicked at the theatre. They will also do some PHSEE workshops on safety and the intelligent use of technology. At the end of the week of course, for those who are taking part, year 7 will head off to the Isle of Wight – remaining students will be doing some additional numeracy challenges.

For year 8 it will be visit to the British Museum for some and a visit to Hampton Court for others and on Tuesday a visit to our link spiritual community – Bhaktivedanta Manor. Year 8 will then switch their visits from earlier in the week. On Thursday – all will be involved with an external group who will lead on Team Building and e-Safety; joining year 9 & 10 for Sports Day on Friday.

Year 9 will enjoy the dance workshops on Monday followed by an EU Referendum Debate (with external visitors and politicians. On Wednesday they will visit the Natural History Museum followed by some work on e-safety and a drama workshop on stage combat – prior to a visit to the theatre for a matinee performance of the Railway Children.

Year 10 – appropriately more work-orientated – will enjoy a study skills workshop in GCSE English from Andrew Bruff – whose tutorials on YouTube have gained over 6 million views. On Tuesday students will visit the Imperial War Museum and take place in a code-breaking workshop, enjoying a performing arts day on Wednesday – with a final performance at the end of the day; and a Futures Day of IT, science and DT on Thursday with Sports Day on Friday.

I would like to take this opportunity, in the run up to Activities Week to thank Mrs. Morris in particular but also all the staff who have planned and are getting ready to lead such an incredibly rich example of extra-curricular activity. I hope to be able to share photographs and video clips of the week after the half-term break.

In the meantime, of course, students get on with revising for and sitting their end of year examinations – which will inform Progress Review 5.

No Diggers at Whitchurch…

Whilst our primary phase building and refurbishment moves at a pace and is at least on schedule for an August completion, almost daily I am receiving questions from parents regarding the apparent lack of activity at the Whitchurch site. It is true that the Avanti Schools Trust and the Department for Education secured Planning Permission in principle from Harrow Planners back in February. Nothing has changed here. However, there remained a great deal to do by way of sorting out the detail of the lease between the Trust and the Council as well as the Community Use Agreement and the simultaneous, planned changes to the road system around the school. This work continues, at a pace, behind the scene and has been going on since February. Some elements of this work will be heard and no doubt completed at a May Planning Committee Meeting at Civic Hall. Yet others will continue into June and July. The hope is to break ground no later than late August – but we shall keep everyone posted if this changes. In the meantime, as a Trust and a school we have secured (if required) an additional full year of co-occupation at our current, Pinner site. We are in detailed conversation with Pinner High School and the EFA (DfE) as to how exactly this would work. Again, this will be one of the best places to keep up to date on such plans.

Recruitment

Interviewing and recruitment of new staff, against a backdrop of quite a severe shortage of teaching applicants in some areas, nevertheless  continues at a pace over the next few weeks. I look forward to summarising the excellent appointments we have made already and hope to make shortly – once we get to the end of the process, probably somewhere around mid-June.

Congratulations

We would like to congratulate our Head of History and his partner for the birth of a baby boy last week! Both healthy and well – name to follow.

Finally – a thought for the week –  reflecting on the sheer amount of activity over the next couple of weeks, a timely reminder from one of our core teachers in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition on making good use of all of the time that we have in our all too short lives – showing gratitude for the lives we have, the associations we enjoy and always looking to work in the service of others, of the greater good and of God.

wisdom

 

I’ll Be There!

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We are really excited that once again, Avanti House School (joined by Krishna Avanti Primary School) are to be performing at the South Bank this summer. Our drama, dance and musical performance of the great epic, the Mahabharata, called ‘I’ll Be There’ is to be performed by our students at the Royal Festival Hall no less – on Sunday 17th July 2016– and tickets are about to go on sale:

IBT poster PINK jpeg

A description of this wonderful performance follows:

I’ll Be There

By the Avanti Schools: Avanti House Pinner & Stanmore and Krishna Avanti Edgware

Sunday 17 July 2016

5.30-6.30pm

Royal Festival Hall

Tickets: £10  – available from Krishna Avanti and Avanti House (Pinner & Stanmore) 

The Avanti Schools present I’ll Be There – a magical children’s performance of the epic Mahabharata at The Royal Festival Hall, London on Sunday 17th July at 5.30pm!

This toe-tapping musical drama features a massed choir of 150 children who perform an exciting repertoire including pop and Bollywood favourites, choral and gospel. 

Using music, dance, mime and words, a troupe of child actors and dancers will retell the ancient tale of love, treachery, friendship and battle.

The performance centres on Arjuna, one of the greatest heroes of Eastern literature, who has a moral crisis on the eve of war. He turns to his best friend Krishna (the god of love) who gives his advice in a song of love.

As Western and Eastern musical traditions join together to celebrate the unbreakable friendship between the soul and the divine, I’ll Be There will take you on a journey of self-discovery as Arjuna recovers his courage and will to fight for love.

Please join us for an unforgettable evening of song, dance and friendship!

The Mahabharata, from which the beloved Bhagavad Gita springs, is widely thought of as the world’s greatest epic – a poem of incredible proportions with innumerable life messages

Seeing the Best in Others

Below is an incident in the life of the Pandavas and Kauravas, a story lifted from the Mahābhārata.

In their youth, the Pandavas and Kauravas  (cousins) studied together at the feet of their teacher, Drona. Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, had experienced many challenges in life, yet he was always optimistic, happy and content. On the other hand, his cousin, Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, and in spite of having everything that he might ever want, was always miserable and never content

One day, Drona said to Yudhisthira, “Go into town, meet as many people as you can and when you return this evening, tell me about the worst person that you met.” Drona than called Duryodhana and gave him the opposite instruction, “Duryodhana, go into town and meet as many people as you can. When you return this evening, tell us about the most noble person that you met.”

That evening, when the cousins returned; Yudhisthira told Drona, “Gurudēv, I met with many people in town today. I would say that each of them had some good attribute that I lack. Therefore, everyone I met today was better than me in some way. So, in all solemnity, I am convinced that I have so much to learn about developing character – from others around me.” Soon after, Duryodhana returned from town and said to Drona, “Gurudev, I met with many people today. I noticed that every one of them had some fault that I am not plagued by. So, I am now convinced that I am actually the noblest person of all!”

This simple story speaks volumes to us and is a powerful story for our character-building mission at Avanti. We can spend out entire life looking out for the faults in others, gossiping about those who are not present or we can do the opposite – always look for the positive features in others and what we might ourselves learn from them. Actually, when we know someone who does this – who seems to avoid gossip and slander and who celebrates the strengths and achievements of others – we are actually drawn to such people; they are rare beings indeed. But something worth aspiring to. Such a positive attribute of character – hard to manifest – touches on ALL of the Avanti values when you stop to think about it. Being this way, this person shows respect for those around them, they have integrity in our speech, they have the courage to not simply follow the crowd and they show empathy for those who are having difficulty and not living perfect lives. Furthermore such a person shows gratitude to be around others – learning from them – and finally shows self-discipline in the face of the temptation.

One of the very many joys of working with our youngsters at Avanti House is that they work so very well together and celebrate each other’s achievements, great and small. I am not saying of course that there are never moments where things sometimes go wrong – teenagers do not always get everything right (nor do adults) but they are quickly put right. There is a real sense of collaboration and community spirit at Avanti House, the like of which is rare in high schools in my experience. As we grow larger, the key will be to maintain this spirit.

I hope you will all now rush out and buy those tickets for the show – they are selling fast!

Have a great week

Hare Krishna