Blown away…

“Blown away….”

“Your children are wonderful ambassadors for the school…”

“It really feels as though (as a school) you are true to the values…”

“This feels like a school with a difference – not just putting them (children) on an exam treadmill…”

These are just four of the quotes (two verbal, two emailed) said to me following our Open Evening last week, attended by over 800 visitors. Although locked up all evening delivering four presentations to packed audiences, it does appear as though, for a third year running, the students and staff of Avanti House have excelled themselves in celebrating for a willing crowd, what makes us so unique in Harrow. In the run up to the deadline for applications to join Year 7, October 31st, our Open Mornings now take place for those looking to visit the school in action – always an enjoyable experience for all

And of course, at such an Open Evening, for Avanti House, what we are currently ‘promoting’ is far less tangible than it would normally be – in for example a well-established school with a well-provisioned, expansive building. Until we find ourselves taking up residence in our modern, bespoke £20+ million planned new building, our interim facilities are adequate at best. As a result we end up promoting what matters most – a compelling vision-in-action, a values-underpinned education, superb quality of relationships all round – and all resulting in exceptional student behaviour and attitudes to learning followed by the highest quality of teaching and learning. In the evolution of a new school, we are therefore putting the most important things in place first. With the gathering momentum around this school – an anticipated 720+ on roll from 2015 our growing reputation and the cross-party support the school enjoys in Harrow, the permanent infrastructure and therefore long-term security of the largest free school in the UK will surely follow.

Planning Developments

On a related note, I look forward to a planning meeting next week with the contractors who have been appointed to renovate our existing building at Stanmore to become our permanent primary school site from September 2015. I am also on the same day joining the Avanti Schools Trust and the EFA on a ‘bidders day’ which will then give rise,  to a preferred contractor to design and build our permanent secondary school building. Such designs once completed, will be presented of course for planning permission at the leased Whitchurch site later in the academic year.

Key Events Running up to Half Term

I find it hard to believe, as new Principal, that we are already more than half way through the first half-term. My feet have barely touched the ground and there has been so much to do just to get up to speed with everything that is going on, on two sites and in the bigger picture of working with the Trust and others, planning the future of the school.  Now that the Open Evening is behind us, there are some key events ahead of us. First of all, families are asked to check the school calendar on the website and note that Friday October 10th is a pre-planned staff training day – the Annual Conference of all Avanti Trust Schools – with the school (both primary and secondary sites) closed for the day.  Just before the October half-term we shall then enjoy our first festival of the year – that of Diwali – the festival of lights; in the same week interviewing to hopefully appoint our new Deputy Principal – who should then join us in January 2015.

Reflection

slide 10 Arjuna and KrishnaThe quote this week, from the Bhagavad Gita recalls Lord Krishna imploring Arjuna to not baulk from his duty, his dharma – on the impossible battlefield of Kurukshetra, facing the prospect of slaying his teachers and family; that regardless of Arjuna’s actions, some things are inevitable – fated by karma.  Whether viewed historically or symbolically, the quote is nevertheless a not so gentle reminder of the reality of impermanence; calling us all to use every moment of our short (and unpredictable) lives in the best possible way. This is not a difficult challenge to rise to in our wonderful shared purpose – family and school – breathing life, aspiration and hope into the futures of the next generation of young people who inherit our world.

“कालो ऽस्मि लोकक्षयकृत्प्रवृद्धो

I am Time, the great destroyer of the world

Bhagavad Gita 11.32

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Open House…

principal-MAB-blog-150x150Open Evening

We look forward, this week, to our Open Evening – for families of year 6 pupils looking to consider applying to send their child to Avant House (secondary) school. This year, our Open Evening is on Wednesday 24th September. The doors open at 5:45pm and my first (of four) presentations is at 6pm.

Being new to Avanti House, I hear from my colleagues that over 600 visitors joined us last year. We only have parking on this temporary site for around 40 cars (and there is little local parking), my STRONGEST recommendation is that you seriously consider car sharing, public transport or at the very least ‘arriving later’. If enough of you think like that, it will be a more pleasant experience all round. It is important that visitors avoid creating traffic disruption on Common Road. I am grateful to Friends of Avanti House (FOAH) for volunteering to support us on the evening – including traffic management.

There are tours of the current site to meet staff and students and to ask them questions, from 5:45 until 8:30pm and my 25 minute presentation is repeated four times – at 6:00pm, 6:35pm 7:10pm and 7:45pm. Coloured cards are issued to visitors as they arrive for one of these talks. It makes sense if this arrival is spread out.

Although visiting the Stanmore site on Common Road for the Open Evening, this is of course a temporary site for our secondary campus (it will become our primary site). Visitors are therefore not joining us at the long-term site for secondary and it is extremely unlikely that year 7 will arrive here in September 2015. With the lease now signed and contracts exchanged, it is hoped, subject of course to planning permission, that the Whitchurch site will be our final resting place. Nevertheless, in the event of any delay in the procurement of a permanent site, the Avanti Schools Trust, headed up by CEO Nitesh Gor, is working now, directly with the Department for Education (DfE) (who in turn work with the local authority), on contingency planning.

At Avanti House, we now have over 500 students (on two sites) and with our growing reputation and level of local support for our unique vision, we anticipate our roll will grow to over 725 students from September 2015. It is very clear now that Avanti House School has arrived – I look forward to meeting prospective new parents and children this Wednesday. (A separate Open Evening will be announced for November – for parents looking to secure a place in the Reception year at Avanti House – currently based in temporary accommodation in Kingsbury).

Ofsted Report

Our positive reputation is boosted by our recently published Ofsted report, for the inspection carried out just before the summer. For a still very young Free School, this securely good report, with a number of outstanding features, was a credit to the inaugural Principal, Mr Jones, the fantastic team of staff I have the privilege to have inherited, the wonderful students and of course the families that support this unique and very special venture. As an Ofsted inspector myself, I have read dozens of first-inspection reports of Free Schools, often struggling to make their mark in the early years. Whilst and as to be expected, some work is still to be done as we launch key stages 2 and 4 next September, this report nevertheless ranks amongst the best that I have read for a new Free School. I look forward to building on the firm foundations laid.

Here are some of the comments made by HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspectors) in the report:

“Parents are overwhelmingly positive about the school. They are especially proud of its inclusive nature and that it celebrates a wide faith community.”

“The behaviour of pupils is outstanding. They are, without exception, respectful and polite. This is because they understand the importance of the school’s core values of leading their own lives and caring for others.”

“New pupils are immediately included, and those with additional needs or who experience difficulty settling in are sensitively inducted until they feel safe..”

“Higher ability pupils and those who are gifted or talented are given work that challenges further their ability. As a result, in Key Stage 3, most make good progress to reach the higher levels expected of them. “

“Very strong pastoral systems support disabled pupils or those with special educational and additional needs to make excellent progress.”

“Leadership is outstanding in promoting exceptional spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding of all pupils.”

“Pupils and staff proudly represent different cultures and beliefs; all are welcome and respected for their contributions.”

“This has set an impressive start for the future of the new school.”

Deputy Principal Appointment

With the advertisement now live on our website and on that of the Times Educational Supplement, I have the privilege over the next couple of weeks of showing around prospective applicants for the position of Deputy Principal at Avanti House School. A lot of interest has already been shown in the position and we look to appoint, for a January 2015 start, at interview in mid-October. The successful candidate’s key roll will be as strategic lead for the primary phase – line-managing and supporting our excellent, current Head of School (Primary Phase), Bindi Radia as well as taking the lead on promoting outstanding teaching and learning, across the entire school. I shall keep parents and carers up to speed once the appointment is made.

Regional Governing Body

Finally, I look forward to attending my first full Governing Body meeting next week. In Harrow, the Trust has moved to a regional form of Governance, where one Governing Body oversees both schools – Krishna Avanti (Primary) and Avanti House (all-through). Long-standing Governor at Krishna Avanti, Yuvraj Rana becomes the Chair of the new Regional Governing Body (RGB) whilst Kartik Khandwala, Chair of the former Avanti House School local Governing Body becomes co-Vice Chair of the RGB.

I would take this opportunity, on behalf of staff and students, to thank both Kartik and also the former members of the Avanti House Governing Body  – for their dedication and commitment to putting Avanti House on the map and for taking the school, through two challenging years and to the successful outcome of the first inspection.

BC08_previewAwareness

This week’s theme at Avanti House (part of the termly-theme of Empathy) is ‘awareness’ . This is an encouragement for us all to spend more time in the present moment – not dwelling on a past we cannot change, nor on a future we cannot guarantee.

A quote, from James Thurber, better known for his cartoons and plays – a sombre moment perhaps: “Let us not look back in anger, or forward in fear, but around in awareness”..

Have a lovely week

The Highest Aspirations

New Challenges

A couple of weeks now into my tenure as Principal at Avanti House School my feet are just about beginning to touch the ground once more. Even after thirty years teaching and leading in schools, it never ceases to amaze me, when I arrive at a new one, just how different the challenges are and also how these challenges are met by all involved. Almost all of our challenges are those faced by new Free Schools up and down the country. These challenges are not about a lack of vision as in so many schools; the vision of Avanti schools – Vaishnava-Hindu designated faith schools – could neither be clearer nor any more compelling. The buy-in of parents and carers is not the issue either; at the start of only our third year we have over 500 students on roll – likely to rise to well over 725 by September of next year. Their positive feedback (for example via Parent View is unambiguous in its positivity too). We clearly attract the very highest calibre of staff too – both teaching and non-teaching – if my experience of the past two weeks is anything to go by. And the students, the very reason we are all buying in to this vision, really could not be more dedicated to their learning, more representative of the values we espouse nor any more proud of their young and still ‘nomadic’ school.

For all involved – from the Trust, the Governing Body through all the stakeholders listed,  the creation of Avanti House School really is a labour of love – something very special.

Ofsted Report

As Principal, I have had the benefit over the past few days of being able to read the penultimate draft of the soon to be published Ofsted report on the school, from the inspection just prior to the summer holiday. I was to check it for factual accuracy. Whilst the detail must remain confidential until Ofsted themselves publish the final, validated draft, I have already found reading the report of immense benefit. It was encouraging for me to realise that the real strengths of the school, evidenced by the team, I had myself identified, in the short time I have been on the scene – and the few areas for development, something for me to get to grips with in the weeks and months ahead, held no surprises either. As soon as we are given the green light and the final copy, I shall notify parents of its existence.

Volunteering at Avanti House School

Last week we said a sad farewell to Jaynesh Kumar who had been working as a volunteer at Avanti House since January – supporting Head of IT/Head of Year 9, Vinay Patel as an ICT technician whilst continuing with his studies in IT and network management. Jaynesh, popular with students and staff alike for being so accommodating, will be sadly missed as he plans now to dedicate more time to his studies and to securing permanent employment in the sector. I would like to thank Jaynesh on behalf of all at Avanti House for his hard work and support over the past eight months.

Over at our primary school setting in Kingsbury it is volunteers from amongst our parent body (primary or secondary) that we are now looking for – for just 30 – 45 minutes each morning to support the team on the ‘walking bus’. If you are a parent of a child at Avanti House (primary or secondary) and would like to find out more, please contact my Head of Primary Phase – Bindi Radia at bindi.radia@avanti.org.uk who will ask you to come in, hear more about the support you could offer and if interested, arrange for DBS clearance prior to you starting.

Open Evening – a reminder: Wednesday 24th September 2014

Similar to last year, our Open Evening (Secondary) takes place next week and parents/carers of year 6 pupils are welcome to join us.

The Open Evening runs from 6:00pm – 8:30pm and the doors open at 5:45pm

This event will offer parents and year 6 pupils the chance to meet and to talk with staff and current students at Avanti House School (Secondary Phase).

There will be a formal presentation by me (joined by students) at 6.00pm, 6.35pm, 7.10pm and 7:45pm. Before and after this, you have the opportunity to meet staff and students in classrooms.

For those readers unfamiliar, the current site that interested families will visit on Common Road is a temporary one for this two-year-old Free School and although suitably equipped for the current cohort of 330 students, it is a relatively limited facility compared to what we are currently planning to build.

In my presentation, you will hear, amongst other things, all about the state of the art, new build currently being designed, to build, subject to planning permission, on a leased, permanent site on Whitchurch fields.

As existing parents will know all too well, parking on this temporary site, on Common Road, is EXTREMELY limited and interest in this new and unique school is very high. We advise new visitors on Open Evening, if they can, to car-share, use public transport/taxi and/or to park off-site. At the very least, anticipating, like last year, a very large number of visitors, we suggest that you time your arrival to coincide with one of the presentations.

Additionally or alternatively, visitors may also wish to attend one of our Open Mornings– Monday 29th September to Thursday 2nd October 2014 from 9.30am by appointment with the school when you can witness the school in session and attend a question and answer session with me.

Arrival of our Deities

2223469374_cd0921fd64_oSaving the best news to last: as we settle in to our second year at Common Road we are eternally grateful to a dear friend of Avanti and dedicated Governing Body member, Sulabh Agarwal, for his generous offering of both an altar for Avanti House and two small deities – Sri Sri Gaura Nitai.

Our lead for collective worship at the school, Christina Andrew, will arrange to welcome the deities and to have them installed on the altar in the Reception area of the school – a first for Avanti House.

 

As we consider our own response, daily, to the marvel and the mystery of life and for many, the devotion to God that we can all offer in return (and also, unless we think that we simply do not have the time in our lives to reflect on something bigger than ourselves), a quote from His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada –

“A grain of devotion is more valuable than a ton of faithlessness.”prabhupada12401

Have a wonderful week.

Haribol

 

Back to the Future…

Back to the Future…

Stanmore Site – Staggered Exits It was really wonderful to welcome both year 8 and 9 back to Avanti House to join the 140 new students who had joined us in year 7 the day before. All students arrived promptly, mostly in full uniform and very quickly got down to their learning; it was very impressive. On Thursday, we had almost doubled the size of our school overnight – the temporary building that we are occupying is just about able to cope! This of course had a predictable impact on travel and in particular the exit of children at the end of the school day. Emails and letters have gone out to parents to request that they support us in staggering arrival and departure from 3:20pm – 3:40pm. This is intended to be our last year of occupation at the Stanmore site (by the secondary phase of our school) and with 330 pupils, as indicated, we are pushing the current building to its limit. In addition, building works are already underway to facilitate the conversion of the current building into a primary school for our youngest pupils from September 2015, when we hope the secondary school will move to its permanent site. The above mentioned works also take up much of what had been parking and turning space at the top of the site – making movement even more difficult. Parents and carers have been really patient, supportive and co-operative – timing their arrival to help us to limit congestion on Common Road. It remains very challenging however, at the end of the day and a further request is that no parents (and ideally only parents of year 7) arrive before 3:20pm, by which time, children have only just started to come out of the building. Parents of older children, are mostly now arriving after 3:30pm. This is really helpful. Following the email on Thursday, Friday was much better and I thank parents/carers for their co-operation and their courtesy and patience on site. Working with the local council – Transport and Highways as well as Planning Departments, as an incoming Principal, I am carefully monitoring both safety and flow of traffic. I cannot rule out having to restructure the school day – with year 7 pupils leaving first and year 8/9 later. I will keep parents/carers posted in this regard. Walking Buses Over at Kingsbury, years 1 and 2 have returned and got off to a really good start. The walking buses are now working really well and we are grateful to parents/carers for working with us to meet the terms of our Travel Plan – part of the agreement we have with our current landlord – Kingsbury High School. It was wonderful to go into classrooms and to meet primary pupils for the first time last week – escorted by Primary Phase Leader, Bindi Radia. I look forward to spending more time in primary in the weeks ahead – welcoming Reception children as they arrive. Open Evening: Wednesday 24th September 2014 Similar to last year, our Open Evening (Secondary) is coming around very soon and parents/carers of year 6 pupils are welcome to join us. The Open Evening runs from 6:00pm – 8:30pm and the doors open at 5:45pm This event will offer parents and year 6 pupils the chance to meet and to talk with staff and current students at Avanti House School (Secondary Phase). There will be a formal presentation by me (joined by students) at 6.00pm, 6.35pm, 7.10pm and 7:45pm. Before and after this, you have the opportunity to meet staff and students in classrooms. For those readers unfamiliar, the current site that interested families will visit on Common Road is a temporary one for this two-year-old Free School and although suitably equipped for the current cohort of 330 students, it is a relatively limited facility compared to what we are currently planning to build. In my presentation, you will hear, amongst other things, all about the state of the art, new build currently being designed, to build, subject to planning permission, on a leased, permanent site on Whitchurch fields. As existing parents will know all too well, parking on this temporary site, on Common Road, is EXTREMELY limited and interest in this new and unique school is very high. We advise new visitors on Open Evening, if they can, to car-share, use public transport/taxi and/or to park off-site. At the very least, anticipating, like last year, a very large number of visitors, we suggest that you time your arrival to coincide with one of the presentations. Additionally or alternatively, visitors may also wish to attend one of our Open Mornings– Monday 29th September to Thursday 2nd October 2014 from 9.30am by appointment with the school when you can witness the school in session and attend a question and answer session with me. chaitanya Our theme for the term (based on one of our values) is empathy and my quote for this week is from Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu – the 15th century Hindu saint upon whose teachings our faith is based: “Be more humble than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, always offering respect onto others and never expecting any in return” Haribol!