Navratri Celebrations

Navratri Event – Friends of Avanti House

On the back of an excellent Avanti Schools Trust Annual Conference this Friday, where all the staff from all of our schools came together to take forward this enticing and exciting venture to become the very best we can be for our children and families, my own family came along, to enjoy  the celebrations at the Navratri event being held by the Friends of Avanti House. This was really well supported as a fund-raising event, and included a visit from Ajay Maru, the Mayor of Harrow who we were pleased to warmly welcome for the afternoon. In addition to the much-needed support at our heavily-attended Open Evening last week, I would like to thank FOAH for organising this event and for their on-going work as a now registered PTA; in fund raising, events management and school support. This type of thing is the legitimate work of a PTA and I look forward to many more events as well-organised and attended as this one.

For those interested, I am led to believe that opportunities to stand for membership of the FOAH PTA will arise at the end of this academic year, for September 2015, when the group comes to the end of a pre-arranged cycle. I also look forward to shortly meeting with the existing committee to hear what plans they haIMG_9437ve for the much-needed funds raised to date.

Some parents have asked me about the formation a group with a different kind of function; one where parents and staff come together where their work is perhaps more connected to the day to day running of the school and in particular, to teaching and learning, the progress of children; the work of year groups and departments – perhaps a forum where general or specific issues or concerns about such matters can be raised to bring to my or the Board of Governors’ attention for action.

To this point, parents may not yet be aware that IMG_9439the Avanti House local Governing Body was very recently dissolved by the Trust. In its place has been formed a combined, (Harrow) Regional Governing Body (RGB). This comprises many of the original Governors of Avanti House and Krishna Avanti along with myself and Usha Sahni as Governor-Heads. Mr Yuvraj Rana is the Chair of this group and we have already had our inaugural meeting.

With no elected parental or staff representatives on such a group, the RGB is currently putting together a set of Terms of Reference for a parent/staff Advisory Group. This group is intended to function very much along the lines I believe some parents have been calling out for and it will be the primary vehicle for parent (and staff) voice to be formally heard at governor level. The existence of the Advisory Group will not conflict with or obfuscate the role of FOAH as a fundraising body. It has a completely different purpose. The terms for this group will soon be circulated I am told, along with the details of how to become a member of the same.

Avanti House Primary

I would also like to thank parents for their excellent turnout, last week, to the first Avanti House Primary progress evening and the subsequent meeting in the Kingsbury hall. The meeting was principally intended to both thank and to wish well for the future, our sadly departing colleagues, Bindi Radia and Sonia Patel. Incoming, interim Head of School, Janet Dolan was pleased to receive a warm welcome from many parents who came to speak with her after the meeting. It was also an opportunity for Mrs Radia to begin a consultation on a proposed change to the school day. Such a proposal is intended only to avoid younger children, (even though safe and well-supervised), having to come into close contact with older teenagers at Kingsbury High School, during transit. By the end of this week, I hope to issue a link to a survey, to gather views on this proposal, laying out the details and the rationale very clearly. Unless there is overwhelming support for any proposed change, I can assure you that it will not happen.

This coming week, interviews are to be held for the position of Deputy Principal of the all-through school. The successful candidate will based, initially at Kingsbury as the most senior leader). We shall also be interviewing separately to appoint the permanent Head of School (Primary). Both of these members of our senior team should join us in January 2015 if successful appointments are made. I look forward to introducing them to you.

Buildings Update

Following the last meeting on 2nd October,  and further to recent blogs, the Avanti Schools Trust (and therefore the school) continue this week to wait for further information, from the EFA; which has been promised to arrive very soon, in regard to the facilities they intend to be made available, and the precise location for our secondary phase for 2015-16.

(The EFA are the branch of the Department for Education responsible for commissioning facilities and building Free Schools) 

As indicated in earlier communication and at our Open Evening, whilst the lease on Whitchurch fields is secure and a successful feasibility study signed off, the EFA have so far not been successful in securing a willing and able contractor; one to design, put in a planning application and to start to build our secondary school on the fields.The EFA cite a number of reasons for this – mostly around market-forces. They are now redoubling their efforts to appoint a committed contractor. There are a number of bidders currently around the table – and the timeline we have now received means that within 3-4 weeks, the EFA/Trust anticipate receiving bids and will then move to appoint one of the bidding contractors to begin the process again.

In spite of this frustrating delay and of course subject to planning permission, the EFA do still expect the build to start to go up in the first half of 2015 but it doe not appear that it will be handed over to the Trust until sometime in 2016. The EFA have asked us to be patient in the current uncertainty as they also now busy themselves in ensuring that our secondary phase of over 500 children in September 2015 –  have somewhere suitable to continue their education. This is the year when our primary phase move into Stanmore, the same time that we begin key stage 4 with our oldest students.

They (the EFA) have said that they promise an update to the Trust within a few weeks from now and of course, this website is where parents – existing and prospective will hear it first. I pass on my own thanks to all of you for your ongoing patience in the face of such uncertainty.

A Short Break Ahead

As I come to the end of my sixth week in post and a holiday approaches, I would like to end by thanking so many parents for their warm welcome and overwhelming voices of support. It really is a genuine privilege to be working at Avanti House and to be serving your wonderful children – and all of this in spite of the many challenges which we face (and existing parents and staff have faced for over two years now) – all of which are not of our own making.

I end with a relevant quote from one of the oldest texts from the Vedas – the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. It just reminds me that if you want something enough (because it is worth working for) and you work unceasingly towards it, there is nothing on this Earth that we cannot achieve – no matter what is put in our way, we can find a way through.

You are what your deepOM_animated, driving desire is.

As your desire is, so is your will.

As your will is, so is your deed.

As your deed is, so is your destiny.

–  Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

At the end of this week – a two week break – and Diwali is in there. Wishing you all a happy Diwali and also a happy new year.

Haribol

Have a lovely week

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Integrity

principal-MAB-blog-150x150I met with a couple of former colleagues for a meal late last week as I approach the end of my first half-term at Avanti House and they of course asked me all about it. They continued to question me about their curiosity surrounding my move away from Principal of a very safe, now established, large high-performing school of 1500 students and 200 staff. And my move to work, as Senior Education Officer, for a relatively new multi academy trust (Avanti Schools Trust); taking up the position of Principal at their first all-through, primary/secondary school in Harrow, only two years old – it did not seem an obvious move to them.

The solution to such a riddle can probably be summed up in a single word and it happens to be one of Avanti’s six values – ‘integrity’.  Integrity, as a noun has two differing but related meanings: the first is the state of being whole and undivided. The second is the quality of being honest and possessing strong moral principles. Both definitions are relevant here. Not that my previous school had a vision that lacked integrity – far from it – however, the day I first met the CEO of Avanti Schools Trust, started to read their literature and meet some of the people involved, I was taken aback by the compelling vision of this group. As a vision it had a depth of integrity – it was joined-up ‘whole and undivided’.  It was also honest and underpinned by strong moral principles. All too often schools promote themselves as having a ‘holistic vision’ or a ‘holistic provision’; but when you scratch below the surface just a little, you often find that this is not really the case.

More often than not in established schools, in my experience, most of the energy goes into developing a curriculum to maximise academic achievement for ‘the average’ student, bolting on some provision for the less-able and just putting the more able through more courses. Character formation is often spoken about but is frequently, I find, reduced to ‘bolt-on’ citizenship, PHSE and life skills as ‘courses’ or ‘drop down days’ for public speaking, enterprise or some such thing – all very laudable in themselves and no doubt having some impact – but not ‘holistic’ – not ‘with integrity’.

In Avanti, step into the schools, talk to the staff and to the students, you realise quickly that the values are alive and character formation – both in terms of nurturing sound moral character as well as a spirit of entrepreneurial confidence and creativity – is taking place all of the time. And is if it was not enough to ensure the highest possible achievement for Avanti students and the development of a character and confidence to thrive as young adults in the 21st century, we then ask students to take nothing for granted – to question the very reason why they are alive and the responsibilities they have in family, community and as future custodians of the plant – to embrace philosophical thinking – eastern and western, to think about their relationship with God or with nature and also how we come to know what we know – the realm of epistemology.

It is this ‘integrity,’ alongside the values and spiritual principles we promote at Avanti that drew me here and I think it is the same principle that draws parents, students and staff to join us on this quest and to stay on board- in spite of the sometimes unfathomable challenges thrown up by the ‘world of the Free School’ – where we draw hundreds of families onto our shared journey – in advance of our being provided with a ‘final resting place’ or even a definite solution, at this point, for September 2015. The school and the Trust seem to have a fight at every turn to move the planning, building and provisioning agenda forward. I refer frequently to the whole set up as a ‘leap of faith’ in itself – and it is. But for all of the reasons outlined here, and many more, for many, there is little or no choice but to take that leap.

I have met with and shown many visitors around the school over the past few weeks. Many have been prospective parents for year 7 – who once again have reported being ‘blown away’ by what they see and feel when they step into the school actually in session – I am confident of a large number of applicants for September 2015 – indeed I hope that we are not oversubscribed, to have to turn families away. Other visitors have been prospective applicants for the position of Deputy Principal – the closing date is this Monday, interviews next week for the successful candidate to take up post on 1st January. Again, all who came along, who saw the vision in action, the rhetoric in reality understood straight away what we were trying to do here and why Avanti House, the pathfinder secondary/all-through for the Trust, is such a very special place. I look forward to introducing you to the new Deputy Principal in a future blog post.

Another interview that should take place before the end of term is for Assistant Principal (Head of School – Primary Phase) to replace the outgoing Mrs Bindi Radia. Bindi, who is moving on the take her career in a different direction and to spend more time with her own family, has done a sterling job as Head of Primary Phase, since her appointment in 2013. Bindi, who has played a significant role in putting Avanti House on the map, will be a huge loss to the school; I tried very hard to keep her but showing the resolve that led her to be so successful and to lead staff and students to fantastic early-years outcomes and impressive Ofsted feedback last year, I failed to convince. Another absolute rock for Avanti House Primary, Mrs Sonia Patel, who has worked very closely with Bindi Radia and was also central to these early successes, is also moving on. Although I can only measure in a few weeks the length of time I have had the privilege to work with them, I can see clearly their impact and thank them for all they have done in the time they have been at Avanti House.

Until the arrival of our Deputy and Assistant Principals in January, I am pleased to report that Janet Dolan, experienced primary headteacher (and one time Education Director at the Avanti Schools Trust) will be the interim Head of School. Janet is currently working with Bindi and her team on a handover. I look forward to welcoming Janet and to introducing her to parents at the parents evening at Kingsbury site this Monday.

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I sign off this week with a quote from the considered (by some scholars but not all) ninth avatar of Vishnu – the Buddha. The quote, probably not ever spoken by Siddhartha himself but ascribed to him – ‘you cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself’ – speaks to a goal worth working towards, a passion to realise that goal, the resilience to change the things in our gift and to work through the things we cannot control.

Such virtues are in abundance at Avanti House School

Have a lovely week.

Haribol!