A Leap of Faith

A Leap of Faith

I am frequently asked by those interested in sending their children to Avanti House School, how the Hindu faith school designation of the school both manifests, day to day, in our two schools settings (primary and secondary) and also how it informs the planning for the new secondary building and renovated primary one.

In so many ways, this is new territory for us all.

Avanti House School is the very first state-funded Hindu faith secondary school in the United Kingdom (with its own primary). Avanti House all-through school, which opened in September 2012,  follows on from the opening of a relatively small number of state-funded Hindu primary schools since 2008; in Edgware, Redbridge and Leicester. Avanti House, in common with most of this small number of schools run by the Avanti Schools Trust, does not have any faith-based admissions. Nevertheless, although we are committed to running fully inclusive schools, it remains the case that the overwhelming majority of children in our five settings do originate from a Hindu background and were attracted to the Hindu-faith designation of our schools. Our Vaishnava-Hindu ethos underpins how we intend to develop Spiritual Insight in our students. Spiritual Insight one of the three pillars of the school (Educational Excellence, and Character Formation are the other two).

The Avanti Schools Trust website (www.avanti.org.uk) summarises how we plan to deliver all three pillars – and for Spiritual Insight, the website summarises as follows:

Spiritual insight will be achieved along with the study of Sanskrit, meditation, yoga and through the offering of prasadam (blessed vegetarian food served to students daily), through the following:

  • Positive and uplifting experiences of RE and Collective Worship (Both Hindu Foundation but comparative and inclusive)
  • Prayer and the singing of the names of God, with special but not exclusive focus on Krishna.
  • Opportunities for self-discovery and spiritual exploration.
  • Effective pastoral care that supports each students’ personal, emotional and spiritual journey.
  • Dedication to working in partnership with other faith schools/organisations to provide students an authentic experience of diverse spiritual traditions.
  • Recognition that all of the world’s great spiritual traditions represent the divinity in their distinctive ways.
  • Authentic understanding of the world views underpinning various manifestations of religion and spirituality, with stress on their shared essence: a loving reciprocal and personal relationship with the divine.
  • Exploration of faith and spirituality across different traditions in a probing and dialogic manner, with constructive critique of practices, philosophies and epistemologies to promote honest and empathetic dialogue.
  • Encouragement of students to develop a broad-minded perspective by acknowledging the key roles of free choice, fidelity to tradition and exemplary role models.
  • The warm and welcoming enrolment of young people from all backgrounds.
  • Preparation of students to make up their own minds on issues of faith and belonging, religious and otherwise.
  • Rekindling of an awareness of an essential spiritual identity that unites all living beings, transcending all designations related to age, race, gender, species, faith affiliation and ability.

Of course for the RE and Collective Worship (including meditation) elements of the above, there is always the entitlement for parents to have their children opt-out of either or both – and we look then to provide for those students, from their own traditions where possible, during these times.

Other than the above, the physical manifestation of the tradition, in the new buildings and infrastructure – once we have the primary and secondary schools at their permanent sites, – will include a main shrine (altar) – for collective worship and small shrines, symbolically placed in each classroom – though not routinely used for ceremonial purposes. This very clear ethos, with a firm foundation in Vaishnava Hinduism whilst still promoting an inclusive spirituality, underpinned by a set of values that would rest comfortably in any school setting – secular or faith based, was very attractive to me, when the opportunity, earlier in the year, came around for me to join the Trust and later the school.

For anyone interested in finding out more about our work – as a school and as a Trust, I enjoy showing people around the school – to witness and to talk through our unique vision-in-action – and of course to meet our finest ambassadors, our students and our staff.

Buildings Update

The Trust, the school, the Department for Education, our Project Managers (MACE) and the bidding contractors, continue to meet, before and after the break, to further the design of our proposed secondary school at Whitchurch. During these engagement meetings, we continue to draw up the design for a really fantastic provision for the school and local community. Pre-planning meetings are set to be scheduled in the run up to the holiday and into the early part of the new year; prior to the submission to secure planning permission. Meanwhile, the EFA (part of the Department for Education) are still endeavouring to secure the best provisioned,  empty school site to accommodate our secondary school for 14-18 months from September 2015 whilst, subject to planning permission, the site at Whitchurch is built. Their aim is to provide us with a site that is well provisioned for over 500 key stage 3 and 4 students whilst minimising disruption to parents driving or sending their children to school. I am in further meetings this coming week, in an effort to move this critical agenda forward. As soon as I have something substantial and more definitive to report, I shall certainly do that.

Winter Concert

It was with great  regret that I had to pull together the dozens of students who were planning to perform at our Winter Concert this week to announce its postponement, hopefully into the early part of the new term. Ms. Chand, our music teacher, who has almost single-handedly planned the event has regrettably been signed off for another week meaning that all-important, last-minute preparations cannot go ahead. There is simply nobody with the knowledge or the skills to step in and pick it up; such are the challenges of a still small, whilst fast-growing school. We wish Ms. Chand a very speedy recovery and look forward to something of a rising from the ashes of the Winter Concert in the early Spring. Our students who perform so well and throw themselves completely into all that they do- they deserve the best, and we can all look forward to seeing their wonderful talents at play in the early part of the new year.

Reception Open Evening

Next week, on Tuesday 9th December from 6:45pm we look forward to welcoming parents and carers of children looking to join the Reception year at Avanti House from September 2015. The Open Evening for prospective Reception year children will be held at our Common Road site (currently hosting our secondary children). This is, of course, where we hope to move our primary school in the coming months. If you are coming along, I, alongside the incoming Head of Primary Phase (Richard Halliday) and our newly appointed Deputy Principal, Nadira Morris amongst others, look forward to meeting some of you.

Thought for the Week: Right Speech

By way of a reflection on communication and how we all can use our speech in particular, to create harmony at one extreme and chaos at the other, I end with a quote from the Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 17 – an inspiring quote which also has echoes in the Buddhist concept of ‘Right Speech’ and no doubt, in different ways, in the tenets of all the great religions of the world (and just plain common sense).

Have a great week.

Austerity of speech consists in speaking truthfully and beneficially and in avoiding speech that offends.

Bhagavad Gita: Ch 17 Verse 15. arjuna

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Motivation

Motivation

Motivation (as part of this term’s core value theme of Self Discipline) is this week’s reflection. What makes us get out of bed in the morning and in spite of the hardship of life, what keeps us going? A lot of young people ask very sensible questions about their education. Are GCSEs/A levels that important? Will they guarantee my success? What are my prospects for getting a good job and owning my own home? and so on. With not far short of one million 18-24 year olds unemployed in the UK (including hundreds of thousands of graduates from top universities – many with £20,000+ student loan debts), is it any wonder that they ask these questions? Coupled with the incredibly fast changing global workplace; changes driven by uncertain economies and technology, young adults are bound to ask, more and more, what is the purpose of my education and is my education serving me well.

As teachers and as parents, I think we are obligated to answer these questions – and together, to endeavour provide our children with such an education as to prepare them fully to thrive in the midst of all of this. Young people are born with motivation, with curiosity, eager to learn; we need to foster that and provide the knowledge, skills, values, resilience and other resources that will serve them well – particularly in difficult, fast-changing and uncertain times. And as the adults in the equation, we need to model all of this ourselves to bring out the best in them.

Year 9 into 10 Key Stage 4 Option Choices, PR Reports and Year 7 Open Evening

As part of this journey, Avanti House School of course enters an exciting new phase in September 2015 – our first ever cohort of key stage 4 students. We currently have 90 students in year 9 – although this, as all groups are, is growing every few weeks – and small year groups by definition cause some challenges in terms of the curriculum offer that is affordable. Nevertheless, as staff and Governors, we have begun the process of mapping out what that curriculum might look like – and for this first year, it is likely to have quite a small compulsory core with up to around 7-9 option choices from a good range of subjects – from the more traditional triple sciences, languages, the arts, GCSE PE and the humanities through to newer ones such as business studies, media, computer programming, design technology, psychology  etc.

At Avanti House, whilst ensuring that students follow an academic core – because most will go on to study at University – we consider student choice and a truly broad and balanced curriculum to be really important for motivation and for success. Education ‘guru’ Sir Ken Robinson reflects, humorously yet very seriously on the challenges faced by young people in the USA borne of a narrow view of the curriculum in his most recent 2013 TED talk – entirely the same arguments could be made regarding the state of play in the UK – thought-provoking and well worth a watch – the link is here: Ken Robinson – Three Principles

Before we go on holiday in a few weeks, we aim to carry out an early straw-poll of year 9 students to get a feel for the subjects they would like to study. In January, we shall then launch the options process (coupled with the year 9 parents’ evening towards the end of January). The process will then run into early February. Also informingParents/carers of years 8-9 should, last Friday, have received an envelope from the school with the first of 5 Progress Review reports. The next one (and year 7 will also receive this) is also towards the end of January. We look forward this week to welcoming parents of year 7 for a meeting with personal form tutors to talk about how  children have settled into their first term at Avanti House.

Traffic and Parking Around the Site (Avoiding Tanglewood Close)

As we bring the first full term to a close I would like to thank parents again for helping the school to manage traffic in and around the site as well as is possible. Considerably more children now use public transport to and from school. There is far more car sharing taking place and parents have staggered their arrival at the end of the day (with the peak time around 3:20-3:25; from 3:35pm the traffic is pretty well free-flowing and at no time since very early September have we ever held up traffic on the very busy Common Road).

I have to ask that parents/carers do not park up on the neighbouring Tanglewood Close. I know that this does not happen very often – and usually only for Open/Parents’ evenings. Our neighbours are very positive about the school, however, this is an (albeit unmarked) private road and I politely request that we avoid using it at any time.

Buildings Update

Client Engagement Meetings between the Trust/school and the bidding contractors, for the design of our proposed secondary school at Whitchurch, are well underway, with some exciting ideas being put into the plans, which I am now confident will be submitted to planning in March for a May committee date. As these drawings start to develop, I look forward to sharing them with you. With all the challenges for over 1 year now, faced by the EFA/Trust, to simply find a contractor to build the secondary school, this is the furthest we have been in the process. Similarly, planning for the conversions of the Common Road site to host our primary school from next September is very advanced. All is currently going to plan for the medium and long term.

For the short to medium term, the EFA/Trust are still working very hard behind the scenes to secure an empty school site to accommodate our secondary school for 14-18 months from September 2015. There are discussions being had at a number of levels – including at the highest level of central Government. Although there nothing new yet that we are able to report, we have been reassured by the EFA (DfE) that an announcement regarding where we shall be hosted, with our 500+ year 7s – 10s in September, can soon be made. I shall keep everyone posted.

Reception Open Evening

Once more, a reminder that on Tuesday 9th December from 6:45pm we look forward to welcoming parents and carers of children looking to join the Reception year at Avanti House from September 2015. This will be held at our Common Road site (currently hosting our secondary children) since this is where we hope to move our primary school in the coming months. If you are coming along, I, alongside the incoming Assistant Principal (Head of School – Primary), Richard Halliday and Deputy Principal, Nadira Morris amongst others, look forward to meeting some of you.

And as we prepare ourselves for another (dark) Monday morning, I end this week’s blog with a quote from the Holy Qu’ran – a reflection on what might be our highest motivations for getting up in the morning!

racialharmonyWhat actions are most excellent?

To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful and to remove the sufferings of the injured.”

Qu’ran 

Thoughts, words and actions

Thoughts Words and Actionsprincipal-MAB-blog-150x150

Teachers, probably more often than most I think are asked the question ‘why did you go into teaching?’. In fact, over the past 31 years, when I have been asked such a question, it has been not infrequently been quickly followed up with ‘why did you not get a proper job?’

Most teachers who make teaching their career, (say ten or more years into their work – perhaps then with some management responsibility ) – in my experience say similar things: “Young people are inspiring”, “it is wonderful to watch children grow up, make fantastic progress and get off to a great start in life – and to have played a small part”, “I was inspired myself by a great teacher(s)”, “the rewards are life-changing”. Oddly, I rarely hear anybody talking about the fantastic pensions, nor about the long holidays (the latter of which, especially once in management/leadership, are a fallacy anyway). The manner in which the media portrays schools also feeds into this, I think. Whether by the drama of Waterloo Road (or Grange Hill for those as old as me) or the fly-on-the-wall documentaries ‘Educating Essex/Yorkshire/East End’ – not that I spend my down time watching these programmes. However, when I do catch them on, there seems a common undercurrent – an almost unquestionable truism – that the overwhelming majority of children are reluctant to learn and that it is extremely hard work to motivate them to think any differently – and for some, that this is downright impossible. I have never found this to be a truism at all even though, in the past, I have worked in a fair few of the most challenging urban and suburban schools in the land. I have found very different realities. Firstly, you have to get the culture or climate (ethos) right in a school – and that centres as much around the quality of relationships (staff-parent, staff-staff, staff-student, student-student), as it does around the values and beliefs of the school. Secondly – I have met some incredibly gifted teachers – who have also coached others brilliantly to really lift a school. Everyone associated with a school has to buy into a shared vision of what it is trying to achieve – it is of little value simply describing that vision. Then all have to behave accordingly. Play their part. Like nowhere else I have found,  the success of a school is not dependent upon one person or a small group of people – synergy and team work is critically important. For me, I have considerably less of my school-based career in front of me than behind me. I am in my last decade – and I look back with great fondness on all of my years to date in all of the schools I have worked. With that in mind, I was drawn to the Avanti school vision – because it is so very well thought-through in preparing every aspect of the mind and heart of our young people to thrive as young adults in an increasingly competitive global economy. And it is a vision that is already witnessed in four young but already great schools in London and Leicester. When ‘the inspector calls’, as we have seen, they marvel at how embedded already are the values we espouse and how the vision is spared being mere rhetoric but instead leaps out at you – when you visit the classrooms, workshops, PE spaces and performing arts blocks; and when you talk to our students, our staff, our parents.

True to the theme for this week at Avanti House (a subset of this term’s key value – Self Discipline), you see the vision of Avanti, not just in thoughts and words, but in actions.

Responsibilities to our Wider Community

Not that everything is always perfect. We are a young and growing school with children aged 4 – 13 currently. The teenage years are upon us. Sometimes things are not all that they should be.

Last week, it was a pleasure to welcome some of our closest neighbours who live off Common Road – to a consultation evening, prior to our submission of a planning application to convert the current secondary site to house our primary school (currently, temporarily held in Kingsbury High School in Brent). Naturally, there were concerns shared about increasing numbers of children on the site – primarily for the additional traffic it would doubtless bring. There were some reassurances offered by way of how we might stagger the day – using morning and afternoon clubs to cater for siblings arriving for the earlier start. We also explored how we might in other ways, creatively manage the traffic through our travel plan. On this evening, though numbers were small, we received some really positive feedback about our current (secondary) children at the site – as they leave at the end of the day as well as at Open Evenings. However, there have been also one or two anecdotes lately regarding how, occasionally on the local buses, some can be very noisy and we have hear of other behaviours, whilst not at all sinister, nevertheless certainly not what we see in school and in lessons – where behaviour is invariably outstanding.

It does befall schools to occasionally have to remind even the most wonderful of students that their social responsibilities do not end at the school gate and that whilst wearing the Avanti House uniform – on the way to and from the school, we do consider their conduct to be very much our business. Our values are to be drawn upon in any context of our lives. This is regularly shared with students.

Updates

Planning applications then are now only weeks away from being submitted in regard to the remodelling of the Common Road site in readiness for the planned arrival of our primary school (240 rising to 420) from next September.

Our contractors, Farrans, are now working very closely with the Trust and myself on developing this scheme which presently, at least is moving along according to plan. For our secondary school, which as we know now, will move to an as yet unspecified location for at least 2015-2016, I have recently visited one site that would certainly offer a good provision for the 12 – 18 months that we shall need it and I am in dialogue with that group. This is all being managed at the highest level by the Department for Education through the EFA and the Trust. However, we remain some way away from an agreement whereby plans can be publicised with any certainty. At this point, our destiny and destination for September 2015 still lies in the hands of the EFA, working with the Avanti Schools Trust, though this website remains one of the best places for the most up to date news on ‘moves’.

As we move towards giving GCSE curriculum option choices to our 90+ year 9 students in January 2015, we have to simply work on the premise that wherever we are for the year, it will be well provisioned for a broad and balanced curriculum offer. We look forward to getting that option process underway in December.

Related to this, the bidding process to develop our leased site at Whitchurch has moved to a place further than it has ever been. I am now working with the Trust, the EFA and our project team (Mace) and a number of contractors who have put in initial tenders. These are encouraging tenders and I look forward to getting down to the detail of planning our school of the future and in early 2015, to engaging, alongside this group, with the community local to the site, in advance of planning applications intending to be made in March next year. This is the third ‘new build’ project where I have been directly involved (Westminster Academy, Barnfield South Academy were the other two). None have had such a difficult birth as Avanti House over the past two years – but in my view there has never been a school more worth struggling for than Avanti House. I look forward to keeping families and friends up to speed on these developments.

Reception Open Evening

Now that year 6 into 7 open evening and applications are behind us, we look forward to welcoming interested families, in early December, to our open evening for Reception year. The Open Evening will take place from 6:45pm on Tuesday 9th December 2014.

This Open Evening will be held at our current secondary site in Stanmore. As was mentioned earlier, subject to planning permission, this site, on Common Road, is due to become the permanent site for the primary phase of our all through, 4-19 school, from September 2015.

At this Open Evening, visitors will hear about the ethos of the school and site developments from me. Our incoming Assistant Principal (Head of Primary School), Richard Halliday will talk about the primary curriculum as well as about teaching and learning. Our Director of Inclusion, Susi Pinkus, will talk about support for pupils with special educational needs. Interim Head of School, Janet Dolan, incoming Deputy Principal, Nadira Morris and teaching staff will be on site to talk through our unique school which, although a Hindu faith-designated school is fully inclusive and open to all, with no faith-based criteria.

There is very limited parking on site and we politely request that visitors to the Open Evening do not park on the neighbouring Tanglewood Close.

I end as I started – thinking about what it means to be a teacher – with an inspiring quote from a lesser known philosopher Alexandra K Trenfor:

0*pFvTEm0Nn8LhBuck

Have a lovely week – Hare Krishna

Commitment…

The End of Kartik – some very important visitors

06-AHS-Diwali-Assembly-2014-11-05-657x360Last week at Avanti House secondary,  as we can see in these images, we celebrated the end of the month of Kartik with a visit from His Grace Sruti Dharma Das, Temple President at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Watford along with two devotees from the Manor -Saurabh and Radagovinda.05-AHS-Diwali-Assembly-2014-11-05-657x360

Following some wonderful music performances, singing and dancing by our students, Saurabh and Radagovinda led a short kirtan, followed by a wonderful presentation by Sruti Dharma on the meaning of the month of Kartik and Diwali in particular.

As the new Principal at Avanti House, just eight weeks in, this was my first experience of a festival at school and it was a joyous occasion. I look forward to the next and I thank Sruti Dharma and his associates for joining us for the morning.

11-AHS-Diwali-Assembly-2014-11-05-657x360At the end of the week, last Friday, our lead on collective worship, Cristina Andrews, visited our primary setting at Kingsbury and led a similar assembly again with pupil input. (See below right and above).

cristinaAlthough our new Assistant Principal (Head of School – Primary), Richard Halliday joined us on Friday, I had to unfortunately break short my time there to return to the secondary site to welcome the Member of Parliament for Harrow East, Mr Bob Blackman.

Bob joined myself and the CEO of the Avanti Schools Trust (Nitesh Gor) – both pictured below, on a short visit to Avanti House secondary. We talked at length about the Avanti Harrow project in its entirety – from the first-opened, Krishna Avanti through to our own all-through primary/secondary, Avanti House.

20141107_114906We explored Bob’s views on the ongoing temporary status of buildings for the secondary school as well as the longer term vision for moving forward with the plans for Whitchurch. It was reassuring to be able to share with him the very recent news that we now know that we do have contractors keen to submit their plans to build for late 2016.

We are grateful to Bob who as an individual has been a long-time and very public supporter of Avanti schools for giving up his time to visit us.

 

Buildings Update

Primary:

Nitesh Gor (CEO of the Avanti Schools Trust) and myself have been meeting with the EFA and our building contractors (Farrans) on developing the plans for converting our Common Road site into a fully-fledged (and permanent) primary phase from September 2015. The plans are coming together and we are now engaging the incoming new Head of School (Richard Halliday) as well as our new Deputy Principal from January, (Nadira Morris), for their input.

This week the EFA are consulting with the local community and subsequently a planning application will be put in for the works, which are due to take place in the second quarter of 2015. As the diagrams for the conversion are firmed up, I plan to publish them for parents via this blog.

To follow up on these developments, we plan an Open Evening for parents wishing to consider Avanti House primary for the Reception Year 2015- sometime in early December – date to be confirmed and publicised. We plan to hold the evening at the Common Road site, given that this is where we plan to be – once we move from the temporary facility at Kingsbury.

I am pleased to report that over the half-term break, all of the remedial, repair and final snagging works at Kingsbury have now been completed – including the installation of astro-turf to the rear of the building (over the grass/mud) and all the repairs and renovations to the flooring in the school itself. Interim Head of School, Janet Dolan, reports a really good start to the term last week.

Secondary:

Whilst I am still not permitted, at this point, to publicise with whom the EFA/Avanti Schools Trust are exploring a temporary site for one year, I can report that last week I had a very positive meeting with a local group and look forward myself to visiting a site early this coming week.

Senior officers at the DfE have indicated to the Trust that they should be able to release such details before we break for Christmas. Once any plans are released and firm enough as to constitute a definite move for the school (on or before September 2015), we shall hold a meeting with parents/carers to discuss the plans for moving.

For Whitchurch and further to my blog from last week, the Trust are now in possession of a PITT (Preliminary Invitation to Tender) from a number of contractors and we look forward to shortlisting in the days ahead. Once a contractor is finally appointed, we can move forward in earnest with local community engagement at Whitchurch, to pre-planning meetings and a planning application in the second quarter of 2015 – with a planned handover of a completed site intended for autumn 2016.

Once again, I shall keep parents up to date with the progress of this tender, design, engagement and planning application via this blog.

Commitment

As mentioned last week of the six Avanti values, we are reflecting very carefully that of ‘Self-Discipline’ this term.

Our weekly reflection this coming week are around a sub-set of this value- that of ‘commitment‘. I think a lot of what we are currently reflecting upon at Avanti House has ‘commitment’ right at its very heart. Whether a parent, a member of staff, a Governor or indeed a student; when signing up to Avanti House – a Free School that like many others that began its life without a definitive final destination – we signed up to a vision and to a promise of something different.

I personally believe that this has been and continues to be delivered. Children, students – the most resilient and committed of all of us – love their school are making exceptional progress and are very dedicated to continuing to do so. They, our students, know and understand schools really well and  they both understand and truly value what makes Avanti House different. The spiritual, values-underpinned ethos. The harmony of relationships. A feeling of being valued, feeling safe and a climate for learning unaffected by poor behaviour and poor attitudes to that learning. A set of lived-to values. And in spite of all the challenges and uncertainties, staff, parents and students are wholly committed to this shared endeavour. We understand it as a journey but one where, whatever difficulties are put our way by others, one thing will never be compromised – the high standard of education and its relevance to this age. We are, after all, preparing young people for all the vagaries that modern life and work in the 21st century will offer them. Unacceptable though some of these challenges are and though not of our making; our commitment to finding a way through makes us all stronger.

In a recent interview by students for a student newsletter, I was asked which of our values I thought to be the most important. I asked a few students myself – most of them said ‘self-discipline’. However, I think I responded ‘respect’ – because I felt that without it the other values could not follow. However – on reflection I am not so sure.Like the ten commandments of the Old Testament, in the rich palette of Hindu (Vedantic) practice, we often hear about the ten commitments:

Self-Discipline-731x10241. Ahimsa – do no harm
2. Satya – do not lie – and avoid harsh speech
3. Asteya – do not steal
4. Brahmacharya – avoid immoral behaviour
5. Aparigraha – do not be greedy
6. Saucha – be well presented
7. Santosha – be content
8. Tapas – be self-controlled
9. Svadhyaya – commit to learning
10. Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God

These ten commitments align to a lesser or greater extent with our values at Avanti House:

Respect (1, 2, 3, 10), Integrity (2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9), Courage (1, 2, 4, 5) Empathy (1, 2, 3, 10), Gratitude (4, 5,8, 10)

…however they all align to that of Self-Discipline (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 7, 8, 9, 10) – perhaps self-discipline and our commitment to that, is after all, our most important value.

Have a lovely week

Self Discipline

principal-MAB-blog-150x150Diwali Celebrations

Welcome back to the new term. I hope that all our families and friends have had an enjoyable half-term break which included, of course, Diwali and New Year celebrations. My own family had a wonderful day at Bhaktivedanta Manor, celebrating Diwali. Generous prasadam was taken and we enjoyed a visit to the wonderfully presented altar to meet the deities, for Darshan. There was later an inspirational rendition of the Ramayana by the youth group followed by VIP speeches to the 1000s of visitors; culminating in a wonderful firework display. As with all visits to the Manor, in spite of the vast crowds, it always feels so peaceful and uplifting at the same time. It was also really encouraging to hear, during the VIP speeches, Avanti House and the Avanti Schools Trust mentioned in really positive terms on four separate occasions; including by our local MP Bob Blackman – a long-time public supporter of Avanti House and also the Mayor of Harrow, the Worshipful, the Mayor Councillor Ajay Maru. The level of support for Avanti House and Krishna Avanti in Harrow; to having the first state-funded, Hindu-designated faith schools, with a fully inclusive ethos – across party lines and certainly from our parents and the heart of the community is highly reassuring. This is especially so given the two-year long and ongoing challenges faced, particularly by Avanti House, in securing our permanent secondary site.

Buildings Update

As mentioned in the previous blog, a couple of weeks ago, whilst the plans are at this stage are for our primary children, which will number around 240 by next September, to move into refurbished accommodation on Common Road, the interim destination for our secondary children (around 500 by September) remains uncertain until our leased site at Whitchurch is built upon. Whilst the DfE and the Trust are finally being quite positive about soon to appointed contractors for Whitchurch; something which has alluded them to date, once finally appointed, there then follows a long process of architect design, pre-planning consultation and planning application in the spring. All being well, it is hoped that the build will be well underway by September 2015 but as indicated, we are told that it will not be ready for occupation by our secondary school until the following year. Through the Trust and under the direction of the DfE themselves, I am about to enter into discussions with another group in the hope of securing a relatively local solution for our years 7 – 10 for the next academic year. This will hopefully be one which offers minimal disruption to families and one that also offers a provision that will meet the needs of both key stages 3 and now 4. As soon as I have any further information that the DfE and the Trust allow me to make public, I shall let parents and children know via this blog and directly.

Self Discipline

At all the Avanti schools, in everything that we do, we reflect on our six values – Respect, Integrity, Courage, Empathy, Gratitude and Self-Discipline. This term, in the run up to the Christmas holidays, our key value for reflection will be ‘self-discipline’ and through this, in assemblies, tutor periods and at other times we shall reflect on some of the aspects of self-discipline which are important to nurture with young people in schools. We start with self-belief – being quite clear how this is distinct from ‘arrogance’. and how self-belief and self-confidence is as critical to our success in life as the qualifications that we might amass. We move on to commitment and to remaining positive (even in the face of real challenge); what truly motivates us and others and some deep reflection on what we really need, rather than the never-ending, media and advertising-fuelled desires that we can have in our short lives. There has been some very interesting research into self-discipline over the years and particularly into ‘delayed gratification’ and the positive effects that this can have on the personal development of the young in particular.The Stanford marshmallow experiment was one such series of studies that was conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel.) In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by educational attainment,body mass index (BMI) and other life measures. With a media and with technology that increasingly provides for us ‘immediate gratification’ as almost the expected norm, it is worth, as educationalists and parents, perhaps reflecting on studies such as these. 

New Appointments – Primary and Secondary

We look forward to welcoming two new staff arrivals at Avanti House this week. Rose-Marie Lewis, joins us to replace Jo Quench to teach her humanities classes whilst Jo is on maternity leave. Rose-Marie, a qualified teacher with a Masters in World History and with teaching and middle-leadership experience across both primary and secondary has recently returned from a teaching position in the Emirates and looks forward to settling down again in London.

Avanti House Primary – Head of School

janet photoJanet Dolan (pictured right) steps into the role of Head of School at our primary phase, currently based in Kingsbury, taking over from Ms Radia who left at the end of term. Janet is a highly experienced, successful primary headteacher who was also once Education Director at the Avanti Schools Trust – known to many staff and pupils already.  Janet will work Mondays-Thursdays until the end of term.

Richard photographOn Fridays until Christmas, we are also joined by Richard Halliday (pictured left). Richard, who was just before the holiday, appointed as the permanent replacement, substantive Head of School for Avanti House primary officially takes up his full-time position – our first Assistant Principalship at Avanti House – on January 1st 2015.

However, as he is also returning to the UK – from his most recent position as Principal for a small all-through 4-18 international school in Cambodia – Richard is available to take the lead from Janet on Fridays and will therefore be in a position to really hit the ground running when he starts, full-time, officially after Christmas.

Primary-trained,  in addition to having led an all-through international school abroad, Richard has also been in middle leadership for many years in the UK (again in an all-through London academy); as Team Leader successively for years 2-6. We welcome both Janet as interim Head of School and Richard as new members of our Senior Leadership Team and look forward to them, together, continuing to build on the good work done, in challenging circumstances, by Ms Radia and her team.

nadira photographDeputy Principal – Avanti House School

Finally, I am pleased to announce the appointment of our new Deputy Principal – Nadira Morris (pictured right) – who will also start with us in January 2015.

Following two highly competitive days of interview Nadira presented herself as an exceptional candidate for this position. She impressed students and staff, completed tasks and panel interviews brilliantly and went on to be appointed by the final panel, where I was joined by members of the Regional Governing Body and the Trust. Nadira has been a long-standing and highly-successful Assistant Principal in a regional, outstanding school in North London.

As sole-deputy for the all-through Avanti House School, in addition to deputising for me in my absence and working with me and the Senior Leadership Team on whole-school improvement, Nadira will line-manage and support Richard at primary but also take the lead on the quality of teaching, learning, professional development, performance management and self-evaluation across all phases – from Reception to sixth form. I look forward to introducing all three colleagues to staff and to families in the weeks and months ahead.

Self-Discipline

And so to welcoming back our students following (for me anyway) an uncharacteristically long October break. I am sure all will return well prepared and eager to learn. Every day is a fresh start.

I end this week with some inspiring quotes from Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita; reflecting on self-discipline:
prabhupada12401There is no possibility of one becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.

As a lamp in a windless place does not waver, so the transcendentalist, whose mind is controlled, remains always steady in his meditation on the transcendent Self.

Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 6