Welcome back…

I would like to welcome back students and staff after what was hopefully a restful half-term break. For my own part, it was not much of a break – two days of Ofsted Inspector training in London followed by a house move; the things we put ourselves through!

Some good news – just before the break, we interviewed and successfully appointed a new music specialist as an Assistant Principal for performing and creative arts. Paul Nash – a highly experienced music teacher and leader with a fantastic track record in schools – will be joining us straight after the Easter holiday. Paul effectively replaces Miss Chand who did not return from long term illness late last year but the position to which he has been appointed has been created as a more senior one – overseeing one of our two specialisms – performing arts and creative art too, across the primary and secondary phases. We look forward to Paul’s arrival in a couple of months. Following a round of interviews which also took place in the final week of term, we shall also soon be announcing a permanent replacement for English teacher, Miss Sharma. In these two areas of the curriculum we have suffered from some instability of late and an inability until very recently to find the right candidates for these critical roles. It will be good to reverse that trend and bring some much needed stability.

Ahead of us, early this term, the Trust, the EFA and our building contractors start to engage with the Whitchurch community and neighbourhood as we outline our plans for the secondary build on Whitchurch Fields. A neighbourhood consultation will take place in early March followed by a planning application in April – the committee to sit in late June. At the same time, I hope to be able to engage with the Pinner High School Trust and the hopefully soon to be appointed inaugural Headteacher of Pinner High School as we plan for the first two years of occupying the former Heathfield School site in Pinner. I have been asked by a couple of parents how the school or the Trust might support them in things such as transport to the site in Pinner – also the facilities that will be available and whether or not a visit by parents might be on the cards. To this end, to keep the communication channels open, we are publishing a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) around the whole issue of buildings and location and keeping it up to date via this blog. The first version was shared with year 8 parents at the last parents’ evening. Click here (FAQ building secondary v1.2) for the most up to date version of the FAQ. As new questions arise from parents and others, this document will be updated.

Also ahead of us this term of course is the performing arts showcase for which students have been really busy rehearsing and promises to be fantastic as ever. Year 9 can look forward to working with their mentors, with Mr. Patel who is overseeing the Options Assemblies and careers advisor, the new Head of Year 9, Mrs. Kahn as they lead up to making their final choices for GCSEs next year. I know that Mr. Patel has been working hard behind the scenes – he tells me that he has promises from the following to visit the school and present at assemblies:

  • Senior Architect. Award winning Architect.
  • Managing Director – IT firm. (JOSKOS)
  • Senior Surgeon – Imperial
  • Chief Actuary. – City Insurance Firm. (female)
  • LaboratoryScientist/s – Microsoft – Hollolense – Future of Augmented reality
  • Journalist – Economist.
  • Civil Servant- Government Offices
  • Future technologies and Artificial Intelligence researcher.
  • Hotel Manager (Hospitality and Catering industry)
  • Pilot – Ryan Air
  • Pharmacy researcher (LAB)– GSK

It is really exciting to think that even less than three years in to the life of Avanti House, we have our first cohort of students who are really starting to think about what their first step on the career ladder might be.

Our Avanti value for reflection this term is ‘integrity‘ – the virtue of ‘being whole’ and ‘always doing the right thing’. You do not have to spend too much time flicking the channels on cable television or wading through social media networks to realise that ‘always doing the right thing’ is not the most fashionable thing in most societies just now – it certainly does not sell newspapers. To me that is all the more reason for us, as educators and parents, to not lose sight of this character trait – let’s face it, when we do chance to witness seemingly random acts of human kindness or ‘integrity’ it can render the hardest of us close to tears. I feel fairly sure that we all want to be more ‘whole’. We all want to ‘do the right thing’ more often than we do – living less by the force of habit and ‘following the crowd’. Life is not always that straightforward of course.

An inspirational, present-day Vaishnava Swami, Radhanath Swami, has this to say on the matter of integrity:

Radhanath-Swami-co-postWhat really impresses the hearts of people are not miraculous feats – but genuine humility, integrity and a true sense of love achieved through service

Radhanath Swami

Advertisements

The Long Way Home…

Pinner Bound

As indicated in the mid-week blog, it is now confirmed that Avanti House School (secondary phase) will move, from September 2015, into the site of the former Heathfield School in Pinner.

The Pinner High School Trust, who plan to open with 180 children from September 2016 have agreed, with the EFA (Education Funding Agency), that we can have unrestricted use of the site from this September.

Then, from September 2016, for at least the first two terms, until handover of our new build, our years 7 – 11 (approximately 700 at that time) will share the site with the first cohort of Pinner High School – who will arrive at their permanent school site at that time. Now that this has been agreed, there remains a great deal to do in order to prepare the site for our occupation – working closely with the Pinner Trust and the soon to be appointed Headteacher of their new school, to ensure that what we put in place for 2015/16 works for the bigger picture of Pinner High School from 2016/17.

As a school, we are both grateful and very fortunate for this opportunity – an extremely well-provisioned site, deserved by students and staff alike – for the limitations they have put up with for two years now. And just in time for the launch of our key stage 4 provision. As more details of our plans emerge, we shall let parents know.

A very important point for all incoming year 7 students (in September 2015 or 2016) is that the admissions locus for measuring distance from the home to school will remain at Whitchurch.

The Long Way Home…

The idea of Avanti House  school dates back to 2011. With two successful primary schools already up and running (one in Harrow and one in Leicester) and following survey, the Avanti Schools Trust found that demand for an all-through 4-19 Hindu-designated school from families in Harrow remained high. This was also against a backcloth of an immediate need for primary places and by the end of the decade, a subsequent need for secondary places in Harrow. The rest is history, so to speak. Typical of many of the early Free Schools, Avanti House opened without a definitive, permanent site for its planned 1680 children (once full it was to be the largest Free School in the UK). Many possibilities for a permanent site came and went – in and out of Harrow and no site large enough for this all-through school was ever found.

The secondary school opened, in September 2012, temporarily, in the Harrow Teachers’ Centre whilst the first Reception year was hosted at Krishna Avanti. A year later, in the summer of 2013, the site of the former Peterborough St. Margaret’s School on Common Road was purchased as a suitable site for our, ultimately 420 primary pupils – from September 2015, subject to planning and a £2million investment. In the meantime, the expanding secondary school would be housed temporarily at the site. A little later, it was April 2014; contracts had been exchanged – and subject to successful planning permission, on the Whitchurch fields site a secondary school for 1260 was planned;  all the DfE and the Trust needed now was a contractor ready to design and build the school. With the upturn in the economy and building in the private sector picking up, it was several attempts and six months before contractors came forward in October 2014 – engaging with the Trust and the DfE and designing a £20million+ build for the site. By now, the earliest, realistic handover of a new building would be December 2016 and more likely well into spring or early summer of 2017. With a building design 90% complete it is almost ready to take to planning. Pre-planning meetings are underway and there will be a public consultation in March. The planning committee will then meet in June and if all goes well, we shall be breaking ground in August – just before we move our secondary, temporarily, to Pinner. With two building projects hopefully underway by the summer – we could be entering the final furlong of physically putting Avanti House on the map – the long way home…

Of course, although I had been associated with the Avanti Schools Trust for some time, I am relatively new to the nomadic challenges of Avanti House School – it has clearly been a real challenge for all those involved, for the inaugural Principal and his team who got the school up and running. Nevertheless, the support of parents and staff has been quite incredible.

Open Evening Season

Last week’s Options Evening for year 9 underlined for me the trust and faith that families have put into this very special school. Frustrated by delays and seemingly constant change in the plans for the school, parents were nevertheless really positive about how their children felt about their school, the excellent progress that they were making in their learning and also the plans for key stage 4 at the well-provisioned site at Pinner. It was clear at the end of the evening that we had a common purpose; the very bright future of the children we serve.

I now look forward to meeting many parents of year 8 students at the Open Evening this week. From 5:30pm, I shall be based, with the Deputy Principal Mrs. Morris, available to talk to groups of parents about our plans ahead.  Earlier that day, we shall be interviewing for our Easter replacement of our Head of Music. Prospective candidates for Assistant Principal – Performing and Creative Arts (a music specialist) – will present themselves to tasks and panels of students and staff. I hope to be able to announce a successful appointment in the next blog – as well as a substantive appointment for English (replacement for Ms. Sharma) – interviewed on the same day.

First Avanti House Discos

My thanks go out to staff and Friends of Avanti House for their excellent planning and support of the two discos over the past two weeks. These were brilliantly well organised and everyone reported having a really enjoyable time. Once again, our students excelled themselves – they had fun, enjoyed themselves but behaved impeccably.

As we head into the half-term break; half way through my first year as Principal of Avanti House, I wish all our families and friends a restful break.

What have I got to look forward to? A house move. Really….

To end this week, a short but inspiring quote from Pope John XXII about never giving up on our hopes and dreams – and always aspiring to realise our potential – something we shall explore in assemblies this week:
Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams.hope

Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.

Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.

Avanti House (Secondary) at Pinner – September 2015

Having worked behind the scenes for a number of months now with the EFA (Education Funding Agency), the Pinner High School Trust and the Avanti Schools Trust, I am pleased to be able to confirm that our secondary school has been kindly granted unrestricted use of the former Heathfield site in Pinner until our new build is ready in 2017. This will involve working closely with the Pinner High School Trust from now through to September and then, from September 2016, co-locating our nearly 700 children by then with the Pinner High School when they open with their first year 7 cohort of 180.

Our parents, staff and students have been incredibly patient and resilient through a really difficult period of not knowing how the temporary site issues for Avanti House secondary were to be resolved and with a reasonably local solution. There was a dire need to provide our very deserving youngsters and particularly our oldest students who are coping with a limited infrastructure, with facilities more fitting for both a key stage 3 but from September 2015, also a key stage 4 curriculum. This says an awful lot about the dedication of all involved in the exciting vision for Avanti House School. For Whitchurch, there is still much to do – with contractors engaged, plans 80% complete, we are very close to public consultation prior to a planning application in early Spring. In the meantime, it is very reassuring to know that for our first cohort of key stage 4 students, they now have stability and a vastly improved facility to go on to deliver the outstanding outcomes in their GCSEs.

ALL ongoing admissions into Avanti House year 7 (from September 2015 onwards) will continue to be based around family distance from the planned 2017 location of the school at the Whitchurch site. Once we have the contact details of those parents who have secured a year 7 place at Avanti House School, we shall invite them in to talk through the exciting plans ahead – both for the next two years and for our intended, final resting place.

The Official Joint Press Release (DfE/EFA, Pinner High School Trust and Avanti Schools Trust) follows. Further details will be sent out in due course to all parents:

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) confirms that Pinner High School has agreed to allow Avanti House School to be co-located at the Pinner High School site from September 2015 until Avanti House moves to its permanent building on Whitchurch playing fields planned for Spring 2017. This ensures the site is not left vacant but provides a stable, temporary home for Avanti House. It also enables the excellent facilities at the site in Beaulieu Drive, Pinner to be used for the benefit of Harrow students and local community before Pinner High opens.

Pinner High School will open on the Beaulieu Drive site as planned, as a separate school, welcoming its first 180 Year 7 students in September 2016 and growing to a school with over 1,150 students from Years 7 to 13 by September 2022. From Summer 2017 Pinner High will have exclusive use of the Beaulieu Drive site.

Sue Hammond, Chair of Governors of Pinner High School, comments “We are delighted to be opening an outstanding school in 2016 for the whole of the Pinner and Eastcote community. Pinner High is committed to working with our local family of schools, and we recognise the need for Avanti House parents and students to have stability whilst their new school is built. There are many educational and financial benefits to Pinner High School being co-located with Avanti House in our first year, and we look forward to working together to maximise these for students at both schools. It is a really exciting time for Pinner High as we are currently advertising for our Founding Headteacher and are focused on recruiting an exceptional candidate to lead our school and ensure Pinner High quickly becomes an outstanding high school that the whole community is proud of.”

Mark Bennison, Principal of Avanti House and Senior Education Officer for the Avanti School Trust, said “The Governors, staff, parents and students of Avanti House are excited at the prospect of our new build, which having suffered significant delays, is now finally well into the planning and design stage. We are enormously grateful to the Governors of Pinner High School for the offer to be hosted, temporarily, from this September, at the Beaulieu Drive site; an excellent facility. I look forward to working with the Pinner High School Trust, in collaboration in the months ahead as our two exciting enterprises come to fruition; our joint aims are to provide an outstanding educational provision for the children of Harrow.”

I shall talk more about our plans in next week’s blog

Haribol

Values…

Avanti House School as you may know is, legally, a “Free School”. I frequently have to explain that although there are some considerable freedoms borne of being set up as a Free School, it does not mean that we are ‘free’ to do whatever we like by way of education provision. Free Schools, like our distant cousins, academies, are quite simply state schools that are independent of a Local Authority – they have a Trust (in our case the Avanti Schools Trust) to whom we are accountable. Charities, groups of teachers, existing schools and parents can set up these independent state schools if they can prove that they are both needed (school places) and wanted by a local community.

When Avanti House, an all-through 4-19 school, was established in 2012, by the Avanti Schools Trust, it was set up against the backdrop of an existing shortage of primary places in Harrow. There was at the time, thought to be an emerging shortage in secondary places in the authority. However, most importantly, there was and remains strong evidence of a desire by Harrow parents to have, in their midst, a second Hindu-designated Faith School (Krishna Avanti was the first) and this time, one to include a secondary provision.

When asked, parents and carers who either send their children to Avanti schools or who are interested in our vision (and the majority of visitors to our schools too), often refer to the six values that we espouse and that our children and staff really bring to life. The origin of our vision and these values is from our faith and that is a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu context – the teachings of the 17th century saint, Krishna Chaitanya. However, our values could just as easily be crafted from those that underpin any of the world’s great religions or indeed, from that of a non-faith perspective entirely.

I mean who can argue with our promoting the following?

  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Empathy
  • Self Discipline
  • Courage
  • Gratitude

Related to this, quite recently, it was a privilege to join other senior members of the Trust to be interviewed in the Department for Education, with a view to possibly opening two further Avanti Schools – in East and South London. One of the questions we faced is “how do you plan, in your new schools, to promote British values“? This is a very lively subject at the moment and in September 2014, there was a subtle change in the wording of key education legislation – moving from schools having a requirement to ensure that principles are promoted which encourage pupils torespect’ the fundamental British values, to a requirement to ensure that schools ‘actively promote’ British values.  It goes on to say that “All schools will need to develop a clear strategy for embedding fundamental British values, and be able to show how their work with students is effective in doing so. Actively promoting the values also means challenging opinions or behaviours in school that are contrary to fundamental British values.”

The Government have very succinctly defined for us what underpins ‘British values’ and these are “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.

We can very easily align our own six school values to these ‘British values’. For example, to live in a democracy is to respect the rule of the majority. The rule of law reflects our own value of valuing integrity and self-discipline. Individual liberty and mutual respect are also aligned to our values of respect and integrity – also gratitude and it takes courage as well as respect, empathy and self-discipline to truly not just tolerate but hold in high regard those with different beliefs and faiths – including those of no faith.

However, no matter how well embedded our own values and how well aligned they are to ‘British values’ – we do, I think, need to go further. Whilst designated a Hindu-faith school, we do of course learn about, value and celebrate all other major world faiths throughout the year. At Avanti House, we plan to respond to the British Values agenda in a number of other ways. We look, after half-term, to relaunch our Student Council. We already have our most senior students supporting staff as stewards at break and lunch time as well as helping me when we have VIP visits and staff interviews. We plan to take this to the next level and I look forward to outlining these plans in the weeks ahead. Perhaps we might consider a ‘mock election’ in the run up to the May national elections.

This half-term our value for reflection is ‘Respect’ and our theme for the week is ‘Respecting our Environment’. More often than not, in schools, when we reflect on themes such as this, the common denominator is typically ‘litter’ and/or ‘graffiti’. Other than the occasional ‘sweet wrapper’, neither of these are a problem at all at Avanti House – so as to take more of a planetary perspective, a thought for the week – rewritten in the form of a poem – from the pen of Albert Einstein:

A human being is part of the whole, Albert_Einstein_
called by us “Universe,”
a part limited in time and space.
He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings
as something separated from the rest
– a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us,
restricting us to our personal desires and
to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison
by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures
and the whole of nature in its beauty.

~ Albert Einstein, 1950 ~

Have a lovely week.

Hare Krishna