The Long and Winding Road

The Long and Winding Road

As we head towards our bank-holiday half-term, our attention turns to the planning of the school moves (again!) ahead of us – our primary phase from Kingsbury to our final destination at Common Road and our secondary phase to the other side of Harrow; to the site of the former Heathfield School, in Pinner.

No school should ever have faced the seemingly relentless disruption that Avanti House has had to put up with – in only three years of existence. However, as one of our year 9 students astutely and sensitively pointed out, when other students were complaining bitterly at lunch about ‘yet another house move’ – “we have somewhere to go – unlike the thousands of families in Nepal…”. It was certainly a conversation-stopper. The plight of communities in Nepal has certainly caught the imagination of our youngsters and this has triggered a compassionate and empathetic response across our ‘Avanti family’. In just over a couple of weeks, students, staff and Friends of Avanti House have raised  well over £2000 to send to those charities leading the relief work in the earthquake-stricken zones of Nepal. This money has been raised across both the secondary and primary phases, through cake sales, non-uniform days, sponsored events and generous donations. The majority of these events came about due to the spontaneous response of our students who simply wanted to do something. We are still collecting this week and we look forward to announcing the final total.  My thanks to the many staff and students who have co-ordinated this fund-raising for such a heart-wrenching cause, so difficult to comprehend.

We look forward to welcoming primary parents to the Common Road site this week, to hear more about the building developments and travel plan for the next academic year. Straight after half term, we shall welcome existing and soon to be families of secondary students at the Pinner site – again to hear about plans for the new year.

Rain Stopped Play

In a twist of fate, well prepared for our very first sporting tournament last week, our cricket team were disappointed when the tournament was washed out and postponed to a later date – we shall announce this on our website when we know when it is to be rescheduled.

No such luck for our year 9 algebra award students who headed off last week to Bentley Wood School to take their Level 2 (GCSE A*-C) algebra award – our very first ever public examinations – we look forward to the outcomes and to sharing them with you. We are grateful to Bentley Wood for putting us up on this occasion – it made no sense to pay to set up the Common Road site as a GCSE/A level examination centre – becoming our primary phase, it will never be one after this summer. Invigilators at the school reported how well our students came across – always the case whenever we visit or have visitors to the school.

Secondary School Day – 2015/16

As we conclude our programme of staff appointments in the coming weeks, our secondary school timetable for next year is almost complete. Our plans are to move to a slightly longer core day, finishing at 3:30pm – but with clubs every day (including Monday and Friday) going on to no later than 4:30pm. Opening the school (Pinner) earlier for children too (around 7:15am) for a possible breakfast club – we hope this will assist some families who, faced with much longer and more complex journeys, might wish to drop their children off early and miss the heavier traffic. Once we have finalised the new day, which will also have 6x hour-long lessons (rather than the current 9x 40 minute lessons), we shall publish this online.

School Combined Cadet Force

Motivated by visits to a school of a long-time friend of mine, the Principal at Thomas Deacon Academy in Peterborough, we are now looking to apply to set up our own school Combined Cadet Force. I have recently met with Major Patrick Thompson who will be guiding us through the application process – with the hope that by January-April 2016 we might become fully accredited. The CCF already exists in over 260 schools all over the UK and offers young people aged 13-18 a broad range of challenging, exciting, adventurous and educational activities. The aim of the CCF is to support the development of personal responsibility, leadership and self-discipline – attributes we hold in high esteem at Avanti House School. Each unit or contingent is an educational partnership between the school and the Ministry of Defence. I look forward to keeping you up to speed on this initiative, alongside other outdoor and outward bounds activities – including the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme (just about to be launched), the Princes Trust and others.

Finally,  as we try so hard, in the wake of Nepal, to make sense of the devastation caused by such natural disasters, the many affected will of course turn to their faith to help them through such impossibly dark times faced by losing loved ones. And our collective thoughts and prayers go out to the families affected – both in Nepal itself and of course, closer to home where this has been the case.

Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, of course tutors His friend Arjuna (son of Kunti and Scion of Bharata in the quote below) through a similarly ‘impossible’ setting – where in fact Arjuna will go on to see and to even to cause the death Quotes-by-Lord-Krishna-on-Non-Permanent-appearance-of-Happiness-And-Distressof his own kin and gurus.

We are reminded in this passage from the Gita of the impermanence of all conditioned phenomena – happiness and distress – and to do everything in our power to support each other, to remain centred and even in the darkest and most difficult of times, to find hope and to be strong for those left behind.

Hare Krishna

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For Their Future…

Their futures – not our pasts…

I frequently remind myself and the colleagues with whom I work that our challenge as teachers and school principal-MAB-blog-150x150leaders is to prepare young people for ‘their futures; and not our pasts’. And yet so much of how we still work in schools – particularly in the recognition of the power of and the use of technology – does not resonate with this idea. As teachers, left to our own devices, we all too easily fall back into approaching teaching and learning in the same way as we were taught perhaps 10, 20, 30 or even 40+ years earlier. This is hardly appropriate. I started my own teaching career as a postgraduate trainee in 1982. Electronic calculators were just about finally replacing slide rules and logarithmic tables (many of you might have to “Google” these things to know what I am talking about). Blackboards and chalk (at least multicoloured I suppose) had not even been replaced by overhead transparency projectors and the alcohol-infused ‘banda machine’ was as close as we got to photocopying. We were still showing 8mm film projections, although some schools afforded VHS players (yet others bought the superior technology – Betamax but wished later that they hadn’t). Over the past 30 years technology has transformed almost every aspect of our lives entirely – and yet, bizarrely, in schools, it is very often a case of schools spending large sums of public money on new technology, only to fall back to using ‘electronic whiteboards’ like blackboards and the like. Similarly we see the world wide web being used as a short cut to download a one-size-fits-all solution to a teaching and learning challenge; by-passing the effort of teachers really thinking through what individual children at a particular stage of learning in a subject actually need in order to move that learning forward and hasten their progress. At the same time, we can also be guilty of completely forgetting and ignoring the broad and deep learning experiences our children are exposed to – the excellent, the incorrect and the very worrying – as they increasingly immerse themselves in technology (the iPhone or S6 in some of their pockets being far more powerful than desktop computers of less than 10 years ago). At Avanti House we shall set out to approach the implementation and use of IT in very different ways.

Appointed last week, as we continue to grow the Avanti House family of staff, was Chandrika – our new Assistant Head of mathematics and Rahela (already a popular, agency teacher of English) joins the English department permanently. We have further interviews, both secondary and primary, over the next couple of weeks.

Student Voice and the Mock Election

During these interviews, it never ceases to amaze me how astute and insightful our students are as they busy themselves leading interview panels and other tasks which we employ to put candidates to the test. In all three appointments last week, the students felt that the appointed candidates were strong – and for all the right reasons. Similarly, following their excellent presentations and voting in the Mock General Election at secondary (years 8 & 9) they even forecast the outcome – our own ‘Conservative candidate’ won the election by a good margin. I had the pleasure, early in the week, to meet with the full Student Council, for what will become regular, half-termly meetings, to hear what their priorities were for the attention of the Senior Team and Governors. School lunches figured highly but we also talked about uniforms and a range of other matters that were important to them. The work that Deputy Principal, Mrs. Morris is beginning to do with the Student Council is beginning to gather some momentum and I look forward to asking members of the Council to contribute their reflections to this blog in the weeks ahead.

Parent and Staff Advisory Group

Working backwards it seems, at the start of my week, last week, I enjoyed joining the Executive Headteacher of Krishna Avanti as guests of the parents and staff who make up the newly convened PSAG (Parent and Staff Advisory Group) for a social event at the Shayona Restaurant, linked to the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden. This was a wonderful, getting to know each other, networking evening where we discussed all manner of things relating to the future of the two Avanti schools in Harrow and the work that the PSAG could do to support both the Regional Governing Body and the schools – being that interface between families/staff and the same. I recalled attending the Festival of India in 1985 (in my 20s) – my first experience of masala dosa! – at Alexandra Palace – an early event held by BAPs and then later passing the Swaminarayan School, sometime in the late 90s, when frequently visiting the temple (and cafe) – turning to my wife saying how much I would love to teach in a Hindu faith school. Karma always has a way… The evening ended wonderfully for me with a last-minute arranged visit to meet with and talk to two of the Sadhus – both very supportive of the Avanti mission; with five schools open from 2016, to go on to open up to 15 state-funded, Hindu faith schools in the midlands and London – building on the excellent Free School programme that allowed Avanti House to come into being just under three years ago. With lessons hopefully learned though, my guess is that we shall have the school sites earmarked and secured before we go any further in the development! Hearing candidates for jobs say that they have never visited a school where children seem so very happy and in that state, making so much progress in their learning, I end with a relevant quote from Pramukh Swami Maharaj

swamiIn the joy of others lies our own.

In the progress of others rests our own.

In the good of others abides our own.

Know this to be the key to peace and happiness.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj

Have a great week

Jai Swaminarayan; Jai Shri Krishna

Big Decisions…

Decision time…

Last week and this, we were pleased to welcome (on different days!) the candidates for the two main political parties in our constituency – a marginal seat and one of the handful around the country where the outcome of the General Election will be determined. Both candidates (one, accompanied by a visiting candidate for a neighbouring constituency) faced something of a grilling from our older students at secondary. As ever, our students excelled themselves and all our visitors said that they really enjoyed the experience. We all look forward to hearing the outcome of the General Election on Friday morning – about 24 hour20150501_123702s after Mr Heffernan reports the outcome of our own Mock Election – which took place last Friday (picture shows the long line of voters giving up some of their lunch break to vote. The election speeches on Friday were excellent – I have personally heard less impressive presentations from sixth form students in the past!

Getting to Pinner

Things are hotting up on the planning front – around a month away now from submitting our planning application for our final (secondary) build at Whitchurch.  Following an overwhelmingly positive response from over 500 respondents to the survey, the school and the Avanti Schools Trust are busy continuing with the consultation – engaging with neighbourhood groups, the schools at Whitchurch and Stanburn and many other groups.

At the same time, we are busy planning our primary move to Common Road and our secondary move to the temporary site at Pinner. For both of these movements, Deputy Principal Mrs. Morris is still busy working with coach companies and Transport for London on endeavouring to set up coach/bus routes for parents to opt into in order to get their children to school.

Our first public meeting at the former Heathfield’s site (in Pinner) is tentatively set for Wednesday 10th June  – the intention will be to invite all our secondary parents, (in two tranches to limit traffic disruption close to the school 6:30pm – 7:30pm and 7:45pm – 8:45pm) and on this evening, I will do a short presentation on the planned use of the building – including the plans to share the site with the newly opened Pinner High School from September 2016. Mrs Morris will then talk about the travel plan and invite representatives from the coach companies to talk. If it is possible, we might also hold short tours of the building – although it will obviously not be in the state of readiness that we shall be in in September.

We are also planning to host our year 6 into 7 Transition Day for 150+ children at the Pinner site on Wednesday 1st July. It made more sense to hold the Transition Day on this site (and we have no space at Common Road!)

New Horizons

As we approach the summer, we look forward to welcoming a large number of candidates for positions at our growing school over the next couple of weeks. This week we shall be interviewing for our Assistant Vice Principal as well as Assistant Heads of mathematics and science alongside an additional English teacher. Next week we shall interview for teachers of drama, languages, PE and humanities and in the final week before the end of term, our new primary teachers as well as teachers to replace those who are leaving for promoted posts. We thank the many candidates who have shown an interest in the school, congratulate those who have been called to interview and wish all candidate the best of luck as they look to join the Avanti family.

As we think about how the country is to be governed for the next five years, we end this week with a reflective quote from the famous Chinese spiritual work, the Tao Te Ching – a quote on leadership – and one which exudes authenticity – nothing about the passion of the ego, show and false promises here!

Have a great week

Tao Te Ching v17

17.

If you don’t trust people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The true leader speaks little.
He never speaks carelessly.
He works without self interest
and leaves no trace.
When the work is done,
the people say: “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves.”