Welcome Visitors

Open Evening

Our secondary phase Open Evening went really well last week with well over 800 visitors to our temporary (two-year) site at Beaulieu Drive, Pinner. It is clear that, in spite of being only in our fourth year, the very positive reputation of Avanti House School is spreading fast.

Visitors; prospective parents and students, from across Harrow and beyond, left the evening buzzing with enthusiasm, having been particularly impressed with our student volunteers. It occurred to me that our students are so incredibly mature, committed to their school and dedicated to their learning – we really could leave the ‘marketing’ of Avanti House to them. We have well over 100 students showing families around the impressive facilities at Pinner and dozens of assistants also helped in faculties – mathematics, English, languages, PE, dance and drama. Coupled with our four volunteers – topping and tailing my own presentation in the hall – four times in the evening to packed audiences, the memories that visitors will be left with will be exactly as they should be – how impressive are Avanti House students!

One of a Family

Our visitors learned about how Avanti House School is one of a growing family of Hindu-designated faith schools – open to all, regardless of faith (or no faith). In common with other Avanti Schools Trust schools, our is a values-led organisation, with three pillars – each as important as the other and which are brought together to create an unique curriculum for our learners – from 4 to 19. The evening’s presentation can be found by clicking here: [Open Evening Presentation]. Our online prospectus (on our website) can be found by clicking here:  [Online Prospectus] – a good deal more can be found on our website and that of the Avanti Schools Trust.  Information and updates regarding our two year tenure at Pinner and our early October planning application for our exciting Whitchurch build can be found here on this weekly blog. I would like to thank all our visitors for showing an interest last week and of course our staff, students, Governors and PTA (Friends of Avanti House) for making the evening such a roaring success.

From now until when the applications must be submitted (to the local authority) – on 31st October – I and members of my Senior Team will be available to show individuals and groups of parents/carers around during the working day. Officially, our Open Mornings are next week – but we are already taking appointments for the three weeks after this. It is a momentous decision that parents make, the high school for their child – and the best way of making sure it is the right one is to have all of your questions answered.

Information regarding making an application – on or before 31st October 2015 – as well as the Admissions Criteria for 2016/17, can be found by clicking here  Getting into Avanti House

Sports Day and Maths Challenge

An exciting, if exhausting, week ended with a fantastic drop-down day on Friday, for our first Sports Day at Pinner. Although only part of the fields were used (the autumn should bring the rollers out to make good the surface), the sports hall, tennis courts and other spaces were all put to good use for a really enjoyable and exciting day of sporting activity. Mr Hindes and his teams of staff put together a fantastic and really well-organised day. The winners will soon be announced.

Sports Day was enjoyed by years 8 – 10 whilst year 7 had a more cerebral activity than physical one, with a mathematics challenge in the hall all day. Again, enjoyed by all, we look forward to hearing the results – and the winning house, early next week.

Radhastami

Finally, last week, we celebrated, in some of our assemblies, the festival of Radhastami – or the birth of Sri Radha – the feminine aspect of Krishna and perfect devotee.

I end with an inspiring prayer conceived by His Holiness Indradyumna Swami – in praise of Srimati Radharani radha_beauty

“O all-auspicious Krishna! May You be victorious! You perform all kinds of sweet pastimes. Let my
name also be there when You count Sri Radha’s associates. This is my prayer. Although I am covered by material consciousness I can still aspire for this. O Lord, may my prayer be fulfilled.”

– His Holiness Swami

Advertisements

The Whole Story…

To Be Happy

John Lennon – a fairly famous musician from Liverpool and a favourite of mine, wprincipal-MAB-blog-150x150as quoted in an interview once saying:

“When I was five years old, my mum told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked the class what we wanted  to be when we grew up. I wrote down “happy”. The teacher told me that I didn’t understand the question” – John Lennon

At a basic level, I think, happiness is what we all seek, all of the time. The psychologist, Maslow, of course writes about a hierarchy of ‘needs’ that drive us in our lives – starting with the most important needs; physical/physiological (food, air, warmth…), then safety & security, followed by love, then self-esteem and finally self-actualisation (creativity/purpose…). When you strip all of these right back, though, it boils down to our doing everything we can to create causes and the conditions to be happy (and to bring happiness into the lives of others – something (almost) uniquely human). I sometimes sit and wonder what it is about our education systems that are about creating the conditions for young people to be happy and to find happiness in their lives and I struggle with this – it’s not on the National Curriculum! However, I think, at Avanti House, in a fairly explicit way, we actually do this. At Avanti House we educate the whole child – to nurture confidence, creativity and character; so that our students become happy and fulfilled – more likely to achieve and we do this, through our curriculum and ethos, in a really joined-up way, I think this approach is what makes the vision for the schools of the Avanti Schools Trust compelling and quite unique.

An Avanti education really  is about the whole child; it is the whole story. We set about putting a curriculum in place – from 4 – 19 which ensures that all learners make excellent academic progress. At the same time, our emphasis on the six values leads to our students developing a sound character. Our faith activities; a bespoke PRE curriculum, collective worship, meditation, yoga and a daily shared, vegetarian meal complete the three pillars of our school vision. Many people visit the school, almost on a daily basis; parents of prospective students, members of the local community, consultants, other heads and teachers. They frequently reflect and comment on how happy the children in our school clearly are.

Co-location at Pinner

Now our secondary phase is settled at Pinner, for the next two years, our attention turns to managing the sharing of the site in 2016/17 – and our working with the Heads of the two schools involved. One or two parents have been asking about the logistics of this and although they have not entirely been bottomed out, our shared plans are as follows:

From January until July 2016,  the DfE have arranged some of the staff and students from the Jubilee Academy will be co-located on the Pinner site – whilst part of their own building undergoes some significant building work.  Jubilee and Avanti House students will not come into contact with each other at all. At the former Heathfield site, there is a primary wing, including a laboratory, art space and a hall. Coupled with their own self-contained outside area for play as well as security doors (fob-activated) between the main part of the building (Avanti House) and the Jubilee section, our schools will operate entirely independently of each other for the short time Jubilee are on the site. If the school look to make use of the sports hall, this will obviously be negotiated and movements supervised. The start of our day (7.30am for 8.00am) is considerably earlier than the majority of schools, including Jubilee – we now have to talk about the end of the school day to ensure the two schools leave the site at different times, if possible. At the same time, over the coming months, I look forward to working with the incoming Headteacher of Pinner High School, Chris Woolf – on similar plans for co-location when they join us in September 2016.

Planning for the permanent, £25 million build on Whitchurch fields is moving forward at a pace now, with discussions between the DfE and the Council around community use of the playing fields now getting into the detail. With considerable support from the community consultation, (74% of community respondents were very positive about the new school), finally, our planning application is imminent for an August 2017 delivery of the new build. I look forward to keeping family and friends of the school up to speed on this blog.

Eternal Happiness

srila_prabhupada2

One of the teachers who made a lasting impact on the aforementioned musician (John Lennon) was of course His Divine Grace Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta Praphupada  – back in the late 1960s – shortly after Srila Praphupada had made the long journey from India to the USA and established ISKCON in a shop front on the East coast. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of that event which I am sure will be marked at ISKCON centres worldwide, including of course the one closet to home – at Bhaktivedanta Manor. The Manor is of course another venue known for bringing great happiness and spiritual insight and fulfilment into the lives of thousands of families and the opportunity, through the practice of bhakti (devotional) yoga, the most eternal happiness of all.

As Krishna declares to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 18, verses 36-39

“…now please hear from Me about the three kinds of happiness which the conditioned soul enjoys, and by which he sometimes comes to the end of all distress.

That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.”

That happiness which is derived from contact of the senses with their objects and which appears like nectar at first but poison at the end is said to be of the nature of passion.

And that happiness which is blind to self-realization, which is delusion from beginning to end and which arises from sleep, laziness and illusion is said to be of the nature of ignorance.”

May we rest in the mode of goodness (sattva) and find a deeper happiness.

Have a lovely week

Open Doors – Wednesday 23rd September 2015

At Avanti House, we love to set ourselves challenges!principal-MAB-blog-150x150

We move our secondary school quite literally from one end of Harrow to the other, over the summer holiday, and then, less than three weeks into our new home, we await the arrival of what is typically around 1000 visitors – parents and children (year 6) looking to decide whether Avanti House School (secondary phase) is the right school for them. Next Wednesday, 23rd September is indeed our Open Evening for year 6 looking to start year 7 in September 2015. The Open Evening will be held at Beaulieu Drive, Pinner (nearest underground Rayners Lane). This site, where we unpacked and reopened the school only last week, is the excellent, former Heathfield School site. This will become our home for the next two academic years – when in summer 2017,  we look to move to our permanent site, a £25million new build on Whitchurch fields in Stanmore. In September 2016, we shall be joined by Pinner High School, who hold the permanent lease to the former Heathfield site. I and the incoming Principal of PHS, the leadership teams and Trusts will work closely together, brokered by the EFA (Department for Education) and there will be some carefully managed shared facilities (e.g. sports hall), in 2016/17; however, we shall nevertheless operate as two separate schools (around 700 Avanti House and 180 Pinner High) – in separate and secure parts of the building and land, as neighbours. We shall have an opportunity to rehearse this co-location on a small scale, from January – July 2016, when the EFA (DfE) locate part of the Jubilee Academy in the wing of the school that will eventually be occupied by the incoming PHS.

We always look forward to Open Evenings at Avanti House all through school – and to celebrating what makes us so unique alongside the incredible achievements in our short three year history – with now over 700 children in Reception, years 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10. We are the very first primary and secondary, Hindu designated faith school in the country and a large one too; by 2020, we expect to have 1680 pupils and students across the two sites (primary phase in Common Road, Stanmore, secondary phase in Whitchurch). As a Hindu faith school of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Bhakti tradition, we are a wholly vegetarian school, where children routinely practice yoga, meditation and through prayer and discussion, focus every day on developing the six values of character formation; gratitude, empathy, respect, integrity, courage and self-discipline. There is soon to be an altar room, with the installed deities of Sri Sri Radha Krishna. In our final build, a larger altar overlooks a covered courtyard. For some families, the faith-dimension of the school is something that attracts them a great deal. For others, it is  the values themselves and for all it is the outstanding behaviour and positive attitudes of all our youngsters allowing for the excellent teaching, learning and progress that takes place in every lesson and every day. All of this can be read about in our 2014 full Ofsted inspection, where inspectors reported:

  • The behaviour of pupils is outstanding. They are, without exception, respectful and polite. This is because they understand the importance of the school’s core values of leading their own lives and caring for others. New pupils are immediately included, and those with additional needs or who experience difficulty settling in are sensitively inducted until they feel safe.
  • Throughout the school, pupils have exceptionally good attitudes to their education. Teachers capitalise on this to promote good, and frequently rapid, progress in pupils’ learning.
  • Behaviour and support are modelled consistently by all staff who are non-confrontational and respectful. Lessons are almost never disrupted by poor behaviour, and pupils say bullying is very rare, but when it does occur it is dealt with fairly. Analysis of the school’s incident records shows that feelings of both bully and victim are addressed meaningfully to prevent reoccurrences.
  • The school’s work to keep pupils safe is outstanding. The environment is secure and risk assessments are thorough. Pupils know adults care for them. They know how to be safe and understand the potential dangers when using the internet. Rare incidents of unkind text messaging are followed up robustly by teachers and year group tutors.
  • Pupils have a high profile in decision making and they are involved in appointing new staff. They contribute to the school improvement plan. Pupils in primary classes show maturity when assessing their own learning. They are able to articulate why they find some work too easy.
  •  Parents readily gathered around the inspector at the start of the day to share positive views about the school. Older students told inspectors, ‘We can rely on the teachers to look after us and they are all willing to help and they don’t stop until we get it.’ Observations of break times show harmonious relationships between pupils, staff and other adults.
  • Pupils’ attendance is above the national average. Punctuality is good. Rare absence from school is closely monitored. Family support programmes engage some parents to help ensure that their children attend regularly.

Indeed, by no means are all of our students Hindu in origin – we have many students, and across all year groups, who arrive from all faith backgrounds – Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh and also from no particular faith background at all. Our admission criteria does NOT require a Hindu faith background and indeed, we actively encourage children from all backgrounds, who wish to enjoy a safe, highly ordered school, which is values- based, with a rich curriculum and is also high achieving. Families can (although few currently do) of course have their children opt out of faith-based activity (Collective Worship and RE). Where this occurs, we make good provision – alternative learning activities – for those who opt out. As our school grows in size and reputation, we find ourselves taking on an increasing number of students in all year groups and from a variety of backgrounds – they arrive almost daily at the moment as we now have the space to in-fill the smaller older year groups. Avanti House, even now, but certainly once established in our final build, looks to be a highly popular, over subscribed school. Progress in this school has been so excellent over the past three years that we are forecasting, for our first set of GCSE results, who began their courses last week, results that will match and exceed the very best that state schools in Harrow have to offer. 

We may have moved around a lot in our three years since opening, but in every sense – Avanti House School has now arrived.

We look forward to showing you round and talking about the exciting times ahead.

Our value for reflection this term is Gratitude – and at Avanti House, as staff, students and parents we are grateful to all who have made it possible to put this wonderful school on the map and continue to support the school through all of the challenges of site moves, planning and builds. Someone once said that there is no gratitude without patience – they are inextricably linked. Never in any of the schools I have worked over more than 30 years have I come across a student (and parent) body who expresses their honest gratitude quite so well and so frequently. And the staff – teacher and support staff – reciprocate. The following quote distills for me what one of the things that makes teaching, learning and the life of the student at Avanti House so compelling.

Have a lovely week

teaching

Welcome Back

Happy Janmashtami and welcome back to the new academic year.principal-MAB-blog-150x150

New Key Stages

This one, our fourth since the school opened in 2012, promises to be a really exciting one; where everything really starts to come together. With the new arrivals in Reception and Year 7, we now have over 700 pupils and students on roll and over 70 members of staff. Over a very busy summer of moves, our primary phase has now moved to its final resting place at Common Road, in Stanmore. Over a year of reconstruction and new build will follow at the site, however, as over £2 million is spent bringing the site and the facilities up to the high standard of a modern primary phase. All this as children move into year 3 and we therefore have our first key stage 2 cohort. Similarly, nearly 100 students in the secondary phase move into key stage 4 – and have begun their GCSE courses – with targets set that, if achieved and we are confident that they will be, would position the school, in its first year, with the best outcomes for children’s attainment in Harrow state schools and considerably better than national averages. There is of course two years of hard work by staff and dedicated learning by students – but this is what we come to routinely expect at Avanti House. Already nearly 40 students in year 9 secured a level 2 pass (equivalent standard to A*-C at GCSE) in the Algebra Award over the summer – two years before they take their GCSE in mathematics.

Communication Breakdown

The move of the secondary phase to the Pinner site, for the next two years, also took place over the summer break and still continues – this was a significant challenge to achieve over the summer – with contractors working up to the last minute on renovation and reconstruction; to a site that had been empty for over 18 months. There remain a lot of issues to sort out but the main one at the moment is the breakdown in communication between BT and Virgin – leaving the secondary site without a reliable internet connection at secondary (and therefore IP telephony system, meaning that our normal telephone number is not a direct line to the secondary site – it actually still goes to the primary site). Temporarily, therefore, until this matter is resolved, we have set up a direct mobile number for secondary – 07468474231 – until further notice. The school and the Trust are working at every level to endeavour to have this wholly unsatisfactory situation quickly rectified.

Whitchurch to Follow

As we settle into our new homes, the DfE (EFA) and the Trust busy themselves with putting the finishing touches to the planning application for our main build at Whitchurch fields. At this point in time, the intention is to submit this planning application this month. As ever, as the process unfolds and hopefully, no later than early in the spring term, the ground is broken, I shall keep families and friends of Avanti House School up to speed.

Open Evening: Pinner – Wednesday 23rd September 6pm

Very soon – on Wednesday 23rd September – we host our Open Evening for parents of year 6 students, looking to consider the school for September 2016. This will be held at the Pinner site in Beaulieu Drive as when that year 7 join us, we shall be remaining on the site for one more year. Admissions will still use the distance from Whitchurch Fields when it comes to ‘distance from school site’ calculations – as it did this year. If you have a child in year 6, we look forward to welcoming you, from 6pm on Wednesday 23rd September.

Welcome Back

Children settled quickly back into school – in spite of the changed locations – and in the case of the secondary site, were visibly liberated by the impressive facilities that we have inherited. New year 7s already feel at home and we look forward to welcoming our new Reception children in the coming weeks. Prior to this, teachers enjoyed two days preparation (a lot of unpacking and setting up!) and training – including a warm welcome from His Grace Sruti Dharma Das – the Temple President at Bhaktivedanta Manor (also a member of our Governing Body).

With more clubs, including sports teams, fixtures at last with local schools, the introduction of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, more visits and visitors and an application to launch a CCF Cadet Force later in the year, we look forward to making good use of the vastly improved facilities as Avanti House School moves into a phase of consolidation. No longer a ‘new kid on the block’ – Avanti House is most certainly now on the landscape in Harrow – one of the Government’s flagship Free Schools, which the Prime Minister described when our CEO and myself joined other Free School leaders at Downing Street last week – as ‘pioneers’. It certainly feels that way much of the time – and securing the future and success of this popular and now high-achieving school is very much a labour of love – and a massive team effort on all sides.

As we leave the period of Janmashtami, the birthday of Sri Krishna and as we throw ourselves into yet another exciting year of together, taking Avanti House School to another level, I shall leave with an appropriate quote from the Bhagavad Gita – the Song of God – here Krishna is reminding Arjuna to focus on his duty, his dharma and not to get caught up in the outcome – the ‘fruits’. It is the effort and the journey that is important – the ‘destination’ and the ‘glory’ less so. This encourages me to remain detached when things get tough – and to ‘regroup’, bounce back again and try something different – focus only on the ‘duty’ and not the ‘result’, for so much is outside of our own control. Powerful thoughts.

Have a lovely week

Jai Shri Krishna

“You are only entitled to the action, never to its fruits.slide 10 Arjuna and Krishna

Do not let the fruits of action be your motive, but do not attach yourself to nonaction.

Bhagavad Gita — Chapter 2, verse 47