Beyond the Classroom

Beyond the Classroomprincipal-MAB-blog-150x150

Our school is now in its fourth year. We are well established, oversubscribed (ready to enjoy in September 2016 full rolls in both Reception and year 7) and we start to enjoy some economies of scale (and a more experienced body of staff). On the back of all of this it is wonderful to be able to start to roll out a more comprehensive plan of trips, overnight visits and visiting speakers to both the primary and secondary phases. This has been one of the concerns of our earliest parents – and always one of the challenges faced by new and small schools across the land. So this academic year, in addition to a range of local, subject-based secondary trips (theatre etc.), which have been taking place for some time, there are some more ambitious visits and exciting visitors being planned across both phases for this academic year and next.

  • Year 7 to Isle of Wight – May
  • Year 8 to Isle of Wight – June
  • Year 9 trip to Belgium – July
  • Year 10 Barcelona – summer
  • Skiing trip (for year 10/11) – next academic year
  • Key Stage 3 Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre – next academic year
  • Primary: inviting people in – courses/workshops  e.g. Sublime Science
  • A range of visitors from local business and industry to support the year 9 careers and options process.
  • St Albans Abbey – year 3
  • Willow Farm – Reception
  • Harrow Museum – Year 2

The Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme is also now well underway, being led by Head of DT and Outdoor Learning, Mr Patel – and the expedition is being planned. In a couple of weeks, I am due to visit Harrow Public School to meet the Headteacher to hear all about their their Cadet Force (CCF) – we look forward to launching the same; the Government have yet to release new opportunities for us to launch our own CCF as yet. With increasing numbers of school sports teams, weekly visits across both sites by visitors from the local, regional and business communities, as we head towards nearly 1000 students across both sites in September, we really can start to plan for and enjoy what other, larger, more well established schools, simply take in their stride. The importance of taking education outside of the classroom cannot be overstated and we have plans to extend these opportunities even further over the next couple of years. If parents/carers are looking to find out more, perhaps volunteer to support or indeed make some suggestions regarding trips and visits, then our Assistant Principal who oversees all of this is Mr. Nash.

Countdown to Planning Committee Meeting

Wednesday February 17th finally marks the date when the Harrow Planning Department will be meeting to consider the planning application for the £20+million new build for our secondary school, at the site on Whitchurch Fields. The EFA have now confirmed that this will take place. Regrettably, this falls during half term and as a result it may be that many will not be in a position to be physically present at the time of the discussion/meetings. Whilst this is not essential – and indeed there is no scope for spontaneous contribution to the discussion (all of this has to be pre-planned) – if local Whitchurch residents who are parents of children in or soon to join the school then you are encouraged to turn up (we shall soon publish timelines so those who would like to turn up will know approximately when it will be).

Charity Cycle to Bruges

Key members of the Avanti House staff are planning charitable cycling event. Head of History, Mr Heffernan and Head of PE Mr Hindes (and the rest of Team Bruges) will leave sunny London on the 1st of April heading for the town known as the ‘face of lace’. The Cycle will run over 2 days and the team will be cycling 190 miles in this time. Day 1 will be riding from London to Dover and day 2 riding from Calais to Bruges.

The team are raising money for Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice who are a community based hospice service providing support for children and young people with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions and their families in North London. They have provided care and support to 178 families, 147 children and 245 siblings.

More information about the charity can be found in the link below.

http://www.noahsarkhospice.org.uk/about-us/summary.aspx

We ask that you please support Team Bruges to reach their donation goal by donating to their just giving page.

https://www.justgiving.com/biketobrugespema

A real act of compassion for a very worthy cause – thanks in advance to those who donate and good luck to our brave riders.

I end with a reflection on compassion and recognising our own compassion towards the difficulties that others face – their pain and suffering; whether on our own doorstep, in our families, our neighbourhood or on the other side of the world – these difficulties are only
truly understood when seen through the filter of our own lives and our common humanity. Therein lies true empathy and true compassion. It is true that love binds us but so too does pain and suffering; a quote from one of my very favourite teachers from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Ani Pema Chodron.

Have a lovely week

Hare Krishna

Mark

Advertisements

The Bigger Picture…

 

Avanti – High on Valuesprincipal-MAB-blog-150x150

Avanti Schools are special places. In my own career in teaching and school leadership – well over 30 years now, you rarely come across a school where the curriculum that is offered to children is so very well thought through and genuinely holistic. By this I mean, for example, that when we have an established set of core values, which we do (Gratitude, Empathy, Self-Discipline, Integrity, Respect and Courage), whenever we start to think about planning anything for the school, we consider these values first and foremost. This could be a theme within a mathematics scheme of work, a speech a student will deliver to thank a visiting speaker for their time, an assembly plan, a meeting with members of the local community to consider how we can improve parking traffic flow at the beginning or end of the day. In short, whether considering students, staff, curricula, the community or other stakeholders, our values really do lie at the heart of everything that we do and that we promote. Quite often in schools, ideas such as ‘core values’ and even the vision of the school itself, become either things that were discussed around a board room table and now sit in a prospectus or equally poorly, ideas to ‘bolt on’ to everything that we do – a sort of afterthought. At Avanti, our three pillars (Educational Excellence, Character Formation and Spiritual Insight) and our six values (above) lie at the very heart. When, then ‘things happen’ – for example a group of younger students behaving poorly on a local bus – forgetting themselves and using inappropriate language in public; leading to a complaint lodged by a member of the community to me – our starting point is our values. Indeed, the following day, with very little promotion, more than a dozen children came forward – having witnessed the short but intolerable incident or to actually own up; feeling ashamed that they had ‘broken one or more of our values’ and telling us which ones! To this point, I ask all parents to please remind their children, as appropriate, that their conduct in public, to and from school, should be as exemplary as it is in school and no doubt at home too.

Food Matters

The Avanti Schools Trust is growing. We have four schools open already and a fifth one due to open in Croydon this coming September. In March we are to bid to open further schools, with our sights set on at least 15 schools by 2020. To this end, content with the vision and the way in which we run our highly successful, existing schools all of which are popular with parents, we are presently putting together an Operating Model for a ‘typical’ Avanti School. It is exciting, as the only secondary (all-through) school within the Trust at the moment, for us to be at the leading edge of thinking about how we would like our Trust schools to evolve – in their uniqueness and their excellence in provision. One of the Trust conditions of course, is the partaking, by ALL students in a health, hot, lacto-vegetarian meal each day. This requirement is explained at some length even during our well-attended Open Evenings. The fundamental premise is a Hindu faith-based one; that we come together, as a community, to share prashadam – blessed food. Packed lunches are not permitted in any Avanti school – except where there is an extremely highly sensitive, doctor/hospital notification of a serious medical issue that would warrant modifications to be made by our caterers that are really beyond their scope. We have very few of these. I eat in the secondary canteen every day – I do a duty there every day and I talk with children about their experience of the food, every day. Since we have arrived at the Pinner site, with our own kitchen facilities, there is no doubt that the overwhelming response is that the catering provision is much better. There is more choice – an Indian and a western choice each day, a range of 4 – 6 salads of all kinds (bean, pasta, potato, green, cous cous etc.), a pudding and a fruit. There is absolutely no excuse for children to go hungry even when, as happens in ALL schools, a popular option might occasionally run out before the very last students filter through. This does not happen even once every week – less frequently than that. The food is hot, balanced, nutritious and tasty – with additional sauces (chilli, ketchup etc.) frequently available and increasing numbers of staff now choose to come down and eat every day. We have had more than a dozen parents, whose children have raised a concern about the food, join us for lunch – often arranged at the last minute – and they have all returned really positive about the work of the Trust caterers, Govindas – their Catering Manager, Mr. Miles and new chef (this year), Shyam. Of course, as in any school there remain a handful of children not altogether happy with the provision – and their parents too – which is difficult when it is compulsory. I am encouraging these parents to engage with us and most importantly with the catering team, to improve the service, that we might have 100% satisfied customers. Food matters. This is our goal. To this end, Mr. Miles is soon to release dates and times for a parental workshop he hopes to hold between now and the Easter break. Watch this space!

An Englishman’s Home – His Castle…

Whilst we await the outcome of the February planning committee on our final secondary school build, at Whitchurch, our Head of History, Mr Heffernan, has been busy with year 7, building castles for a competition.

A word from Mr. Heffernan:

This year the history department tasked all year 7 students with the creation of castles. The castles could be in the form of motte and bailey, stone-keep or concentric. After much deliberation and analysis of 120 castles, our GCSE history students determined that the winners were-

 1st– Maya for her concentric castle

2nd– Ak for a motte and bailey castle with a stone keep

3rd– 2 awards

i) Janvi for her motte and bailey castle

ii) Kria for her motte and bailey castle

Congratulations to the winners and all year 7 students who took part. A phenomenal effort from the year group.

I have seen some of these castles and they are wonderful – with some students possessing a keen eye for detail and being able to talk about the different types of castle really well. Here are some winning pictures…

As we are talking about buildings and fortresses, an appropriate quote from the Bible as a reflection for this week – perhaps our refuge might be less about buildings or even food…

The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.

Psalm 18.2

 

Jai Sri Krishna!

 

Welcome to Our Sixth Form…

Planning for Post-16principal-MAB-blog-150x150

It seems quite unbelievable to me that, at Avanti House School, still such a very young school, that we are already starting to think about and plan for our post-16 provision. Our sixth form is of course due to open in 20 months; in September 2017. When we open our doors to the sixth form, hopefully the day we move into Whitchurch, we hope to attract students from across the region. They will of course join those in our current year 10, our first ever cohort of 100, who plan to stay on to complete their Avanti House journey. This might seem to be quite a long time into the future but, as I have been through this process already as Head and Deputy in two previous schools, I am only too aware of the importance of making an early start on this journey.

Teach First

Firstly, our teaching staff. We have a cadre of highly qualified graduates from top universities – in English, mathematics, the sciences, humanities and other areas – we can celebrate this fact (and indeed, as part of our recruitment drive to our sixth form we plan to do this as we pen-portrait our excellent body of staff). However, if they have been with Avanti House for two or three years, then they have either not had experience of post-16 teaching and learning for a while or perhaps, if newly qualified when they arrived, no experience of post-16 teaching and learning whatsoever. Because of this, we are already planning to link teachers up – starting with our heads of subject and faculty – with sixth form teachers and leaders in other schools locally. We shall also be sending them on day courses and conferences to help to bring them up to speed. One thing that is in our favour is that there is more of a level playing field than you might first imagine; post-16 curricula and assessment nationally are undergoing significant changes – so all sixth form staff, in all schools are having to busy themselves with all of the changes.

Fit for Purpose

Secondly, the curriculum – we have to plan for our early provision. Should we focus on for example our specialisms – mathematics (with the sciences of course) and the performing arts, and perhaps work with other schools in Harrow to broaden the curriculum? Or, should we look to invest in offering the broadest curriculum possible in our very first year – knowing that there will likely be expensive, small classes; loss leaders, as the sixth form builds up a head of steam? Perhaps we could look at something entirely different – such as the International Baccalaureate – an internationally recognised alternative to A levels; a broad curriculum – the equivalent of up to 6 A levels and one that provides an easy route in to the top universities both at home and abroad (I introduced the IB Diploma Programme into two schools before – very successfully). These kinds of discussions need to be had – at the level of teachers and leaders in the school, with our existing students, with parents and of course ultimately decisions made by our own Regional Governing Body and the Trust. No decisions are made yet, but early discussions are already underway – as they are about the possible early appointment of our Head of Sixth Form – an Assistant Principalship, to get the planning seriously underway.

Innovation and Internship

Another dimension to the curriculum is work-related learning and work-skills for life; resilience, leadership, networking, enterprise, entrepreneurship etc. how might we deliver these (or more to the point continue to nurture character and enterprise in our young people) in readiness to thrive rather than merely survive in the world? One approach I have used in a previous school – we moved the entire curriculum into the longer six hour/lesson days of Monday to Thursday and had the entire cohort out at work by way of a Friday internship. They either stayed with one company (their aspiration for example to become a lawyer played into this) or moved between sectors over 3 terms. Others were supported in developing enterprise projects. Yet others in paid work – freeing up evenings and weekends, when sixth formers often work, for their studies. Perhaps this could be done in year 12 and students return to extend their curriculum and complete their studies in year 13. There is ample time with our longer days at Avanti to support this kind of relevant innovation. Again no decisions made but an interesting discussion.

Infrastructure

Thirdly, infrastructure and facilities. No problem there. As we prepare to build and move into our £25 million new build in Whitchurch, hopefully by September 2017, we still have a lot of capital funding available to provide for state of the art facilities across a range of subjects.

Higher Education Modules

Finally, we really must do more than just recognise that our students are very able. We need to make absolutely sure that we stretch them as far as we possibly can. We are already talking about getting the support of local and regional universities and putting on higher education modules (first year university modules of work) in key subjects – mathematics, English, the sciences and humanities for example to really stretch our most able.

Although seemingly quite daunting, these are exciting times. Our first year group through, our current year 10 are forecast to perform in their GCSEs at a level which, as a cohort, is unprecedented in state-funding schools in Harrow and which will place the school in the top 5-10% of schools nationally for attainment and progress. These same students will hopefully form the very foundation of what we anticipate will become a similarly high-performing sixth form provision in no time at all. The year that I left my previous Headship – at Hazeley Academy – then a nine year old school, we were finally leading the field in Milton Keynes and similarly performing, at GCSE and post-16, in the top 10% of schools nationally. That was a fantastic achievement for the school community and a testament to the work we did collectively in building bridges between the family and the school. The school continues to thrive. With our wonderful students, at Avanti House, and in particular, with the fantastic support of our very switched-on parents, I am sure we shall achieve this goal in our very first couple of years.

Aspiration

All of the above is all about aspiration. At Avanti House – in common with all Avanti schools we aspire to do the very best by all of our learners. We are dedicated to providing an education that prepares young people for their futures and not our pasts – they enter a world very different from the one any of us did who left school more than even five years ago, let alone 30 or more! And to that end we need to be several steps ahead of ourselves. We need to listen – to our own staff, to children, to families and to local, regional, national and global needs as they change. We need to build the highly effective teams in schools that recognise the challenges that we all face. And we need to constantly evaluate and review what we are doing, to ensure that our provision stays relevant.

A relevant quote at this point and to end this week’s blog, might be from the great Hindu sage, Patanjali – author of the very famous Yoga sutras.

Have a wonderful week

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world.

Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

Patanjali

Happy New Year

I hope all of our families and friends had a wonderful Christmas and wishprincipal-MAB-blog-150x150 all a very prosperous 2016.

Planning Committee

For Avanti House, the early months of 2016 will of course be highly significant as our November-submitted planning application for the £25 million build at Whitchurch fields finally sees the light of day; to be considered at the Harrow Planning Committee meeting on February 17th.

Just before we broke for the holiday, the Department for Education (EFA) agreed with the Avanti Schools Trust to set the committee at this date given that with something of a turnover of senior officers at the planning department, Harrow Planning Department might benefit from more time to consider thoroughly, what is a complex and significant application for the community.

Our contractors have nevertheless stated that, if the application is granted in February, they should still have no trouble handing over our new building, in time for the opening of our first sixth form, in September 2017. In spite of such reassurances, I have already started working with the Headteacher Designate of Pinner High School on considering how it would work in a (hopefully never to surface) scenario, where Avanti House have to remain at the Pinner site for the early part of the 2017/18 academic year. By this time Avanti House secondary alone will be close to 1000 students strong, years 7 – 12. We shall keep everyone up to speed via this website and blog in the weeks and months ahead.

Friends of Avanti House

Last week I was privileged to meet with the Chair and Vice Chair of our wonderful Parent & Teachers’ Association, the Friends of Avanti House (FOAH). Yogi and Hemang joined me for over an hour to talk through and be commended on their successes in 2015 and to think carefully about plans for the year ahead.

Yogi and Hemang reiterated their thanks to parents and staff with regard to the most recent initiative; the Hamper event just before the end of the year. Their official communications only went out on Friday 4th of Dec and yet, within 5 school days the Avanti Hampers Team were overwhelmed with generous voluntary donations that flooded in. They reported that donations included confectionery items, savoury items, staple foods, homemade baked biscuits, carton juices to name but a few. They also spoke about having received non-food items; puzzle books, candles, watches and perfumes. They estimated that £700 was around the total of donations. With an additional and generous £200 sponsorship from Hira Constructions around £1000 of donations were raised. Their subsequent visits to residential and nursing homes generated lots of interest.

Donations were arranged into hampers and were delivered by the children of Avanti House to the elderly, in three nursing homes. The children were extremely excited but as is always the case, conducted themselves as true ambassadors of the school – and as part of a group or solo sang Hare Krishna Bhanjans, Gayatri Mantra, Hanuman Chalis and Christmas carols – alongside poetry recitations. More details (and many wonderful photographs) of this and other FOAH drives can be found at their website.

I look forward to attending the next meeting of FOAH, at Stanmore on Monday evening and commend them on all of their wonderful work raising both funds and the profile of the school.

ISKCON – 50 Years Celebrations

As we welcome in the new year, 2016 continues to mark the 50th anniversary (1965/66) of the inauguration of our founding spiritual community, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). We pride ourselves on being a fully inclusive school, attracting children from families across the many Hindu sects represented in north London as well as many from all other faiths and none. However, it was originally a group of ISKCON devotees, led by our Trust CEO Nitesh Gor who founded the iFoundation – our faith partner. We would like to encourage all of our families and friends, if inclined, to join in with the festivities and the celebrations, at Bhaktivedanta Manor as we continue to acknowledge 50 years since His Divine Grace Swami A C Bhaktivedanta Praphupada took a ship from India to New York at the age of over 70, suffering two heart attacks along the way and established the very earliest outpost for ISKCON. You can find out more about the activities and celebrations at the Manor at this website.

I will leave you with a few of the very many inspirational words spoken and written by His Divine Grace, the founder of ISKCON ; these ones on the theme of the goal of education – being ultimately about our eternal connection to the awe and wonder of the life we live and the inspiration we draw from it. Our connection to the Divine – however we interpret that -is something to be revived by us all – whether we relate to the Divine ultimately as Krishna, though the very many names of God or through Mother Nature/Gaia/the Universe herself.

I wish you all a wonderful week

prabhupad