Mixed Messages…

Coach Incident – Isle of Wight

One of the coaches on our year 8 trip to the Isle of Wight had an incident on Friday afternoon. It did not turn out to be a serious incident and all parents/carers were contacted by the party to reassure them. Deputy Principal Mrs. Morris was heading up this coach. There were other staff on board and 58 pupils heading to a castle visit. The coach then had a low speed collision with an object on a narrow road. No other vehicles or pedestrians were involved.

Nobody was hurt in the incident. The outside layer of some of the coach windows at the side were damaged but there was no damage or glass inside the coach. The children were quickly and safely evacuated, obviously a little shocked but with no sign of major distress. The party then walked, on a footpath the short distance to their castle destination. Parents/carers were all being contacted by the party and reassured soon after the incident.

A new coach (and driver) were to pick them up from the castle and return them to where they were staying. All have now arrived home safely.

Working Togetherprincipal-MAB-blog-150x150

As both a father and a teacher I frequently think about the confusing and mixed messages that the adult world seems to offer our children. At Avanti House for example, we espouse the six values of ‘respect’, ‘integrity’, ‘courage’, ’empathy’, ‘gratitude’ and ‘self-discipline’. We talk about them with students in tutor time, in collective worship, in PRE and citizenship lessons and we remind students about them on the corridors and in the playgrounds. Our students understand these values and much of the time seem really pleased to have such a framework to set the standard of conduct at school. They really do, in large measure, live and breathe these values at Avanti House. However, the very same children, fast becoming young adults in our midst, must oftentimes think as though they are surrounded by quite the opposite. Whether it is in the media of entertainment – soap operas, blockbuster movies, computer games, magazines and the like, or whether it is real-world news; they witness cheating, lying, backbiting, aggression right up to graphic violence and terrorist threats or actions.

The mixed messages we send the next generation abound – and in an information age, these messages are relentless. This is why, I think, that schools will only succeed in nurturing globally aware, socially confident and enterprising young adults if we work closely with parents and families. There has to be a consistent, purposeful, optimistic and positive (yet realistic) message that we send to those who are inheriting the successes and failures of our generation and the one before it. Indeed, in my 33 years teaching and leading in a wide variety of schools and particularly where youngsters have been troubled, challenged or disadvantaged in some way the success in moving things to a better place rests entirely in the relationship between the school, the family and the child – it is a three-way relationship and it must, I believe, lie at the very heart of everything that we do. Schools cannot work in isolation – children’s characters are substantively formed in the first 9 years of their lives – half of which they spent entirely at home.

Nor can families work in isolation – children from age 4/5 – 16/19 spend two thirds of their waking life at school. In the very best schools, this time is a partnership – where values are shared, support is mutual and there is an understanding, as in any relationship, that things do not always go according to plan – but that children get one chance at an excellent education so we should be compelled to keep trying for them.Radhanath-swami-on-parenting

Some things in the news are almost impossible to explain – and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Jo Cox; who was so senselessly taken away from them last week in an unimaginable act – a public servant who only gave to others.

At Avanti House parents, students and the school sign a Home School Agreement. This sets out exactly what the parent and the child can expect of the school and exactly what the school expects of the child and his/her family. Most schools have such an agreement. Our current Home School Agreement is found at this link: Home School Agreement May 2016 v2 1. I think you will agree, it is quite an elaborate agreement for the parent and the school alike; whereas for the student, it is quite simple:

  • Behave impeccably and follow the six school values of Respect, Integrity, Courage, Empathy, Gratitude and Self-Discipline;
  • Work hard in my studies – in school and at home and in partnership with school staff;
  • Look after my school environment and its equipment.

School Lunchesvegan-pad-thai-e1429117378854

One of the non-negotiables in the Home School Agreement is that of parents agreeing to pay the daily school lunch fee (currently £2.35) for the healthy, nutritious and tasty lacto-vegetarian meal that is served in our restaurant each day.

These meals are cooked freshly on site by a subsidiary company of the Avanti Schools Trust  – Govinda’s and the meals are blessed as prasadam. We talk often with students about receiving this food with gratitude and respect, with a sense of offering and of eating together and not wasting food. Govinda’s continues to work hard to listen to the views of youngsters as to which foods they prefer to eat (within the faith-scope of an onion/mushroom-free facto-vegetarian context) and what are the less popular choices. Our school lunch provision has come a long way this year and we are still looking to work with students and Govinda’s to ensure that it continues to improve.

Voluntary Contributions

Are-school-trips-worth-th-007A number of parents have asked recently about ‘paying for trips, visits’ and the like. UK Education law is very simple in this area – schools cannot charge for any activity that takes place mostly during school time (in our case 8am – 4.30pm; Monday to Friday. If most (51%+) of a trip, visit or residential takes place outside of this time, then schools are able to charge. The charges have to be reasonable and competitive.

If a trip, visit or residential is wholly or mainly taking place during the school day then it cannot be charged for – but the school can still ask for a voluntary contribution. There must be no pressure to comply and no reason need be given for choosing to not contribute. If the contributions gathered do not cover the cost of a trip and the school has not budgeted to subsidise it, then the school might have to go ahead and cancel/refund. We are changing our paperwork for when we ask for voluntary contributions, so that there can be no doubt about this.

Parent View and Student Surveys

One of the ways that a school can gather some intelligence on how parents/carers and students view the education on offer is through a survey. We plan to run a full student end of year survey within the next few weeks and results will be published on our website and in this blog. Conveniently, Ofsted put a Parental Survey up on their website, called Parent View. My thanks to over 70 parents who have recently completed this survey – we had hoped for a lot more (there are 700 of you, even if only one parent completes the survey) but we are grateful to those who have. During parents’ evenings, starting with year 7 coming up, we are going to have older students showing parents how to get onto this site so that they can see it only takes a few minutes to complete. The majority of questions scored well over 90% strongly agreeing or at least agreeing. However, it appears as though ‘homework’ and ‘reports to parents’ are the main two areas where less than 80% (around 76%) agreed or strongly agreed that these were in a good place. But one parent is more than 1% with less than 100 respondents so far. Once we hit the 200 parent respondent mark, we shall consider carefully how to then respond to this survey as a school. If you have yet to get online and complete the 5 minute survey (anonymous) you can register here

quran-quote-peace-meditateTo end. An inspirational quote from the Quran during this festival of Ramadan – a reminder to us to tread gently, offer peace, to never stop learning about ourselves and to put the needs of others before our own – even when we are faced with unreasonable problems (or unreasonable people).

Have a lovely week

 

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Taking a Deep Breath…

Welcome Back

principal-MAB-blog-150x150Welcome back. I hope that our friends and families enjoyed a restful half-term break. The first week back has been frantic as we set off on the last half term of this academic year. At the moment most of what I seem to be doing is interviewing candidates for jobs from September. These interviews are across all key stages and in most subject areas – for our still growing school. We are also replacing some last minute resignations as some of our existing colleagues look to move on for a host of reasons – (closer to home, abroad, moving with the family, taking some time out to travel or for promoted positions to name but a few!).

Once all new teacher and leader appointments have been made we shall announce the staffing changes for September and introduce families and friends to our new colleagues. We have made some fantastic appointments in all areas. In addition to this, we are welcoming a number of volunteers to the school, both at primary and secondary and for a number of reasons – from the long-overdue re-opening of our library at Pinner through to additional support from the Trust for Mr. Halliday in senior leadership at primary. We are always grateful for the time given up by so many, in a voluntary capacity, to support our work at Avanti House. On top of so many things going on at the school, as an existing, registered Ofsted Inspector (a significant number of inspectors now are practicing Headteachers and Principals) I am bringing so much back from the excellent, ongoing training that we receive, as we prepare ourselves in anticipation of an inspection in the next academic year. Indeed, next Monday evening 20th, I shall sadly have to miss a meeting with September 2016 Reception year parents (Mrs. Morris and Mr. Halliday will of course lead) as I am due to inspect a school, elsewhere in the country, on Tuesday.

Secondary students came back to school buzzing last week, not just about the wonderfully organised Sports Day at the end of the last term (thanks to Mr Hindes and his team) but also about the many wonderful trips, visits and visitors they have enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) in drop down days, activities week and at other times. They are really fired up to make the very best of these opportunities (including international visits) – the curriculum is all the richer for it.

Heatwave and Uniform

A few secondary parents have queried where the school stands with regard to the heat of the building as temperatures creep up to 25 degrees and above. Avanti schools do not currently have a summer uniform. However, at the suggestion of the Trust, we have agreed, when we look as though we are in for a very hot spell, to firstly encourage all students to carry and drink plenty of water and secondly, if they wish, to put their blazers, sweaters, cardigans and tie into their lockers during the day. We have done this for two weeks now with some success. Less than 10% of students choose to enjoy the relaxation of the uniform and they are asked, if keeping their tie and blazer on, to keep their top button done up. Shirts, at all times, must be tucked in and there is no flexibility in any other area of the uniform (shoes etc.) Students MUST wear their full uniform to school in the morning and leave the building wearing it too.

It is getting a little cooler this week, so I anticipate that we shall revert to normal uniform at the start of the week and take it day by day – looking at the medium term forecast. It is important that our students look really smart, but they must also be comfortable for learning and not be at risk of overheating.

Another Performance for the Prime Minister

Hot off the heels of the school’s performance at Wembley a few months ago, for the Prime Ministers of both the UK and India, the Avanti Schools Trust invited our Director of Artistry, Paul Nash, to pull together a troupe of singers to speak and to perform for the Prime Minister, David Cameron at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Haveli at Bhaktivedanta Manor – where devotees are also celebrating 50 years since the beginning of ISKCON.

All that I have so far heard, from those invited guests who were present, report that our youngsters (as usual) did us really proud on the day as they performed excerpts from the forthcoming I’ll Be There performance at the Royal Festival Hall. Our sincere thanks to Paul and others for making this possible and hastily arranging rehearsals.

A short video of the event can be found here.

A Track Record for a Homeless School

As we receive the final acceptances for year 7 places this coming September, it is looking likely, that for the first time in the short history of Avanti House School, we shall have a full intake of 180 students, with a significant waiting list behind this. With other year groups (including year 10 going into 11) still growing – by the week – it says an awful lot about how Avanti House (currently in its third temporary building – and for secondary at the wrong end of town) is viewed by the vast majority of our community of parents, as a school they really want to continue and to flourish – in spite of the challenges faced with premises and planning permission.

These challenges continue. Whilst conditional planning consent was agreed back in February of this year – driven and unbelievably well supported by parent voice – our own ground has yet to be broken and at the current rate of development between the EFA and Harrow Council, which is slow to say the least, we are at risk of not being able to send the contractors in until late Autumn – possibly the very end of the year. All of this is incredibly frustrating and puts at very high risk any hope of being able to move the school to the Whitchurch site until the summer of 2018. We are really fortunate that the Governors and incoming Headteacher of Pinner High School are so supportive of our co-location plans as we plan for a third year here, where we shall be around 1000 in number to Pinner’s 360.

Friends of Avanti House Summer Fair

As we wind up to the end of term, a major event for the whole community will, of course, be the PTA, Friends of Avanti House (FOAH) Summer Fair. This will be held at the Pinner site on Sunday 3rd July from 11am – 3pm. More details on the FOAH website (Click HERE). I would like to take this opportunity to thank FOAH for all of their fantastic work, in my time, over the past two years – entirely voluntary, they have been both ambassadors for the school and excellent fund-raisers too (as well as traffic marshals, providers of refreshments etc. etc.) Let’s hope the weather holds this year!

A Reminder: I’ll Be There…

As mentioned above, a reminder to all our families and friends to quickly book your tickets for our stage performance at the Southbank – the Royal Festival Hall – next month, of the performance of the Mahabharata entitled I’ll be there.

Tickets are now on sale at both the Pinner and Common Road sites (also at Krishna Avanti) for the event taking place on Sunday 17th July.

 

Theme for the Term

The school’s theme for this bhagavad-gita-h-r-m-12-728term is based around our core value of Self Discipline and one of my favourite quotes from the Bhagavad Gita that I used in assemblies last week

I have to remind myself of this optimistic quote all too often in these challenging times.

 

Ramadan e-belgique 1

 

And to our Muslim families and friends, at this wonderful time, we wish you Ramadan Mubarak.

During this time you demonstrate, through your fasting and service, a self-discipline which is devotional.

I wish you all fruitful and wonderful week ahead.