Throughout planning and pre-opening, along with our directors and founders, I have attended many networking and training events for free school proposers, some organised by the Dept for Education, others by the charity New Schools Network and one organised by journalist Toby Young the co-founder of West London Free School.
It has been inspiring to hear the experiences of the first free school pioneers, to be able to ask specific questions on the nuts and bolts of opening a new school, although guidance and support are available, the process doesn’t come with a comprehensive handbook as each project has its own unique challenges.
But what really stands out, and the one thing that all free schools have in common, is they are all very different.
So it is saddening to see the whole free school movement under such ferocious attack from every corner of the media, when just one free school receives a damning Ofsted report.
At WNA we’re approaching our first half term, just 6 weeks into our first year and the task of recruiting children for 2014 is already underway, but we knew what we had signed up for, and so did the parents and carers who continued to support and believe in us when we weren’t even sure where the school would be sited. (The open days are Thurs 7thand Sat 9th of November by the way!)
During planning with staff for our first parents evening next week, it’s incredible to take stock and see just how far our first cohort have already come, the progress they have made is amazing, they have all settled in to routines, most have began to make friends, learnt to take turns and share, the initial tears and anxiety from a few when their parents drop them off has dissipated, we have created a warm, happy atmosphere where children are comfortable and relaxed to enable them to start learning through our play based curriculum.
On a recent visit by my mentor and WNA critical friend Bernard Trafford, head of the Royal Grammar School (RGS), one of the leading independent schools in the North east, he said in his report :
“I’m in awe of the amount of consistent work and patience that the staff must have put in to achieve so much just 5 weeks in. The children are all (at least as seen on my visit) happy, mostly confident, keen to explore and to learn. Wonderful things were being done with paint, especially when mixed with shaving foam! ”
We have such a talented team of teaching staff supporting the learning, the strategic direction has been set and is overseen by an experienced and forward thinking governing body who are made up of education and business leaders, we are in a privileged position to be able to set up a school from scratch, so we can innovate and push boundaries in education; and are all deeply committed to ensuring we achieve our goals and targets at every opportunity, so we can share best practice and help raise standards.
When Mr Gove talks about innovation in education, that’s exactly what we are creating in one of the most deprived communities in the north east, the acid test will be whether Ofsted’s appetite for endless testing and benchmarking, can appreciate and buy into our progress based on a bespoke curriculum inspired by Reggio Emilia and the forest school movement, rather than the ‘safe’ option of National Curriculum targets.
But as the blog title says, there is no room for complacency, the entire team are all acutely aware that we are under a tremendous amount of scrutiny, not only from the DfE, Ofsted and the media, but more importantly from the parents and carers who trust us to deliver the education we promised, ‘achieving excellence through an exciting, engaging and fun learning experience’.
Susan Percy – Headteacher