Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

It's all in the preparation


Andy Yarrow brings readers up to date on his second term as principal of a new academy which opens in September 2009. Still no staff or pupils though...

As my second term draws to a close, I continue to be asked, "What on earth have you been doing if you've got no pupils, teachers, parents or buildings to worry about?"

And I continue in my attempts to convince people that I have been just as busy as I ever was leading a school of nearly 1,500. A lot of my time has been spent in planning meetings with the various teams and consultants responsible for delivering aspects of the academy's development and in recruiting students and, at this point, senior staff.

I am certainly now well qualified to give lectures on what to do and what not to do when on interview. Good interview performance is like good examination performance. For 95 per cent of us, it requires serious preparation, revision and practice.

I'm still amazed when some candidates submit letters of application with spelling errors, claims of infallibility or references to schools other than that to which they are applying. And why do others at interview give rambling answers that lack structure, depth and any reference to real life? Take note all ye who intend to apply for promotions this year!

Of course, the best candidates are quite outstanding and much better than me, for sure.

Nearly 900 people turned up to our 'open evenings' (even though we didn't have a school to open) and nearly 600 applications have been received for the first 162 places, all year 7. This is particularly encouraging given the precise nature of the admissions criteria.

Now I just need to recruit outstanding, innovative and inspiring teachers, or should I say 'learning facilitators', to teach them.

My temporary PA and I are still the only employees but we are joined by the first permanent recruit in January, the finance director. The credit crunch brought in an interesting array of applications for this post, including ex-city bankers and the once proud owners of small businesses no longer able to keep afloat.

I also had a flurry of recruitment agencies suggesting that their candidates would be so superior to those applying for the job directly, that I should consider paying them the best part of 20,000 for one of them. Needless to say, I chose not to.

I was actually very encouraged by the strength of the candidates we were able to shortlist.

I will be joined by the rest of the leadership team (vice and assistant principals) after Easter, giving us just one term to finish doing all that is necessary to prepare a school for opening: organising the temporary accommodation and its furniture and ICT, ordering resources, writing outline schemes of work for our year 7 competency-based integrated curriculum, drafting an Academy Development Plan, and compiling policies for everything that moves.

At least producing the timetable shouldn't be too tricky, with only six year 7 learning groups based in their own temporary modular learning spaces (aka Portakabins).

In fact, I have a job list or 'product breakdown schedule' from the DCSF with no less than 200 things to do between now and September.

The challenge is getting the balance right between not being dangerously unprepared whilst equally not having everything so stitched up in advance that the majority of the staff who begin in September, and the students themselves, don't have the chance to contribute their own ideas and feel a genuine sense of partnership in the creation of the academy.

Student voice and leadership are among the foundational principles of this new school, so most of our plans and policies will, by necessity, be subject to review and further consultation.

And we will start with just two school rules: Work Hard and Be Nice. Not original, I know, but then, as I am quickly discovering, the best ideas rarely are.

Andy Yarrow is an ASCL Council representative for London and previously head of a London comprehensive school.

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