Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

It’s getting cosy in here…


After a year working as essentially a one-man band setting up a new school, Andy Yarrow is ecstatic at the thought of having the whole leadership team in place, even if their management suite is a Portakabin...

I am so excited! Having been in the job for a year now, and for most of that time being more or less a one-man band, from the start of the summer term the entire leadership team will be in post. Never before have I appreciated the importance of team leadership as much as I do now after a year without.

Our executive management suite will be a cosy second-hand Portakabin in a car park. If that bonding experience doesn't serve to draw out unparalleled degrees of inspiration and creativity from the team, what will?

We still have about 30 policies to write by June, a somewhat surreal task given the more organic way in which policies are normally devised or reviewed. We also have to finish designing the year 7 curriculum for next year, doing our best to involve faculty and curriculum leaders who have been appointed but do not take up post until September, four days before the students themselves arrive.

The first year's curriculum has to be adapted for our compact, temporary accommodation: a few more Portakabins in the aforementioned car park. We will certainly take advantage of our central London location to include as many off-site learning activities as possible.

Temporary accommodation can have its advantages too. In each of the temporary classrooms we will be trialling different furniture designs and layouts and various ICT solutions.

This will enable the students and staff to be genuinely involved in deciding which furniture and ICT to use in the permanent building from September 2010. An entire module of work for the first year 7 cohort will be based around this evaluation and decision-making process.

Despite my rant last term about the variable quality of applications from prospective staff, and despite quite remarkable variations in the number of candidates for posts in different subject specialisms, we have been able to appoint some outstanding staff.

The opportunity to set up a faculty or curriculum area in a brand new school, free of baggage and with a remit to encourage innovation and creativity, is clearly an attractive one.

There are a few appointments still to be made. When a school can only have about 15 teachers, including the leadership team, appointments need to be filled in a strict order, otherwise the school could end up with four historians and no geographers.

We also now know how many statemented children will be coming to us, so can proceed with appointing teaching assistants. At one point it looked like 12. Perhaps a little high out of a year group of 162?

After a period of fairly frank negotiations, we've settled for a rather more reasonable five. Perhaps a brand new school is rather attractive to the parents of statemented children too?

On the day that the local children and their parents were notified of the secondary school places that they had been allocated, suddenly the impact of this new academy hit home.

This part of London has never had its own local co-educational comprehensive school before. Local primary school children have until now been scattered to the four winds and have often not been allocated places until much later in the year. This year, however, nearly all of the local children secured places at the academy.

By half way through the morning in question, I had received several emails from colleagues at local primary schools telling what a difference this had made to the atmosphere in their schools compared to this fateful day in previous years.

But, like most academies, this is no 'bog standard comprehensive': an extended school day, one-to-one coaching, a two-year Key Stage 3, and very high expectations with regards to student conduct and parental support. Let's hope they know what they've let themselves in for...

Andy Yarrow is ASCL Council representative for London and, since April 2008, principal of a new academy that opens for year 7 pupils in September 2009. He was previously head of a London comprehensive school of 1,450 students.

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