In the summer of 2020, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to take on the position of Principal at Avanti Gardens School in Bristol, a formerly inadequate school in my local community. Below are a collection of my personal reflections on the improvement journey so far:
Establishing a collective culture
I have quickly established that without a collective and integrated culture, academies cannot begin to pull in the same direction to achieve success. It was clear to me that my first priority was to re-set the culture to agree on collective values that meant we understood the mission and vision of our school. Collective ‘buy in’ was important to agree on the expectations that we hold ourselves to – we formulated a cultural fit document that listed behaviours and values that we agreed were the fabric of our culture and reflected our direction for improvement. This has since been a tool that has helped all members of the team to reflect on performance and motivation during challenging times – I can’t recommend a cultural fit agreement enough.
Lesson learnt: seek collective agreement on high expectations.
During the summer of 2020 I set about designing a relevant, aspirational and logical curriculum that ensures knowledge and skills are mapped across the breadth of the school. I was happy with the piece of work, but knew that the implementation was more important to ensure that pupils with inconsistent starting points were able to access the learning without disadvantage. We used low-stakes testing, such as quizzing, to obtain data on pupils’ curriculum knowledge and understanding, enabling our staff to tailor the learning so that all pupils are pushed to make excellent progress. My advice would be not to underestimate the effectiveness of testing to understand the learning needs of pupils, without which we are teaching blind.
Lesson learnt: the curriculum must be informed by the context of the school and the needs of pupils. Nothing ‘off-the-peg’ will ever be good enough.
Those lucky enough to have visited our amazing school site, have been awe-struck by the potential of our former university campus. Our primary school boasts facilities such as a theatre, art studio, wood workshop, pottery studio, sports hall, dining hall and training space, to name a few. Our curriculum will exploit these amazing resources. The site itself has required urgent work to ensure the pupils are safe in all areas of the school; as I write we have building projects on our roof, EYFS playground and perimeter fencing. The support from the Avanti Schools Trust has been superb in securing funding to make lasting improvements to our community primary school. The team and I have focussed closely on the learning environment to allow pupils to focus, be inspired and to feel that their effort is celebrated.
Lesson learnt: keep project managers close – they tend to want the best for our children deep down!
Recruitment and alignment
For substantial improvement, all staff must fully invest in the mission and vision of the school. Everyone should be striving to improve, founded in a set of values that binds the team together so that challenges do not divert progress.
Lessons learnt: make onboarding a priority, so that everyone knows the direction of travel.
Looking back on my first term, I’m grateful to Trust colleagues for their guidance and my team for trusting me in leading our school. Onwards and upwards!