I became a headteacher for the first time at the start of September – and I have to admit that the three and a half months since then have passed in something of a blur. The first 120 students of The Swan School, Oxford’s first completely new secondary for some 60 years, passed through the school gates on Monday 9th September. And now, in what seems to be no time at all, we are at Christmas. At some point over the festive period I am hoping to get five minutes to think about the things that went well and the things that could have turned out slightly differently.
There are so many things that fall into the first category. The planning that went into the opening of the school was as meticulous as you would expect if you are the parent of a school-aged child in our part of the city. So, while we faced the distractions and diversions that all schools face during the course of a term, the structures and the people were in place to make sure everything went as well as could have been expected. Talking of people, the enthusiasm and professionalism of the staff have meant that we have been able to deliver on all our plans and all our strategies.
I cannot thank them enough, and I only hope that the staff who will join us in September 2020, (we are recruiting now) will be as capable and committed.
Equally deserving of praise are the first cohort of children and their parents. The students have thrown themselves into what we are doing and the parents have embraced our approach. If you have followed the story of The Swan to any degree you will know that we are doing some things the traditional way, and we are doing some things less traditionally. In both cases, however, we are capitalising on the opportunity that opening a new school presents by adopting the best practices from across education. Sometimes these practices are established – we have rules and we have a strong focus on academic work and sport. Sometimes these practices are innovative, like the later start, long day, free breakfasts, homework done at school and electives (academic and non-academic ‘extras’ that form part of the regular day). But regardless of whether what we have been doing is the sort of thing that students and parents might have expected, or whether they have been faced with something a little different, they have been, overwhelmingly, supportive.
Not everything has been welcomed by everyone, of course. I couldn’t look back on this first term and not mention the media coverage of our decision to serve only vegetarian food in our canteen at lunch. After all, it is not every head who has the honour of being the topic of conversation in the comment forums of the Daily Mail and The Sun, nor is every school lucky enough to have its menu scrutinised by Russia Today. Our policy was also discussed on Loose Women and we graciously declined an invitation to talk about it on the Jeremy Vine show on Channel 5.
The storm of interest was a lowlight of the first term and not something that I would wish upon another head.
I will remember it for a long time, but not as long as the carol concert that the entire school took part in recently at Trinity College. In these politically turbulent times, it is so important to come together as a community for events such as this, and to celebrate our shared values rather than be divided by our differences. That was a really special moment for me, and I would like to think it was for the students as well. It’s important that we have these special moments in schools, because a great education isn’t just about academic progress and personal development, it’s about those special moments on the journey. Here’s to another term of special moments, starting in January.