Home

A Fresh Start

Starting a new school as the Headteacher can be daunting. Starting at a school that actually doesn’t exist yet is very daunting – and strange too.

With more new schools set to open in the future under the Government’s Free Schools Programme, more and more teachers are going to find themselves walking – or stumbling – into the unknown. And what an unknown it is! From staffing to buildings, FF&E to Heads of Terms, the world I’m now inhabiting seems full of new acronyms, departments and more consultants than I ever knew existed.

The Wells Free School opens in September 2013 in Tunbridge Wells – the second primary free school to open in Kent (The Tiger School in Maidstone was the first primary, last year.) Based at the site of the now defunct Kent and Sussex Hospital in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, it is the first new school to be built in the area for many years. Although the intake is small at just 24 per year group, it’s an attempt to make a tiny dent on the ever increasing demand for school places in the area.

But beyond that prosaic function, the school is responding to parental and teacher demands for something different. Something small, where everyone knows everyone else’s name and how their granny is. Something that can cater for the real needs of children at their stage of development and which is not limited by September cut off dates or pre-ordained notions of what children must be able to do by a given age. Something that reflects the needs of a wildly over stimulated and overly adult generation of children, for whom childhood is increasingly a world to be found only in story books.

When I first saw the advert for the headship of The Wells Free School, I was extremely uncertain about it. Whilst the ethos promoted on the website struck a cord with me, I was concerned that such a move into the unknown, to a school with no funding agreement, no staff, no pupils – no building even at that stage –could be detrimental to my career and more importantly to my family. But I found it impossible to stop dwelling on the possibilities it offered too. The chance to shape something new and to build on some of the principles I hold dear in education was too good to miss. So I took the plunge, spent many hours talking with my husband about how we’d cope if it all went belly-up, and applied.

Meeting the proposers – the people who set up the school from the start – confirmed for me that this was the right school for me. This dedicated group of individuals had come together from a wide range of backgrounds –initially as a group of parent teachers looking at what they felt was important in terms of education both as educators and as mums and dads, who were quickly joined by others in the local area who heard about the idea of setting up a new school and were anxious to be involved. And their ideas sprang from a deep understanding of child development and learning and a passion to return to the magic they knew was so important to childhood. Would I have gone for the job if teachers had not been at the heart of it? I’m not sure I would. I have undying admiration for those professionals who, day after day, initiative after initiative, putdown after putdown, spring back up, paint on the smile and go out and deliver to their charges. In my 20 odd years in education, I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t care passionately about their pupils. They are the true heroes of our age, preparing the next generation for a very uncertain future.

And the proposers, who will form the core of the Governing Body when we open, clearly were not driven by a desire to create a “better” school for their own children, but from a passion to create something for children in the area which harked back to the professional knowledge of teachers. How could I not have applied for the job given the determination of the proposers and their supporters to put children firmly at the centre of the learning and teaching they were establishing?

So in February, I took the leap into the unknown and started work with no building, no pupils and no staff. It’s been the steepest learning curve I’ve encountered in my career to date – and I’m guessing it will get steeper still over the coming months and years. In responding as all schools must to new initiatives, ever rising expectations, Ofsted and the whims of whoever is in power at any given point, the landscape for education looks rocky at the very least. How exciting it is, then, to be carving out our own, very small, niche in those rocks as we set out to establish the new school. And with a uniform decided on, pupils ready to join us, a team of outstanding staff already appointed and the drawings of our new school building on my desk in front of me as I write, it all seems attainable all of a sudden. As a Headteacher, I’m acutely aware of the responsibility this new school carries with it. As a parent, I’m grimly determined that it will be good enough for my own children. And as an educator, I’m aglow with the opportunities this is going to offer me, my team and our pupils and what that could mean for all our futures.

In the meantime, there’s the small issue of who is going to provide our bathroom consumables to sort out. Just 12 weeks to go….

Ani Lawrence is Headteacher of The Wells Free School, opening September 2013

Comments are closed