As a staff member at New Schools Network (NSN) with a career history in the world of special educational needs, I’m all too aware of the current crisis that’s facing some of our most vulnerable children. Starting as a teaching assistant in a special needs school, working closely with teachers, parents and carers on the frontline of the SEND sector, I later worked with a charity providing SEND law support before joining NSN - working with special free schools.
Although opening a free school in the midst of a global pandemic is undoubtedly challenging, pre-opening activities remain deliverable. Furthermore, there’s no need to increase your workload. NSN can say this from experience, having supported Section 10 consultations through the Delivery Programme.
Here are some of reflections on what you need to do to effectively deliver a Section 10 consultation during lockdown:
Over a decade ago, New Schools Network started to support groups applying to open free schools. The free schools programme welcomed with open arms parents, teachers, charity groups and other new providers, that aimed to play a part in ensuring their local communities could access high quality education, no matter their background. Fuelled by innovation, the pioneers set up free schools not because they desired to be part of a political agenda, but because they knew real families, real children deserved better.
The first 100 days within an open school is a hectic and intense period for Principle Designates, but a fantastic opportunity to showcase the vision and embed the culture of a new school.
Sir David Carter offered advice to principle designates for their first 100 days after opening:
Being a leader – Instilling the vision
Every team needs a leader; for schools in pre-opening that’s the job of the Principal Designate.
As a leader, it’s essential to have a clear vision for your school that will help bring people together. By keeping the school’s aims at the heart of all stages of the process, from pre-opening until fully operational, the schools mission will not be forgotten. For a team to have clear sense of direction, it’s necessary that the Principle Designate models the culture they want instilled within their team.
Key periods of your site journey
The free school journey is about encountering milestones on a continuing road; not the final destination of the project. This was the underlying theme from Ron Rampling, the Project Director at Free Schools Capital, as he spoke to us about the key periods that Principal Designates should consider for their school building. He identified them as:
A school is the heart of a local community, beating with hope and aspiration for all pupils that attend. During pre-opening it is easy for free school leaders to lose sight of this and get caught up in the operational elements of their school, such as staff recruitment, marketing and policy development.