The final stages of pre-opening: Day one at the 2020 openers event |

The final stages of pre-opening: Day one at the 2020 openers event

Covering everything from liquid nitrogen to principal designate (PD) empowerment, Delivery Team Intern Vanessa O'Driscoll has put together eight top tips for any pre-open project in the final stages of pre-opening.

When groups are in the final stages of opening their free school, it is crucial that they feel prepared and confident for what faces them in the year ahead. The first day of this year’s two-day event for 2020 free school openers sought to give advice and reassurance to all pre-open groups in attendance through a crash course in everything free school: from admissions to pupil recruitment and the all-important readiness to open meeting (ROM). 

Out of site out of mind

The PD shouldn’t have to be responsible for managing the site handover. The PD has an integral strategic role within their school, and they shouldn’t be weighed down by managing the site.


‘Eyes on and hands off’

A school’s governance team should be able to step back by this point. In the lead up to the new school being opened, it needs to be the PD who takes over the nitty gritty and they should be empowered to do this effectively. The governance team should be there to provide strategic direction and look ahead so that the PD can focus on shaping the school.


Don’t be afraid to hold your PD to account

Those who sit on a local governing board can give some of the most valuable insight into how a school is being run. Regular school visits and getting to know the school systems are just a couple of ways that groups can optimise their approach to governance.


Keep your contractor on their toes

It is understandable for groups to feel like getting their site finished in time is out of their control. However, there are some ways that schools can assert themselves in these circumstances. For instance, making sure that the contractor honours any fine-print around being on call in the opening weeks and making them aware of financial penalties which can be imposed for lateness.


Seize your liquid nitrogen opportunity

NSN Associate, Lisa Godfrey, emphasised the long-lasting impact that an open day at a secondary school had on her children when they saw a rose being frozen with liquid nitrogen and smashed. When it comes to pupil recruitment, new schools should home in on what they can present to prospective parents and students so that they can count on them being there come September.


Get a step ahead

It can feel like a waiting game for mainstream schools that don’t know exactly how many pupils they have managed to attract until the first day of term. A great way that schools can get ahead is by asking their uniform provider to pass on a list of families to them who have actually come in to buy the uniform – if this happens, it’s reasonable to assume those students are in it for the long-haul.


You can’t plan for everything

NSN Associate, John Godfrey, asked the audience: “Things will definitely go wrong with a new building - but what do you do when they go wrong?” Take it from those who have been there: things will go wrong! But this shouldn’t keep groups awake at night. As long as there are systems in place to mitigate against the main risks that have been identified, anything else that arises will be part of the learning process.


Don’t burn out

In order to hit the ground running come September, every PD should have had a whole week during summer to recharge before the school opens. And most importantly…don’t let them check their emails during that week!

Blog topic:
Setting up a free school