The A-Z of opening a new school building – a guide to the thrills and spills of preparing for the grand opening
A is for advertising, because as a new ‘brand’ in the local school market, both teachers and families need convincing that you are the right choice for them. Information evenings, branded materials, Facebook and Twitter campaigns, getting people into the new building and talking to the local community at every given opportunity have very much been the order of the day.
B is for bus service and the new-found ability to plot postcodes onto google to design transport routes. After tenders, information sessions, surveys, planning meetings, liaison with the council and other problem-solving discussions, we will be proud when the service is finally up and running.
C is for community, without whose support, optimism and commitment to the cause the job would be nigh on impossible.
D is for decant, which is basically moving house, but with 25 other people all at the same time. Never have plastic crates and sticky labels taken on such an important role. Well done to the staff for practising the value of tolerance during that particular exercise.
E is for excitement. The journey is hair-raising at times, but it is so exciting, and we have harnessed the school community’s excitement by offering visits to the new site and giving regular updates across a range of media.
F is for faith because when we have been confronted with seemingly insurmountable problems, prayers have been answered and we have been guided to solutions.
G is for guard dogs, who so loyally and successfully protected our site while it was being built, along with their equally intimidating owners.
H is for hard hat, an essential item from the PPE set if you want to walk around and assist in key decisions such as trunking in classrooms, CCTV, colour schemes, signage and lock suites. Apologies do however go to all of the colleagues’ hair dos that have been messed up over the past 8 months.
I is for interviews, which have taken place in all sorts of offices, classrooms, other schools and even other cities. Over 25 appointments and promotions later, we are delighted with the team of teachers and associate staff we have assembled.
J is for jack of all trades, and having to be every member of SLT simultaneously, which is a brilliant exercise in confirming or casting into doubt what you thought you knew about your skillset.
K is for the ‘k’ in 5k, 10k, 15k etc. We say it all the time but what does it actually stand for? Unexpectedly, the answer is kilo. Not a day has gone by over the last few months without discussing how much ‘k’ something or someone is going to cost and whether or not this is value for money. Benchmarking and sourcing a range of quotes have been essential in maximising our use of the allocated ‘k’.
L is for learning and lessons. We are very much looking forward to focusing on learning and teaching in September once we have put all of the other layers in place – this will be our reward. Learning is of course our core purpose in schools, however, if any of the other areas of leadership in our A-Z are not functioning, learning is affected, so it has been important for me to remember that learning and teaching is part of just one of four domains in the National Standards of Excellence for Headteachers.
M is for huge mounds of earth, kindly left behind by the construction company and described as ‘landscaping’. Even if you have officially moved in, this does not necessarily mean that the building work has been completed.
N is for ‘Nothing’s ever simple’. Display boards are a good example, with only one board in each classroom part of the deal, we clearly needed a lot more. How much will they cost? Where is that unplanned budget coming from? Who supplied the original boards so we can match them? Who is going to go round each classroom with the tape measure? How many days is it going to take to fit them all? We have learned quickly not to say the phrase ‘That will be an easy job’.
O is for overtime, if such a thing exists in school leadership. I was asked by a former colleague just before A Level results week what it was like to live in ‘the wonderful world of no accountability’. He has no idea!
P is for pigeons, who had a wonderful time gorging themselves on the grass seed intended to create our football pitches. P is therefore also for problem-solving and liaising with the local rugby club to agree a deal to use their pitches until ours are ready.
Q is for questions and the start-up phase raises many. A willingness to seek advice when required and the humility to tell people we will get back to them with an informed response has led to us having the right questions to answer more often than not.
R is for residents and reconciliation. They may have taken our case to the high court in their attempts to prevent the school from being built, but recent meetings have been much more collaborative and investing time in positive relationships now could save a lot of time in the future.
S is for snagging. The building may be beautiful but as with all things created by human hand, imperfections are never far below the surface. Although at time energy-sapping, pursuing these items now is vital so that we are not left with the bill once the building’s guarantee expires.
T is for the Trust, who have saved us so much time by providing numerous templates and example documentation, advice based on opening three other schools and support in areas where we lack skills or knowledge. NST is a great example of how a free school trust can work very effectively.
U is for unpredictable. It is said that no two days are ever the same in teaching, and this theory is certainly true when you are opening a school building. The incredible range of themes and issues that arise keeps things interesting and life is definitely never dull. We try our hardest to stick to the plan, but also set some time aside for the unexpected.
V is for volunteers. This school’s community is simply a joy to work with. Never before have I seen parents and friends of the school bringing timber in for an allotment, weeding and clearing the grounds, helping to sort out the overwhelming number of deliveries or even raising £7000 to stock the library through fundraising at the summer fayre. Long may this invaluable source of help continue.
W is for walk-in fridge. This voice of experience says that even though you may be excited about possessing such an item in your school make sure you know where the emergency release button is located when you get shut in.
X is for ‘X marks the spot’. When moving from one site to another we realised quickly the importance of informing Google, Bing, and the other main search engines that our address had changed. It took a couple of deliveries being sent to the wrong school site for us to cotton onto why it was happening.
Y is for yesterday, meaning every job on the list in August ‘needs to be done yesterday’ as the opening day looms large on the horizon. Any friends who have started talking about teachers’ six week holidays over the last month have received a glare or two.
Z is for ‘Zones 1, 2 and 3’, the most commonly used words on our quotes for the purchase and installation of Audio Visual equipment. The bewildering array of spec on offer means that in an area where you might have presumed to have some knowledge, you in fact have absolutely none. At least I now know what lumens and rifle mics are.
Taking on this role has been a brilliant experience so far. It has taught me to appreciate all of the things around me in a school that we take for granted and just presume will be set up and run effectively. I look forward to the next chapters in our story.
Tom Cragg, Principal, Nishkam School West London