Graham Davis, Principal Designate of the Academy covers some of the key questions raised by prospective students and parents at the Year 5 Open Evenings held in June and our Open Evening in September. If your question is not covered here or elsewhere on the website, please e-mail us and we will be happy to reply to your query.
1. What will be the proposed catchment area?
As explained at the Open Evening there is no catchment area for GWA and students will be admitted based on the distance they live from the school. Until we have our first round of admissions we have no clear idea how far away from school our intake will reach. Our strong advice is therefore that if you want to attend GWA you select us as your top choice when making your application.
2. Will future admission criteria change e.g. to include siblings
We will consult on our admissions policy annually in the first years of the Academy, so please keep an eye out on the website for that. This will be due to the rapidly changing demographics and primary school provision in this part of Swindon. Part of any consultation will be whether to include different priorities, rather than just distance, as the Academy grows.
3. What will be the school's capacity when full?
The Academy is being built to accommodate 1200 students, based on 5 year groups of 150 students in Years 7 to 11 and a large 6th form to serve the North Swindon area. We anticipate nearly all students staying at GWA for 7 years.
4. Can you confirm the approximate amount of children per class?
We anticipate the 150 students we admit will be taught in six teaching groups for most of their subjects, and also six tutor groups. This means an average group size of 25 students in Key Stage 3. This will reduce slightly at GCSE and in the Sixth Form as we accommodate the wide range of option choices for students.
5. What will be the setting policy?
We intend to set students by ability in core subjects right from the start, and will use Key Stage 2 results and other information from primary schools to do this. Importantly, sets will not be fixed and instead there will be regular movement between sets if students are not making best possible progress in their current group. In this way we will ensure students are appropriately challenged, right from day 1.
6. Will you be employing non-qualified teachers? How will you be recruiting staff?
Whilst academies can recruit non-qualified teachers, that is not our intention. We want to recruit the very best teachers that we can for the Academy and we have already had a lot of interest from serving teachers, which is very encouraging. We will be starting the formal recruitment process in the New Year.
7. What assurances can you provide about teaching standards given there will be no OFSTED?
I can assure you that we will recruit the very best staff we can. All the teachers we recruit will be observed teaching before they are appointed, and I have plenty of experience in recruitment and training of staff from my previous roles; the appointment process will be very rigorous. Once in post all staff will continue to receive comprehensive training to ensure their practice remains at the highest standard possible. I can assure you that there will be no compromises about the quality of teaching and learning, it is GWA’s core business and will always be our top priority. I am sure that in due course Ofsted will agree that our classroom practice will be excellent.
8. As your staff grows will you have dedicated staff who are responsible for pastoral care?
Yes. Pastoral care is extremely important to us and our staffing plans allow for this from opening. As with all aspects of the school the number of people involved in providing support to students will increase as the school expands.
9. Will you be following the National Curriculum?
It is our intention to broadly follow the National Curriculum, as this will best prepare students for future qualifications. However we’ll also be making sure that within all subjects students cover the themes of enterprise and entrepreneurship that will be part of the Academy’s outlook.
10. What languages will be covered?
We will promote the study of languages strongly. It fits well with our enterprising ethos, and as someone who speaks two foreign languages very well I will certainly ensure students have the opportunity to take two languages at GCSE if they choose to do so. Our current plans are to offer French and Spanish to all students. I hope other languages, such as Mandarin, will develop in our enrichment time and may, in due course, become part of our main curriculum.
Whilst we will strongly encourage many students to take a language at GCSE it is not currently intended that all students will be required to study languages at KS4.
11. Will you be running an accelerated reading scheme?
Reading will form a key part of our provision, with 20 minutes reading time built into the timetable every day. I have experience of seeing the Accelerated Reader scheme motivate and engage students (and their parents) with their reading, and we will be using AR or a similar scheme to support our reading programme.
12. How closely will Year 7 and 12 work together?
Year 12 students will be expected to contribute to the life of the academy by supporting younger students in a variety of ways such as leading enrichment activities, supporting with literacy and numeracy, and establishing and promoting the school’s House system. Whilst their academy studies will be separate I expect that Year 7 and 12 students will know and support each other well during the first year of GWA.
13. Will you be doing trips in the first year?
Yes, we believe educational visits to be a key part of students’ learning experiences and will be encouraging these in subject areas. We are also hoping to be able to organise at least one ‘whole year group’ trip for our new students next year.
14. Is the longer school day compulsory?
All students will be expected to remain on site until 4.30pm on Mondays to Thursday. If you believe there is an exceptional circumstance that means it is not possible for your son or daughter to remain until 4.30pm on a particular day we will discuss that with you.
15. Will enrichment activities be chargeable?
I can reassure you that we have no plans to charge for enrichment activities which run in the 3.15 to 4.30pm time period.
16. I’d like to learn more about sports, music and art opportunities?
Within the curriculum all students will have PE, Dance, Drama, Music and Art lessons in Years 7 and 8 which, between them, comprise about 20% of curriculum time. All of these subjects will then be offered as GCSE and A-level choices. We also expect each of these subjects to be prominent in our enrichment time: sports teams training and competing against other schools; school productions which showcase performing arts talent; dance and drama companies and musical ensembles; and art exhibitions. We will also seek opportunities for students to work with top performers in these fields locally and nationally. I am a firm believer that success in sport or the arts can be a key part of developing into a successful and high achieving young adult.
17. What sports facilities will you offer?
There will be a large (4-court) sports hall and smaller activity studio and outside there will be a 3 court multi-use games area (MUGA) and 3 sports pitches. In answer to one specific query, there will not be a swimming pool on site.
18. Will school buses be provided for areas outside Tadpole Farm?
Unfortunately we are not in a position to guarantee any school bus transport. However, we are currently working with local public bus companies about their provision and the routes they use close to the Academy and, depending on the distribution of successful applicants to GWA, we will consider supporting transport arrangements in the future.
19. What will the catering arrangements be?
An external catering provider will be on site from day 1. We are currently tendering for this provision with an expectation of quality food at reasonable prices.
20. What will the layout of the school look like?
A plan of the school can be viewed here.
21. How will you avoid repeating the same mistakes that other ‘new schools’ have in the area?
We already have a clear ‘5-year plan’ in place that covers our curriculum development, staff recruitment, behaviour support, financial plans and other strategies. I am also working closely with Headteachers in other areas who have successfully set up new schools and this has been extremely helpful. I am therefore as confident as I can be that our first year 7 and 12 cohort can set a really positive tone that is emulated by future cohorts, but we will constantly review our provision and plans – involving parents with this – to ensure that we remain a brilliant learning environment as the school expands.