Teaching at Ark Soane Academy
As part of the Ark network, Ark Soane Academy will benefit from a wealth of expertise on teaching and learning. Ark provides central professional development that is second to none, as well as facilitating teachers to study for professional qualifications like the NPQML or NPQSL.
But we all know that professional development of teaching is about so much more than professional qualifications.
Teaching and learning at Soane will centre on a spirit of continuous improvement. Teachers at Soane will always seek to get better at the most important thing they do: teaching.
We’ll work in the context of cognitive science: we believe that something is only learned when it is committed to long-term memory. We believe in frequent, low-stakes testing to support learning. We believe in clear teacher-instruction, and teacher-led questioning and discussion. We believe in extended practice focused on the core aspects of the subject. We believe in frequent, subject-specific, feedback; not onerous marking.
Excellent teaching will be ensured by two central concepts: impeccable behaviour and coaching.
Impeccable behaviour will be ensured from day one at Soane, with children inducted into the school’s behaviour policy for one whole week at the start of year 7. A centralised detention system will support teachers to enforce high standards. Plenty of whole-staff training will ensure that teachers are as consistent as possible when applying sanctions, to ensure we can be completely fair to those in our care. Impeccable behaviour means teachers can focus on the most important thing: teaching their subject to children.
Our coaching model will support and stretch teachers at all stages of their career. We know that one-size-fits-all professional development alone will not deliver world-class teaching. At Soane, all teachers will teach with their doors open; a signal to their fellow professionals to come and look at what’s going on. Teachers will provide feedback on teaching to all members of staff, regardless of the supposed school hierarchies. Every teacher will observe another teacher weekly – a short observation, just 10-15 minutes – and give feedback and an action step to improve teaching.
We can all always get better at what we’re doing. If the idea of continuously improving, while supported by strong school systems, appeals to you, we’re hiring now.
This term has been one of the most exciting in my career. In my position as founding Principal at Ark Soane Academy, I have spent my time setting out the principles of our school, visiting primary schools, and meeting parents and children at open events.
This term, we have sharpened the vision of Soane. As an Ark school, we celebrate academic subjects, along with a broad curriculum in the arts, technologies and PE. We considered a standard length school day at the beginning of the year, but found two issues with this: firstly, this relegated arts subjects to limited time. The other issue with a shorter school day was in considering students who might come to us in need of extra English and Maths to catch up. With a shorter day, we found ourselves considering withdrawing students from the arts altogether, which would deprive them of a fully rounded academic experience. With a longer day, we can ensure even those furthest behind can still enjoy subjects like art, PE and a modern foreign language – subjects which will broaden their horizons and build their character.
Our Ark values underpin the culture of Soane. We will run family-style lunch each day to ensure no child ever feels anxiety around the lunch period. A seating plan will mean no one ever sits alone, and every child makes new friends. Topics of conversation and adult presence at lunchtime means children will expand their discussion skills, and public appreciations given by the children to their classmates and teachers will build in daily public speaking practice, building their confidence.
By far the most enjoyable part of this term has been the visits I have made to so many local primary schools. As a secondary school teacher, it has been a rare opportunity to spend so much time in primary classrooms. The first thing to note is the standard of work: I have been blown away by the work of the year six students I have spent time with in particular. Their confidence and articulacy is highly impressive. It has helped us at Soane to know how high to set the bar with our curriculum to ensure we can stretch and challenge all students, including the most able, and I’ve been working with some primary headteachers to discuss how we can ensure our curriculum continues to challenge our founding year 7s.
I have also enjoyed our many open events prior to the 31st October deadline. Parents have been hugely supportive of what we are doing, and it was been great to stand at the gate of numerous primary schools and hear the excitement of what we will offer for the children of Ealing.
Before offer day on the 2nd March, we are running a series of update events, to which all are welcome. I will talk about the school and a typical school day, and parents will have an opportunity to ask any questions they may have. You can find the dates and locations of these events here, and I hope to see many of you at them.
Our next large piece of work in January and beyond is to hire the founding cohort of teachers. From the very day we first posted the vacancies, I have been inundated with emails and requests for phone calls to discuss them. Within two days, we already had applications submitted for a range of roles – far ahead of the closing date! I have no doubt we will have tough decisions ahead in choosing from what already looks to be a strong field of qualified and driven professionals.
Thank you for following the journey of Ark Soane Academy this term. I will continue to update the community through this blog in the new year, and in the meantime I wish you all a very restful holiday and a very Merry Christmas.
Leading at Ark Soane Academy
Starting a school from scratch is the opportunity of a lifetime. You have a blank slate on which to project your every hope of what a child’s education might be. While those limitless choices might seem daunting, we are lucky to be surrounded by a group of highly successful schools with Ark, including a number of successful new-start schools. There are no shortage of smart, experienced educators to guide Soane’s way.
What would you do if you could start a school with only year 7? What would the ideal behaviour policy, curriculum, lesson look like? What systems would need to be in place to make that happen? Which parts of all the best schools you know of would you take with you?
We already have a clear idea of the kind of school Soane will be: a rigorous curriculum delivered by subject experts who plan lessons with the lessons of cognitive science in mind, high expectations of behaviour, and opportunities to build cultural capital through enrichment. The large-scale values are in place.
What is not yet in place is the fine detail.
We are looking for exceptional teachers and leaders to lead at Soane. Every teacher we hire for September 2020 will be a leader: unlike a long-established school, the founding teachers always have a special place in a new start school. Whether they choose to pursue promotion or to stay in the classroom, no other teachers who join us later will have created the founding systems of the school. No one else will have as strong a sense of the school. No one after will have made the school from its foundations up.
If you believe strongly that every child is capable of academic success, that every child has the innate potential to be an upstanding citizen, and that the highest expectations of behaviour allow children the freedom to learn, leading at Soane may be the right place for you.
Over the coming weeks, we are welcoming applications from motivated teachers at all stages in their careers to join the founding team to begin our school. It will be a rigorous process, because there will never be a more important team than those who found our school. You will need to be an excellent classroom practitioner, have a strong understanding of the science of how children learn, have a mind for detail and a wish to create and perfect new systems at all levels of school life. Most importantly, we are looking for people who love their subject and who love children.
See our ‘Current Vacancies' to explore opportunities with Ark Soane for September 2020.
Enrichment at Soane
I’ve written in a previous post about curriculum at Soane, and I include enrichment in curriculum thinking. That is because, in my view, the curriculum encompasses everything that happens in a school. Our aim with Soane’s curriculum is manifold: to ensure students can achieve great results in academic subjects, to be introduced into the academic conversation and able to participate in cultural debate and discussion, and to have a broad awareness of human thought.
A very large part of the purpose of school is to broaden children’s horizons. Although we hope our students will enjoy coming to school, student enjoyment is not at the centre of what we do. If our aim was for children to have fun, we would have classes in X-Box games, popular TV shows, music from the current charts and trips to Thorpe Park. Rest assured, none of these will feature at Soane.
Enrichment is not an added extra at Soane. We run a longer school day so we can put enrichment on the timetable. Our aim with enrichment is to provide students with a broader educational experience, and to enable them to have an aspect of choice in their education.
In most schools I have experienced, enrichment is run after school. This is tough for teachers, who give so much in the school day, and who have so much work to do when the children go home to plan for the next day’s lessons. We don’t want teachers doing anything that stops them being fantastic in the classroom with your child. Running enrichment after school is also tough for children: we recognise that your child may have other responsibilities in the home. They may also have family commitments, clubs or classes they need to attend after school. The changeable nature of family life means attending an after-school commitment regularly can be very challenging for many children.
Instead of after school commitments, your child will have a choice of enrichment options to sign up to each term. We hope these encompass sport, dance, music, art, drama, creative writing, and language learning. We will be asking students to make their choices as early as possible to avoid disappointment, as each enrichment option will cater for a limited number of students. That said, as the choices will change the following term, students will have the option to choose again after 6 weeks – and who knows, they may have found a new interest in that time!
School trips will also be an enriching experience. We will run two trips a year for each year group, where all students in that year group will be off timetable for the whole day. They will be taken to some of London’s leading museums and art galleries, as well as excellent universities to broaden their horizons for the future. We hope the average year 7 starting with us in 2020 will therefore experience 10 enriching trips before their GCSEs.
If you’re excited about the opportunities for enrichment for your son or daughter, join our mailing list to hear more, and come along to our open events in the summer term.
Behaviour and culture at Soane
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit. – Will Durant
The purpose of school is to provide an academic education to young people. But this is not its sole purpose. A school must also guide children to become responsible and caring citizens. Furthermore, without strong habits of self-discipline, children will never reach their full academic potential.
At Ark Soane Academy, therefore, we believe in helping students to form habits that will open doors for them in the future. We will expect our students to work hard – very hard – in lessons and with homework. We will help them to build their concentration to ensure they have the stamina to succeed in their long GCSE exams in year 11, for example. We will work with families to ensure all children have a quiet space without distractions to complete their homework to a high standard.
All of this informs our behaviour policy. Make no mistake: we will have sky-high expectations of discipline at Soane. We know just how focused children can be, and we know how to support them to get there. At Soane, silence will be golden. Students will be supported to feel comfortable working silently for extended periods of time, practising the key skills they have learned in their lessons. Silence will also be golden in our corridors, where students will move rapidly between lessons to ensure no moment of learning is wasted.
We believe that these high standards are caring. It is far less caring to allow a student to misbehave unchecked, and to leave school with an attitude that will lead to failure. We have worked with young people for a very long time, and so fully expect them to make mistakes – rare indeed is the student who goes their whole secondary education without receiving a detention! At the same time, we recognise these mistakes for what they are, and all teachers will welcome students back to their next lesson with a clean slate.
If the sound of a school with sky-high expectations of student behaviour, where lessons are undisturbed by pupil misconduct, appeals to you, there is still time to apply for Ark Soane Academy.
Admissions Update for Ark Soane Academy
So far, we have held six open events and welcomed more than 350 children and parents to hear about the vision for Ark Soane Academy, a new school opening in Acton in September 2020. It has been wonderful to meet the children and parents of this community, and has made me more excited than ever to work within this community.
At each open event, I have been blown away by the positive and supportive comments of so many parents. At our first open event, back in July, I remember talking to some parents who had come early and sat right at the front. The first parent I encountered I asked: ‘is your child in year 5?’ She replied: ‘no, year 4. We’re planning ahead!’ I loved meeting the father who was so supportive of Ark, and who shared his positive experience at an Ark primary school. It was music to my ears to hear the parent of one child tell me Soane was ‘the only choice for my son.’ I know many parents of children at Ark primary schools in the area are hopeful to continue their child’s education with Ark, which is a great endorsement of the work our Trust does to improve outcomes for young people.
But I have also been saddened when speaking to some parents. One parent told me that her son’s primary school had stopped setting homework. She was so worried about how far behind he was getting. The fear and anxiety parents feel with their most precious children is understandable. If your child falls behind at primary school, it is easy to feel it might set a lower expectation for their academic potential.
That is not the case. We know that some children will arrive to us at Soane far behind their peers. We are ready for that challenge. If you, the parent, are ready to support us unconditionally, we will do everything in our power to ensure your child catches up. In my career, I have seen so many children defy the odds: overcoming low prior attainment, overcoming language barriers, and overcoming real poverty to attain phenomenal results and attend top universities, if that is what they choose. The magic ingredient? Hard work.
Children will work exceptionally hard at Soane. And children who have gaps in their knowledge will need to work harder. Ultimately, it comes down to our core belief: children can change their futures through endeavour. We cannot control our circumstances or where we have come from, but we absolutely can control where we are going.
And all students will be challenged to work exceptionally hard. I already know from my visits to Acton’s primary schools just how academically advanced some of the year 6s who have made an application are. We will never be complacent about their potential. All students will be challenged to work hard, ensuring they achieve exceptional results and have every possibility open for them after GCSEs.
To date, we have received around 170 applications for Ark Soane Academy. Some of the comments of applicants have warmed my heart. I know there are so many parents in Acton who believe what we believe: that strict discipline leads to calm classrooms and more learning, that academic subjects open doors, and that hard work changes lives. I cannot wait to work with the children and families who join us in September 2020.
You can still apply for Ark Soane Academy. Applications close on 31st October. Simply fill in the form, and contact us if you have any issues. You can apply for Soane alongside your six choices through Ealing. If you are offered Soane you will also be offered through the Local Authority and may choose which you prefer.
Curriculum at Ark Soane Academy
Arguably, there is nothing more important in the make-up of a school than the curriculum. Curriculum is what children learn and experience while in school, and while this primarily means subjects, it also encompasses enrichment and extra-curricular activities, including trips.
Like all Ark schools, the curriculum at Soane will be highly academic. We make no apologies for wanting every child to learn core academic subjects, and expect almost everyone to study the following to GCSE level: English, Maths, Science, History or Geography, and a foreign language. This suite of qualifications is what the government calls the “EBacc”; subjects chosen because they provide a strong academic footing for all future endeavours your child might wish to pursue. We believe all children have the right to be taught these subjects.
But that is not the case in all schools in the UK. In 2018, just over half of all children in Ealing were entered for the EBacc in the UK as a whole, only 38%. At Soane, we will expect the very vast majority of students to be entered for the “full” EBacc, because we believe these subjects open doors for young people, no matter what they choose to pursue next.
That is not to say that we only care about academic subjects at Soane; far from it. After all, we take our name from the most famous architect in British history: Sir John Soane. Soane, born the son of a bricklayer, made his legacy through his art: in his case, designing innovative, enduring buildings like the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. We absolutely recognise and celebrate the importance of the arts.
Soane students will certainly experience a rich and varied education in the arts, technologies and sport. Furthermore, we so believe in enrichment that we will build this into the school timetable, to ensure every child who attends Soane gets to choose something extra-curricular to pursue.
To complement our curriculum, we will organise a wide range of trips for the whole year group to enjoy culturally enriching experiences: to visit museums and art galleries, and to try new experiences. We are incredibly lucky to live in a capital city with such culture available on our doorstep, and Soane students will be able to make the most of this with expert teachers to guide and improve their experiences.
If you’re excited by the prospect of an academic education with time for arts, technologies, sport and enrichment on the timetable, there is still time to apply to Ark Soane Academy for September 2020 – just follow this link.
Admissions to Soane
Those year 6 parents who have become familiar with Ealing’s secondary school admissions process might be concerned that you can’t select Ark Soane Academy as one of your six choices. I want to reassure you that Ark Soane Academy will open its doors to 180 year 7 students in September 2020, but that there is a different application procedure due to our status as a new ‘start-up’ school.
Because we are not yet open, Ealing cannot list us with the other secondary schools in the area through their application process. Our application process sits alongside Ealing’s, and works considerably in parents’ favour. You can put in an application to Soane as well as applying to six secondary schools in Ealing. Your application through Ealing will not be affected at all by your choice to apply to us. In March 2020, when offers are made, being offered a place at Soane will mean you have a choice to make: you can choose to accept Soane, or you can choose to accept the school allocated to you by Ealing. We will spend the early days of March making a lot of phone calls to find out what you have decided!
Why would you apply to Soane, when there are so many other great secondary schools in the area? With an established secondary school, you can read their Ofsted report, look at their GCSE results, take a visit and talk to some current students. What about Soane?
Well, while we don’t have a school to show you around (our first building will be ready in May 2020; in plenty of time for September) or students to tell you about what they’re learning, we do come from a well-established academy chain. Ark runs 38 schools in the UK, and consistently produces exceptional results, despite working in some of the most deprived areas in the country. Ark additionally looks to take on ‘struggling schools,’ schools that do not have a track-record of success; despite this, the proportion of disadvantaged Ark students passing English and maths GCSEs (59%) is over a third higher than the national average (43%). Ark schools do not stop measuring success after national exams: in 2016-2017, 81% of Ark sixth form students gained a place at university, compared with a national average of 48%. Ark have also set up a number of schools from scratch, as Soane will be. All Ark’s new start schools that have been inspected by Ofsted are rated good or outstanding.
Two new start schools, Ark King Solomon Academy and Isaac Newton Academy, are in the top 1% nationally for pupil progress. With such a wealth of expertise in education backing us, we know Ark Soane Academy will grow to become one of the best schools in the country.
In applying to a new school like Soane, your child will have the unusual privilege of being a founding pupil of something extremely special. They will benefit from all the additional attention of being the sole year group for one entire academic year, and for their entire secondary school experience they will benefit from being the oldest students and role models for others who join. They will set the standard and create the culture that will last for generations.
Open events at Ark Soane Academy
The school open event season is upon us, and year 6 parents and pupils everywhere are gearing up for the whirl of school tours and information evenings. Choosing the right secondary school for your child can feel hugely daunting. How can you make the right choice?
First of all, decide on what you want for your child. What are the most important things to you and your family? When you get to an open event, it can be easy to be blown away by surface features, like impressive buildings, jazzy displays or flashy facilities. But perhaps you are especially interested in sport, art or music for your child? If so, those will need to be explored carefully and specific questions asked.
It can be tempting to let your child make the final decision on their secondary school. I know my Mum let me make this choice when I was eleven. Although I loved my school dearly, at age ten I actually chose it because it had an indoor pool – something hugely novel in 1990s Suffolk! I certainly didn’t make the choice based on academic performance, pastoral systems or educational priorities. Your child will also be more likely than you to be swayed by where their friends are going to school. While the friends they have now can feel like the most important consideration, I would advise parents to dissuade year 6s of choosing a school based on peer preferences.
When you attend one of our open events for Ark Soane, you will hear me talk about our vision: what we want for your child. Broadly, this is based on a few core concepts:
- Excellent student behaviour
- A curriculum rich in cultural capital
- Sky-high expectations for what young people can achieve
- An approach to children grounded in care
I will also talk about the logistics of signing up to a brand new school – there are challenges, that is undeniable, but also a huge opportunity to be part of something incredibly special.
How do you know Soane is the right choice for your son or daughter? Although I can’t show you the finished product – seven year groups, including a sixth form, enjoying two state of the art buildings, offering a range of academic subjects, creative subjects and enrichment opportunities – I can show you the journey we can take together. Our first cohort of 180 children will pave the way for outstanding academic results in Acton, growing the successful Ark family with your support. Please come along to our events – I always stay after for as long as I need to to make sure I’ve answered any and all questions you might have. See you there!
Dates and locations of the next open events:
25th September 9am to 10.30am St Mary's Church (W3 9NW)
25th September 5pm to 6.30pm Ark Priory (Acton Ln, Acton, London W3 8NR)
28th September 9:30am to 11am Ark Acton (Gunnersbury Ln, Acton, London W3 8EY)
3rd October 5pm to 6.30pm St Mary's Church (W3 9NW)
9th October 9am to 10.30am Ark Priory (Acton Ln, Acton, London W3 8NR)
9th October 5:30pm to 7pm Ark Byron (The Vale, Acton, London W3 7JT)
Please note, if you cannot attend any of these events, send an email to email@example.com and we can set up a phone call to discuss the school and whether it is the right choice for your son or daughter.
Ark Soane Academy: Our Vision
The opportunity to found a school from scratch is an incredible one. To do it within the expertise and support of a large network with whom you align is a dream beyond belief. Today, I’m going to share my vision for Ark Soane Academy and what I hope for when we open in September 2020 and beyond.
Three central beliefs will underpin every decision we make at the school:
1. Impeccable student behaviour is possible and desirable.
2. A challenging curriculum full of powerful knowledge changes lives.
3. There are no limits to student achievement.
1. Impeccable behaviour
I’ve worked in schools where behaviour is impeccable. I’ve seen and experienced what it is like to work in an environment like that: to be able to teach your subject with the passion, joy, energy and humour you dream of. It means you come to your classroom every day, energised to work hard for the children.
But it also means a huge amount of time has to be invested in building positive relationships with students and building a cast-iron system. The systems have to be robust enough to support all teachers, so everyone’s classroom displays impeccable behaviour.
Some children find living up to high standards challenging. This is still a school for them. In fact, those children need high standards the most. We cannot ignore or push out those for whom education and self-regulation are harder. By investing in a strong pastoral system of support, by knowing all children individually, and by working closely with families, we can help all children live up to the highest of standards.
2. A curriculum full of challenge
All children have the right to access the best that has been thought and said. It is simply not right to deprive some children of a canon of thought that has shaped the Western world, just because they happen to have struggled academically. An appropriately timetabled school day is the way to ensure all children enjoy a curriculum we would want our own children to learn.
In “Mission Possible”, Eva Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Academies – which are primary schools in challenging neighbourhoods in New York City – talks about their belief that children are ‘short, not stupid.’ She passionately argues that if we think they can’t, then our expectations are too low. If we know all children individually and work with them and their families closely, I am confident all children can catch up and achieve academically.
3. Limitless potential
I’ll never forget being given a bottom set year 10 towards the start of my career and being told: ‘we don’t expect them to get Cs so don’t worry too much about what you do with them.’ I don’t believe that. In that class, a girl was sent down to me on day one of year 10. She was devastated, and said: ‘that means I’m thick Miss.’ Luckily, she was also hugely resilient and fiercely driven. She and her sister – also in set 5 – badgered me for extra work and completed it. Both girls achieved A grades.
We cannot control our past educational experiences. We cannot control where we come from, or how rich or poor we are. But we can control how hard we work. At Ark Soane Academy, every single child will be challenged to work really, really hard. That’s because we will never compare ourselves to children in the next row or the next classroom. Instead, we will strive to achieve the very top grades academically from day one. An enormous benefit of a new school is that we can focus on the incoming year 7s and make sure they make exceptional progress, and are in the best possible position to achieve in national exams. At Ark Soane Academy, there is no reason why every single child cannot succeed and achieve academically.
If a school built on strong discipline, a challenging curriculum and with high aspirations for all appeals to you, and you have a child in year 6, apply for a place at Ark Soane Academy here.