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Opinion22nd October 2018

Building a brand new school: The journey to the starting line

Aishling Ryan

Aishling Ryan is the Principal of Ark Pioneer Academy, a new Ark school that will open in Barnet in September 2019. She was previously Vice Principal at Ark Academy, an outstanding all-through new-start school in Wembley. All Ark’s new schools that have been inspected by Ofsted are rated good or outstanding.

The last month has been the most exciting of my career to date, having taken up the post of Principal of Ark Pioneer Academy, a new-start Ark school for High Barnet. Next September, we will open the doors to our brand new building and welcome in our first year 7s. By the time they reach year 13, we’ll have over a thousand pupils.

It’s a huge privilege to start a school from scratch. I was lucky to be part of the founding team at Ark Academy in Wembley. I remember every ‘first’ so vividly, particularly the journey of our first year 7 group, from their induction assembly to posing for photos in their leavers’ jumpers, proudly waving their university offer slips.

For Ark Pioneer, that wonderful moment might seem far away, but it’s exactly where we’ve started our planning – reflecting on what we want to have achieved seven years from now. And it has informed our vision for the school: when pupils leave Ark Pioneer, they will do so with real options, whether that’s embarking on the university course of their choice or starting out in their chosen career.

Every community deserves access to a standard of education that matches the very best state or private schools in the country. At Ark Pioneer, we will work tirelessly to deliver that high standard of education and realise every pupil’s potential to be a knowledgeable, articulate and successful individual.

My focus in this first month has been communicating our vision to pupils and parents in Barnet who are considering us as their choice of secondary school. I’ve visited a number of local primary schools to speak to year 6. We’ve also held open evenings and drop-in mornings in venues across Barnet. These events are nerve-wracking and satisfying in equal measure! We’ve given parents and pupils a real sense of what each child who joins us will experience and they’ve challenged us with pertinent questions about our provision. The audiences have been enthusiastic and eager to learn about their new local school, and it’s inspiring to think I’ve already met many of our founding cohort of 2019.

Other aspects of our planning have been just as engaging. My poor choice of footwear aside, the first visit to the building site was brilliant. I had a tour from the site manager, who was keen to point out the progress on all aspects of the building and to highlight the fact that they are a full month ahead of schedule! The team of contractors have been fantastic. We’ve made decisions on room allocations, furniture and fixtures and the all-important colour scheme. We’ve also selected our school uniform. It’s smart and professional and I’m confident it will promote a strong and cohesive identity, reflecting the high standards we will set for ourselves.

This month has also reminded me of the value of being part of a network of schools. I was welcomed into Ark John Keats, another new-start school in North London, to be part of their fifth staff induction. They are a passionate and determined team and their consistency is impressive. It’s easy to see where this comes from – the induction was clear, comprehensive and above all, inspiring. I’m looking forward to continued collaboration with Ark and local Barnet schools in the years to come.

Ark Pioneer’s journey has just begun. I look forward to sharing our story with you as we continue our progress to the starting line.

Read Aishling’s next blog here, in which she explores the challenge of developing and defining a school’s vision.

Learn more about Ark Pioneer by visiting