Official Opening, John Taylor Free School

As many readers will be aware, last week saw the official opening of John Taylor Free School by His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester. I have been asked by several of our guests that day to share the contents of my speech from the event, and so I thought I would take the opportunity to do so in this Blog post.

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It was a real privilege to welcome so many of the individuals and groups who have supported us, and continue to do so, along the way. Here is the transcript in full:

Your Royal Highness, distinguished guests, colleagues, children, and friends.
“We believe in the power of education to improve lives – and the world.” Those here who know John Taylor well will be aware that this statement is the guiding principle of our Trust, and of the High School from which it emanates. Those here who know me well will recall that I have made much of this aspiration on many occasions and with many audiences. Typically, and perhaps predictably, I would focus on “the power of education”, or “improving lives” as a key theme for an assembly, a staff presentation or a prize giving address. But not today. Today is about belief. That “we believe”.

As we sit in such a wonderful new school, we are surrounded by so many individuals and groups who believed in us, and there are far too many to name all individually. As we prepared, planned, prioritised, and presented we were helped generously by many of you, with expertise and advice, practical help, and – equally important for an endeavour such as this – unwavering encouragement. Consequently, we transformed our dreams into a proposition that those with authority to make decisions about the school’s future could believe in. From the Trust board, through the Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, to Staffordshire County Council, we thank them all for that belief in us – to deliver. Gareth Moss, Chair of the Trust Board for sharing and fuelling our dream, endorsing our strategy and steering our ambitions, Stuart Lane from Staffordshire County Council for his initial identification of a site, and a school, and devoting so much of his energies towards the project. Chris Nightingale from Entrust for his work to steer the building project along its two-year trajectory to completion. Andrew Baker, Jo Kemp and Julian Kennett from the ESFA, for ensuring that our local partnerships remained tuned in to the national programme of new school places. These individuals have always been utterly professional, always available, and totally committed to working collegiately with everyone.

Moving forward, we shared our ambitions with the community – to secure their support, and to build a team of staff that would be worthy of our school. Moving from successful positions in excellent schools, and sometimes moving house too, I cannot overstate the sheer bravery of colleagues who took a leap of faith with us – based on a vision, and a blueprint. Here I must commend our Head of School Sue Plant, for taking such a leap, and for working tirelessly to foster a culture of learning, firing the passions of her colleagues, and subsequently the children. I’m minded here of the French proverb that “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We’ve done that, and you can see here just what it is we’re building. We thank them for that belief in us – to join our voyage.

Now open, I turn my attention to the young people here. They and their parents have believed in us too, choosing to be amongst the first students at a brand new school, in many cases not the school of their friends and, by definition, not the school of any older brothers or sisters. Their belief wasn’t based on spreadsheets, staffing models and demographic projections (important as those things are) – but on their passion to be the best they can be, and entrusting us to fulfil their potential in all they do. They have given us the most precious of gifts: their futures. We thank them for their belief in us – to commit their future to our care.

Finally, the path to get to today’s monumental occasion hasn’t been an easy one. It is our belief – in our vision for a great school and in one another – that has sustained us through these challenging times. I’m indebted to those who’ve worked towards today – each and every one of them. My thoughts in particular are drawn to Barbara Mahoney, the Trust’s Chief Operating Officer who, together with being the Trust’s presence on the project management board during the construction phase put together a financial model that works for the school, in a context when so many schools are encountering difficulties. There are arguably few COOs who would spend a dark winter’s evening in a village hall putting out trestle tables for a community outreach event – but she is one who willingly did so on several occasions. This she did in the company of Sarah Boyce – the Clerk to the Board, my personal assistant, and an invaluable travelling companion from day one of this adventure. Her local knowledge, organisational expertise, intuitive sense of timing and sage counsel contributed more behind the scenes than will ever be recorded in the school’s history. Thank you.

John Taylor Multi Academy Trust continues to grow as a community of schools, as does the positive impact it has on young people. We look forward with relish to further free school developments, including the primary and nursery school at Fradley Park. Moving forward here, in this hugely impressive building, is an equally impressive community of people, translating our belief into a truly remarkable school we can all be immensely proud of – lesson by lesson, day by day, term by term. The expertise and enthusiasm of Mrs Plant and her team should give us all great confidence in the future. A future for these wonderful young people to embrace with hope and vigour – essential in an ever-changing landscape. “We believe in the power of education to improve lives and the world.” We believe in John Taylor Free School.

Thank you all for belief in us.

The guests were hugely impressed by the facilities and the site, which are exceptional, but also by the staff and the pupils who conveyed great pride in their school and what it means to them. This feedback, for me, is the most pleasing and the most important of all.

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Thank you for reading.
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Mike