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Avanti Grange: Rhys Jones, head of new Bishop's Stortford secondary school, gets ready to welcome first students



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The countdown has begun to ensure Bishop's Stortford new secondary school is in a class of its own.

Rhys Jones has been appointed principal of Avanti Grange and will be calling on his experience at Hockerill Anglo-European College as both vice and assistant principal, as well as stints as a senior teacher at schools in Enfield and Hertford, as he prepares to welcome the first 120 students in September.

The school is the second of three to be run by Avanti Schools Trust as an "education village" primarily serving pupils from Stortford Fields and St Michael's Hurst, where more than 2,600 homes are being built as part of the Stortford North development.

Rhys Jones and the view across fields to the site of his new school, straddling the A120. Picture: Vikki Lince
Rhys Jones and the view across fields to the site of his new school, straddling the A120. Picture: Vikki Lince

The first, Avanti Meadows primary, opened its doors last September, a year late because of Covid-19. However, Mr Jones is ensuring the secondary is up and running a year early to meet the demand for places.

The escalated timetable means the first cohort will be based at Avanti Meadows, off Farnham Road, while work continues on a campus for the secondary straddling the A120 which will be ready by September 2023. A second primary, near Hoggate's Wood, will follow.

To accommodate secondary students on the same site as two infant classes, education authority Hertfordshire County Council is funding modifications which will ensure that as well as a separate entrance for the older children, there will be a segregated playground and sports pitches.

Avanti Grange's first cohort of 120 students will be taught on the first floor of Avanti Meadows. Picture: Vikki Lince
Avanti Grange's first cohort of 120 students will be taught on the first floor of Avanti Meadows. Picture: Vikki Lince

They will be taught on the first floor of the new school in well-equipped, bright and airy classrooms not yet required for junior pupils – and Mr Jones is relishing the challenge of setting up this temporary school within a school before moving into newly-built premises.

The 40-year-old father of two said: "I always wanted to be a headteacher – I felt that was a role I wanted to have the opportunity to do.

"I've worked under a number of headteachers and felt like I'd seen first hand a lot of very skilled people, and I felt there was now an opportunity for me to do it for myself. It wasn't a desire to leave Hockerill, but then the opportunity arose. I thought it would be a much longer-term wait.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open a brand new school and to create and develop it in my own vision. That attraction was twofold: to open a brand new school but in a town I know and a community I wanted to serve."

Rhys Jones is 40, a father of two and husband of Hayley, assistant head at Herts and Essex High School. Pic: Vikki Lince
Rhys Jones is 40, a father of two and husband of Hayley, assistant head at Herts and Essex High School. Pic: Vikki Lince

The Welshman began his career as a geography teacher. While he was assistant head at St Ignatius College, Enfield, he led on teaching and learning and was part of a team which took the school from an Ofsted rating of "requires improvement" to "good" with "outstanding" features.

He honed his skills further at Hockerill, taking charge of the quality of education, curriculum development, and when he was interviewed by Nitesh Gor, chief executive of Avanti Schools Trust, and its education director, Mike Ion, for the top job at the new secondary, it was clear their views on education and young people "aligned perfectly".

Mr Jones' three years at the top-ranked Dunmow Road state boarding and day school mean he is already acutely aware of the academic achievements of Stortford's secondaries and of parents' expectations. Wife Hayley is assistant head at Herts and Essex High School.

Rhys Jones outside Avanti Meadows primary, which from September will be the temporary home of Avanti Grange secondary. Picture: Vikki Lince
Rhys Jones outside Avanti Meadows primary, which from September will be the temporary home of Avanti Grange secondary. Picture: Vikki Lince

He has already had a "warm welcome" to the Bishop's Stortford Educational Trust, a partnership between all the secondaries in Stortford and Sawbridgeworth currently chaired by Leventhorpe's leader Malcolm White. "To a person, they have all been incredibly supportive," said Mr Jones.

Rather than rivalry with existing schools, he is confident Avanti Grange will complement what is already on the table and carve its own niche. He wants it to offer an attractive alternative based on the trust's core principles of "educational excellence, character formation and spiritual insight".

Mr Jones with the school uniform of navy blazer and jumper, black bottoms, white shirt and blue, gold and purple tie. Picture: Vikki Lince
Mr Jones with the school uniform of navy blazer and jumper, black bottoms, white shirt and blue, gold and purple tie. Picture: Vikki Lince

Avanti now has 12 schools across the country, in London, Leicester, Bristol, Exeter, Somerset and Stortford. Avanti Meadows and Avanti Grange are the Hindu trust's first non-faith schools, but Mr Jones said his school would share the organisation's overarching focus on spiritual insight, with yoga and meditation as part of the curriculum and vegetarian meals provided on campus.

The role of head is his first with a trust and he is calling on Avanti's financial and management expertise while he concentrates on what happens in the classroom.

"What that's allowed me to do is to focus on the aspects of the role and why I got into the profession in the first place, to provide a quality education," he said. "If you get the fundamentals of teaching and learning in place, that's the bit I'm passionate about."

The next step is to recruit an assistant principal by Easter and then begin hiring teaching staff to give pupils "the same secondary experience they would have in a normal secondary school".

Where facilities make it hard to deliver the full range of practical lessons for this Year 7 – such as domestic science without a fully-equipped kitchen – he has already planned to fill any gaps by the end of students' year 8.

He will be "demonstrating the expectations to staff" in the classroom by teaching geography and showing students he practises what he preaches by taking part in resilience-building yoga sessions.

Mr Jones said: "Our curriculum will be teaching meditation and we're going to be teaching yoga. I'll be fully involved – I have to lead by example."

His philosophy is simple: "As a principal, if we're not loving it and we don't believe in it, it shouldn't be happening in our school.

"We want the students of Avanti Grange to be stretched intellectually, morally and spiritually so they can go into the world and make it a better place."

This stance is even reflected in the secondary's uniform of black bottoms, white shirt, navy jumper and a blue, gold and purple tie.

The ensemble is completed with a navy blazer emblazoned with a breast badge depicting a lion, a torch and a lotus, respectively symbolising educational excellence, character formation and spiritual insight.

Mr Jones believed this holistic view was the future for schools: "The educational landscape is coming to us."

The school badge depicts a lion, a torch and a lotus, respectively symbolising educational excellence, character formation and spiritual insight
The school badge depicts a lion, a torch and a lotus, respectively symbolising educational excellence, character formation and spiritual insight


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