Astra Celebrates 10 Years!

Posted on: 10/10/2023


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“I thought the whole night was fantastic, well organised and great to see so many 

people. It’s testament to how much has been created and the impact Astra has had and will continue to have I’ve the next decade and beyond.”  

Mr Paul Serkis, Chair of Governors, DCGS


It was always going to be a bittersweet 10th birthday party from my perspective, signalling both the success of Astra - and my departure from the wonderful leadership role I have held for a decade.

But what a way to go!  

The tuneful talent of the school jazz band heralded the arrival of our honoured guests, including Countess Howe, Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire who amused and delighted us all with her engaging speech at the start of the evening.  Her warmth and empathy for Astra’s work, and understanding of those in the teaching profession, was a delightful opening to the formal proceedings, which also included a witty and thought-provoking keynote address by Dr Mark Fenton, the founding Headteacher of Astra.  It was also fitting that the current Chair of the Astra Committee, Mr Tom Shinner, joined Lady Howe to present the special awards, before the pizza oven was fired up and the Year 11 rock band quite literally rocked us as we enjoyed our gelato and danced to S Club 7!


The special Astra awards of the evening included:

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  • Gill Byrne, who joined the Astra organisation in September 2013 as the sole administrator for the Astra Teaching School, as it was initially known.  With her ready sense of humour and incredibly high standards, it would be hard to imagine how Astra could have succeeded in the early years without Gill's input.  

  • Dr Mark Pegg, who joined the Astra Committee when it was founded in 2013, and a fierce supporter of the organisation ever since.  As Astra faced its many obstacles and challenges over the years, including two Ofsted inspections, reaccreditation bids and expansion into becoming a Teaching School Hub, Mark has been a constant source of support and optimism and his contribution continues to be enormous.  

  • Dr Mark Fenton, who first conceived the vision of Astra as being a key part of Dr Challoner’s mission to contribute widely, beyond our own context.  Always highly driven and motivated, Mark put his stamp on the Astra organisation from the very beginning, ensuring its high standards and navigating the bureaucracy of the DfE!

  • Mr Sean Kennedy; a DCGS colleague who’s fond of saying that he is in charge of things that people only care about if they go wrong.  However, as CFO for Astra, he clearly cares for something that has, hopefully, gone extremely well!  Whether it is his eye for detail on contracts, financial arrangements or staffing structures, his contributions have been enormous and hugely appreciated by the whole Astra team.

  • As the Chair of the Astra Committee from 2020-2022, Mr David Mackintosh helped Astra to navigate through the unique challenges of Covid, from virtual meetings and online training, and back to working face-to-face.  In that time, he made a significant impact and contribution to the growth of the Astra SCITT and the development of the Teaching School Hub.  When he retired from the position in 2022, David kindly said that it had been a “pleasure and privilege to be part of ASTRA” and that he had been “immensely impressed with the quality of the work, huge successes and enthusiastic leadership.”  

  • Richard Pontin.  No one can recall a time when Rich has not been positive, caring and hard working, taking on the roles of PE Subject Tutor and Visiting Tutor with enthusiasm, and his uncompromising approach, never shying away from difficult conversations, has helped to shape a whole new generation of PE teachers.  Quite simply, nothing has ever been too much trouble for Rich, and his infectious energy and good nature epitomises the very spirit of Astra.  


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After that impressive list, all that is left to be said is ‘thank you’, with a particularly grateful nod to Jules, who oversaw the organisation of the amazing event and the Friends of DCGS and Gabby Jones, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the party was such a beautiful success.  

So here’s to David, Andrew, Amanda T, Sean, Jules, Sue, Carol, Thahera, Paula, Amanda M and Sally … the fantastic team who are the future of teacher training in Buckinghamshire and beyond.

And cheers to the next 10 years!

Stephanie Rodgers, October 2023

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