Principal’s Round-up – 3rd July 2020

Over the last term we have been using GSuite applications to attempt to assess the progress being made in online and remote learning across year groups. This has proven to be a blunt tool, but gives us a starting point for catch up planning that must be produced for children before September. Of course, for us simply catching up will not be good enough. Whichever plans we bring to life in September will inevitably be structured with the aim to accelerate learning. This is going to form a significant part of the Academy Improvement Plan which is currently under construction. To complement any one of our plans, yesterday we at last received a comprehensive set of guidance materials from the DfE to support full school opening.

The PM has made his position clear: schools need to open to all students in September and students must be taught (at KS4 and 5 at least) the whole curriculum. It is our job now to get on with this and ensure we meet the objectives. The DfE document states:

“Returning to school is vital for children’s education and for their wellbeing. Time out of school is detrimental for children’s cognitive and academic development, particularly for disadvantaged children. This impact can affect both current levels of learning and children’s future ability to learn, and therefore we need to ensure all pupils can return to school sooner rather than later.”

I completely agree with this statement. The DfE have explained that for the vast majority of children, the benefits of being back in school far outweigh the very low risk from coronavirus. As a result, we can plan for all students to return and start to reverse the enormous costs of missed education. This will be an important move back towards normal life for many children and families.

There are five areas to focus on in our September return plan:

  1. Actions to minimise risk – this will entail a review of our risk assessments in place for partial opening. We will need to follow the control guidance and reduce risks further. Hand washing and social distancing in year teams will form a part of this.
    2. School operations – we have guidance on transport to implement, alongside giving consideration to the timetable, staggered breaks and avoiding contact between students. We know that attendance recording and tracking returns to normal, along with sanctions for non compliance. Uniform will return. This will help maintain standards and normality.
    3. Curriculum, behaviour and pastoral support – this includes adjusting the examined curriculum in light of the new examination proposals, ensuring we are clear about new behaviour expectations, and returning to full compliance with SEND support. There will be an expectation that the new SRE programme will be introduced alongside new safeguarding expectations . This training will take place in professional development in September.
    4. Assessment and accountability – Ofsted may drop into schools in the autumn term to consider the ways plans are working, but the full inspection process will not start again until January. There is a promise that the outcomes for 2020 will not be used for any accountability measure, so when we are next inspected conversations will centre around 2019 outcomes. That does not work in our favour given all indicators showed a positive progress measure for 2020! There is a consultation on exams and how they may function taking place until 16th July. Please take part. I sent the link in briefing notes today.
    5. Contingency plans -these must be in place to protect students’ learning should a local lockdown be enforced, or the school be closed to a year group if we had multiple diagnosed cases of coronavirus. This will involve improving our remote learning offer and having it on standby.

All of this sounds challenging, but it is not really. We are never cowed under pressure at Tavistock College because we know we can solve any problem thrown our way. Between all of us, we have all the attributes and abilities to see off any threat. What we have learned over the last few months about schools is who the real heroes are, and which roles in the education system are, frankly, redundant. Non-productive workers have been exposed.

So while the changes ahead are challenging, it would be wrong to say they are stressful. Stress is a term that is bandied about quite a bit. Just as not all children have fallen behind as some have clearly

accelerated in different directions, then we must recognise that not all stress is bad. Jared Cooney Horvath indicates that good stress versus bad stress is differentiated by three factors: duration, intensity and interpretation. We have choices about how we manage stress: a determination to overcome, rather than to give in. This is learned behaviour, and it is what we should actively teach children. If the factors causing the stress are intense, then learning techniques such as deep breathing and muscle tension release will burn off the stress hormones (such as cortisol)  that have flooded the brain such and prevented rational thinking. Time should be given for this, not avoided. Better that than subsequent actions that have consequences being excused because ‘I was stressed’. Stress is hard to justify if there is a way of avoiding it.

Stress is also about interpretation.  Horvath encourages us to differentiate between ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions’. They are not the same thing. Emotions are driven by hormones and are hard wired and create physical sensations – things like a racing heart and tingly skin. Feelings are weaker as these are simply mental interpretations of emotions and we have absolute control over them. Horveth explains that the human body can only respond with a limited number of chemicals, and so the number of emotions we can have is limited (joy, surprise, fear, anger and so on) However, seeing that there is no limit to the ways in which we can interpret physical sensations, the number of feelings we can have is infinite (embarrassment, confidence, justice and so on).  Whenever we select a feeling this choice is fed back to the brain and the body chemicals change accordingly.

This all matters because stress is a feeling, not an emotion. Stress (and all the pros and cons that go with it) is, by and large, a choice. Beyond the immediate threat response, most stress is activated after an individual interprets an event or emotion as stressful. Stress regulation techniques target the mind for this reason. They aim to change how an individual interprets a situation, shutting down the feedback mechanism . So, to be resilient (rather than giving in), we should think how we are interpreting events before we consider we are stressed.

Another part of the last three months has been the rise of surprisingly kind actions and gifts that have magically fallen into our laps. Firstly we have been given a beautiful grand piano from governor Tim Randell. It is very special, and Lily Randell is keen to continue to play it. It will be kept in the Hall. Earlier in the year Mrs Barker kindly funded an art workshop for students and earlier in the week generously made a very large donation to us that will be used to upgrade our IT equipment to a very high standard. The knock on effects are not just the improvement of facilities for students but staff computers can be upgraded. I am tremendously grateful to these people for their support and cannot thank them enough for what they have done to improve the learning environment at Tavistock College.

As we come to the end of another busy week, try to enjoy some time away from work at the weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 19th June 2020

It has been an exciting week. We have welcomed back a high proportion of Y12 and Y10 students over the last 5 days, and absorbed many more key worker children than we had previously seen. Our well laid plans have not failed us, colleagues have all pulled together and the systems we have in place are working well. In so many ways it is an utter relief to be doing what we planned for since we shut. The degree of collaboration and creativity matches few other organisations in these times. I know that should we be asked to take other year groups back, then we are certainly ready.

Of course everything is very different for the students. Unsurprisingly, they have been very resilient, and were very keen to follow the new rules in order to gain face to face time with teachers. As I had hoped, the students who have been in school the whole time have shown real leadership, and have been excellent role models for the others returning for the first time. This will perpetuate as more students return. We have learned a lot in the last few weeks about supporting students with remote learning, and we are now better placed than ever before to work alongside learners to diagnose their needs and next steps.

I spoke recently about the genuine positivity that can be found in these new ways of working that have been thrust upon us in the COVID world. I was therefore delighted to read the report published by Hattie and Cox on the effects of school closures on students’ learning. They undertook a large national study of experiences and also compared metastudies from countries that had faced natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, floods and long educational strikes. They found that the effect size was only -0.12. Effect sizes of less than -0.3 are deemed to be negligible in their impact. -0.12 is unpredictably small, and it begs the question as to why we are spending enormous amounts of time looking at ‘catch up’ (to where?) conversations. These are being driven largely by non-educationalists and the media who actually should stay off the pitch. There have been huge assumptions made about the fact that students are behind: it is possible that students are now further ahead now than they might have been as a result of more individualised learning programmes. A change to schooling in the longer term is worthy of debate, and it must go a little further, I believe, than extending the school day. A rather simplistic and ill thought out approach.

The study by Hattie and Cox has positive messages about change, if we are minded to accept it. They refer to the lack of desire to return to the old normal. The old normal has not changed much in 50 years: • We talk a lot • We ask the questions (about facts) • We see students as recipients • We exam and make students DO things • We sort, group, differentiate • We standardise & slice the curriculum • We age group, we track, we segregate • We sit students in groups, for fixed periods of time • We use bells • We emphasise facts, facts, facts

However, their research over the last few weeks has revealed the following repeating messages. The benefits of remote learning from parents are: • Improved Independence, organisation, time- management and responsibility • More family time together • Support from staff and communication from the school • Being able to help/see what children are learning • Adapted to & enjoying online classes • Learning more about schooling and the curriculum • Reduced travel time • More engaged and task focused • Less distractions from other students • More sleep/time to rest

Student top tens are: • Working at own pace for long or short periods • Time for other interests and hobbies • Not having to get up so early • Being comfortable at home • Being able to spend time with family • Not having to travel • Can do more work – more focused • Fewer distractions • Engaging with friends • Responsibility & accountability for own learning

And teacher gains are: • Adopting new/innovative ways to teach • Development of stronger IT skills • Positive connections maintained with students • Developing self-efficiency/independence in students • Greater flexibility to create and deliver quality lessons • Increased communication/collaboration between staff • Assisted wellbeing/less stressful working at home with own children • Reduced travel time

We know these gains do not hold true for all students, particularly those who struggle with low self-regulation, who are highly dependent on teachers, live in homes that are not safe havens, or who have access to fewer educational resources and activities. In addition, some students have parents with low capacity or desire to engage them in the school work at home. This might mean we invest in better triage and differentiated time in school. It might mean more time in school for some, and less for others. It might mean the growth of online learning and independent learning delivery. Whatever, it is a time to reflect.

I doubt we ever get the chance to debate system wide change on this level. Change is challenging to many. When lives are going well, and sometimes even when they aren’t, many find themselves feeling very attached to the status quo of existence–life as we know it. It is a very human tendency to resist change as though it were possible to simply decide not to do it, or have it in our lives. Of course, the answer is not to go about changing things at random, without regard to whether they are working or not. There is a time and place for stability and the preservation of what has been gained over time. The problem comes when we become more attached to preserving the status quo than to honoring the universal givens of growth and change. For example, if we allow a situation we are in to remain stagnant simply because we are comfortable, it may be time for us to summon up the courage to challenge the status quo.

But change will come and the status quo will go, sooner or later, with our consent or without it. We may find at the end of the day that we feel considerably more empowered when we find the courage to ally ourselves with the force of change, rather than working against it.

Criticism of our profession by those who have little understanding of education is quite difficult to swallow sometimes. But we must never be cowed by it. My father once told me to never accept criticism from someone I would not trust to go to for advice. From the very outset of this crisis, schools have stepped forward to do the right thing for the students in their care and the communities they serve. We can be the commanders of our own destiny if we want it. We need to do what Fullen asserts – to ‘build back better’.  Who is ready for that?