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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 19th July 2019

Posted: 19 July 2019

On 20th July, 1969 Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the surface of the moon. It remains a defining moment in human history. It was a time of anticipation and hope for the future, and it was a time when the world seemed to come together to celebrate human endeavour. When Armstrong looked back at Earth as the crew orbited the moon, it must have seemed very small and insignificant. Sometimes events feel like this, great achievements that diminish in our memories overtime. So, the end of term and academic year is a timely moment to look back and consider everything that has been accomplished this year and to return it to its rightful significance and importance. This was especially evident as we watched students gaining awards at the SEND Celebration morning and our Celebration evening on Wednesday. I was extremely proud to give the Principal’s award this year to Vox. Vox first formed 6 years ago under Music teacher Hannah Stephenson. When Mrs Stephenson left in 2017 we asked Tracy Harding, who had worked with us in variety of capacities before to take over. Since then, Vox have gone from strength to strength and have been regularly booked to perform at academy events such as the Remembrance services, Founders Day, Carol Services, and Celebration evenings. In November 2018 Vox were honoured to take part in Tavistock’s WWI Centenary Concert alongside Mount Kelly Chamber Choir and Tavistock Stannary Brass Band.  I was proud to stand next to some of them while they performed excerpts from Matlida to TRHs Prince Charles and Camilla on Tuesday in Bedford Square. Seemingly, they never tire! Coming up for Vox we have performances at Dickensian evening, a singing tour of local residential homes and possibly a trip abroad to perform! There is a great amount of talent in Vox but more important than that is the way they work together as a choir, they never complain, they always support each other, are solution focused and highly creative….and they do it with a great sense of fun!

When I look back just upon the last half term even, I am proud of so many achievements whether that be a whole year group undertaking work experience, a smaller focus group like the students on the Aspire programme who visited Oxford University or just a solo student seeing their hard work and talent rewarded like Rosie Andrews who gained 4th place in the final round of the National MTB Cross Country series. The long awaited performances of Matilda took place last week. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. Students from KS3 ‘wowed’ the audiences every night, and were delighted to be invited to perform in Bedford Square on Tuesday in front of Prince Charles. For a significant number this was their first experience of a large production, for some their first time on stage ever. They have worked incredibly hard, gained confidence, made new friends across year groups, been braver than they thought they were, found skills they never thought they had and genuinely changed their own story. A year ago we applied to the Royal Shakespeare Company to become one of their Champion Schools in their Change My Story project. Gaining a place on the programme has enabled us to demonstrate our commitment to the arts. We will work with RSC on a two-year programme of creative work, including professional development and training opportunities for teachers and working with five other local schools enables us to share the skills and knowledge.

The 2019 sports day took place last Thursday and proved another great sporting success. With lots of new school records set and more pupils than ever wanting to represent their college house. Athletics has been a growing strength locally and this has filtered into the college with success at local championships and many athletes part of the local athletics club. Bedford were the overall winners on the day after all 120 events across track and field. Individual houses did perform well in each year group with Bedford not making a clean sweep. Glanville were top in year 7, Tremayne in years 8 and 10, with Bedford in year 9. Onto the individual athletes who set new records alongside the pupils who were taking part and setting new personal bests while collecting valuable points for their houses. This balance of inclusive sport and elite sport is what makes sports day so special.

The house rivalry continued at the swimming gala. Here Tremayne triumphed, and we were very grateful to Mount Kelly for allowing us the use of their spectacular pool.

Whilst students will be eagerly awaiting GCSE and A Level results in the summer, it is not this that will ultimately define them as people. When we succeed in life it is always alongside others who shape us, lift us up and sometimes from whom we gain affirmation by supporting. When I read the emails and letters from governors, parents, friends of the college and staff, it is nearly always for all the extra value students add to their lives that they are remembered. So, whilst we will always want our students to gain the best results possible, we must understand too that education is so much more than this. Graduates of Tavistock College should be well rounded human beings, capable of making the most of  those opportunities that will inevitably present themselves. Not too long ago society became conscious of the need to be able to deal with change. We were told that young people could expect to have several different types of jobs over a life time. The importance of being able to deal with change has a whole new meaning and has taken on a reality that is very challenging. Students from Tavistock College must be equipped to rise to that challenge. The lessons, extra and co-curricular activities provided in Tavistock College must give skills needed to embrace these challenging times –we aspire for young people to be innovative, creative, team players ….. thinkers. They must never be cowed under threat. They should learn to stand up for what you believe in; to persevere; to be brave.

In this vein, I circulated the new Academy Improvement Plan that is a summary of all the collaborative discussions for the next stage of our journey. Please read the ‘Ambitions’ section – it is what we are setting out to achieve. We then have four objectives,and these are:
OBJECTIVE 1: Ensure outcomes for students result in positive progress measures. We will work hard to gain a positive P8 measure in the range +0.2 to +0.4 for KS4 and a positive L3VA score of +0.2 to+ 0.4 at KS5. We will build on emerging patterns of improvement with disadvantaged students and ensure gaps in student progress between micro-cohorts are reduced by improving inclusive practices. We will focus on SEND students and high prior attaining students in all subjects. Values underpinning this objective are equity, equality and self-help.
OBJECTIVE 2: Improving the quality of education We will continue to develop the knowledge based curriculum whilst maintaining a broad and inclusive curriculum for all students. Pedagogical advances will focus on strategies to strengthen challenge and progression in learning. We will widen the current approaches being used to scaffold learning to meet end point tasks and big questions. Here we will be promoting the values of solidarity, self-help and equity.
OBJECTIVE 3: Strengthening the efficacy of pastoral support and ensuring the development of cultural capital. The introduction of the ABC programme will improve the students’ contributions to their own progress and build self-responsibility for learning. The focus will be on attendance, behaviour for learning and extra-curricular contributions. We will ensure colleagues understand the importance of using emotional intelligence in building outstanding relationships predicated on trust and selfdiscipline. This objective will draw upon the values of solidarity, democracy, social responsibility and self-responsibility.
OBJECTIVE 4: Transforming middle leadership so that this becomes the drive engine for school improvement. Leadership becomes purposeful and solution-focused where it is allowed to flourish. Whilst we recognise that subjects require specialist leadership, we will take steps to secure greater alignment and more opportunity for innovation. By breathing new life into existing CPD we will re-invigorate self-responsibility, solidarity and a sense of belonging. I look forward to working with you to breathe life into these aspirations.

It is always sad to say goodbye to valued colleagues, and at the end of term we are losing 6 of our teachers and one catering assistant. I am as ever humbled by the skills of teachers and the enthusiasm of youth, and as you move forward into the holiday period, I would like to thank you for all your hard work this term, and across the year. Our school is not oversubscribed by chance, it is the daily slog that you all play a part in that has made us successful. We know there will be new challenges next year but for now lets enjoy the sun at last. Have a fantastic holiday, and I will see many of you on results days in August.


Principal’s Round-up – 5th July 2019

Posted: 5 July 2019

Words. I was reflecting on the multiple meanings of words yesterday. It stemmed from a conversation I was having recently about mission statements and values. Let’s take the value of equality, one of our founding ICA values. What does this mean in a school context? Well, it depends which psychological contract you make with the word. Do we mean equality of opportunity? Equality of responsibility? Or equal outcomes and rewards? All apply. Clearly, only the first is achievable and probably appropriate for us. We know life is not fair and equal, but we can give everyone an opportunity. If they choose to mess it up, that’s their own affair. We cannot be expected to absorb conflicting so called ‘personal freedoms of expression’ if they clearly run against the consensus. It would be too distracting, and self-indulgent to do so. Too much personal introspection leads to self-fulfilling actions.

This fits nicely with the key messages that were offered from Public Health England about mental health and well-being offered from EduCare. We must recognise that there are bio-psycho-social factors that interact to form mental health. Nature (bio) factors reflect what young people are born with and the genetic tendency some people have to poor mental health; nurture (psycho)factors include how attachments are formed in early life, and what people grow up with; and social factors are linked to what happens to young people for example bereavement, friendships and school. School cannot put right what was damaged by parental conflict, domestic abuse, lack of childhood stimulation or genetics. Neither can it be responsible for friendship groups. However, Public Health England advises that school can have a big influence in helping children build resilience. Resilience is one’s capacity to face, overcome and be strengthened by challenge and adversity. It is fundamental to promoting good mental health. It requires us to have high expectations, good and firm discipline, and a culture of safe risk taking which allows for some personal failure that results in growth. This, it is suggested, is as strong, if not stronger, than therapies and counselling. Risk factors to mental health cannot be removed from any of our lives, but we can learn how to deal with them with the right kind of support. EduCare suggest that to build resilience in young people who are showing signs of poor mental health, girls require an absence of over-protection and encouragement to take healthy risks and boys require even greater structure, rules and healthy male role models. This leads ultimately to better attitudes and of course, better academic results. Humans also require a good diet, sleep, good housing and stability as part of their well-being. Sadly, not all young people have access to this outside of school. Barbara will be working on a mental health and well-being policy soon, and input into this from colleagues will be welcome.

We have seen a great deal of positivity, resilience and personal perseverance over the last fortnight both from the staff, and from students. The A level Art exhibition was presented this week. The standard gets better every year. I was amazed by the artistic quality and really feel that this work deserves a better venue than the Octagon. So, if anyone knows of an art gallery willing to display this wonderful work, please let Lewis and Tom know. The Green-power car raced in Newquay yesterday. This was the product of months of co-operation, innovation and hard work for the team. We have also enjoyed two events in St Eustachius Church. One was for Y8 where we celebrated Founders’ Day. This was to give thanks to the great men of Tavistock who donated land and money to create a school in Tavistock over the last 1000 years. We also took great delight in watching Y11 Graduation, where the majority of the year group gathered to celebrate the successful completion of compulsory education. A few were not welcomed, and that is as a result of actions that determined they felt they could take from the school but give nothing back. At both events students excelled and it was a delight to hear readings from the deputy head boy and others in the newly appointed student leadership team. What a standard they set.

In a similar vein, the Anchor group took time to make and serve a very special tea for their parents and carers on Tuesday. They designed the event, made the cakes and constructed the menus. I have had some wonderful feedback about that occasion. Some of these students, alongside others, attended the Devon Ability Games and came back ecstatic with their results. Some pictures are included in this edition.

So to return to the start, all of these young people have had equal opportunities to do well, to be nice people and to learn from failure and get back up again. Well done to them all. They are the role models for the others. As I said recently, you have to be bigger than your excuses. I look forward to the exciting events of the next two weeks, and I am, as always, humbled by the skills of teachers and the enthusiasm of youth to succeed to well.

Have a good weekend


Principal’s Round-up – 21st June 2019

Posted: 21 June 2019

We have a few more busy evenings and days left until the end of term, and most of these are exciting events. On 25th June I am really looking forward to the annual Product of the Year event. It is also the Camps International fundraising boat trip for Peru 2020. As I can’t be in two places at once, I am hoping some staff will support this venture. Also next week we will be taking the whole of Y8 to St Eustachius Church to give thanks for the people who founded a school in Tavistock and after who our college houses are named. The following week we welcome our new Y7 parents and students into school for two evening events where we set out our expectations for them as parents, and so students can meet their tutor. Tristan and I are busy visiting the 23 feeder schools over the next few weeks as part of the recruitment process for next year! And of course we are all looking forward to Y11 and Y13 graduation, also at St Eustachius and their proms. Seeing the students graduate is such a positive and affirming event and makes all the work worthwhile. Thank you to everyone who works tirelessly to make these events so special. The links we have with our partner schools and the community of Tavistock is what makes this school such an exceptional place to work in.

Now the testing period for most year groups is coming to an end, we should now turn our attention back to the on-going improvements to teaching and learning. The reviews I, and other colleagues, have undertaken alongside Heads of Faculty have revealed some sustained progress growth in the areas we have focussed on this year. There is certainly more coherence. The use of end point tasks and the associated road maps has brought a great deal of rationality to the knowledge base for subjects. The new Ofsted framework requires us to consider the intent and implementation of our curriculum and where the EPTs have been devised well, students have a much greater chance to show how they have created composite models in their memory from related ideas. Whilst I still believe that some of these require more challenge, students’ extended writing and productivity is now largely at the level expected. There is a way to go with improving the learning experience for students who do not wish to meet our expectations, and we must work hard on changing this. Additionally, I am delighted to finally condemn to the bin the low quality posters, cloze exercises, debates that encourage the recycling of misconceptions and time consuming, low impact model building in the academic subjects. None were seen and long may this continue. I will be encouraging teachers next year to improve the quality of methods used for regular recall exercises and spaced learning to ensure there is accurate and lucid knowledge being transferred to long term memory rather than attempting to run last minute revision lessons. More will follow in the feedback I will give to Faculties next week.

This continual cycle of review and improvement is what is strengthening our progress. Ed Dorrell writing in the TES recently reminds us of the theory – one that is growing in importance in the world of business – that says the more a company concentrates on its mission rather than its profits, the bigger the profits will be. ‘Built to last’ by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras was a huge success when it was first published in 1994. The idea has since become something of a touchstone for many business folk in the postcredit crunch world. The gist was, it’s better to be Google (mission: don’t be evil) than the Royal Bank of Scotland (mission: loadsamoney). This theory has some very real relevance for schools at this time of the year. I know teachers worry themselves half to death about exam season and results day, not because it’s their head on the block, but because they know what a low grade rather than a higher one could mean for a student’s entire future. However, we find that almost without exception it is schools that embed Collins’ ethos in their work that achieve long-term, sustainable success in their work. In short, they are ‘built to last.’ It is those that look for quick fixes – often under immense pressure from those above them- who can come a cropper.

It is attacks like those written into the recent Timpson report on exclusion that too often result in schools opting for short-term fixes. They chase the ‘top 10 tips’ and pick the ‘low hanging fruit’ in a desperate attempt to make a difference. This creates in turn a dependency culture that produces a workforce of teachers reliant on a controlling direction that stymies creativity. Just as we must move from a management culture to professional independence, we must try very hard to resist the urge to find the easy wins and work really hard at seeing lessons through the eyes of the learner. We will achieve this through ‘gentle pushes on the flywheel’ to provide sustainable improvements. We have discussed the vision and plan for next year. By working on the objectives we must remember that at all times our aim is to develop the academic acumen of our students whilst preparing them for the transition to adulthood – in a world that will be full of uncertainty and challenge. If we do not take the time to develop how we produce more independent learners with a zest for achievement, we will surely have failed in our aim. Strategies and priorities may change as the year progresses; I cannot promise they won’t. But our ultimate goal remains constant. Stick to that and find ways to achieve it.