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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 1st February 2019

Posted: 1 February 2019

The PPEs are done and marked (thank you!). The results are in. As expected, we still have a long way to go with this year group, but we have some real success stories beginning to emerge. Mathematics, for example are in a better place than they were this time last year. Middle leaders have put on their combat armour and are ready to give all that they have got! On a snowy day at the end of January, we are not just set to close our doors and send everyone home. We battle on, and we do this because it is the right thing to do. So, how do we get this level of commitment to succeed? Our most valued teachers, tutors and support staff at Tavistock do not blame students for a lack of enthusiasm, instead they have that knack of making students and their families feel valued. In and around the college great teachers have the habit of making sure they acknowledge and notice children. They use praise wisely and authentically. Students, or their parents, often go out of their way to thank me for having staff that believed in them. They tell me that what stands out, is that they really took the time to get to know them as an individual. Of course, they also appreciate these teachers for setting boundaries and for setting high standards.

Our best teachers at Tavistock somehow convey through word and deed that they really understand the emotional pressure children are under. They understand teenagers as well as their subject. They help children to see opportunities and show them how to contribute to their community. Through a love of their subject, great teachers convince children to take their studies seriously and for ensuring that a love of the subject is not only about passing an exam. They treat students as more than just a number. And yet in these classes, guess what – students do really well in public examinations, and this matters too. Great teachers give effective feedback. Those written comments, sticky notes, that word in the ear, that hint to the group, those annoyingly difficult questions just when they thought they’d got it…the written notes, test results, retest after retest, patience, cajoling and constant encouragement……

Tavistock teachers show children that they genuinely care about them. They take relationships seriously. They understand that relationships take time, effort and care. Relationships are messy, but the best are built on love, respect and trust. When times are tough they persevere. How do our teachers get to know each and every child as more than just a number, more than just a target grade? They talk to students and they listen. Simple. Such skilled professionals come across as time millionaires. Within their lessons they always seem to have time for each table, for each child. They acknowledge their charges in corridors, on the sports field, in the courtyard. They make the effort to go to watch them perform in assemblies, shows, exhibitions, competitions. They always seem to be able to convince children to try new things and push themselves. This gives children the courage to succeed.

Our valued teachers go out of their way to bring their subject alive and try to make lessons interesting. They have a sense of humour. They share fascinating insights into their life, deepening the bonds of trust. It proves they are human, somehow. Children relate to that. We all need that.

Upon reflection, I work with some wonderful teachers and support staff. At the end of the day, a great school is simply a school with great teachers in every classroom and great people surrounding them.
Thank you for all that you do.
Sarah

Principal’s Round-up – 18th January 2019

Posted: 21 January 2019

The highlight of the last week has been our annual Sports Personality of the Year. It was a superb event, attended by so many and enjoyed by everyone. I was so proud to not only hear the achievements of all of our young sports men and women but to reflect on the citations read by members of staff. It was so obvious to visitors how much pride and pleasure colleagues took in seeing our students achieve. Whilst the efforts are clearly made by the young people themselves, it should be noted that this happens only when opportunity and encouragement is given day in and day out. The PE faculty do this. Anne Johnson, councillor, Trustee and ex-student, commented that when she was a student at the college there were nearly 2000 students here. She recalled that they produced one or two successful rugby and football players. And it stopped there. Hearing about the range of sports that our students succeed at was a real testament to the work of our PE teachers. Thank you for all that you do. This was your evening too and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

We were delighted to learn last term that our first choice numbers are higher than they have ever been. We are likely to be oversubscribed for the third year in a row with 253 first choices for a PAN of 240. Well done to all involved in securing this. It is the product of hard work over a number of years and it seems that we have gained the trust of the parents and the local community. We now must continue to deliver the service that is expected. This means continuing the drive for excellence in teaching, learning and assessment whilst sustaining the wonderful extra –curricular provision, including international trips, that makes Tavistock College such a wonderful school.

These things matter because it is out of success that positive mental health is born. It is essential we find as many opportunities to remind our students, and ourselves about what is going well. We are right to be concerned about our young people’s mental health and well-being. Not a day passes without headlines in newspapers, online, on the TV about mental health. The general consensus is that to manage this problem properly, we need coherence around the three most powerful influences affecting the mental health of youngsters: their families their schools and social media. Where one fails, rarely will there be a positive outcome for young people’s mental health. Whilst we find it impossible to manage two of these elements effectively, there are things we can do. Tim Brighouse recommends the following approaches, and I think these align to our school practices. We need to strengthen some of them:
1. Focus on the quality of tutor time and tutors – these affect attendance, ethos and self-esteem.
2. Avoid streaming and rigid setting at KS3.
3. Develop a strong house system and involve all teaching and support staff. This creates a sense of belonging
4. Identify on transition those students who are already not coping – set up a surrogate parenting arrangement
5. Whilst on duty at break and lunch have at least four positive conversations with at least four different students – positive relationships are key to good mental health.

We are entering that time of year where, if we are not careful, work life balance will spiral out of control in our anxiety to get the best results possible. If things do not go our way in that foggy algorithm approach to achievement, then we will once again be playing the ‘naming and shaming’ approach to system wide school improvement which I am frankly sick of, and actually completely contravenes the DfE’s current stance on staff wellbeing, mental health and Ofsted’s move towards a wider and less test-orientated school curriculum. However, we can control some things. Our attitude for one. We all accept we want the best and we must strive for this. At some point though, we have to accept when our best was done. We all recognise that it does not help anyone to compare schools in a humiliating way which ignores any narrative and limits progress to a comparative measure. But that does not mean we give up or cease to reach the bar we set for ourselves . We can continue to support each other, to run interference, to pick each other up when we flag and to be quick to praise the positives. We care enough about high standards to redefine for ourselves how success and failure are judged, in what terms and by whom. We also need to shield ourselves, as part of the wider society, from the nastiness and general lack of empathy that has come to characterise much of what passes for debate about schools and education. Public debate in Britain has become exceptionally adversarial and abrasive in recent years. There is a culture of blame, which seeks to point the finger rather than to understand. We need badly to develop more human and humane ways of talking about the things that make us angry, oppositional or afraid, including failure. We must strive to operate in an environment that is to calm, human-centred and healthily open and collaborative ethical approaches. Working together is the key. Except in rare cases, poor performance cannot and should not be treated as issues of one individual’s personal failure. There must be a culture where people are not afraid to raise issues that are troubling them. Maintaining what Mark Stein refers to as the “good self” of an organisation is everybody’s responsibility. Perhaps a way to doing this is to think, when things go wrong, not of who is to blame, but of how best to fix it, recognising that is a common ground we all share. Problems within an organisation are rarely fixed simply by parachuting in an expert or tinkering with a few systems. We need to appreciate that things are a lot more complex than that. At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our school. I think we are in a good position to take this philosophy forward.

Thank you for all of your hard work over the last two weeks. Have a good weekend

Sarah

Principal’s Round-up – 21st December 2018

Posted: 21 December 2018

At House Assemblies this week I was delighted to be able to reflect back on some of our successes this term. There is a great deal of positivity amongst the student body as we approach the end of a busy term. Relationships with most students seems to be at an all-time high, and we are well on our mission to be a happy, healthy and productive school. We have seen some amazing sporting success, both in college teams and individually. Our two performing arts events were well attended and the talk of the town. And we found out that we will be oversubscribed for the third year in a row. Of course it is has not all been plain sailing, and there were times when every day seemed a struggle. All of these things must be remembered when we are rolling at top speed, with no time to even organise your own toilet breaks, or to walk away at the end of the day. We all seem to need more time, and for the average teacher, 24 hours in the day will never be enough. While we got to grips with the new curricular changes, new accountability measures, dark rainy days, there were the challenges we faced around students’ complex needs. This is where the value of solidarity came alive. Knowing that we are all aligned to make the college as good as it can be, but recognising that we all sometimes get overwhelmed. A co-operative school always copes: when it’s tough, we lift our heads up and go out there. We get through the difficult times together by helping each other develop resilience, resourcefulness and reminding ourselves of our moral purpose.

Despite the pressure of our work we must never forget great teachers are also subject enthusiasts. At Tavistock we have passionate teachers who share that through rich tasks and activities. The promotion of scholarship matters to them. It matters to me. The teacher who is passionate, humane, civilised and excited about their subject is also inevitably the teacher whose students do best in tests and examinations. We have many such teachers here. Tavistock teachers make students feel valued as individuals, treat them with dignity, and make them believe in themselves. That is the Tavistock way. It is the co-operative way. In so many classrooms in this school there is still the right balance of fun and fundamentals. In co-operative classrooms enjoyment, teamwork, humour, trust and warm relationships are the norm. This is what we must cherish.

As at the end of every term, we have some much valued colleagues to say farewell to today. We thank them for their hard work, dedication and care for our students over the years they have worked with us.
To everyone who has contributed to another successful year at Tavistock College, thank you. To one and all, have a really good Christmas. I look forward to welcoming you back for the New Year for our training day on 7th January.

Sarah