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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 7th June 2019

Posted: 7 June 2019

I was reading about successful schools in London last week. I found a school with 6 data drops based on testing for every year group, and a student community that stood in silence at the start of the school day and at the end of break and lunch, which was strangely delightful but disturbing at the same time! The methods that this school is using, replicating the Chinese education system, may well improve behaviour in the short term, but will do little to develop the students’ character. Our approach is to continue to work on creating the ethos that will prepare the students to be successful in their lives. Part of this is recognising the need to embrace personal anxiety and use it for good use: to learn how to become more resilient. In my assemblies next week I will we exemplifying this through the words of Winston Churchill. He is often quoted as saying ‘a pessimist is someone who sees difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty’. We need more optimists. This can be taught through a disciplined approach. We need less self-indulgent self-examination that leads to selfish behaviour and more commitment to the common good, of which each individual is only a part. My assembly focuses on the strength from developing the Dunkirk spirit. That is why we must continue to work on our co-operative value of social responsibility. In particular we must focus on the importance of courtesy, manners and appropriate and positive language. I believe that promoting these values through tutor groups, classes and around the school makes us all the richer. This type of positive pastoral work is an essential part of each child’s education and should see them through life.

Through co-operation we nurture the ability to work with others and the power of respectful behaviours. This is not only essential for a fulfilling existence, but fosters precisely the kind of human qualities needed by us all if we are to succeed in any sphere, whether it be business or simply living together. This is where being part of a co-operative school really pays dividends because it accentuates the human nature of learning. As well as ensuring students have an excellent transition to adulthood; we work hard at developing academic acumen. It was interesting listening to a subject teacher recently about the improvements in both quality and quantity of the written work of her students. She said concentrating on depth meant she was not ‘covering’ as much, but that students were more engaged and doing better than ever before. We refer to this as ‘mastery’. She says that by us believing in her professional judgement, her students are now learning enthusiastically and taking pride in the quality of their work. Students were no longer ‘turned off’ by levels and rushing through a syllabus and she rarely had to sanction anyone. “Discipline problems have all but disappeared and short marking means I am taking less work home and students are able to make more rapid progress”. Of course managing the change was hard and she was aware some of her colleagues are still struggling with the concept, but the exercise books were full of shining examples. Very often it is in the exercise books or longer written end point tasks we see the breakthrough. The first piece of real quality academic work a student produces is very often a written task. Getting students to write is one of the key tasks for good teachers. Both quality of writing and quality of speaking can be easily correlated to success in later life. This is not rocket science. Good writing leads to success because it requires that students are able to read, comprehend, think, evaluate and then clarify their thoughts. There really is no other way to do it. Glasser says that when students really start to believe in their ability to write then their feeling of intellectual competence and scholarship lifts. It becomes a virtuous circle as shown by our teachers who have used short marking as a vehicle to elicit high standards of written work. Of course, students embarking on this journey for the first time require well-modelled examples, effective scaffolding and constant feedback.

As the Teaching and Learning reviews commence next week, I look forward to seeing how this work has developed over this year, and especially how HPAs are being driven hard to succeed. This is a key area for improvement and we must take it seriously if we are to radically transform our progress measures in each year group. Mark and I have worked on the CPD plan for next year and the majority of this will focus on strategies to use with students to improve knowledge acquisition and retrieval. In order to give space to these initiatives, the behaviour for learning policy will be tightened with far less allowances given to children who simply will not comply with the rules we must set.

Thank you to all those who have contributed to the wealth of extra-curricular experiences this term, including the support given to students who are industriously raising money for projects such as the Himalayan expedition and Camps International. They have appreciated your support. Thank you also to everyone who supported the annual staff football match against Mount Kelly last night. I am declaring a 4-4 VICTORY as we had to lend the opposing team two of our star players who assisted them in their goal scoring attempts! The match was organised by Tom Galli who managed to secure a fantastic side. We were privileged to be joined by Daryll Chapman whose aged wisdom on the field certainly paid dividends. It’s been a great week in school with Y11 and Y13 remaining focussed and determined. I hope you have lovely weekend


Principal’s Round-up – 17th May 2019

Posted: 17 May 2019

We have been busy this week. Exams are in full flow with all the pressures they bring including eleventh hour HOT lessons, last minute dashes to make sure equipment checks are made and keeping the rest of the school quiet. And stress, lots and lots of stress. Students have been well prepared by their teachers to manage stress and the pressure examinations bring. At one level pressure can be considered a positive aid to performance: the deadline that spurs us on, the target to motivate, or the challenge to inspire. At another level, pressure may trigger a mechanism to tell you something is wrong – and this is where the pressure becomes stress. Continuing beyond this level for too long can seriously damage mental and physical health. Students have to manage this pressure for the examination period. Then it is lifted. For teachers and other education workers the pressure is continuous. It has never been greater.
Despite this we all still have choices, even within the reality of work currently upon us all. As the pressure at work increases we can either learn how to manage it or we can let work pressures manage us. Stress is considered an individual’s response to pressure, and we all respond to different pressures in different ways. However, learning to recognise our responses, identifying the sources of stress and gaining a sensible perspective are all within our control. It is documented that a universal trigger for stress is being forced to respond to situations that are outside of our control. I certainly feel this when I read unfounded criticisms about the college in public forums that have invited comments from others who happily pile in with strongly-worded responses that have no basis in fact. Or when, despite the severe and brutal reductions to school revenue funding, we are suddenly expected to magic a mental health worker out of thin air to help children who are suffering from politically driven austerity cuts and who simply cannot cope with their lives.
It is not helpful for us to reflect on situations over which we have limited or no control. These thoughts just confirm a sense of helplessness and it becomes our thoughts that generate stress rather than the situation we find ourselves in. I don’t spend time mulling over things outside of my control. I focus instead on what is within my control. I start with adjusting own thoughts. I exercise choice. I reduce my stress. I would encourage you to find ways of doing this. Leaving teaching is becoming fashionable across England. Yet it still remains one of the best jobs in the world. It all depends on how you look at it really. The things that brought us into the profession are still the same. Whilst we all have a right to be angry over the attempts to dismantle the education system, we still are the ones whose responsibility it is to provide quality for the young people in our care. And it is a joy to do so.
Some people find exercise helps them think clearly and put pressures of work into perspective. If this is the case then the brave young people who took part in the annual Ten Tors challenge last weekend must have almost pure clarity of thought! Our teams were: Year 10: Tyler Hunt, Isabelle Hillman, Max Jordan, William Russell, Joe Dix & Abigail Whitehead. Year 11 : Ben Whitehead, George Dunne-Perry, Adam Sellars, Elliott Overnell, Jack Luxton and Amy Brimacombe. Year 12 & 13: Josie Handscomb, George Drew, Phoenix Rinkowski, Dylan Pierce and Lauren Morris. Ben Watt. Y10, Daisy Duncan & Murray Brown Y9 also participated with other establishments. Jubilee Challenge; Year 9: Adam Lee-Hillan, Lee Varma, Reece Winter, Charlotte Doran, Jamie Dove Year 10: Douglas Radcliffe.
Thank you to everyone who supported them, including their parents some of who waved them off from school on Friday morning with trepidation. Our athletes were also very successful at the Plymouth and West Devon games last week. Our team gained a staggering 26 top places and many ‘personal bests’ were achieved. This event provides a platform to progress to the Devon championships, so well done to everyone who competed, and thanks to everyone who coached them.
It is always disappointing to hear that we have been misrepresented in the community. It only takes one deliberate act of gossip to undermine the work that we do on a daily basis. The current dialogue around elitism is unfounded. You know how often I praise the work of staff, and of students (actively supported by their parents) in strengthening community engagement and participation. That is why our two most recent consultations were set up to foster the value of democracy, not to attract the loudest voice. As in all things politically, those who do not agree try sometimes to shout down the voice of reason because they do not get their own way. However, we are a co-operative school that believes in the collective power of people. And so, we certainly are not complacent in positioning ourselves as models of emulation in the community rather than lowering what we stand for to the lowest denominator. Celebrating success is part of this. It is not elitist, and we will never stop promoting the outcomes of consistent efforts and sheer determination. By participating in team-based extra-curricular competition we see students develop skills that will make them successful in later life. Determination, resilience and interdependence were attributes exemplified by the students who have succeeded in sport and in academic endeavours. Others should aim to recognise these as role models rather than complain and moan about their own personal inertia.
By participating in activities we see students develop skills that will make them successful.
9th Degree Theatre Company, made up of Year 13 Performing Arts students, performed their final piece last Friday where talent was verified. ‘Blood will have Blood’ (a reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth) was written and produced by the company and you can read a full write up of the play in this edition.
Student opportunities abound if they wish to participate. Exciting future possibilities that are being organised through the MAT include a DMAT Choir to provide a wider range of audiences and experiences for our elite singers, and the return of the DMAT Ability Games in September that will allow students to compete and succeed in a more equitable way that we currently provide through regular events. I look forward to seeing these develop
Have a lovely weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 3rd May 2019

Posted: 3 May 2019

We were lucky to be able to host a MAT wide presentation by Karl Sampson (Assistant Regional Director for Ofsted) on Wednesday. One of the advantages of being part of a larger organisation is the possibility to be part of events such as this, and I am looking forward to the next big event that will be a joint professional development day across the MAT on 6th January.

In his presentation, Karl gave some clear messages about the thinking behind the proposed new framework for September, and it was heartening to hear that the work that we have already started on curriculum design, the nature of knowledge, pedagogy and personal development will be considered. Already this year, middle leaders have been sharpening their view on the curriculum. It is important to not let new jargon divert us. The ‘intent’ of the curriculum named in the new framework is simply our bread and butter – why we teach what we do. This is certainly worthy of focus, but it is not a ‘bolt on’. The same applies to ‘implementation’, or the ‘how’ of the curriculum. We cannot expect uniformity across subjects, for example there will be no whole school pro-forma to capture the ideas of the framework. We can expect, however, whole school thinking. There will be plenty of dialogue and subject-specialist networking (hopefully across this MAT and wider), to make sure we have reflected on the ‘why?’ and the ‘how?’ of the curriculum. Consistency seems to drive the school improvement agenda these days, but it is not always appropriate. In fact, consistency is not always well understood. I have always been clear, it is consistency of understanding and standards that matter, not paperwork. We must avoid distorting the curriculum to achieve fake consistency. Why should a curriculum map in history look the same as the one in mathematics? Mathematical knowledge is hierarchically structured and much of history is cumulative. Uniformity is tempting, but we should resist it. It is far more important to build a shared understanding that knowledge is at the heart of the curriculum. By exploring the conceptual rules that exist in each subject, students should experience the curriculum as a range of disciplines rather than static bodies of content, topics and stand-alone lessons.

We also must focus on ourselves. I have been dismayed at the sheer volume of written articles describing teacher burn-out, dissatisfaction and stress that are published at the moment. It nearly matches the ones written about the impact our society and social media addiction is having on young people’s mental health. We have tried to address workload as best we can during this time of financial crisis, and Barbara’s well-being forum is designed to go one step further. It is rather ironic that joining the group requires another meeting, but she tells me there are always biscuits and coffee on offer if you’d like to help shape the best ways to support staff well-being.

I was asked by SSAT to consider the impact of the Humanutopia project last week. In reflecting on the programme, I can see how the impact is growing but that we still have a way to grow the principles underpinning the philosophy. We know that amongst our student body that there is a persistent legacy of social division and disaffection. Even the Humanutopia Heroes have bad days! That is why the ‘me on a good day’ wall of tiles completed by students is going to be so important. However, the impact of working with Humanutopia is tangible. Visitors say how welcoming our student body is, engagement in learning continues to improve, and students are largely kind and helpful again. The Humanutopia programme has a refreshing theoretical framework, built on constructivism rather than behaviourism. This is why it is more impactful than our previous attempts to resolve social inequality. Students examine themselves, and are not told how they should be or what they should be doing. They can now work these things out for themselves. The idea that it’s ‘okay to be different’ is now prevailing. Students smile more, make eye contact with strangers and their confidence has improved. The programme has encouraged self-reflection, self-awareness and self-direction. Fundamentally, it is about knowing yourself and knowing how to improve. The strength of Humanutopia has been peer-to-peer development. This is set up to be mutually developmental and not a top down social support process that leads to perceptions of envy and elitism. Student leadership is now coming from groups other than the traditional. We have children with additional needs leading others, and it has engaged disadvantaged students more than before. Students make better choices. Importantly, they are now making the change not out of fear of reprisal or from compliance and a willingness to please, but because they see a future for themselves.

Finally, thank you to everyone who contributed to the consultation forum on plans for changing the school day. The feedback from staff, parents and students was overwhelmingly in support of the changes and no alterations have been made to the proposal. This means that from September the school day will finish at 3pm. We will have two equal sized breaks at 1100 and at 1330 of 30 minutes in length. Food will be served in the Refectory and Ndeeba at both of these times. All lessons will remain the same length, and whilst the start of the day will still be at 0840, the first lesson will now begin at 0900. Late buses will leave at 1630 on Tuesday and Thursdays.

Thank you for all of your hard work since we returned from the Easter break, and I hope you all enjoy the long weekend.