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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 5th April 2019

Posted: 5 April 2019

Everything seems to be in turmoil. The changes being made with immodest pace to the education system in England (do more with less) and other well-documented changes are making my head spin. So much is in flux, and some of the ideas are contradictory and ill-thought out. The most recent announcements are around the impact of school exclusions on knife crime. Where is the evidence that this causal relationship exists beyond a convenient headline in a newspaper or an over stretched police service? If only pesky little headteachers would stop excluding children, we could solve all of society’s complex and multi-faceted problems in one fell swoop. We should have the right to be funded sufficiently and equitably to help solve some of these problems, but I do not see that happening any time soon.

Richard Sheriff (president of the Association of School and College Leaders) reminds us that whilst there may be a few positive actions in the new accountability framework, we must not get carried away with ourselves. England’s high-stakes accountability system (Ofsted, reliance on league tables and so on) is not reflected anywhere else in the UK and is pretty much unique globally. It is not so much that we should not have any accountability, but that many question the unreliability of data, the methodologies used, and the efficacy of our systems. However, I fear that our high stakes accountability system is a disease from which we may never recover. Data and progress measures are subject to change yet again, making any kind of year on year comparison nonsensical and just down-right wrong. Yet everything rests on the school’s outcomes like never before. No wonder teachers are leaving the profession in their droves and the search for school leaders has become problematic to say the least.

In reality though, it is not all doom and gloom. You only have to raise your head up from the desk and look again at the young people we work with and their supportive parents to see that. We have a great collegiate staff all pulling in the same direction. There is plenty to be happy about, and there is certainly plenty to be celebrating at Tavistock College. It’s all about your mind set and whether or not the reasons you chose a career in education are still burning in your heart. Mine are. I was reminded of most of these from the reading I did over the weekend and in the work I have undertaken recently for the co-operative movement through Co-operatives UK. Helping in one activity I came across a statement written by Robin Sharma that I have seen before, but thought I would share with you in case you haven’t. It reminds me of what people who work in schools do every day.

The rules for being amazing
Risk more than is required. Learn more than is normal. Be strong. Show courage. Excel. Love. Lead. Speak your truth. Live your values. Laugh. Cry. Innovate. Simplify. Adore mastery. Release mediocrity. Aim for genius. Stay humble. Be kinder than expected. Deliver more than is needed. Exude passion. Shatter your limits. Transcend your fears. Inspire others by your bigness. Dream big but start small. Act now. Don’t stop. Change the world.

We simply cannot afford to lose more teachers and education staff from the profession. We are all too important. That is why I take seriously the Trade Union advice on my responsibility to help manage workload. Thank you to all staff who responded to the Workload Charter consultation. This is now being displayed in the college. The Workload Charter is a way of capturing our pledge to making work life balance more achievable, and by putting it into writing we are committing to the future. The main principles are:

The culture of our Trust is framed by the values of the International Co-operative Alliance. We aim to ensure we maintain a rewarding working environment in which all colleagues are valued and we take seriously the demands of their job. We start from an assumption of professional trust and the belief that everyone seeks to do their best. We ask all leaders to set a good example in how they behave and that they actively strive to reduce the level of potential stress and anxiety in the organisation whilst maintaining high standards and expectations.

Lesson planning:
Staff are not expected to submit daily lesson plans. IT systems will be designed to establish practices and processes that minimise the replication of resources. Sharing of suitable resources will be encouraged across the Trust.

Marking and Feedback
There will be no imposed Trust-wide expectation of marking without due regard to policies in individual schools. Each school may have a different approach that is developed by subject specialists. There will be no acknowledgement marking, and live marking will be encouraged. Marking will be specific to reduce time spent out of school hours and to increase impact.

Data collection
Schools collect student performance data three times a year to ensure they can monitor progress without over-burdening staff. Professional judgement will be integrated into data input and we will continuously seek to use the best systems that reduce workload.

There is no expectation that staff will respond to emails outside of normal working hours. We want all staff to be able to achieve a healthy work-home balance and we trust our staff to make professional decisions about when they work outside school hours.

The Trust does not conduct ‘mocksteds’ Teachers will not be required to provide lesson plans or undertake tasks outside the normal cycle of monitoring and evaluation or appraisal arrangements for each school that has been agreed by JCC.

Working practices
Where new initiatives and policies are introduced, we will carry out a workload impact assessment. Serious consideration will be given to what we might stop doing to make space for new expectations. These initiatives will be based on evidence that they will have a positive impact on students’ learning, outcomes or well-being.

I hope that you will not only support the charter, but encourage all of us to adhere to what is written. Managing self is as important as managing others, and it is okay sometimes to ask for help. This is something we all have to learn.

I hope you all have a happy and restful Easter break

Principal’s Round-up – 22nd March 2019

Posted: 22 March 2019

I was privileged to attend the ASCL conference last week. There were some superb sessions on leadership, curriculum and on what it means to create sustainable progress in learning. Whilst I often suggest we have the answers collectively to solve our own problems, it is important always to be outward facing and to learn from research. I was, however, left at the end of the conference with a sense that things in education will never be the same again. Change is rapid and the profession is vulnerable. Some changes are hard to swallow and can generate a real sense of isolation. But being at the conference gave me some extended time to talk to colleagues from other schools and to spend time with leaders in our MAT. I was able to reflect on the progress all of our schools have made over the last year, and was left with a sense of togetherness that has not been created by chance. The blows that we take in the profession are cushioned by our collaboration and partnership in a larger co-operative organisation. I came away from the conference on Saturday afternoon feeling that we are extremely fortunate to be in partnership within the Dartmoor Multi-Academy Trust. Here is why:

  1. DMAT leaders know that its staff matter. It will always ensure teachers have the knowledge and skills to teach at the highest standards. We have shared subject networks, identified leading practitioners that can coach and support and
    soon we will have shared CPD at the January 2020 training day. We know that support staff contribute greatly to our schools and we have a common understanding that their needs matters too. That is why we have invested in EduCare
    so that everyone can access their chosen CPD.
  2. DMAT leaders strive to provide school structures that support high quality teaching and learning. Centralisation of services allows the lens of school leadership to aim in the right direction without unnecessary distraction. We are
    confident as school leaders that we have the very best people ‘running interference’ so we can do our jobs well. We have common and well thought out policies that encourage us to behave honourably and responsibly at all times.
  3. We all seek to create processes for school assessment that can evaluate students’ opportunities to learn and that can provide leverage for continuous improvement. We know that measuring student learning alone is not the same as improving it. We know that targets are not the same as outcomes. We have set up school improvement visits, have access to data guru, Jon Lunn, we participate in rigorous, challenging meetings that are positive because they are ethically based.
  4. Students are genuinely at the heart of what we do. Students now have a collective voice through the DMAT student council, opportunities to participate in trips and activities where costs are shared and have new opportunities that only a collective can offer, like the successful Ability Games we participated in last September.

Of course, we will never run out of things to improve. We are fortunate as DMAT schools to sit in the centre of Dartmoor Teaching School Alliance, helping to shape subject networks and professional development. We have access to two school improvement partners, and we are not forced into unproductive ‘mocksteds’ that do little to improve a school. Genuine accountability involves support and requires co-constructed changes to teaching and learning. This is what will increase the probability that students will meet externally measured standards.

As in all successful organisations, there is an opportunity for personalisation, agency and freedom to develop. In short, quite uniquely it seems from my conversations with leaders stuck in other MATs, we can breathe, and not feel suffocated.

Whilst I continue to fight battles over school funding and stress about our ever reduced service, parents and staff continue to amaze me in what they do on a voluntary basis for the young people of Tavistock. Last weekend, Reuban Frise in Y8 and Alannah Hopkins in Y7 competed in the British National Schools judo championships in Sheffield. Alannah gained a silver medal and Reuban came 7th. These were outstanding results and could not have happened without support from their parents. I’d like to commend all of our students who, through their hard work and the support of our wonderful LAMDA teacher, Vanessa McCarty, gained excellent results. Every single one of the 18 students who entered an exam gained a distinction grade. This included 3 at grade 7. Another outstanding achievement. And thanks this week also to Kate Wyatt who gave up a great deal of time supporting students to create a beautiful window display as part of a competition in Tavistock. The display gained a special commendation award for Outstanding Artistic Creation. The students were Avie and Bea Venner, Ffion Edmunds, Kitty Trewartha-Wyatt and Lily Randell. On the back page of this edition of the Fortnightly Focus I have included a couple of images of that display to brighten up the end of the week.

Have a lovely weekend

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.