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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 22nd November 2019

Posted: 22 November 2019

I greatly enjoyed the Tavistock Street Pastors’ 10th anniversary event on Monday evening this week. It was inspirational to hear stories of their work, and I was moved by their humility and graciousness during the celebration. I was able to thank the School Pastors (and Prayer Pastors) on your behalf for the wonderful work that they do in school. The School Pastors, led by Roger Bird, have always been there for us at times of trouble. It seems that they appear in the right place at exactly the right time. Students value their patience, their kindness and non-judgemental approach in the support that is given when they are in difficulty. I have always felt that there are at least four pastors in school on the day they visit, and I am always surprised when there are only two! Such is their influence. The pastors have spent a great deal of time in school, providing guidance, when we have needed them. They were the first through the door when we lost Abi Smith, Ashley Tossell and Hannah Bragg. They listened, were empathetic and helped us cope. For that, I will always be grateful.

The School Pastors are just a few of the volunteers we rely upon to keep us successful. We are supported by many community groups, each with their own passion, to help us shape young lives. Most recently we have been visited by local councillors as part of Political Speed Dating, local business people as part of Careers Speed Dating and we are now seeking support to keep our library alive by recruiting a volunteer librarian. I know that this will be a successful project because of the kind of town Tavistock is. It is not right that funding in education should be so reduced that we have to rely so blatantly on the voluntary sector, but we are lucky to be part of such a committed community.

Last week, I attended two days training for school leaders in Bristol. The days were both very intensive and I have plenty of homework to complete over the next few weeks. Whilst driving home, I found myself reflecting upon the event, and how much has been afforded to us as a school since we became part of the Dartmoor Multi-Academy Trust. It is easy in all professional relationships to focus upon and remember incidences that we are dissatisfied with. This is normal. In the DMAT, however, we have a tangible voice to effect change. This is real, not nuanced. It is certainly not typical of the other MATs and federations that I worked with on Thursday and Friday. We are lucky to be led by a strong CEO and board of Trustees who make decisions based on ethical values where the interests of staff and students are considered to be of paramount importance. In our MAT we have great agency to solve our own problems. We are given encouragement to do so. We have agency to make mistakes, and to be picked up and supported by our peer colleagues. Networks are strong, and CPD is at the centre of our work. Whilst funds are limited across our family of schools we have received financial backing for middle leader training from a local NLE; we have emerging subject networks; we have access to expert health and safety, financial and safeguarding guidance; we have full backing for our ambitious plans to partially rebuild the school site. It is reassuring to be standing side by side with like-minded colleagues whilst fighting that particular battle. In short, to work in an ethical organisation that pays attention to the needs of its staff, parents and students is a privilege these days. We have ethical leadership espousing a clear vision. We should be proud to be part of this organisation.

Notwithstanding all I have said above, sometimes the pressure upon us still feels relentless. It just keeps coming at us in waves. In fact, for most people working in education life is quite exhausting. The morbid obesity of change thrown at schools in the shape of a changing Ofsted framework, examination expectations and key performance indicators can weigh us down. I’ve started to dream in statistics and marinate my waking moments in data and policy writing! In this world we need to work hard at positive thinking, and not give into ideas and conversations that are mood hoovers. We must not become people who see problems in every suggestion of a solution. Therein lies the path to negativity. Focus on how you feel on days when you think you can take on the world. Think about all the good feelings you have on those days. Energy, positivity and passion. Could this become a habit? We all have bad days, and we need to learn to notice those in others, learn how to best help ourselves and pick up others after a knock . That’s what makes life what it is – fun exciting and challenging. However tempting, try not to count the days to the holidays. You never really know how many days you have. Enjoy them all.

Have a restful weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 8th November 2019

Posted: 8 November 2019

With poppies up and down the country and moving and lavish displays on some buildings, we are all aware that in November the nation marks the gruesome wars that have scarred our past and present. On Sunday over 3000 bells will ring out across the United Kingdom with half muffled tolls… the sound of a slow march to help us remember those who lost their lives. In our remembrance service for Y9 at St Eustachius church, we commemorated the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2. I reminded everyone where the term ‘Dunkirk spirit’ originated from : the action of one of the greatest examples of co-operation and solidarity we have seen, when service personnel in need were rescued from Dunkirk by a flotilla of small boats.

It sometimes seems to me that war is still too easy a thing to talk about. Luckily most people do not experience war outside of what we see on the news or in films. Few people actually share a collective memory of the 20th century wars. To many they can seem nationalistic and romantic, promoting the idea of the good guys versus the bad guys. War is really much more complex than this. Whilst we remember those who bravely gave their lives in conflict, we must also remember everyone else who is affected. The words ‘lest we forget’ may ring hollow when we see how war continues and holds us in its grip in so many places. We really have yet to learn the lessons from the fallen. In modern war we hear stories of collateral damage and loss of assets – actually, these are power stations, schools, hospitals, roads and homes. People’s loss of loved ones – children and parents. 1000s of lives are still being lost as victims of modern warfare. People are making perilous journeys across land and sea to protect their families, to flee from famine and persecution. We no longer speak of terror in the trenches but continue to experience inhumane conditions everywhere. War de-humanises people. What fools we are to make war a computer game for our children and to allow it to be glorified on social media.

I explained in the service that, in remembrance, we must commit to making the world a better place. Wars do not start with someone deciding to bomb a country. They start with actions and words. Words are some of the most powerful weapons we have. Words can be used to create conflict, unrest and hate. Or they can be used for good, for creating peace and conciliation. Messages for us all.

Work load is much written about at the moment and I have included articles in Fortnightly Focus over the last month or so. I take work load seriously, and have usually been able to resolve issues for people when they have needed it. Much of what has been done is summarised in the Workload Charter that guides us at Tavistock College, and all DMAT schools. I have included it again on the following page of this edition as a reminder. This was co-constructed with staff, and will be reviewed next year. The key actions we have taken as a school to reduce workload are:
1. Reduction in the school day (10 minutes a day)
2. Reducing the number of duties undertaken and the inclusion of two half hour breaks.
3. The removal of exercises that do not add value to classroom teaching for teachers (eg there no expectation that lesson plans are routinely available; FSEF has been removed)
4. Ensuring the marking policy is less rigid and allows for alternative ways of improving work including short marking; teacher directed feedback (self-marking) ; developmental comments replacing WWW/EBI.
5. Reduction in the number of open evenings
6. Reducing out of hours emailing and extending parental call-back times to 48 hours.
7. Reduction in the number of data drops.
8. The inclusion of workload impact assessments on new initiatives and all personnel policies.
9. Increase in the amount of faculty time on training days.

More recently, and in response to concerns raised in staff voice, we have reduced the number of transition events for Y6 students so decreasing cover in ‘gain time’, and moved some events traditionally requiring cover to after school times as voluntary activities. We have also removed reward trips so that potential cover in gain time is not expected. All teachers receive a time budget and hours are below 1265.

If there are more actions that you think we could take that would not compromise the progress we have made as a school, then I am always willing to listen. Have a restful weekend. If anyone would like to hear Vox singing at the Remembrance service on Saturday evening at St Eustachius church, or would like to attend with us on Sunday morning in Bedford Square, we would love to see you!

Principal’s Round-up – 18th October 2019

Posted: 18 October 2019

The training day last week built upon the excellent start that we made in September. Focused progression building a knowledge based curriculum that balances both academic with social acumen is the key to improvement here at Tavistock College. It was inspiring to be part of the team that is bringing semantic memory development to the fore, and ditching those tired old theories around ‘fun’ lessons that promote only episodic memory gains. Will it make a difference? That is up to you. Our academy ethos supports high achievement. Staff are supposed to be holding each other to account not colluding in low standards. That is what co-operative education is all about. We must build the culture and implement it in practice together, ensuring that it is absorbed throughout the school. Morale is high –and where it is not, I ask those who are indulging in lowering it, why are you dragging others down with you? There is simply no time for egotistical or negative behaviour. It gets in the way. We have work to do.

That work includes ensuring every child at KS4 experiences what is required to produce work of a Grade 9 standard. Some will need a great deal of help, but no longer is it acceptable to cut off aspiration by pitching work at a lower level. In the upcoming teaching and learning review, questions will be asked of heads of faculty where this work is within schemes of learning, and why they are sequencing their learning in the order that it is. Scaffolding will be critically important to ensure that students can experience this level of work, and that is why putting information in one place through Class Charts has been so helpful. There is more information shared than ever before.

Our work this year also means ensuring social standards are high. This is where students learn to build resilience instead of caving in to anxiety. Instead they learn to ask the question “how will I overcome this?” Cultural capital is at the heart of this approach, and the curriculum intent that faculty leads are constructing with their teams should include the extra-curricular provision that is so rich at Tavistock College, the types of trips and visits that they offer, and the contribution to the careers education programmes that are measured in the Gatsby benchmarks. It is a shame not to capture this information, and it acts as a prompt to some faculties to keep up with their colleagues.

Teachers should also be by asking “What would I like all students to do routinely?” School routines for behaviour in corridors, wearing uniform correctly waiting for the school bus have been carefully outlined so that everyone knows what is expected. It is everyone’s responsibility. Having established these, the rules must then be applied consistently. Everyone should be clear about exactly what is in the behaviour for learning policy and what is expected from them. For the majority of students, the regime that is described works well. However, all schools have children who have more difficulty in following the rules than others. In some cases, this is the result of a specific learning or behavioural difficulty. In other cases it might be a life event or temporary circumstance.

There is perhaps some tension here in how far all students must conform and the extent to which allowances are made for some. Teachers must ensure that they must make reasonable adjustments for children, for example, with autism, in order that they are not carrying out indirect disability discrimination. However, teachers must still aim high for these children. On a different note, did you hear this? Last week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson described school funding as being a “bit tight”. I could feel my blood pressure rising. It’s not “a bit tight” — we are in a funding crisis. We’ve lost teaching assistants. We’ve hours for some subjects on the curriculum. Teachers are paying from their own pocket for classroom supplies. Our school buildings are in disrepair. It’s not a bit tight when a whole generation of children are missing out on a proper education.

For headteachers like me struggling to balance the books, the Government’s blunder came as no shock. For years (since 2015) our school has been struggling with an impossible budget. Support staff, teachers and senior staff have done all they can to mitigate the impact on children. But the buck stops with the Government. While the Government has conceded that schools have suffered billions in cuts, the response so far has simply been inadequate.. For Tavistock College, the cuts since 2015 have been above average and amount to -£505 per pupil across those years. This adds up to the equivalent of 10 teacher’s salaries. When we were promised that school funding would be ‘levelled up’ I knew from experience that the devil would be in the detail. Trawling through the data, it is worse than I thought. Crucially it fails to reverse the cuts that schools have suffered since 2015. That’s why we’ll keep campaigning until the cuts are reversed. Let’s hope someone listens.

Thank you for your hard work this half term. I hope you have a restful holiday, and I look forward to next half term when we ratchet up the work for Y11 PPEs