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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 5th October 2018

Posted: 5 October 2018

Today is World Teachers’ Day. A time to give thanks to all our great teachers, because none of us would be where we are without the time and dedication teachers have put into helping to shape our lives. Teachers should be held in the highest esteem as professionals, not denigrated in social media and other quarters, blamed for not solving all of societies ills. I have never met a teacher who did not want to do a good job, or want to be a thoughtful professional who learns from others to be the best they can be. Students in this college are lucky. They have teachers who genuinely care for them; who spend more time than they have getting it right; and who are passionate about their subject. I have said before that we have all the answers within ourselves to be a high performing school. We should be trusted to be our own critics. However, with increasing degrees of control, direction and accountability from faceless apparatchiks, I am reminded of the quote by Theodore Roosevelt in his 1910 ‘citizen in a republic’ speech (excuse the use of solely masculine descriptors). It certainly helps me to bat away unwanted, ill-informed interference.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Your efforts and passions were certainly appreciated at the recent Open Evening. I had a great deal of feedback about the enthusiasm of the teachers and also the students who spoke alongside me, or who were tour guides and helpers in Faculties. Of course we would not have been able to run the event without the superb work and attention to detail put into the preparation by technicians, cleaners, caretakers and Jonathan Wates. Thank you to everyone who made the evening so successful.

In my Open Evening speech I was able to talk about the standards expected of Tavistock College students, and in particular, that to be a Tavistock student they needed to be prepared put effort into being strong: strong in mind (academic acumen), strong in body (making good choices about exercise and diet), and strong in heart (compassion and kindness). We know that some young people find that harder than others, and we must continue to pay attention to our co-constructed classroom strategies for disadvantaged students (FIRST) and the top tips for SEND. But the aim is to get to access those strengths, not to make excuses when they fail. These are mediated strategies and to be outstanding we must always remember that parents matter. Without the engagement of parents, the efforts of students and teachers will never be enough, so we all continue to build excellent relationships with our parents.

This week we welcomed back the wonderful HumanUtopia team. Students in Y10 fully engaged with the ‘Who am I?’ programme, and we now have 47 more Heroes to join our Y11 Icons and peer mentors. We also launched our Leading Life to the Full programme for Y8 supported by Virgin Health and surrogate parenting for Y11. Thanks to Neil Hosking for all his work. Collectively, these programmes, which run across all year groups, are helping us to bring to life our commitment to be a happy healthy school through objective 3 of our college improvement plan.

I hope you have time to reflect at the weekend on what a great job you do on a daily basis, and that you feel proud of your achievements.

Principal’s Round-up – 24th September 2018

Posted: 21 September 2018

This week we invested quite a lot of time and energy into events that promote our co-operative values.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we hosted the first Ability Games for the Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust. One event was aimed at students in KS2 and on Wednesday KS3 students joined our students from Okehampton College and from Holsworthy Community College. I was delighted with the way students interacted and how supportive of each other they were, whilst still enjoying a high degree of healthy competition. Credit must go to Shaun Hulbert and the PE team for the time and effort spent organising the event, along with our fantastic Y9, Y10 and Sixth Form Sports Leaders. It was really heartening to see some students, especially in Y9 who sometimes feel disaffected in the curriculum, supporting others to succeed. Sports Leaders from Okehampton College worked alongside our students and in observing what was going on I was proud to see the values of solidarity and social responsibility being brought to life. Being part of the DMAT is certainly helping to develop our young people.

Another important event took place on Tuesday evening; the Parent Forum organised by Vicki Piper. It was really well attended and involved high degrees of co-operation to provide a joined up and mature approach to a growing issue across the country, namely the use of the dark web to source drugs. We do not need to be reminded of the consequences of ignorance around the methods by which young people are tempted into this arena, and the presentations from the police and YSmart certainly did not disappoint. Parents left much better informed.

Tristan and I have been busy visiting our primary schools over the last two weeks, and we have been well supported by students, especially Issey Persse, Archie Allen, Phoenix Rinkowski, Amy Eaton and Emma Hardwick. It is a lovely moment to hear students describe the quality experiences they have had during their time at Tavistock College. They are always quick to say that you get out of school what you put in, so making good use of the tutor programme to encourage students to participate, contribute and to develop their character and resilience is important. As well as pressing ahead with ensuring all students make exceptional progress, we still need to work hard at sustaining a happy and healthy school. That is why Objective 3 in the college improvement plan is so important to me. Phil will be launching a new initiative soon that will enable students to capture their success outside of the classroom to help build self-esteem and strengthen mental and physical health. As I often say, we will never run out of things to improve.

It has been a really great start to the new academic year. Yes, we have been busy, but that is part of what it takes to work at Tavistock College. Pulling together is what makes it a really great school to work and learn in. We must continue to work really hard over the forthcoming terms to ensure that we provide outstanding experiences and care for all students, particularly those who are disadvantaged or who have special and additional needs. There are many approaches we could take. The good news from one of the world’s leading educationalists Professor John Hattie, however, is that most things work! But, it is the consistency of approach that makes the biggest difference. I am encouraging our teachers to adopt the strategies we all agreed on, and that are captured in the ‘Bottom Line’ alongside the ‘top tips’ in the staff handbook. They are the key elements of quality first teaching. We also know that some elements of QFT have a greater effect-sizes than others. Oral feedback and personalised fine diagnosis are techniques our teachers are very good at. What else does Hattie remind us of? Time on task and diagnostic testing all make a difference. But the key message from Hattie is the power of feedback, feedback, feedback. Newer staff should learn from more experienced staff on the differences between marking and feedback. This will not only accelerate progress, but it will also cut workload.

Finally, I am keen to revisit Staff Voice and I have asked Tristan to come up with some topics that you would like to discuss to be part of the on-going transformation.

I hope you have a restful weekend and have time to recharge your batteries before the next week begins.


Principal’s Round-up – 7th September 2018

Posted: 7 September 2018

A warm welcome back to everyone after the summer break. I do hope that you were able to spend time with your families and to recharge your batteries. To those who were working all through the summer holiday, thank you. You have all made such a difference to a smooth start to the term.

Last year I started the year talking about quality in all that we do. Quality performance is not a series of actions but a habit. We are now seeing these habits taking shape. We came through a challenging year in 2017-18 marked by an academy conversion, traumas of school closure due to extreme weather, staff reorganisation and of course Hannah’s death. Yet we return to one of our best overall sets of results to date, to a school that is over- subscribed, staffed well with experts in their field (often being poached these days) and financially sound. This situation is not down to luck but sheer hard work.

Top performing subjects this year at A level were English, History, Biology, Physics and Business Studies. At GCSE Japanese achieved a subject P8 score of +1.66 with a prior attainment indicator of +0.4. Construction had a prior attainment indicator of -0.70 but achieved a subject P8 score of +0.77. We saw similar success stories in Business Studies, Child Development, Dance, History, and Textiles. For the first time Ebacc had a positive P8 score, with English being a major player here. Attainment was high in English too with 84% of students gaining 4+ and 73% gaining 5+ (the new C and B grades).

Another great contributor to EBacc was Science. Remember when we all had to get behind science? Biology and Physics are now in the top 6 performing subjects with particular groups having progress measures +0.9 and +0.8. This has all made such an impact on overall results. That is not all. We also start the year having accelerated the performance of disadvantaged students and HPAs. This was the result of a rigorous and deliberate policy of focused support and methodology surrounding class plans and associated pedagogy. Our challenge will be sustaining and managing the successes. In addition, we must apply approaches that have worked elsewhere to pull up and accelerate performance in subjects that are underachieving and to focus on improving outcomes for SEND students.

When I started at the College in 2015 I tried to define what sort of school I’d like to lead. I defined Tavistock College as a Co-operative School which was “faith neutral and value driven; a school where we care more than people think is wise; a school where we dream more than people think is practical; a school where we expect more than people think is possible. In other words, what an aspirational parent would wish for their child, our co-operative must wish for all our children.”

To do this I believed we must focus on getting the culture right and that the results would follow. This work is now well embedded, but there is still more to do. It is no coincidence that certain teachers get good outcomes in terms of progress over and over. Neither is it coincidence that some teams function better than others.

Successful teams at Tavistock College embrace change; they don’t blame others, and they build exceptional relationships. It is not magic and it requires effort every day.

Co-operative teams with less individual talent will outperform groups of superstars who don’t work as a team – every time. Co-operation trumps competition – every time. We know. We’ve seen it.
Co-operation enables us to maintain and co-construct high standards bringing a sense of self accomplishment together. We can then Critique the work not the individuals.
And belonging matters – you have to care about everyone to work here. if we are to fight the many external threats we must not have dangers from within. The ‘I’m ok because I’m better than you’ attitude has no place here. We can still have a winning culture but not where we fight each other to be the most liked or best graded teacher. Winning in this sense is destructive. You can only win in this philosophy if someone else fails. It is not good for relationships and it will not create empathy, trust and belonging. Winning also seeks compliance. We, instead, need co-construction. This is why I often talk about impact not effort and outcomes not processes.

So, we will make co-operation work. Staff voice will be critical to the development of both participative democracy and solidarity this year. You must hold me to that. Our co-operative value of democracy is centred on voice. We have long used both parent and student voice effectively and last year I started to reconstruct staff voice. It exists strongly through both the MAT groups and union representation but the inaugural staff voice meetings were an attempt to enable better dialogue and feedback.

I know we have a long way to go together to develop a model of co-operation whereby we solve problems together, face the truth together, and contribute to an ethical civic society. But not at any cost. It must not be a joyless Gradgrind or treadmill. I also want us to continue to invest in the arts, creativity, sport, social responsibility and ensure we don’t atrophy into the same narrow exam culture other local schools have done. This trap merely creates Thatcher’s dream of a social recession whereby we are all simply drilled, tested, ranked and punished. In addition to improved results I delight in the activities that develop character: The business events, the Borneo trip, DoE and ten tors run by Andy, and the outstanding bands supported by creative arts faculty led by Eva and her team. 73% LAMDA distinction This is where the fun in learning comes from. Of course these things matter to parents and the community.

We have the answers- we have proven this. Let’s celebrate our successes and then work this year to take it to a new level. To achieve what we want we must be courageous, and punch above our weight in all things. It takes courage to have high expectations of our teams and others as well as ourselves; it takes courage to get up when you feel you’ve failed; it takes courage not to accept second best. That is what I am asking from you all.

In this vein, I would like to warmly welcome our new staff.

It’s been a fantastic start to the new term. Let’s keep out standards and aspirations high – everyday. Have a lovely weekend