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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 4th October 2019

Posted: 4 October 2019

Last weekend TA Ros Hopkins accompanied four students to the Commonwealth Judo Championships, this year held in England. They were joined by competitors from all over the world including South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka, Jamaica and India. In fact 23 countries participated. Alannah Hopkins in Y8 won the bronze medal in her category, and Ros herself won gold. The other students made a very commendable 5th or 7th place. These were Lottie Hay, Olivia Willson and Reuban Frise. These modest people would not tell you unless I did. Yet they should. They are role models for the rest of us. They are the elite.

Some outstanding teaching was seen by School Improvement Partner, Tom Winskill, this week. He commented on outstanding practice, not only because these teachers are experts in their subject, but because they are also experts at relationships. They are able to maintain high standards and challenge in every lesson, and not lower it under pressure. Instead, they seek alternative ways of working in order to succeed. They understand people. They find ways to motivate. They create. They are the elite.

So let’s talk about the elite. Some people are uncomfortable with that term. I am not. At Tavistock College we have elite staff and students lurking around every corner. We have elite performers (look at the number of LAMDA distinction grades), sports people; scholars who progress to top universities; staff who win awards and write books. Striving to be the best we can be is what we should all aim for. It gives us purpose. But it is hard. The gold medal won by Ros did not fall round her neck with ease. It was fought for with effort, sweat and probably tears. We must recognise this when we talk about the elite. It is not a dirty word centred on exclusivism and privilege. What goes hand in hand with being part of the elite is duty. I am not suggesting the term ‘the elite’ is synonymous with elitism where rank and position make you untouchable in responsibility, yet afford you superiority. Being part of our elite means you have achieved something worthy of recognition and have the obligation to be worthy in that role. Unless you inspire others, there is no status. Being the elite requires great effort to remain modest, and to be humble in the face of defeat when all eyes are upon you. This is predicated on great resilience and strength of character.

All eyes will be upon us when we are eventually inspected. But I know you will rise to that challenge. Because you are great, because the battles you have today and the disappointments you face will not turn into whinges and excuses. Instead they will spur you on. We will continue to punch above our weight in all things, even if we have to go our own way for a while. We will fight adversity together because we know we will always be stronger together . You deserve more than you are getting in recognition, resources and time. I am personally fed up with picking trusted colleagues up off the floor when they have been broken by the system. Sometimes in education we feel we are like the animals who are spying each other suspiciously as the waterhole dries up. At Tavistock College we will not bow to this pressure. It is the system we must fight, not each other. We will be like the water buffalo who circle round each other to prevent attack. We know that we deserve more than being judged by inaccurate, statistically invalid and unreliable numbers. We will judge ourselves by even high standards than that. And we will be the elite.

Of course, we need to keep learning to get there. Whether it is evidence based research or research informed practice, it seems a new dawn has broken across the educational landscape and I certainly welcome this. It has certainly created synergy with Mark’s plans for training days and on-going CPD . Tom Winskill was impressed that teachers were able to confirm what has changed in their practice as a result of CPD. That is rare in schools.

Research on cognitive psychology from leading academics from the finest universities across the world is finally outshining the technical low hanging fruit picking based on nothing more than ‘it works for me’. Hence my dislike of ‘teachmeets’ and similar banal, impulsive events. Some of this research has been around a long time and forms the basis of metacognitive study. Eg Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve (1885), Bjork’s work on retrieval (1975) and Sweller’s cognitive load theory (1988). It is so important to bridge the gap between classroom teaching and research by giving teachers access to it in CPD. This echoes development in other parts of the public sector such as the medical profession, where research under pins their work rather than relying on the ‘psycho –babble’ of accelerated learning, brain gym and learning styles which, here at least, are debunked and consigned to the bin. They were ideas based on tiny uncontrolled experiments and worse, on hearsay. We no longer need to waste time and effort coming up with strategies that might not work. You would be dissatisfied with a surgeon who tried out a medical procedure on you because it sounded like a good idea. There is a place for action research once the research is understood as guiding principles. Then personalisation can be brought into our context and classrooms. I read with dismay that the teacher training may move from a graduate entry requirement to an apprenticeship model. Without the academic acumen to learn understand and use theories I am left wondering how we might advance in a world where the elite is confused with elitism and the masses just left to suffer. We can do better in this country. We do not have to be lions led by donkeys

I hope that you enjoy the training day on Wednesday next week. Mark has crafted it so that it condenses research into accessible and understandable chunks.

Have a great weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 6th September 2019

Posted: 6 September 2019

A warm welcome back to everyone after the summer break. Thank you to everyone who was working all through the summer holiday, while some of us recharged our batteries. You have all made such a difference to a smooth start to the term.

Last year I started the year talking about the importance of 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 have had some exceptional results in the summer and we faced disappointments too. But we know how to deal with this. Two years ago, we targeted KS5 in the same way we must now target KS4, and now we have a convincing positive VA in both technical and academic qualifications. The disadvantaged students that we have worked so hard with have done well – the gap very reduced from one of the worst in the county 4 years ago to practically zero. In addition, the HPAs gap is less, but it is still not good enough… yet. These successes are the result of a rigorous and deliberate policy of focused support and determined pedagogical strategies. 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 Cooperative 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 school must wish for all our children.”

So, when we look at our milestones to success how shall we measure ourselves? Are we really going to be victim of hype and minority opinion, predicated on political ambition? Cowed under threat or failure? Judged on the narrow measures that are built on sand? Or will we delight in success born out of shared effort where we reflect on how far we have travelled together?

To do this I believe we must focus on getting the culture right and that the results will follow. Our 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. Development will always be happening here -sometimes building on what we start but sometimes throwing it out, admitting it didn’t work and starting something new. To work in this school, you have to adopt that mindset. To improve there must always be change.

This year, then, given our financial circumstances, we must stop over complication and stick to research and our values. We might have to go our own way for a bit. Be brave. The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity. Consistency matters but blind conformity is weak. So, we will not be buying any more snake-oil or looking for quick fixes that might work in one context but are ill-matching to our context. We will set high and shared expectations and look at the impact of our strategies and not over think the input; we will be rigorous but not ruthless; and from this we will be being effective not simply efficient.

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.

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, we will make co-operation work. 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.

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 and the additional staff voice meetings will be an attempt to enable better dialogue and feedback.

And we of course, must up our game to improve outcomes. But not at any cost. It must not be a joyless Gradgrind or treadmill. I 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 Camps International trips, DoE and ten tors, and the outstanding performances supported by creative arts.

Whilst examining why results went the way they did at KS4 in the summer matters, driving along looking in your rear view mirror will always end in disaster! We have to drive looking forwards, glancing in our rear view mirror. That is what we will do. 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. We have in place a plan. It is a rigorous plan but it is built upon sound research and a commitment to prediction and prevention, not finding and fixing.

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

Principal’s Round-up – 19th July 2019

Posted: 19 July 2019

On 20th July, 1969 Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the surface of the moon. It remains a defining moment in human history. It was a time of anticipation and hope for the future, and it was a time when the world seemed to come together to celebrate human endeavour. When Armstrong looked back at Earth as the crew orbited the moon, it must have seemed very small and insignificant. Sometimes events feel like this, great achievements that diminish in our memories overtime. So, the end of term and academic year is a timely moment to look back and consider everything that has been accomplished this year and to return it to its rightful significance and importance. This was especially evident as we watched students gaining awards at the SEND Celebration morning and our Celebration evening on Wednesday. I was extremely proud to give the Principal’s award this year to Vox. Vox first formed 6 years ago under Music teacher Hannah Stephenson. When Mrs Stephenson left in 2017 we asked Tracy Harding, who had worked with us in variety of capacities before to take over. Since then, Vox have gone from strength to strength and have been regularly booked to perform at academy events such as the Remembrance services, Founders Day, Carol Services, and Celebration evenings. In November 2018 Vox were honoured to take part in Tavistock’s WWI Centenary Concert alongside Mount Kelly Chamber Choir and Tavistock Stannary Brass Band.  I was proud to stand next to some of them while they performed excerpts from Matlida to TRHs Prince Charles and Camilla on Tuesday in Bedford Square. Seemingly, they never tire! Coming up for Vox we have performances at Dickensian evening, a singing tour of local residential homes and possibly a trip abroad to perform! There is a great amount of talent in Vox but more important than that is the way they work together as a choir, they never complain, they always support each other, are solution focused and highly creative….and they do it with a great sense of fun!

When I look back just upon the last half term even, I am proud of so many achievements whether that be a whole year group undertaking work experience, a smaller focus group like the students on the Aspire programme who visited Oxford University or just a solo student seeing their hard work and talent rewarded like Rosie Andrews who gained 4th place in the final round of the National MTB Cross Country series. The long awaited performances of Matilda took place last week. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. Students from KS3 ‘wowed’ the audiences every night, and were delighted to be invited to perform in Bedford Square on Tuesday in front of Prince Charles. For a significant number this was their first experience of a large production, for some their first time on stage ever. They have worked incredibly hard, gained confidence, made new friends across year groups, been braver than they thought they were, found skills they never thought they had and genuinely changed their own story. A year ago we applied to the Royal Shakespeare Company to become one of their Champion Schools in their Change My Story project. Gaining a place on the programme has enabled us to demonstrate our commitment to the arts. We will work with RSC on a two-year programme of creative work, including professional development and training opportunities for teachers and working with five other local schools enables us to share the skills and knowledge.

The 2019 sports day took place last Thursday and proved another great sporting success. With lots of new school records set and more pupils than ever wanting to represent their college house. Athletics has been a growing strength locally and this has filtered into the college with success at local championships and many athletes part of the local athletics club. Bedford were the overall winners on the day after all 120 events across track and field. Individual houses did perform well in each year group with Bedford not making a clean sweep. Glanville were top in year 7, Tremayne in years 8 and 10, with Bedford in year 9. Onto the individual athletes who set new records alongside the pupils who were taking part and setting new personal bests while collecting valuable points for their houses. This balance of inclusive sport and elite sport is what makes sports day so special.

The house rivalry continued at the swimming gala. Here Tremayne triumphed, and we were very grateful to Mount Kelly for allowing us the use of their spectacular pool.

Whilst students will be eagerly awaiting GCSE and A Level results in the summer, it is not this that will ultimately define them as people. When we succeed in life it is always alongside others who shape us, lift us up and sometimes from whom we gain affirmation by supporting. When I read the emails and letters from governors, parents, friends of the college and staff, it is nearly always for all the extra value students add to their lives that they are remembered. So, whilst we will always want our students to gain the best results possible, we must understand too that education is so much more than this. Graduates of Tavistock College should be well rounded human beings, capable of making the most of  those opportunities that will inevitably present themselves. Not too long ago society became conscious of the need to be able to deal with change. We were told that young people could expect to have several different types of jobs over a life time. The importance of being able to deal with change has a whole new meaning and has taken on a reality that is very challenging. Students from Tavistock College must be equipped to rise to that challenge. The lessons, extra and co-curricular activities provided in Tavistock College must give skills needed to embrace these challenging times –we aspire for young people to be innovative, creative, team players ….. thinkers. They must never be cowed under threat. They should learn to stand up for what you believe in; to persevere; to be brave.

In this vein, I circulated the new Academy Improvement Plan that is a summary of all the collaborative discussions for the next stage of our journey. Please read the ‘Ambitions’ section – it is what we are setting out to achieve. We then have four objectives,and these are:
OBJECTIVE 1: Ensure outcomes for students result in positive progress measures. We will work hard to gain a positive P8 measure in the range +0.2 to +0.4 for KS4 and a positive L3VA score of +0.2 to+ 0.4 at KS5. We will build on emerging patterns of improvement with disadvantaged students and ensure gaps in student progress between micro-cohorts are reduced by improving inclusive practices. We will focus on SEND students and high prior attaining students in all subjects. Values underpinning this objective are equity, equality and self-help.
OBJECTIVE 2: Improving the quality of education We will continue to develop the knowledge based curriculum whilst maintaining a broad and inclusive curriculum for all students. Pedagogical advances will focus on strategies to strengthen challenge and progression in learning. We will widen the current approaches being used to scaffold learning to meet end point tasks and big questions. Here we will be promoting the values of solidarity, self-help and equity.
OBJECTIVE 3: Strengthening the efficacy of pastoral support and ensuring the development of cultural capital. The introduction of the ABC programme will improve the students’ contributions to their own progress and build self-responsibility for learning. The focus will be on attendance, behaviour for learning and extra-curricular contributions. We will ensure colleagues understand the importance of using emotional intelligence in building outstanding relationships predicated on trust and selfdiscipline. This objective will draw upon the values of solidarity, democracy, social responsibility and self-responsibility.
OBJECTIVE 4: Transforming middle leadership so that this becomes the drive engine for school improvement. Leadership becomes purposeful and solution-focused where it is allowed to flourish. Whilst we recognise that subjects require specialist leadership, we will take steps to secure greater alignment and more opportunity for innovation. By breathing new life into existing CPD we will re-invigorate self-responsibility, solidarity and a sense of belonging. I look forward to working with you to breathe life into these aspirations.

It is always sad to say goodbye to valued colleagues, and at the end of term we are losing 6 of our teachers and one catering assistant. I am as ever humbled by the skills of teachers and the enthusiasm of youth, and as you move forward into the holiday period, I would like to thank you for all your hard work this term, and across the year. Our school is not oversubscribed by chance, it is the daily slog that you all play a part in that has made us successful. We know there will be new challenges next year but for now lets enjoy the sun at last. Have a fantastic holiday, and I will see many of you on results days in August.

Sarah