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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 20th January 2017

Posted: 20 January 2017

At the recent training day I reminded all staff of the need to follow Robin Sharma’s advice and to ‘sweat the small stuff’ in order to contribute effectively to the essential drive in improving standards. This means paying attention every day to the basic expectations around punctuality, uniform and behaviour. It also means keeping an eye on litter, being on duty on time, reading important emails so errors that have long lasting consequences for colleagues are not lost. By acting together we become a formidable force for change, but as soon as a few decide to operate outside of the rules, we have a problem. Consistency and persistence are essential ingredients in a disciplined environment. It gives a platform for outstanding teaching and learning to flourish. I hope to be able to capture an accurate picture of this quality in the next Teaching and Learning review. The focus will be on the quality of learning and progress for SEND, Disadvantaged and low attaining students (see objective 3 of the College Improvement Plan). Whilst we can celebrate the performance of some high achieving students, these are relatively easy wins. The hard work will be in ensuring that ALL students make good progress across ALL year groups. By working together we can achieve this.

Some of the efforts are already taking root. My assemblies this week focussed on the value of self-responsibility. I was delighted with the behaviour and self-discipline shown by students in assemblies this week. For Y9 and Y10 we had total silence entering, during and leaving assembly, and this is the expectation moving forwards. Punctuality is much better this term, and whilst we are still tackling the ‘mental truancy’ exhibited by some passive learners, we have a strategy now to improve their participation in learning. Social time is much better with tutor rooms being used sensibly in the large part, and the refectory remaining tidy and organised despite about 600 students passing through in a 40 minute period.
Whilst I am not a fan of league tables, I was delighted to read our position in the post-16 performance tables yesterday. Our performance as a college exceeds most local schools and is in-line, even slightly better than, all post-16 provision nationally. It shows that our 6th form has the potential to become the provision of choice for students, and I am happy that the majority of Y11 students want to return in September to start Level 3 courses.

Y11 were all crammed into the Octagon this week to receive their ‘brown envelope’ PPE results. There were some disappointments, but plenty of good results and lots of self-satisfied smiles with their performance. Well done to them, and to the teachers of Y11. They have an excellent work ethic. Those that do not demonstrate this ethic will be asked to repeat tests and exams in detention where their performance is well below that of which they are capable. From this we will develop a real sense of urgency around the need to perform. Y8 are now choosing options alongside Y9 so that KS4 learning will begin earlier. Parents have been delighted with this, and students are very excited about their future. Thank you to all staff who have made contributions to the Y8 assemblies this week.

In these challenging times of financial cuts with expectations being higher than ever before we must find time to take care of each other. Re-read the story of Roseto I shared with you last July. Take time to talk to each other rather than pinging off thoughtless emails, take time to provide support, and contribute to Staff Voice. When we choose not to do these things well we lose all sense of humanity – and compromise the foundations upon which the college was built. As Mother Theresa once said ‘we cannot all achieve great things but we can all achieve small things with great love’. The small things with great love add up to greatness in my opinion. So keep going – it will all be worth it in the end.

Have a restful weekend.


Principal’s Round-up – 9th December 2016

Posted: 9 December 2016

Thank you to all my colleagues who have made the end of term so special. I am currently hosting a rather artistic Christmas tree in my office, courtesy of some SEND students in Y7 and 8, and I am very proud to explain its presence to visitors who question it. We have had sporting successes in badminton, football and netball, with convincing wins in each match. Thank you to all of the team coaches who give up so much time to develop this talent. Our show jumping team competed on 3rd December and I watched our three sub-teams (Tavistock Blacks, Tavistock Reds and Tavistock Whites) ride to victory in different classes. In addition, the House Captains and Heads of House organised a wonderful ‘Have Your Say Day’ this week with over 400 student responses. This will really help us shape our plans for the new year as we continue to improve the college.

Students from the Upper Dance Company at Tavistock College had a fantastic opportunity to participate in a dance workshop on stage at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, led by Rambert Dance Company last week. They also got a chance to have a tour of the whole theatre, as well as going to visit TR2 where they saw where sets and costumes are created for the shows! We are so lucky to have this opportunity all because we are in partnership with the theatre.

I had the delight of singing with Y7 in preparation for the Carol Service at St Eustachius church this morning after checking that Y9 were in their options assembly and that Y11 were on time for their Chemistry PPE. Although these were very different events, all students were focussed, enthusiastic and keen to participate. This is what I expect from students. High standards of personal excellence; a positive attitude; commitment to what is asked of them; ownership of their behaviour rather than perpetuating a culture of blaming others or their past history; and social responsibility. And from the staff, no compromise around these standards. This is what is making Tavistock College the school of choice. This week I found out that we have 240 first choice numbers, with 46 second choices. This is amazing. At a time when the demographic pattern in the area is in decline, our numbers are growing.

Of course it is not all plain sailing, and there are times when every day seems a struggle. While we get to grips with the new curricular changes, the new examinations, changes to accountability measures and dark rainy days, there are the challenges we face around students’ complex needs. This is where the value of solidarity comes alive. Knowing that we are all aligned to make the college as good as it can be but that we all sometimes get overwhelmed. But a co-operative school always copes: when it’s tough, lift your head up and go out there. We get through the difficult times together by helping each other develop resilience, resourcefulness and reminding ourselves of our moral purpose.

I look forward to our House Assemblies throughout next week where we can celebrate together a wide range of student achievement. It is also the Carol Service and hope many of you will be able to come to St Eustachius Church on Wednesday evening.

Thank you for all your hard work this term and for all your support. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and a superb Christmas with your families.


Principal’s Round-up – 25th November 2016

Posted: 25 November 2016

Working in schools is hard. Sometimes it is very hard. For schools with significant numbers of disadvantaged students (we have 24% of our school cohort) it is harder still. Occasionally working in schools with its constant and biased media criticism and ill thought-out political interference, it can feel like a battle against all odds. But it’s a battle worth having. Teachers, and other staff, are the ones who cannot give up: they are the ones who must pick up the pieces when everyone else has gone. When the budgets of support services are cut, forcing them to retreat, schools are still there. Because they have to be. Even when school budgets are slashed, those that work in schools will not withdraw. Instead we shoulder the burden. To let children down is simply not an option

We provide the vital calm in society’s storm. Intolerant views and ‘hard line’ doctrines abound at the moment in the public discourse, and their influence has been felt recently in school. Stridency seems to be in vogue politically, and this filters down through families and in the community. Compromise, subtlety and ambiguity are perceived as weak. Battle lines are being drawn, even in education, between ‘hard’ choices.(‘grammar schools are the only solution to mediocrity’ versus ‘grammar schools represent the return to a totally divided and elitist past’). Ann Mroz describes how, in whichever ‘side’ you are on in these societal hard choices, you are encouraged to ‘gaze in horror; feel the fury; feel the righteousness. It becomes good to know your arguments are not only evidentially right but also morally superior’.

But moral superiority does not entertain doubt. Without doubt, there is reluctant change and precious little improvement. Moral superiority does not seek answers to questions it hasn’t asked. This is all part of our newly intolerant age, and it will not help us mend the holes in our arguments and imperfections. It is against this intolerance we must now rage. The very thing we have worked so hard with young people to put right. We will fail to help them create a better world if we do not encourage them to embrace other peoples’ points of view. And we must do the same. Responses to parental criticism should not be defensive and conversations about impact in teaching rather than efforts made should not be dismissed. Sometimes workload can be reduced by embracing change. Student voice is not to be feared – it is a valuable developmental tool. This week, for example, my student voice group told me how much they value the relationships that they have with staff but that some teachers are slow to respond to disruptive behaviour and that they needed to be stricter over some issues. The two stances are not ‘hard’ opposites of each other – there is some middle ground.

Let us then pursue debate. Let us encourage discussion and opportunities to create. Let us shun the intolerant and closed minded approaches, and reach out to finding middle ground solutions by examining all the evidence. Let us celebrate the compromises that enable everyone to benefit. This is how we will grow as a school, and how we will regain the energy to cope with extremely challenging times in schools.

Have a lovely weekend


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