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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 19th May 2017

Posted: 19 May 2017

We have been busy this week. Exams are in full flow with all the pressures they bring including last minute HOT lessons, last minute dashes to make sure equipment checks are made and keeping the rest of the school quiet. And stress, lots and lots of stress.

Students have been well prepared by their teachers to manage stress and the pressure examinations bring. At one level pressure can be considered a positive aid to performance: the deadline that spurs us on, the target to motivate, or the challenge to inspire. At another level, pressure may trigger a mechanism to tell you something is wrong – and this is where the pressure becomes stress. Continuing beyond this level for too long can seriously damage mental and physical health. Students have to manage this pressure for the examination period. Then it is lifted. For teachers and other education workers the pressure is continuous. It has never been greater.

Despite this we all still have choices, even within the reality of work currently upon us all. As the pressure at work increases we can either learn how to manage it or we can let work pressures manage us. Stress is considered an individual’s response to pressure, and we all respond to different pressures in different ways. However, learning to recognise our responses, identifying the sources of stress and gaining a sensible perspective are all within our control. It is documented that a universal trigger for stress is being forced to respond to situations that are outside of our control. I certainly feel this when I read unfounded criticisms about the college in public forums that have invited comments from others who happily pile in with strongly-worded responses that have no basis in fact. Or when I read, as I did this week, that the DfE expects all heads to band together to make cuts to teachers’ salaries to help make up the shortfall in funding from 2019. Or when, despite the severe and brutal reductions to school revenue funding, we are suddenly expected to magic a mental health worker out of thin air to help children who are suffering from politically driven austerity cuts and who simply cannot cope with their lives.

It is not helpful for me to reflect on situations over which I have limited or no control. These thoughts just confirm a sense of helplessness and it becomes my thoughts that generate stress rather than the situation I find myself in. I don’t spend time mulling over things outside of my control. I focus instead on what is within my control. I start with adjusting my own thoughts. I exercise choice. I reduce my stress. I would encourage you to find ways of doing this. Leaving teaching is becoming fashionable across England. Yet it still remains one of the best jobs in the world. It all depends on how you look at it really. The things that brought us into the profession are still the same. Whilst we all have a right to be angry over the attempts to dismantle the education system, we still are the ones whose responsibility it is to provide quality for the young people in our care. And it is a joy to do so.

Some people find exercise helps them think clearly and put pressures of work into perspective. If this is the case then Nick Read, Alex Jackson, Umberto Bergonzini, Lisa Mabey and Stuart Hearne, along with trainee Guy Kingston-Bray and community members John Holland and Laura Kirk-Potter must have almost pure clarity of thought! Between them they ran hundreds of miles in the Hope 24 challenge last weekend in some appalling weather. Well done to them all. They were the highest fund raisers for the event that supports young people in need. The rest of us can do a little bit of exercise-related stress busting next Friday. This is when we will be hosting a charity rounders match organised by Tristan Forster on behalf of the family of Charlie Lowe in Y11 to raise money for St Luke’s Hospice. Her mother died there a few short weeks ago and this fund-raising has helped her to cope with the loss. It will be great fun (if it ever stops raining!).

Have a lovely weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 5th May 2017

Posted: 8 May 2017

I am writing this Round-Up feeling angry and frustrated. I am also agonising over whether I should share these emotions with you or simply focus on highlighting the brilliant work that is going on at Tavistock College. I am angry that I, some of you, and some Governors took the time to respond to the Green Paper consultation, ‘Schools that work for everyone’, and yet, even before the consultation was complete, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister made it clear that the government will plough ahead regardless with its plans to extend selection following the General Election. At a time when every school is struggling to make ends meet, valuable resources are being set aside for new selective free schools and the expansion of existing grammar schools. The DfE constantly tell us that we are operating in a school-led system, and yet the views of the profession are totally ignored.

As a school leader, I am very worried about our finances, and my hand is forced to make serious cuts that impact on the curriculum, class sizes and the experiences of young people. The money set aside for the Prime Minister’s vanity project could be used to support our school. Despite the fact we are told that funding for schools is not being cut, it is declining in real terms. The government is increasing the schools’ budget by 7.7% over 4 years from 39 billion in 2015-16 to £42 billion in 2019-20. But the Department for Education estimates the number of children will rise during the same period by 3.9 % in primary schools and 10.3% in secondary schools. Funding per pupil will therefore, on average, only rise slightly, and will amount to a real terms cut of 8% once cost pressures are taken into account. So, while converting to become part of a multi-academy trust will not give us more money, sharing resources will certainly give us a better chance of making the most of what we have.

The development around the construction of the Dartmoor Multi-academy Trust is well underway. Last Tuesday we conducted another formal consultation. Thank you for your attention, questions and engagement with the process. As I said at both meetings that evening, I am happy to continue dialogue. Co-operatives are predicated on people and I believe that we can continue to build the college by working in partnership with like-minded schools. Taking no action now, and standing still is not an option. All financial incentives to convert to become an academy are gone and there are plans to remove even the set up fund of a pitiful 25K. We are now past the tipping point: 70% of secondary schools converted to academies and half of these are in MATs.

Despite the politicians, great things are happening in our school. Y11 and Y13 remain focussed and calm in the approach to their examinations and are taking every opportunity offered, very kindly, by teachers and other staff in time outside of the curriculum. I love my walks around school, particularly talking to students. They tell me about the difference you are all making to their lives. You are creating an environment of success. You are raising students’ aspirations, lifting them to be different, and unlocking their creativity. Thank you for that.

Tavistock College students were delighted by the very kind donation by Mrs Esther Arnold made last week. Earlier in the year the college sadly lost the last remaining guinea pig that was cared for by students as part of the animal care programme run by Helen Harris. Some students had grown up with the guinea pigs and considered them an important part of the college, and they were very sad when they passed away. Mrs Arnold, an ex-parent and local breeder of guinea pigs, decided to donate two baby guinea pigs in recognition of the support shown to her son by Alex Jackson in the years he attended Tavistock College. She was an active participant of the PTA for many years and is welcomed to the college to participate in discussions and debates. It was a kind gesture that was heart-warming.

On Thursday 27th April a group of 14 students attended the Spring Devon Ability Games held in the Life Centre in Plymouth. The students took part in many games including Mini Red Tennis, Sitting Volleyball and New Age Curling competitively, with the Sitting Volleyball team winning 11 out of 12 games and the Mini Red Tennis team playing until the final round. The other taster games played were Archery, Table Cricket and Bouldering (Rock Climbing without ropes). Xena Armstrong, Yazlyn Wholton and Charlie Yeoman played in the Sitting Volleyball team continuously. They played 12 games winning each one until the final: which they lost to Ivybridge year 10 boys. At one point the Sporting Champion Chris Jones played alongside the girls and they played extremely well. At the end of the event, Lachlan Mitchell was given a medal for ‘Spirit of the Games’ awarded for his participation and enthusiasm in the Mini Red Tennis.

Many students and colleagues will be out on Dartmoor this weekend walking in the Ten Tors event including the Jubilee challenge. Thank you to all those who have helped prepare the students by giving up precious weekends and other time, and special thanks to those who will be sleeping on the moor in what is predicted to be cold and damp conditions.

I hope you continue to find the articles I have chosen to include in Fortnightly Focus interesting. If anyone would like to write or make suggestions for articles please send them to me.

Have a lovely weekend.

Principal’s Round-up – 21st April 2017

Posted: 24 April 2017

I do hope that everyone took time to have a restful break this Easter. Despite my best efforts to manage workload, we still held a productive Easter School and ran the Sports Tour to Paris. The students gained a great deal from both of these activities, and I am grateful to those staff members who give their time and energy so willingly to make them happen. Included in this Fortnightly Focus is small collage of other activities we have been running in case you missed it in the paper.
This is a challenging time in education. Not least because the funding cuts that have hurt us all so badly have been described as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ moving forward. The changes being made with immodest pace to the examination process and accountability measures are ill-thought out. They 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. But 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. And 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 holiday 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 that I have seen before, but thought I would share with you in case you haven’t. It reminds me of what teachers do every day.

The rules for being amazing
By Robin Sharma
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 can’t 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. At the last staff meeting teachers completed an exercise with me to address some issues. Below is the summary with some action points included. It is a starting point for discussion and I look forward to continuing to work with you all in these areas:

Reducing workload:
Feedback from staff meeting with actions:
1. Staff were asked to identify changes that has had a positive impact on their workload/effectiveness and that they did not think needed adaptation. These were identified as:

  • Show my Homework.
  • Marking policy – including short marking.
  • Fewer observations – limited to appraisers.
  • Less cover and invigilation.
  • New parents’ evening arrangements.
  • Moving options to Y8
  • Tutor group in own classroom.
  • Class plans.
  • Attempting work IN meetings.
  • Move to 4Matix

2. Staff were then asked to identify aspects of their work we should think about addressing and to come up with suggested solutions. Very specific and subject related requests have been passed to HoFs

Returning calls and emails to parents within 24 hoursChange to 48 hours.Implemented immediately
Loss of bespoke CPDBalance CIT team development with more input CPDStart September 2017
More shared time for collaborative planningIdentify more Faculty time on calendarStart September 2017
Reduce the number of unscheduled absences from lessons for student activitiesCalendar all activities (only termly adaptions accepted).Start May 2017
Provide paper calendarPrinted copies will be available on request for remainder of this academic year, and provided in the staff planner from SeptemberStart immediately on request, and September 2017 for all.
Tutor programme preparationProvide tutor programme for the whole year –minor adaptation to be allowed but a term’s notice to be given. (unless there is an incident or major event that is unforeseeable)Start September 2017
Stop changing KS4 targetsTargets will be given in a range – FFT 20 as the lowest and DfE as the highest. NB milestones change as these are flightpath targets.Start September 2017 but no further changes will be made
Stop splitting parents’ eveningsOnly Y7 parents’ evenings will be split.Implemented immediately
Changed policy on markingChange ‘every two weeks’ to ‘every fifth lesson’ to accommodate subject timetable differences.After next Curriculum Governor’s sub-committee meeting in June.
Sending late night or weekend emailsWhilst this is not encouraged as it has an impact on others, some colleagues’ lifestyle choices mean this is preferred. We will add a statement on the bottom of all emails saying ‘a reply is not expected outside of working hours’.End of May 2017
Provide reading ages of all students to assist with class plansAll Y7 will be tested on entry and this will be done in future Current Y7 have RAs- and low RAs are re-tested following intervention Older students that are a cause for concern will be tested as needed. MRO will publish RAsEnd of May 2017
Provide more detail on SEND students to assist with class plans.SIS record sheet will be finished by May 2017. Top ten tips will be provided to all staff in planners for common SEND needs (eg ASD and ADHD)End of May 2017

3. Activities identified but that will not be removed because they undermine the CIP, compromise standards or challenge our ethos:

  • Remove the tutor period from the college day. This will remove any sense of belonging by developing the co-operative values, undermine the college Houses and prevent us from developing the requirements in the curriculum for SMSC, including the British Values. It would also remove the opportunity for assembly.
  • Remove the requirement for teachers to call home for detentions/parking: Parents have a right to speak to teachers if they wish to, and certainly of a child has received a punishment they should be given that opportunity. It also builds strong relationships with parents and these are a critical part of the function of a community school.
  • Reduce briefings: This undermines our opportunity to come together and to celebrate achievements and have a positive start to the day. It removes the sense of isolation felt by some staff on a large site. It also effects better communication – emails are a poor substitute.
  • Are ‘Barriers to learning’ the same as ‘class plans’? No, the first identifies the problem a student might have in accelerating progress in a subject, and the second identifies strategies a teacher might use to overcome barriers. Barriers to leaning are used in a specific way for under-achievement, not for differentiation.

Finally, I would just like to say well done to the Engineering team who won the south-west Engineering Education Scheme design competition for the second year running from a short list of 28 local schools. These were Y12 students Rebecca Banks, Joseph Carver and Steven Isaac who spent many late evenings designing and preparing a presentation on their BCI Twist Seals.

I hope you all have a fantastic term.