Principal’s Round-up – 15th July 2016
The Learning reviews I recently conducted reminded me that teaching is a highly skilled profession that is constantly being refined, challenged and developed to improve outcomes for students. Our teachers and teaching assistants see themselves as contributing collectively to our development. The renewed focus on the moral imperative of co-constructed teaching and learning has brought a strong sense of energy, collective purpose and professionalism.
At the recent training day, I outlined the key objectives for the next academic year. Whilst the college has improved over the last three years, we know there are still challenges to address. Some students do not make the required level of progress and some disengage with learning and education. Whilst, the gap between those with free school meals and others is closing, it is not doing so rapidly enough, and not all AGT students make the progress we expect. We are seeing sustained impact from reading recovery programmes and teacher led CPD beginning to bring about some consistency. We have done well to increase our percentage of students attaining high level grades at GCSE but to rise to way above national average requires far more. As leaders and governors, we must continue to be restlessly ambitious for change and improvement.
The vision over the next few years is to transform Tavistock College into an outstanding school. To work at the college means that you must be committed to this vision. We know that this will involve more than improving student achievement, and we know that we will always achieve more together than we do alone. The pace of educational reform and expectation of achievement is being scaled up like never before. Our status as a Co-operative School affords us with an opportunity to build a school around the principles of co-operation which will enable us to close the attainment gap and engender high quality social cohesion through constructive dialogue and mediated learning. This will lead to the reinvestment of the competences and values into the community thereby enabling learners and their families to contribute to economic and cultural regeneration. In short, we must pursue policies and take steps to future proof our school in our journey to ‘outstanding’
The transformation will involve bringing alive the values and principles of the International Co-operative Alliance. They will be embedded in everyday practices in the school, and be evident in thoughts, words and actions. Leadership will be strengthened through enhanced democratic participation by students, staff and parent voice groups; no-one will remain isolated or alone and we will develop a strong sense of solidarity. We will foster the values of self- help and social responsibility to build respect, pride and success within, and as part of, the greater college community. Becoming outstanding will also involve continuing to embrace innovation and healthy risk taking in the classroom; these are essential if we are to remove barriers to learning, close the achievement gap for disadvantaged students, challenge perceptions and aspirations and ensure that our students are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in a rapidly changing world.
Within the College we expect to enable all students to succeed with an increasing intellectually challenging curriculum. We must ensure that high levels of engagement result in a more focussed attitude and aptitude amongst our student body. The bar on attitudes and behaviour is being raised by us all working together. We fundamentally believe that our plan starts with progress. The main driver here is learning; the learning of all students and student groups is imperative so they are supported to make exceptional progress no matter what their starting point may be. There then exists a causal relationship to achievement. By the end of the first year we aim to be above ‘national average’ (on Progress 8 and on L3VA) and well above in years 2 and 3. We will achieve this through greater consistency of practice .We will enhance the way we measure the progress made across the college by balancing the need to provide rigour in our assessment policy whilst tracking appropriately. We will improve our methodology of telling the ‘data story’ by ensuring we are effective rather than simply efficient.
We will continue to improve teaching and learning with a particular focus on assessment for learning and high levels of challenge in order to ensure all students participate in their learning and make outstanding progress. We will ensure all faculties and teachers are providing high quality marking and feedback to students thereby raising aspirations and outcomes across all subjects. Students will develop a scholarly attitude to work and improve the quality of their writing; skills of interdependence and independence; and understand their opportunities for enterprise learning and character education. Students will work towards ‘end point tasks’ that enable them to practice skills needed for assessments and to improve their independence. Differentiation will become the default strategy in planning as teachers move to preparation for learning rather than teaching. The purpose is to improve dialogue between students and between students and teachers. This makes visible the thinking and misconceptions so enabling teachers to make purposeful interventions that rapidly accelerate the progress of students. We know that outstanding teachers make a significant difference.
Although we take seriously our purpose of ensuring students make exceptional progress, we have not forgotten that we are a school. The ‘flesh on the bones’ of our transformation will be ensuring that the ‘golden threads’ of education are fostered and promoted. We want to develop social acumen (character education) alongside the academic so that our students have an outstanding transition to adulthood. Social, moral, spiritual and social learning will underpin our curriculum and result in high levels of engagement in extra- curricular activities. Students will be expected to participate in these activities and contribute significantly to the local and school community. Hence, our young people will become highly skilled effective participants in both learning and increasingly in civic society. Co-operation has been described as “putting community back into community schools” because there is far more discussion and consultation with members having a greater sense of buy-in. We will ensure that we are leaders in safeguarding children. We will continue to enhance our work through the Multi Agency Steering Team (MAST) who will meet regularly and continue to engage community partners in early intervention and support our students in order to maximise student access to learning and ensure that appropriate academic outcomes are achieved.
As part of the wider community we will continue to promote the idea of democratic fellowship and the idea of developing co-operative global citizens. It is through this concept that we aim to transform dialogue to enhance learning in the classroom, between teachers and with our community of parents and partners. It also provides the framework to create the unique sense of belonging, well-being, and social connectedness that makes a co-operative school like ours such a special place to work in and to learn in.
Thank you all for your hard work and support this year. I am proud to lead a school with such dedicated and committed staff. The feedback that I got from the recent Open Evening confirmed this, despite the fact that it happened so close to the end of an incredibly busy term full of end of year tests and assessments for every year group and report writing to go along with it. And still colleagues found time to support Y11 and Y13 Proms, both of which were a great success. Of course we would not achieve so much if it were not for the wonderful support we receive from many volunteers, including the many local councillors who participated in the ‘political speed dating’ event this week, or the fantastic PTA who are on hand at every event ensuring that the college is always supported. I look forward to seeing many of you at the Celebration event on Monday night where we will celebrate so many of the student success we have seen over the last year.
The newsletter that will come out on Monday captures all our recent work, so it only remains for me to wish you all a fantastic summer, and I will see you all again in September.
Principal’s Round-up – 1st July 2016
The weather has not dampened our spirits this fortnight! Despite the ‘wonderful’ summer we have produced some outstanding events. Y13 graduation (in the rain) was moving, poignant and exciting for me. I have only known this year group for such a short time but it was so uplifting and affirming to hear the wonderful citations from teachers for these young people. Other year groups have a lot to live up to and I hope many will return as alumni to inspire students at Tavistock College in the future.
Sports day (just) survived the rain. It started with a wonderful combined torch relay which led to the opening ceremony. Students competed in their houses and I was nearly deafened by enthusiastic spectators in the afternoon cheering on competitors as they finished event after event. Great stuff. We were lucky to be joined by Alex Beddoes an Olympic athlete from the Cook Islands who is currently using our running track for training. He presented medals to the winners and was happy to give the odd tip or two. Of course an event like this does not just happen. Thanks to the PE team who organised a spectacular Sports Day that ran like clockwork, to David Turner for the enthusiastic commentary, and all the other staff who measured, and timed and recorded. Many college records for events were broken this year, some of them quite significantly.
We said ‘hello’ to our new Y7 cohort (currently in Y6) who were somewhat in awe of our older students on Monday. I received many comments about how helpful and polite the older ones had been on the day. Thank you to all who made the day successful, especially Nathan Perkins and Alex Jackson from Science who revisited ‘awe and wonder’ with a stunning Science extravaganza!
Our Green Power team competed at Newquay last week. We presented two teams who did well and were a credit to the college. We also won the Carnegie award (again) with a really moving interpretation of ‘One’ by Sarah Crossan. Staff will be delighted to know that the students will be presenting this piece on Celebration Evening.
A group of trainee teachers leave us this week after substantial placements at the College. They have all contributed immensely to their faculty areas and to the wider character of the school and we wish them good luck with their future jobs and plans. Emily Roberts – history; Jack Cooper- geography; Carly Freemont – dance; Andrew Watson – PE. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in mentor or PST roles, wider support or anyone who has been involved in pupil shadowing days. All of these greatly enhance the experience of our trainees.
We have a few more busy evenings and days left until the end of term, and now the testing period is over we should turn our attention back to improving teaching and learning. Ed Dorrell in the TES last week reminds us of the theory – one that is growing in importance in the world of business – that says the more a company concentrates on its mission rather than its profits, the bigger the profits will be. ‘Built to last’ by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras was a huge success when it was first published in 1994. The idea has since become something of a touchstone for many business folk in the post-credit crunch world. The gist was, it’s better to be Google (don’t be evil) than the Royal Bank of Scotland (mission: loadsamoney). This theory has some very real relevance for schools at this time of the year. I know teachers worry themselves half to death about exam season and results day, not because it’s their head on the block, but because they know what a B rather than a C could mean for a student’s entire future. However, we find that almost without exception it is schools that embed Collins’ ethos in their work that achieve long-term, sustainable success in their work. In short, they are ‘built to last.’ It is those that look for quick fixes – often under immense pressure from those above them- who can come a cropper. Sir Michael Wilshaw robustly duffed up yet to be named ‘coasting schools’. A ‘culture of complacency’ is apparently to blame for this underperformance. This is not a teaching profession that I recognise.
It is attacks like these that too often result in schools opting for short-term fixes. They chase the ‘top 10 tips’ and pick the ‘low hanging fruit’ in a desperate attempt to make a difference. This creates in turn a dependency culture that produces a workforce of teachers reliant on a controlling direction that stymies creativity. Just as we must move from a management culture to professional independence, we must try very hard to resist the urge to find the easy wins and work really hard at seeing lessons through the eyes of the learner. We will achieve this through ‘gentle pushes on the flywheel’ to provide sustainable improvements. Today we have discussed the vision and plan for next year. By working on the objectives we must remember that at all times our aim is to develop the academic acumen of our students whilst preparing them for the transition to adulthood – in a world that will be full of uncertainty and challenge. If we do not take the time to develop how we produce more independent learners we will surely have failed in our aim. Strategies and priorities may change as the year progresses; I cannot promise they won’t. But our ultimate goal remains constant. Stick to that and find ways to achieve it.
Principal’s Round-up – 17th June 2016
I visited a school in London this week as part of a fact-finding range of visits to discover the elusive defining ‘outstanding’ characteristic. I found a school with 6 data drops based on testing for every year group, and a student community that stood in silence at the start of the school day and at the end of break and lunch, which was strangely delightful but disturbing at the same time! The methods that this school is using, replicating the Chinese education system, may well improve behaviour in the short term, but will do little to develop the students’ character. Our approach is to continue to work on creating the ethos that will prepare the students to be successful in their lives. That is why we must continue to work on our co-operative value of social responsibility. In particular we must focus on the importance of courtesy, manners and appropriate and kind language. Such topics are not part of the formal curriculum but are always there in the background of any school. Experts sometimes refer to this as the hidden curriculum. I believe that promoting these values through tutor groups, classes and around the school makes us all the richer. This pastoral work is an essential part of each child’s education and should see them through life.
Through co-operation we nurture the ability to work with others and the power of respectful self-expression. This is not only essential for a fulfilling existence, but fosters precisely the kind of human qualities needed by us all if we are to succeed in any sphere, whether it be business or simply living together. This is where being part of a co-operative school really pays dividends because it accentuates the human nature of learning. Desmond Tutu summed it up brilliantly in the following oft cited quotation.
“We don’t come fully formed into the world. We learn how to think, how to behave, indeed how to be human, from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. We are made for togetherness….to exist in a network of interdependence. That is how you have Ubuntu – you care, you are hospitable, you’re gentle, you’re compassionate and concerned.”
As well as ensuring students have an excellent transition to adulthood; we work hard at developing academic acumen. It was interesting listening to a subject teacher recently about the improvements in both quality and quantity of the written work of her students. She said concentrating on depth meant she was not ‘covering’ as much, but that students were more engaged and doing better than ever before. We refer to this as ‘mastery’. She says that by us believing in her professional judgement, her students are now learning enthusiastically and taking pride in the quality of their work. Students were no longer ‘turned off’ by levels and rushing through a syllabus and she rarely had to sanction anyone. “Discipline problems have all but disappeared and short marking means I am taking less work home and students are able to make more rapid progress”. Of course managing the change was hard and she was aware some of her colleagues are still struggling with the concept, but the exercise books were full of shining examples. Very often it is in the exercise books or longer written end point tasks we see the breakthrough. The first piece of real quality academic work a student produces is very often a written task. Getting students to write is one of the key tasks for good teachers. Both quality of writing and quality of speaking can be easily correlated to success in later life. This is not rocket science. “Good writing leads to success because it requires that students are able to read, comprehend, think, evaluate and then clarify their thoughts” (Glasser).
Glasser goes on to say that when students really start to believe in their ability to write then their feeling of intellectual competence and scholarship lifts. It becomes a virtuous circle as shown by our teachers who have used short marking as a vehicle to elicit high standards of written work. Of course, students embarking on this journey for the first time require well-modelled examples, effective scaffolding and constant feedback.
We hosted a visit by Jannine Webber, a holocaust survivor this week. Through her calm and thoughtful approach, students gained a great deal from her presentation. She gave them hope that they could be part of creating a better world. Jannine commented after the event how well behaved and positive Y9 students had been, and how sensitive they had been to the plight faced by millions of people who are victims of racism, homophobia and hatred.
Our Y6 parents’ transition evening was very well attended. Thank you to all who made the evening go so well. The parents felt that there was a real sense of purpose about the school, and that is down to all the work that you do to make Tavistock College a superb place to work and learn in.
Have a lovely weekend.