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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 17th June 2016

Posted: 1 July 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.


Principal’s Round-Up – 27th May 2016

Posted: 27 May 2016

This fortnight we have been tightening up on the misuse of social media and its impact in school, whilst at the same time taking a proactive approach to how we can build more resilience in students to deal with the pressures they face from cyber-invitations and potential bullying. PCSO Kevin Williams ran an excellent assembly with Y7 and we plan to work with the ‘Teen Angels’ and ‘KIND’ in order to help students develop on-going programmes supporting their learning, and enabling self-responsibility to flourish rather than an easily-led attitude to using social media. We plan to engage parents through Parent Forum and assist with family based interventions. With respect to the use of mobile technology we need to take a tight-loose approach. It is vitally important that teachers maintain ‘tight’ consistency around the agreed policy (not listening to music; phones off and in bags) whilst remaining ‘loose’ with respect to the valuable resource that mobile technology can afford learners (using the traffic light signs for usage; exploiting exciting new applications).

The Hope24 event provided staff with their own mega-endurance challenge last weekend. Two teams consisting of Tavistock College Staff, friends, and Year 13 student David Jones took part in the Hope24 non-stop ultra-Marathon at Newnham Park near Plympton. Starting at 12 midday on the Saturday and finishing at 12 midday on the Sunday both teams completed over 250 miles by running non-stop in relay around a 5 mile trail route over challengingly steep terrain. Staff included Tristan Forster, Stuart Hearne, Nick Read, Julie Greener, Alex Thomas, Alex Jackson, Lisa Mabey as well as former staff member Lee Cochrane and friend of the college Mark West. David Jones from Y13 also ran. Many other staff supported the event, in particular Wendy Stephens who was at base camp for the whole event. Stuart reports that temperatures dropped at night to 2°C! Considering many of the participants had never raced before, and that some had only just taken up running before the Hope24, achieving a near marathon distance each was a real example of how a seemingly unachievable target can be reached. The teams raised over £1150 in sponsorship for the Hope for Children UK charity.

The examination season commenced this fortnight. Whilst it will undoubtedly cause some anxieties amongst our students, I feel they have been fully prepared by a dedicated and expert group of teachers. With the emphasis on the progress of our students being taken into account, and on many superficial measures of accountability we often tend to fear the worst outcomes, especially when we face unfair and biased examinations such as the AQA Biology paper that created a media storm last week. And we are going into an Ofsted year next year. I believe that judging schools too simplistically does no one any favours, and results in many of the unforeseen consequences parents are now, quite rightly, expressing concerns about to the DfE. Peter and Waterman probably called it right in their seminal leadership work ‘In Pursuit of Excellence’ when they argued no one is ever as good or as bad as they think they are. Our road to success will be hard won; ‘little pushes on the fly wheel’ as Jim Collins describes. There will be no key defining moment. No magic ingredient. No quick fix. I made clear at interview that I was in it for the long haul, and that communities like ours need affiliation and long term commitment. There will undoubtedly be much heartache along the way. We will have setbacks and there will be many ups and downs. But when distinguished visitors give us encouraging feedback I cannot deny it is better for the soul than the constant carping and criticism from Government and the ever fluctuating whims of the Common Inspection Framework. Of course, W.E. Deming argued that good organisations should never rely on external validation, least of all inspection, to improve quality. Total quality comes, as it always has done, from within. At Tavistock College we build in quality through restless ambition, rigorous planning, evaluation and by co-constructing good practice with staff, students and parents. This is why Staff Voice, Parent Voice and Student Voice form such a key component of our own self-evaluation. As always, we are better together and live by both our successes and our shortcomings.

Have a lovely half term, and thank you in advance to all staff who are giving up their own holiday time once more to support revision classes, and good luck to Kathleen and the team taking students to Barcelona next week. I hope the sun shines!


Principal’s Round-Up – 13th May 2016

Posted: 13 May 2016

Wow! The annual event that is Product of the Year. The hall was bursting at the seams with students from KS3 to 5 showing the work achieved in technology this year. The event was well supported by parents and the community including primary head teachers, local councillors and the new Lord Mayor, Mandy Ewings. It was such an exciting event and more than an odd tear of pride was shed for the winners. Not just from a parent or two, but proud teachers too.

It is always disappointing, therefore, to hear that we have been misrepresented in the community. It only takes one deliberate act of gossip to undermine the work that we do on a daily basis. You know how often I praise the work of staff, and of students (actively supported by their parents) in strengthening community engagement and participation. Just this week we made a good contribution to the Tavistock Heritage Trust by creating a number of concept driven projects that will be turned into QR codes for visitors to access in the town for years to come. These depict the significant events in the history of Tavistock. Thanks to Tristan Forster, Eva Pearson and her team in co-ordinating these projects and unleashing students’ talent. Tavistock College students won first and second prize and will be able to access facilities at Plymouth University to further augment their work. In the same vein, take a moment to visit the new ‘conservatory’ area created by students. Supervised by Helen Harris, students have turned a neglected and tired space in the college into an area of peace and reflection for students of any age to use. We do not need doors on the conservatory; all students have treated it with respect, and will continue to do so. In addition, I received an email from a member of the public who told me how helpful students had been in assisting her when her car had broken down outside the Bedford Hotel and she needed help to remove her children, shopping and possessions from one car to another. I could go on with examples. Of course some students let us down, but they are in the minority and they certainly are not representative of what we all stand for. We are a co-operative school that believes in the collective power of people. And so, while our swimming pool remains out of action (in the short term), we still find challenging and purposeful alternative sporting activities for our students. We certainly are not complacent in positioning ourselves as models of emulation in the community rather than lowering what we stand for to the lowest denominator.

By participating in team-based extra curricular activities we see students develop skills that will make them successful in later life. Determination, resilience and interdependence were attributes exemplified by the 35, 45, and 55 mile Ten Tors teams last weekend. And I took great pleasure in seeing the Jubilee Challenge team set off full of hope and resolve, supported by Julie Edwards, Nicky Sheehan, Jane Parker, Sam Biggs and volunteers. I was delighted to go and watch our show jumping team of Y8 students compete at Tall Trees on Bank Holiday Monday. As a school team, they supported each other through encouragement care and commiseration when an error occurred. Needless to say, they left with a host of red rosettes. Caring for everyone in the team was in evidence on the running track in the Super 8 competition where we saw students determined to finish, even if that meant they came last, in order to gain points for their team. Social responsibility was themed in an alternative fashion through the Y13 organised mock EU referendum where I found arguments made more convincing than the politicians. I wish I had videoed it! Their aim was to give a balanced argument for the rest of the 6th form of voting age. To help them with their European ‘stay in/leave’ decision in June. You may be interested that their mock election resulted in a convincing 81% against Brexit.

Please take time to read the main article I have included in this edition of Fortnightly Focus. ‘What makes great teaching’ provides advice that aligns with our determination to implement the elements of quality first teaching captured in the ‘bottom line’ teaching and learning policy. By continuing to put our efforts in creating a consistent approach to QFT, we will move ever closer to our goal of becoming ‘outstanding’.

We have had a number of visitors in the college this week, most notably the shortlisted candidates for the advertised Assistant Principal’s post. Candidates commented on the litter-free environment, the friendly and welcoming staff and students. Our new AP is Barry Palmer (note the irony of swapping Gary for Barry….). As promised, I have produced a summary of the new SLT structure in this edition for comment.

Finally, we send our best Tavistock congratulations to Elaine Byrne as she starts her maternity leave today. …and many congratulations on her engagement too!

Have a lovely weekend