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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 4th March 2016

Posted: 4 March 2016

I have said in briefing many times that I receive positive comments and feedback from parents and governors about you all, but this fortnight I have been overwhelmed. Not all of them are appropriate for the Fortnightly Focus because they contain some personal information. It is so lovely for me to know, and to be able to pass on to you, how much you are all valued. In conducting, with Barbara, the second Teaching and Learning Review of the year so far, I am also delighted to see so many of the improvement ideas we discussed last time being implemented. Short marking and the use of targeted questions, rather than WWW and EBI, are really taking off in Faculties like English and Humanities, and I am sure this is the case in other areas too. Most students are getting a really good deal, and we should celebrate these good times. The challenging times are on the horizon. With the soon-to-be-published White Paper we will find out just what a ‘coasting school’ will be defined as, and what the consequences will be for schools that end up with this label. Whatever this is, we know the judgements will be applied retrospectively and all we can do is continue to work really hard on improving in incremental steps the quality of teaching and learning, with the support around the edges, to ensure we make progress. I know we can do it.

Some successes this fortnight: Our Intermediate Youth Speaks team have won through to the Southern Final. This is one step before the National Final, so it is a massive achievement for these students. They were the youngest at the District Final last Saturday and delivered a strong message about ‘power from the primary’ with humour. The team is made up of Reuben Thomas (main Speaker), Max Jordan (chairperson) and Adam Hutchin (proposer of the vote of thanks). Adam also won a special award for being the best in his category. The southern final is in Cheddar on March 19th and we all wish them well. U18 football team beat Mount Kelly in the latest round of our on-going competition. We are 1-1 currently, with Kelly leading in rugby, and Tavistock in football. It all rests on the netball now on 14th March. Any support will be welcome. And well done to the girls Y9 football team who are through to the Devon final.

Students at Tavistock College had the exciting opportunity to meet celebrated children’s author Anna Perera this week. Perera – best known for the critically acclaimed novel Guantanamo Boy, which was nominated for The Costa Children’s Book Award – made a lasting impression on the college’s pupils. It was a real coup for the college to attract such a high profile writer as Anna Perera. The students involved found the event stimulating and very thought-provoking. Year 7 pupil Adam Hutchin (11) said “It was really interesting to discover her inspiration for the novels; I particularly enjoyed the creative writing ideas we developed, focussing on the power of our dreams.” Some students also had an opportunity to watch Billy Elliott in the Theatre Royal in Plymouth last week. Two of our Governors fed back about the students’ behaviour – notably how impressed they had been with their attitude and conduct. This message was repeated from Teresa Tyler who took a group of Y9 students this week to the So Cool for Science session at the Peninsula medical school. They were all exceptionally well behaved, articulate and enthusiastic. They are asked some really thought provoking questions and carried out some fantastic experiments.

For the 5th consecutive year, we have received a glowing annual review from BTEC. Gary Smith from BTEC, spent nearly 4 hours today with Gary and Wendy grilling them. The assessor was very impressed with our vocational provision and praised us for our outstanding organisation. Thank you very much for all your hard work in preparing for this visit, especially to Shaun and Jackie who were asked to speak to Gary about their roles, and also to Simon and Tom who spoke to him on a brief tour of the creative media department.

Have a lovely weekend.


Principal’s Round-up – 12th February 2016

Posted: 12 February 2016

This week we have much to celebrate. We learned that we have 220 first choices with 48 second choices from Y6. This means that we will be more than full next year. We also received plenty of applications for advertised posts, and I have been approached by staff in other schools asking if we have a post available for them. This indicates that we are rapidly becoming the school of choice and we should all be proud of this fact. In addition, the students’ successes seem to be flowing in thick and fast. Despite enhancing the grade boundaries for the Y11 PPEs, there were a number of students gaining A and A* grades across a range of subjects, and a full report is given later in this edition. Will Dax has not only qualified for the national cross country championships, but has won a prestigious photography competition. His work was proudly displayed at the Youth Speaks district final held at Tavistock College last Tuesday. Here we saw our Y7 team win yet again, beating off competition from Launceston College, Mount Kelly school, Ivybridge Community College, Teign School, Plymouth High School for Girls and Liskeard School. They spoke with confidence and judges commented on their team work. Great to hear about students from a co-operative school. The Y12 Tyre Fires of Tavistock team have now reached the final of the Peter Jones’ Tycoon in Schools competition and are off, with Sarah Holt, to Buckingham Palace in March. This is a fantastic achievement, being in the top 8 teams out of 900 entries. I am always delighted to report our successes. However, what I am most impressed with is the way our students support each other. Tyre Fires have donated £400 of their profit to support another student in the 6th form and the students who did not progress to the main competition for Youth Speaks turned up (for the second time) to support their peers.

The second teaching and learning review will start after the half term. I have already seen and heard about the improvements in many subjects since the last review and this has been confirmed in an external review of Mathematics by the LA. Well done to the teachers in that Faculty. I have often made much of individual achievement, but it is team work that makes the real difference. None of us is as smart as all of us. At the training day today I talked about ‘tweaking to transform’. We do not need to make radical changes to be outstanding. Small incremental steps taken by us all in the same direction will make the difference. It is not possible to identify one single recipe for improving the quality of teaching. It is however possible to identify some basic ingredients. These are captured in the ‘bottom line’ that I often refer us back to. By putting our collective focus here we will soon be achieving much more. I am hoping that there will be some good outcomes from today. If professional development days fail to generate concrete strategies it is highly unlikely they will lead to significant improvements in the classroom. As Covey reminds us, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. ..and the main thing is learning. Teaching is not the same as learning. I referred to a quote by Mike Hughes in my presentation: ‘Every lesson, students embark on a journey. The fact that they begin their journey from different places, travel at different speeds, in different directions and on different modes of transport presents a considerable challenge for their guide – not least because the system demands that they all arrive at the same destination at the appointed time’. If we look at every lesson from the perspective of ‘how am I going to teach this?’ then solving the problem seems impossible. If we shift our thinking toward ‘how are the students going to learn this?’ then we can envisage a way forward…..and we know that learning is optimised when students are challenged to think, make relationships between ideas, and are relaxed, confident and motivated. Teachers cannot control levels of motivation and self-belief. But we do influence them. We are more likely to be effective when we do so consciously, consistently and congruently.

I look forward to working with you on these ideas through the CIT teams. Becoming greater than we are is not brought about by a one off event like an inset day; improvement is a process. And all development takes time.

And finally, we have said goodbye to three members of staff. Virginia Hola, Bryony Summerfield and Penny Curnow Morris. We wish them well in the future.

Have a lovely half term.


Principal’s Round-up – 29th January 2016

Posted: 29 January 2016

Doesn’t the Christmas holiday seem a life time ago? Since we came back we have made the very positive move towards becoming a multi-academy trust, forming strong partnerships with like-minded schools to effect good school improvement; marked endless examination papers, giving the essential information to Y11 and Y13 as they head into the final stretch for their examination success; prepared for a whole range of practical examinations, notably in the Creative Arts Faculty; competed in and won a range of sporting events, and well done to those students. Such is the pace of life at Tavistock College, and it is unlikely to slow down any time soon. The pace of this Government’s change agenda is what drives this, and we are sometimes left in a tail spin trying to find something to hang on to in the wake of conflicting dictats from above. Squaring the EBac rule for 2020 against the need to alter the curriculum to prepare students for apprenticeships as well as university is one such thing. But we do have something to hang on to. We know what we are about. Through bringing the challenging co-operative values alive we can improve the quality of education for our young people.

It was my absolute delight to go to Mount Kelly school on Wednesday evening to support the students who were competing in the annual Youth Speaks competition sponsored by the Rotary Club. We came first and second in the Intermediate competition, beating off Mount Kelly teams and both of these go through to the Area Final to be hosted at Tavistock College.

Many thanks to Sally Hubbard and Sarah Swinburne for their hard work. The winners were Emily Handel, Isobel Prout, and Thanae Garland Tsirka who delivered “ Swimming with sharks”, a speech about the decline of enthusiasm for reading. The second team was made up of Max Jordan, Adam Hutchin and Reuben Thomas with “ Primary for the Powerful” , a speech about why our world leaders need to remember the values they learnt in primary school activities, like circle time and stuck in the mud. Unexpectedly, we lost the Senior competition to Mount Kelly. A surprise result and a disappointment to Luca Bergonzini, Jack Kerswill and Evie Ward. All our teams had already won through an in school round as we had so many who wanted to compete this year . We had too many teams to take them all. But, in true Tavistock and Youth Speaks spirit, virtually every student knocked out came to support the others last night. Tavistock students and parents filled Mount Kelly library. A proud moment.

So, how do we get this level of commitment to succeed? Our most valued teachers, tutors and support staff at Tavistock do not blame students for a lack of enthusiasm, instead they have that knack of making students and their families feel valued. In and around the college great teachers have the habit of making sure they acknowledge and notice children. They use praise wisely and authentically. Students, or their parents, often go out of their way to thank me for having staff that believed in them. They tell me that what stands out, is that they really took the time to get to know them as an individual. Of course, they also appreciate these teachers for setting boundaries and for setting high standards.

Our best teachers at Tavistock somehow convey through word and deed that they really understand the emotional pressure children are under. They understand teenagers as well as their subject. They help children to see opportunities and show them how to contribute to their community. Through a love of their subject, great teachers convince children to take their studies seriously and for ensuring that a love of the subject is not only about passing an exam. They treat students as more than just a number. And yet in these classes, guess what – students do really well in public examinations, and this matters too. Great teachers give effective feedback. Those written comments, sticky notes, that word in the ear, that hint to the group, those annoyingly difficult questions just when they thought they’d got it…the written notes, the PLCs, test results, retest after retest, patience, cajoling and constant encouragement……

Tavistock teachers show children that they genuinely care about them. They take relationships seriously. They understand that relationships take time, effort and care. Relationships are messy, but the best are built on love, respect and trust. When times are tough they persevere. How do our teachers get to know each and every child as more than just a number, more than just a target grade? They talk to students and they listen. Simple. Such skilled professionals come across as time millionaires. Within their lessons they always seem to have time for each table, for each child. They acknowledge their charges in corridors, on the sports field, in the courtyard. They make the effort to go to watch them perform in assemblies, shows, exhibitions, competitions. They always seem to be able to convince children to try new things and push themselves. This gives children the courage to succeed.

Our valued teachers go out of their way to bring their subject alive and try to make lessons interesting. They have a sense of humour. They share fascinating insights into their life, deepening the bonds of trust. It proves they are human, somehow. Children relate to that. We all need that.

Upon reflection, I work with some wonderful teachers. At the end of the day, a great school is simply a school with great teachers in every classroom