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Principal’s Round-up

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


Principal’s Round-up – 15th January 2016

Posted: 15 January 2016

We were delighted to learn last week that our first choice numbers are higher than they have ever been. We have 200 first choices for Y7 next year, and 45 second choices for a planned admission number of 210. Well done to all involved in securing this. It is the product of hard work over a number of years and it seems that we have gained the trust of the parents and the local community. We now must continue to deliver the service that is expected. This means continuing the drive for excellence in teaching, learning and assessment whilst sustaining the wonderful extra –curricular provision, including international trips, that makes Tavistock College such a wonderful school.

We have seen some early examination success this fortnight with 71% of the students who were entered in November gaining a C grade of higher in English GSCE. Well done to Freya Chambers who has had an offer from Oxford University to read Classics, and Katya Church who has her offer to read History of Art at Cambridge. Many offers are coming in for students in the 6th form, and I would like to thank staff and friends of the College (particularly Alan Wroath) for helping them prepare for their very challenging interviews.

The staff and students said farewell to Barry Crook last week. An ex-Tavistock boy himself, he retired from his caretaking role on Friday. We wish him well for the future and he tells us he has many plans to keep him busy over the forthcoming months.

The proposed Academy conversion information session for all staff took place this week. Thank you for all your questions and contributions to the discussion. Working in smaller faculty based groups enabled members of the Governing Body, and the senior team to answer questions more fully than in a large audience. Obviously, though, you were not able to listen to all that was said. On page 2 I have summarised the questions asked, with the answers given. Parents will be  participating in a similar discussion next week, and then the students will have their opportunity to do the same in a special circle time that will be constructed by Tristan Forster. I am always available to talk to staff, parents and students about this issue as we undertake the conversion. Bear in mind, however, that we are still in an early stage in this process. We have yet to even be approved by the DfE as a suitable school for conversion!

In my presentation I explained that the decision by the Governing Body of Tavistock College to pursue an Academy order has been taken in the best interests of the college and its students. There are many reasons for the decision. Our revenue will come directly from central government, not through the local authority. This will give us greater freedom to spend our money where we think it will most benefit our students. By forming an Academy Trust with other schools we will be able to work more collaboratively to raise standards of achievement and expand the range of opportunities we can offer staff and students in the college. Academy status will afford us greater opportunities for professional development for teachers, governors and school leaders and we will have the opportunity to bid for capital money direct from the DfE to further improve our school environment. Additionally, by converting to Academy now, we are able to choose a partner school who we want to work with. Economies of scale mean that, together, we can negotiate contracts and services that represent better value for money. But this whole decision is really predicated upon sustainability, not change. It is about taking some control over our destiny while we still can, and maintain the direction of travel we have begun. We will fight to sustain our co-operative identity. By pursuing this course of action now, assuming we are successful, we are able to adopt the co-operative articles of association (currently before the DfE) and not wait until a forced MAT is upon us with an academy trust board that we do not know, or a partnership with a school or group of schools that do not share our ethos. I hope that all colleagues continue to ask for support in understanding the actions we have taken, and please take me up on my invitation to consult with you further. As we progress on this journey, however, in our day to day work it is definitely ‘business as usual’

Have a lovely weekend