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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 22nd September 2017

Posted: 22 September 2017

Tristan and I have been happily visiting many of our feeder primary schools over the last two weeks, and we still have some visits left to make. Attending parents’ meetings at these schools provide chances for us to talk about Tavistock College, the opportunities we provide and the high standards we expect. This was replicated at the Open Evening yesterday where I received some excellent feedback from parents and children about the college. Tiring to undertake in the middle of the week, but absolutely essential we get a chance to shine to attract the next generation of students. Thank you to everyone for making it a success. One parent admitted that the expectations seem much more challenging now. She was right, they are. We have to continue to ratchet up expectations like never before to hold our head above the water in the tough new accountability regime and to be successful.

Last time I wrote about the foundations of this future success being built upon the values and principles of the International Co-operative Alliance. I truly believe this to be the case. Strengthening Staff Voice is part of that process, and I was glad to have feedback from this week’s meeting from Tristan. The format we used will be similar each time, and ideas that affect day to day practice will be discussed. It means colleagues will have a greater say in the running of the school where appropriate. Feedback from this week’s meeting means that the changes we were proposing to improve afternoon lessons will not be adopted at this time, and alternative solutions to any problems over-spilling from the day into period 5 will be found. I am pleased that we can work this way to find mutually acceptable outcomes. CIT meetings provide another forum for staff voice through CPD. It is a self-development model that enables us to diagnose and improve from a position of mutual support. In the same vein, the formal process of the MAT consultation is now underway. Any comments can be made at consultation@tavistockcollege.org or questions can be asked at the meeting planned for 5th October when members of the Governing Body will be available.

There is certainly a correlation, and possibly a causal link, between challenging pedagogical approaches and student engagement, regardless of the time of day the lesson takes place. However, this does not mean that all learning must be fun. Learning does not have to be fun. This is not a controversial statement. Fun, as Jarlath O’Brien maintains, is a desirable by-product of learning but not something that teachers should specifically aim for in the planning of a lesson. ‘How can I make this fun?’ is a question we should never ask ourselves when conceiving schemes of learning. Instead we should be considering how to make it satisfying and rewarding by extending the level of challenge. I bring this up as it has recently been posited that children with poor behaviour should have lessons that are ‘more fun’. This indicates that the underlying reasons for behavioural problems is simply boredom and it is the teacher’s job to entertain rather than teach. This removes all responsibility for learning from the student and results in a poor work ethic across the curriculum. It is stretch and challenge we must look for if boredom is genuinely an issue, not ‘fun’. However, a classroom must also be a safe environment where a student knows that if they do struggle with their learning they will be met with unstinting support. If children convince themselves that getting something wrong, needing help or failing to understand something will be met with a withering look or some kind of sanction will be applied, we will also promote poor behaviour. Put simply, it is achievement, success and progress that drives a student’s motivation, not the other way round. There are some articles pertinent to this idea for you to read in this week’s edition.

Have a good weekend.

Sarah

Principal’s Round-up – 8th September 2017

Posted: 8 September 2017

Welcome back! This term we welcome new staff to Tavistock College: James Stroud (Team Leader Science), Helen Orbidans (Science), Paul Reynolds (Science), Hannah Owen (Geography), Roger Leaver (Music), Lee Mills (Cover Supervisor), Rhea Gayle (TA), Abigail Hawkins (TA), Nicola Washer (TA).

The return to school after the summer break has been a relatively smooth one, with many of the battles previously fought over 6th form punctuality and the annual uniform confrontations very much subdued. I have been delighted with the very enthusiastic new Y7 and Y12 students’ attitude and look forward to working with everyone to maintain this standard. We are able to start this year celebrating the many successes that Y11 and Y13 achieved. There is no comparison to use for Progress 8 measures and these cannot be calculated accurately until we have the national data, but the non-commutable Basics measure sits at 72% which is way above the national average, and we were delighted to discover that 10 students gained a grade 9 in English which is remarkable when compared to similar schools. Our results in Y11 were above national average in the percentage of students achieving A*/A and A*-C (with some in both) for many subjects including History, Art, Photography, English, Business Studies, Japanese, Resistant Materials and Construction. This pattern is replicated in Y13 with Art, Photography, Computing, History, English Language, Business Studies, Psychology, Sport and EPQ performing above the national average. Our value-added measure for KS5 was significantly positive in both academic and vocational courses for the first time in many years. This resulted in the majority of students gaining places in their first choice universities. There are too many students to mention individually, but the Tavistock Times ran some lovely stories that I have included in this week’s Fortnightly Focus.

That is not all. We also start the year having accelerated the performance of students who were low achievers on entry to the college. This was the result of a rigorous and deliberate policy of focused support and methodology surrounding class plans and associated pedagogy. We must now turn our attention to accelerating the more able students and we will do this through planned CPD and by raising the level of challenge in class. The SOLO taxonomies will be essential if we are going to bring about a consistent approach. Targets for all students must be taken seriously. These are not ‘aspirational’ they are real. We must also diminish the gap in performance with SEND and ‘disadvantaged’ students.

The impact of the rigorous disciplinary policy has shown good impact, and recruitment has been good. We are fully staffed with subject specialists and are training seven colleagues on the School Direct programme: Alexi Mariaire
(MFL), Astrid Fischer (Science), Kieran Davies (Computing), Liam Ring (Geography), Kate Baker (Maths), Niall Murphy (PE), Kate Wyatt (Art). Our numbers are up significantly with over 255 new starters across all year groups in the main school, resulting in some busy times in the Refectory!

As we embark upon the work this year we need to keep in mind just how many changes colleagues are facing that we must embrace. The key ones are:
• Comparable outcomes for examinations
• Point scores have changed and are not comparable
• Weighted grading on P8 (and A8)
• Entries of EBACC versus outcomes
• 9-1 grading-phased in
• Grade 5 is the new expectation (so we need to look at B and above to predict)
• Disadvantage measures added to post-16
• GCSE and A level reform – phased in
• Changes to the persistent absence measurement
• Development of the ‘mastery’ curriculum
• New statements in the Ofsted framework
• Reducing workload
• Multi-Academy Trust conversion
• A very high likelihood of an Ofsted inspection.

So how do we meet these challenges? We must keep in mind that our work is to focus on keeping the main thing the main thing – and the main thing is learning. In this ever-changing world of education, we still have control over our pedagogical approach, our ability to keep those in our school safe, maintaining the outstanding ethos for learning, and our ability to provide a personalised curriculum and pastoral programme. These factors will enable us to succeed. We will continue to foster an ambitious climate for learning, and make genuine and sustained progress towards our goal of achieving world class standards in the classroom.

I talked on Monday about how this might be achieved and how we can future-proof our school. It cannot be done in individual classrooms with individual approaches. It requires us all, no matter what our role is within the organisation, to pull in the same direction and to be committed to everyone else’s success. It is only in co-operative and ambitious effort that we will all succeed. There is no room in this school for egotistical individual exhibitionists. We have to truly care about each others’ worth, and weaknesses, in order to drive up performance further. Individual success will never trump group effort. The first leads to destructive competition where success is determined by being better than someone else. The second leads to a real sense of accomplishment that can be attributed to all. This is important in a co-operative school where no-one should be left behind. The College Improvement Teams are there to ensure we exploit our talent pool and ideas that exist in our staff to enable purposeful change and transformation of teaching and learning.

We know that in order to achieve our goals we must have a well ordered and disciplined school. So, while we embrace inclusion, we must work hard to create a good climate for learning. This will involve a no-nonsense attitude to good learning behaviours and co-operative approaches that support others. Working hard on improving character education will become important. The ‘Golden Threads’ that hold the curriculum, teaching and learning, tutoring and extra-curricular work together will be more thoughtfully defined this year and we will use co-operation and co-operative strategies as tools to enable us to make sense of what we do. This will involve growing our participatory and democratic processes by reforming staff and parent voice.

This year I want to encourage a new way of thinking that focuses on excellence rather than compliance; impact rather than effort; learning and progress rather than teaching. All staff have a role to play in this cultural shift. Consistency matters but it is superficial if we do the same things the same way. Rather, it is consistent high standards we should be interested in not unvarying practice. I am looking forward to working with you all this year, and wish you well in your endeavours.

Sarah

Principal’s Round-up – 21st July 2017

Posted: 21 July 2017

“Going far beyond the call of duty, doing more than others expect, this is what excellence is all about! And it comes from striving, maintaining the highest standards, looking after the smallest detail, and going the extra mile. Excellence means doing your very best. In everything! In every way.” Jack Johnson

That quote has been important to me over the years. I was reminded of its value as I reflected upon what we have celebrated together over the last few weeks. Sports Day was a great success, and with the return of the Houses at the heart of the competition students participated in the event by competing or supporting in a purposeful way. Celebration Evening and Open Evening allowed us to showcase the very best of what we do and I was proud and delighted to hear that our expectations of students are higher than ever before. Both events were there to recognise the highest performers and contributors. These students are the elite. They provide a model of emulation for others to follow, and events like these demonstrate that there is no place at Tavistock College for those who do not strive to be the best they can be, or who do not support others to achieve this through the value of solidarity. We expect students and staff to be proud of each other, and we do not expect them to use their own issues or problems to hold others back. Or to make excuses for actions that damage others. This is not a self-centred, egotistical organisation. This philosophy gave us an opportunity to re-enforce our standards at the Step-Up days to ensure that we are not dragged backwards by the minority who are not up to speed with our expectations. This is how we will continue to build a quality school for the vast majority.

I was delighted to welcome Mr Cox, MP to Tavistock College last Friday to engage in a robust discussion around the current funding crisis in schools. Mr Cox remains committed to supporting our on-going campaign to reduce the real terms cuts to school budgets and welcomed the opportunity to be shown the brutal reality of the additional costs that schools are having to absorb. The recent announcements by the Secretary of State are encouraging, and I am pleased that after two years of campaigning the government finally appears to be listening to the legitimate concerns that have been raised by headteachers, teachers, governors and parents across the country. There is a promise of an additional £1.3bn into core funding in schools over the next two years, but Justine Greening also stated that there would be no new money, rather a redistribution of funds in education. So, we still do not know where this money will be sourced from and I am slightly concerned that Peter could be robbed in order to pay Paul. The statement in the House of Commons this week focussed particularly on secondary schools, and the promise to fund every pupil across the country at a basic level of £4,800 per student is very welcome. The current funding is less than that at Tavistock College. However, this still does little to address the long standing current inequalities with schools in other parts of the country who may already be receiving £7,000+ per student. As Ms Greening said at the start of her statement, the same accountability and OfSTED expectations apply across the country but this is not matched by the same level of school funding. We will have to wait to see what unfolds in the new parliament.

So, we draw to the close of another school year. This is a time to reflect on what has gone, a time to plan for the forthcoming year, and a time to say goodbye. We are saying goodbye to a number of staff who are moving on to pastures new this term (see page 2). We wish all of them well for the future and hope that their chosen path will lead to success and happiness.

Thank you all for your hard work, loyalty and support over the last year. Now it is time to put your feet up and relax. Please do so: the work will wait until September. I hope to see many of you in August though, celebrating with our students as they open their results, and maybe drying the odd eye when all they hoped for did not happen. Never forget how important you are to their lives, and never underestimate your impact.

Have a great summer.

Sarah

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