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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 7th December 2018

Posted: 7 December 2018

Anyone who thinks an education system can, or should, solve social inequality needs to think hard about what ‘inequality’ and ‘education’ mean. I read with dismay this week at the increasing gap that exists between the wealthiest and poorest in our society. It now exceeds the US, which takes some doing. The richest earn 130 times more than the poorest. In Scandinavia it averages 29 times. Education cannot be held responsible for this or be accountable for a solution. We must instead recognise that life is harder for some, and always will be, so we need to stick to the knitting (quality learning) and raise the bar even higher on aspiration.

I wrote some time ago about the importance of understanding the need to promote strength of mind, strength of body and strength of heart in the school. This is, in part, driven by the need to address inequalities by firming up ‘character.’ We have to look beyond excuses, and look for solutions. We are not doing young people any favours if we sugar coat their lives. So, yes, we expect students to do PE in the rain. Children do not dissolve. Yes, they must follow the rules. ‘I don’t like my teacher’ will be met with ‘tough luck’: try harder to please them. Teachers are trained and trusted professionals who, whilst building exceptional relationships, are there to teach mathematics, history, P.E. and so on. They are not there to parent. The behaviour of children is the responsibility of the parent (assuming all adjustments are made for additional needs). Parent voice was very supportive of this at the recent session. We cannot carry the weight of society on our shoulders.

But the kind of resilience required to achieve what I have described does not come from rigour and enforced compliance alone. From this, there will always be those that rebel. Alongside the three ‘strengths’ must come a purposeful curriculum that is ambitious, but also personalised. We will also require enhanced links with the community to help us carry the burden, and it will require even more effort and hours of work. We must never stand still and be happy with where we are. Instead we should remain ambitious, industrious and reflective. The secret to excellence is knowing when things are going wrong and taking personal responsibility to rectify them. Alongside the ‘no negotiable’ approach must run the work we have started with Humanutopia. Equal attention in the emerging curriculum must be paid to the four elements of academic progress, emotional resilience, physical development and creativity. Then we will be as strong as we can be. We will never run out of things to improve.

Creativity is the one element that must be nurtured. The world around us is rapidly being directed by algorithms. Humans have the ability to build cars that can make their own decisions, apps that can simulate human emotions, programmes that can synthesise diagnoses to replace GPs and robots that can make their own decisions to kill during warfare. The industrial revolution replaced human brawn; the technological revolution is replacing brain. But it has yet to reach or replace human imagination and creativity. Young people are growing up in a world and in an education system that isolates them. Social media has a lot to answer for. It promotes everyone’s ‘perfect’ life and is destructive to young people’s mental health. The Arts are the antidote. Through the Arts, there is no failure, only iterative steps to success. The Arts promote team work, eye contact, good body language, confidence, laughter and an undeniable sense of what it takes to be human.

In that vein, well done to everyone involved in The Railway Children. It was the most fantastic school production and certainly one to be very proud of. The students were outstanding in their roles, well-rehearsed and disciplined. The technical side of things was also superb, including the wonderful set. But no play comes alive without a talented and dedicated director. So well done Eva. Watching this play made me so proud to work with you all and a timely reminder of why schools must never cut the Arts from the curriculum.


Principal’s Round-up – 23rd November 2018

Posted: 23 November 2018

Times are changing. You only have to consider the issues facing school funding, unfunded staff costs, recruitment and retention, ever more government initiatives that are altering the face of teaching including ITT proposals, school efficiency models, a new Ofsted framework, tertiary reforms. When just doing our jobs well is hard enough it is easy to forget how much of what we do is so exceptional by our own standards, and by international standards. We are experts at addressing standards but this can lead us to look downwards and inwards. We need to remember to look outwards at other school systems and use profession led networks to help us understand what is possible. Part of this is taking time to read research and try to be solution focused rather than despondent.

In this vein, at a time when knowledge is once again being cited as the basis of educational achievement, we know that the real challenge for schools is understanding how to prepare young people for the future. Tomorrow’s (and today’s?) schools need to help students to think for themselves and join others in work and citizenship. At a time when Google knows everything, schools will need to help students develop a strong sense of right and wrong and sensitivity to the claims others make. At work, at home and in the community, people will need a deep understanding of how others think, whether as scientists or artists, and how others live, in different cultures and traditions. Whatever tasks machines may be taking over from humans at work, the demands on our capabilities to contribute meaningfully to social and civic life will always keep rising. These are topics that should dominate issues around curriculum design in the most advanced education system.

Andreas Schleicher (Director for Education and Skills at OECD) suggests that one of the reasons we get stuck in educational thinking in the UK is because our thinking is framed by so many myths unsupported by research. Some of these are:
• The poor will always do less well at school. That is not true. The 10% most disadvantaged 15 year olds in Shanghai performed better on the PISA maths test than the 10% wealthiest American students.
• Smaller classes mean better results. That is not true. In fact whenever high performing education systems have to make a choice between a small class or better teaching, they go for the latter. Singapore has a staff-student ratio of 12:1 which is more favourable than in the UK. But Singapore has much larger exam classes (of 35-36) than the UK. Teachers in the UK have little time for anything other than teaching whist the larger class sizes in Singapore allows teachers to spend more time with their colleagues to co-plan and to observe each other.
• More time spent learning always means better results. That is not true. Study hours in Finland are little more than half what students in UAE spend, but in Finland students learn a lot in little time while in UAE they learn very little in a lot of time.

Parent voice this week was extremely positive, which is good to hear. Parents are very supportive of our work around Living Life to the Full and Humanutopia. These programmes, along with our ever improving tutor programme form the basis of the work we are undertaking to improve ethos. Parents stated that they really liked the projects and appreciated having the opportunity to really find out what they involve. Y7 parents raised social time as a concern. Their children tell them they roam at lunch, and I am coming to the conclusion that we need to revisit the timing of the day along with breaks. In addition, it is a fact that we will never ‘exclude’ our way out of poor behaviour. Students themselves have to be part of the solution to disaffection rather than grouping together to fight the system.

I do hope that many of you will find the time to come along and watch The Railway Children next week. A huge amount of effort and hard work has gone into this wonderful production, and it certainly deserves a good audience. It could well be the antidote to the cold and miserable weather, and cheer us up part way through a busy half term.

Have a good weekend


Principal’s Round-up – 9th November 2018

Posted: 9 November 2018

I re-watched the Harry Potter films recently as they were being shown over a number of weeks on ITV. In the Deathly Hallows, part 2, there comes a time when Professor McGonagall has reason to cast a spell that calls the stone statues guarding Hogwarts school into life with the plea “our school is under threat… take action”. This felt not too far away from my thinking when I heard the recent budget statement, and felt my blood boil at the announcements made by the Chancellor.

The £400m announced for schools to buy “little extras” has been described by one head teacher as “contemptuous”. It is a drop in the ocean compared to the £2bn that has been cut from our schools since 2015. And it is for one year only. £400m is of course not unwelcome, and will go some (small) way to plug the £6.5bn backlog identified by the NAO as needed to repair current school buildings.

Tom Middlehurst from SSAT makes the following commentary: “The ‘extras’ that schools have already been forced to cut include: wider curriculum offers at KS4 and KS5 because of concern around staffing; wrap-around pastoral care that protects the most vulnerable students; teaching assistants who, when deployed intelligently, can allow teachers to focus on the learners who need the most support; and the extracurricular activities and opportunities that allow disadvantaged students the same chances in life as their wealthier peers. These things are not nice-to-haves, but are fundamental in creating an equitable and quality education system.

On top of this, many schools across England are genuinely worried about paying their teachers’ salaries in the coming years, with no guarantee that the huge rise to the employer contribution to teachers’ pensions will be funded beyond 2020. Had the chancellor’s announcement not been couched in this language SSAT, with other partners, would have continued to campaign for sufficient and fair per-pupil revenue funding in any case. But the Chancellor’s announcement shows why all heads and teachers need to seriously get behind campaigns for sufficient funding, including WorthLess? and #RaisetheRate. The government are simply not listening.”

But it is not all bad news. There is £420m to mend pot holes so on a positive note, while our school continues to crumble and class sizes remain larger than average, at least you will have a smooth drive to work.

I was honoured to be part of the Remembrance Service today. This is an annual act of solidarity and an important part of the college calendar, and was even more poignant this year as we commemorate the centenary of the armistice for WW1. I always find the act of remembrance very moving for personal reasons, and I was immensely proud of the way students conducted themselves throughout the service at St Eustacious Church. Alongside Y9, Y13 and staff, we welcomed members of the serving armed forces, Governors and other distinguished guests. The introduction and opening poem was read by Phoenix Rinkowski, the Deputy Head Boy, and this was followed by a reading of ‘In Flanders Fields’ by Archie Allen, Head Boy. A very moving part of the service was the Roll of Honour. Tom White, Drake House Captain and Grace Morewood, Fitzford House read the names of the former students from Tavistock College who lost their lives in conflict in WW1 and WW2 before the wreaths were laid by Connie Ballard Y11 and Y11 Army Cadet Rufus Gilbery. I was able to make much of the futility of war and the effect it has on innocent people in the world. This is something that is lost in the way war is portrayed in news bulletins and through computer games that glorify the process. I quoted from the United Nations Charter, signed in 1945, to exemplify the importance of fostering a co-operative and pacifist approach to world affairs. Thank you to Marianne Hastings for all your hard working in ensuring this event happened.

The debate about mobile technology in schools rumbles on without the recognition that it is in the home and free time where damage is largely done with mobile devices. We need to take our time over any extreme policy introduction to avoid a knee jerk reaction to the misuse of technology. We must see behind the headlines. Andrew Przybylski from Oxford University has shown that claims demonstrating screen time reduces IQ or ability have no evidence supporting them. True, playing a computer game or listening to music on your phone at lunchtime reduces discussion time, but so does kicking a football about or staring aimlessly at the ceiling. Students having access to phones allows them use of Google Classroom, access their timetable, to photograph work, check ideas and it also has a positive effect on mental health when they receive affirmations from family and friends. We are guilty of singling out ‘screen time’ as a value judgement, not a factual one. Ann Mroz writes this week “ We are in danger of creating a Frankenstein’s monster – bolting lots of things together to create a bogeyman we have decided to call screen time. In doing so we have mashed together everything from online gaming, through Google searches and word processing to reading an ebook. If it’s on a screen and students are looking at it then it must be bad!” That is both disingenuous and dangerous. She adds “if we decide to ban mobile phones in schools …are we equipping children with the experiences they need as adults? Do we risk creating another generation that has never learned to self-regulate?”

Food for thought.

I greatly enjoyed the Creative Arts showcase performance. This was a ‘feel-good’ community event with performances by our students, SJS and TC2. The Hall was packed full of proud parents, staff and members of the local community. The singing, musical interpretation and choreography were stunning. Students demonstrated increased confidence, good communication and most importantly team work. Thank you to Joe, Eva and Jess for co-ordinating the evening. The showcase was an aspiring reminder of why the creative and performing arts subjects should never be cut from the curriculum.

Have a good weekend.