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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 20th July 2018

Posted: 20 July 2018

And so the end of term has arrived. I am reminded of an advert for a holiday company that was doing the rounds a few years back where teachers from all over the place were running, shedding suit jackets and diving into swimming pools or the sea. That’s how it feels today as we reach the end of a busy and sometimes challenging year. I do hope that you find plenty of time to recharge your batteries and relax with your families and friends this summer. So often this time just disappears in term time, so enjoy it while it is there.

Thank you all for your hard work and support this year. I am proud to lead a school with such dedicated and committed staff. The feedback that I got from the recent college events has confirmed this, despite the fact that so much happened so close to the end of an incredibly demanding term full of end of year tests and assessments for every year group and report writing to go along with it. It was appreciated that colleagues found time to support Y11 and Y13 Proms, both of which were a great success. Events like the Y11 and Y13 graduations, Founder’s Day, Sports Day, our annual Celebration and Awards evening and SEND Celebration morning really showcase the exceptional hard work, dedication, self-discipline and achievements of our students. Listening carefully to citations at these events demonstrated to me just how much love and respect our teachers and support staff afford our young people. Thank you all for that. Of course we would not achieve so much if it were not for the magnificent support we receive from many volunteers, including the many local councillors who participated in the ‘political speed dating’ event last week, or the superb school pastors who have looked after our students so well since Hannah’s death.

The end of term is one of reflection but it is also a time when we say goodbye to valued and much loved colleagues. Above are the staff who are leaving us this term. We all wish them well for the future, whatever they are doing next and thank them sincerely for all their hard work over the years.

Have a lovely summer holiday, and I look forward to seeing many of you on results days, (Thursday 16 August for A Levels and BTEC 3, Thursday 23 August for GCSEs) and to welcoming you back to work on 3rd September.


Principal’s Round-up – 6th July 2018

Posted: 6 July 2018

The last fortnight has been hard. Really hard. Since Hannah’s death, our days have sometimes felt like we were trudging through unrelenting rain as we struggled to find a way forward through student grief and our own emotions. We did well. We stuck together and supported each other. We have come out of this stronger and closer than ever before. But despite the obvious sunny skies, we still all feel the weight of the dark clouds that have settled over us. Hannah’s death has affected the whole town and over the last few days I have really appreciated the support from the local community who have offered their services in any way that they can. If you have not visited Hannah’s memorial, I encourage you to do so. It will tell you a lot about the compassion and love our students have for one another. I commend all of our students who have looked after each other and who have encouraged their friends to keep going and to get back on track with their own lives. Whilst we are now over the shock of what happened on 23rd June, we have to now re-evaluate the effectiveness of our PSHE programme, and also ensure that we provide a suitable and fitting lasting memorial for Hannah so that we can remember her in life and not allow the method of her death to overshadow that.

As a school, it is important to return to tasks and efforts that keep the school moving forward. The teaching and learning reviews that I am currently undertaking have reminded me that teaching is such a highly skilled profession that is constantly being refined, challenged and developed to improve outcomes for students. I have seen so many improvements in increasing challenge, quality extended writing, purposeful feedback and in personalising learning. This has all been underpinned by a strong sense of commitment, energy, collective purpose and professionalism. We should be ending this year with great pride and confidence for the forthcoming year.

Whilst we know we are improving all the time, there are still issues to address. We will never run out of things to improve, we will never be perfect. Some students do not make the progress that they are capable of and some disengage with learning and education. However, we are seeing sustained impact from our work. We must all be relentlessly ambitious for development and enhancement. We have an increasingly intellectually challenging curriculum to manage and we must raise the bar on positive attitudes and behaviour without taking our eye off the ball of staff training and working on advancing the social acumen needed by young people to transition effectively into adulthood. Our priorities, encapsulated in the College Improvement Plan for 2018-19 are:

  1. To ensure outcomes result in positive progress measures (P8 at 0.25 and L3VA at 0.3). As part of this we must diminish the difference between groups of students with a special focus on SEND and HPAs.
  2. To re-imagine and re-design the curriculum at each key stage to meet new accountability measures and to ensure value for money. We need to look at strengthening EBacc as well as creating more opportunity for vocational learning.
  3. To improve and sustain a positive ethos and continue to ensure all students are safe happy and productive. We cannot allow the minority to disrupt this. So we will work on our ‘golden threads’ and emotional intelligence whilst taking a more rigorous approach to any form of disruption.
  4. To continue to improve our approach to quality first teaching through ‘the bottom line’ and SOLO taxonomies. We have not yet achieved what we set out to do: to embed this culture consistently in every classroom.
  5. To guide self- improvement through effective CPD. We will develop more coherence and structure in professional development and personalise it for different stages of colleagues’ careers. We will make greater links with our MAT family of schools to support specific needs

Despite the chill brought on by the sombre clouds of recent events, we have still found time to enjoy a successful dog show run by Y10 that raised £850 for charity; gathered Y8 and civic dignitaries together for our annual Founders Day celebration where we reflected on the history of Tavistock College and the founders of the school who gave their names to our Houses; delighted in the Y11 Prom and Graduation where joy ran alongside sadness and pride. Next week we look forward to Y13 Graduation and Prom (always very sad to say a final goodbye), Sports Day and our spectacular annual Celebration Evening. Thank you to everyone who has organised these events, given their time to ensure they are successful or just simply attended one or more of them. These contributions to school life are not overlooked, they do not go unnoticed and they have such a lasting impact on students’ lives.

And it’s not long until the summer holiday…
Have a restful weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 22nd June 2018

Posted: 22 June 2018

As we draw closer to the end of term, the work keeps on coming. So do the success stories. We have made some excellent appointments recently and I know that this will make a really exciting start to the new term with all the new energy and experience these people bring. We look forward to meeting new starters on the induction day (16th July). This week, I am writing very little. Instead I have given over the Round-up section to Tristan who writes about the importance of  understanding the importance of Emotional Intelligence in school. What follows is his account.

Reading, more specifically ‘reading to learn’, is something that I have grown to love over the years, especially since coming into my new role less than 3 years ago. A topic I am naturally drawn to is understanding the relationships that we build with, around and through our interactions with students and their families. There are numerous references made about individuals who are able to communicate effectively with different people at different times and in different guises that can be wrapped up like the proverbial Christmas hamper, using the phrase ‘Emotional intelligence’.

‘Ah’ I hear you say ‘that phrase again, I remember some CPD in that in 2002 and 2007 and 2014 etc…’ Yes that phrase, however it’s not until you take a step back and a view of varying different situations that you may have been faced with either in person or through conversations in the staff room, that you actually realise how vital ‘that phrase’ is and how much it could change your view of, well, pretty much everything.

For the purpose of ease, I will use Knight’s definition of emotional intelligence as a springboard for discussion. ‘Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, control and express emotions to navigate through interpersonal relationships, thoughtfully and with empathy’ (2016)

For us working daily in school these relationships could be;
• Staff – Parent
• Staff – Student
• Staff – Staff

But of course we must also be aware of the other interpersonal relationships that will undoubtedly have an effect on our daily work;
• Parent – Student
• Student – Student

None of these examples of relationships are simple, in fact their complexities change daily if not hourly in most cases! Hence the need for empathy that can only, through definition develop through
experience. The differing roles that we play out in our routines with young people on a daily basis, cover everything, from teaching of course, the profession we all studied so hard for, to social worker and everything in between.

This all starts each day with tutoring. Julie Greener has recently composed a fantastic summary in her recent Masters dissertation to outline the vital importance of tutoring and emotional intelligence.
‘I think it is not necessarily, or only, what is done during tutor time, but the way in which the tutor carries out these activities. The way they speak to, support and develop relationships with the students and between the students is also important. Tutors are responsible for the atmosphere that in engendered, promoting attitudes and robust ways of coping with the school day’ (2017)

It would be naive however, to think that students only need this in tutor time and in fact in every interaction they have in any given day, they need someone to engender these positive and fostering attitudes. This is where Julie’s words link in so many ways to the emotional intelligence that is required every interaction with every student not simply in tutor time or indeed just once a lesson. There needs to be a clear thought process of how we deliver words, phrases, or indeed various examples of nonverbal communication and how this delivery must meet the needs of the audience, their particular needs, abilities, physically or emotionally to deal with any specific task or set of instructions that we give them.

Let’s take a moment to consider the term intelligence. The Oxford English dictionary defines intelligence as ‘your ability to comprehend something, like calculus or the reason plants grow towards the sun’

I think that we would all agree that if we can understand, measure and even grade intelligence (something we try to do, to all of our students in every subject), we can also agree that certain individuals in certain situations can be stupid, ‘a poor ability to understand or to profit from experience’ (dictionary definition). Therefore through definition we must be able, all of us, at times to be emotionally stupid. Claxon summarised this by giving some interesting examples ‘stupidity is trying to investigate something that is trying to eat you, dithering as your object of desire slips away, or getting angry with the one you love. Sometimes the situation is ambiguous, and we just make the wrong bet. Sometimes however, we misread a situation, engage the wrong emotional ‘mode’ and make matters worse.’ (2005) I’m certain that everyone reading this is familiar with that concept, that kind of emotional stupidity, both at home and at school. This is of course emphasised when we are tired, stressed or of course both!

I refer to this as falling off the proverbial cliff, a point of no return, a point at which you have lost control (or never gained control in the first place) over a set of emotions directed or not to an individual or indeed group. It’s incredibly hard to keep all of these emotionally driven control factors in check and decide on the correct mode for each situation and I myself have found many times over the last 14 years spent at the college that I have fallen foul of being emotionally stupid and spectacularly fallen of that cliff, often having to back pedal, repair and reconstruct relationships with young people as well as staff.

A more philosophical viewpoint from Aristotle states ‘Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy.’ in other words it’s easy to be emotionally stupid, but to learn from those incidents shows a level of emotional intelligence.

By no means do I want us to be scared of doing anything wrong, by this way of looking at emotional intelligence, just to open your mind to the way that we are in different situations and the impact that this has on both our own and students emotional well-being, as well as an understanding that to not learn from these situations lead us towards emotional stupidity, but to learn, adapt and change our approach to situations shows a move towards greater emotional intelligence.

It is only then, once we have decided to shift towards that emotional intelligence that we can start to talk to students about the same thing. So, why do we need to think about this now more than ever? In society we have lost sight of the differences between being wise (intelligence), logical (practically intelligent) and clever (a mixture of the two) no more so than in education (Claxton, 2005). We need to present the idea to all who work and learn in schools that emotional intelligence is an essential life skill, one that can help navigate your way through life, its challenges and its situations, both day to day or specific, traumatic problems. We also need to be aware that there will be more and more of those traumatic problems for young people now than when we were in school. Figures from the NSPCC state in an average class of 30;
• 10 students will be from a separated home
• 1 will have experienced the death of a parent
• 9 would have been bullied in the last 12 months
• 5 will have emotional or behavioural difficulties
• 6 will have a mental health disorder

It would therefore be impossible for all members of staff to know which students are which and how their specific needs can be met in every class that they teach. However, we have to ensure that the college is a safe place for students, with levels of consistency, routine and boundaries to ensure that they feel safe and secure. The best way in which students feel safe and secure is where they have a connection with their teachers, a connection that allows an appropriate relationship to develop, where both parties can benefit from that daily reassurance that comes from an experience where students are more than just names and targets on a register and teachers are more than those inflatable characters that appear in classrooms at 8am regurgitate assumed knowledge and deflate again at 5pm. It is my aim to look further into the research and class based practice of emotional intelligence and to discuss this further within CPD time next year, so if this has left you thinking it will be my pleasure to discuss this with you then.

I hope you have a super weekend, and hope to see many of you at the dog show that has been organised by Y10 students. Let’s hope the weather is kind.