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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 24th November 2017

Posted: 24 November 2017

As I write this I am still thinking about the two late evenings this week, and reflecting on their success. The options evening for Y8 was very well attended and I was delighted with the positive attitude of parents and students to their option choices. The new organisation of the ‘market place’ was much more valuable for the students, and parents had the opportunity to engage in their choices. Each Y8 student will now receive an individual appointment to finalise choices. Last night we hosted the wonderful Sports Personality of the Year celebration, I was delighted to see Luke Cressey announced as Tavistock College’s Sports Personality of the Year 2017. I was so impressed not only with the organisation, professionalism and talent at the event, but by the way the students supported each other. As I have said before, I am as excited and motivated as any other school leader by fantastic examination results because these open doors for young people. But it is events like SPOTY where staff, students and parents come together to celebrate other kinds of success, effort and performance that makes me proud of Tavistock College. The lasting memories that are created by events like these and by the previous hard work and dedication to sport, performing arts or any other endeavour, will last a life time. I am so grateful to all staff who give up time to run extra-curricular activities, work with students on a personal level, and organise trips and events.

I have recently been examining the current ‘working level’ data for KS4 students. Whilst the data itself does not reveal much, it is on the patterns across micro-cohorts and year groups that our discussions should centre. Having completed the first Teaching and Learning review this year, patterns are emerging. It is evident that whilst some improvements have been made, we are still working hard to ensure disadvantaged students make the same progress as other students. In all lessons it is important that we do not confuse eligibility for FSM, or a generic ‘SEND’ diagnosis, with low ability. We must understand the importance of ensuring that day-to-day teaching meets the needs of each learner rather than relying on interventions that take place outside the classroom. Our intervention strategy comes alive in the classroom. This is what we mean by Quality First Teaching. It is an expectation that all teachers know and value every student they teach and cater for their needs in their entirety. This support takes place from the moment a student joins our community and our students should be tracked and monitored throughout their school career by their tutor and teachers to check whether progress is being made and to ascertain whether our interventions are working. This data is used to help us make adjustments where needed, to ensure that all students receive the support they need, to achieve their potential and enjoy their school experience.

A valuable tool to accelerate progress is the class plan which should be reviewed frequently, and certainly every half term. When making decisions about using the class plan it is important to consider the context of the subject and subsequent challenges that students face. This is now being done well for SEND students. There are more generic comments made for disadvantaged students, especially those who are high achieving disadvantaged students. Common progress barriers for our disadvantaged students can be:
• Lack of support from home
• Weak language and communication skills
• More frequent behaviour difficulties through poor regulation strategies
• Low aspirations
• Attendance and punctuality issues.
• Greater social or economic barriers resulting in poor extra-curricular participation.

There may also be complex family situations that prevent students from making sustained progress. Our key objective in using Pupil Premium Funding is to narrow the gap for vulnerable groups. Through targeted and focused lesson planning we are working to eliminate barriers to learning and ensure progress for our students. We must all have a clear vision for narrowing the gap and as a school we reflect on what elements have had the greatest impact in the previous academic year and make changes where necessary, to better support our students. Impact is measured through our rigorous tracking and monitoring of data through weekly RAM meetings. Additionally, alongside Teaching and Learning Reviews, Heads of Faculty should be undertaking regular learning walks and work scrutiny to monitor students’ experience and academic journeys, ensuring our work has the desired impact.

Principal’s Round-up – 10th November 2017

Posted: 13 November 2017

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. 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 was given by Darcey Hepworth, the Head Girl, and this was followed by a reading by Laura Meredith. Head Boy, Cyrus Larcombe-Moore, read ‘In Flanders Fields’. A very moving part of the service was the Roll of Honour. Sam Beard, Deputy Head Boy and Rebecca Banks, Deputy Head Girl read the names of the former students from Tavistock College who lost their lives in conflict in WW1 and WW2 before the wreath was laid by Connie Ballard and Charlie Hooper-Noulton. We listened to readings from Isabel Hillman and Connor Maunder and from children whose parents are service personnel. 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 Helen Harris and Marianne Hastings for your organisation and hard work in making this a wonderful event.

The staff voice questionnaire and student voice meetings are throwing up quite a mixed bag of responses. It is certainly heartening to read that the vast majority of staff and students feel that young people are safe and free from on-going bullying in the college. This is as a result of hard work undertaken by tutors and Heads of Year, along with more focused assembly themes reinforcing the tutor activities. Having a demonstrably clear school improvement focus with objectives that are well understood, especially around pedagogical developments, are strengths within the feedback. There is a sharp message, coming from both staff voice and student voice groups, that not all colleagues are consistently applying polices. This is something that Heads of Faculty must work on so that mixed messages are not given to students. If mixed messages prevail then it becomes increasingly difficult for staff who are doing the right thing to sustain the expectations of the college. Low level disruptive behaviour was raised again as a barrier to improving the school, and to solve this we will be doing the following:

1. Ensuring teachers take a proactive stance in meeting students’ complex needs through the application of appropriate strategies to support them. Many of these are captured in the Top Ten Tips for common learning difficulties including PDA, ODD and ASD.
2. Ensuring that teachers are quick to respond and to apply the BfL policy as a reactive approach. Students complain that some teachers take far too long to give warnings and red boards.
3. Redesign the process of BfL. This is being achieved through the introduction of ‘Ready to Learn’ which will begin in January once the logistical problems around staffing and rooming have been completed.

Despite the cold and rainy weather, we have had sporting success this fortnight. Some of this is detailed in this edition of Fortnightly Focus, but I will just mention the performance of our Y7 and Y9 football teams who had great success in cup matches over the last few weeks. The teams are made up of students of all abilities. The camaraderie and sense of solidarity shown by these boys is exceptional and having a very positive influence on their behaviour and effort in other parts of the curriculum. This is why sport matters, and I am grateful to the PE faculty for all that they do to encourage participation in every year group and for the endless sports fixtures that students are taken to.

The 6th form student trip to Venice revealed why it is not always a good thing to fly with a budget airline with Wendy Stephens having no clothes for the whole trip due to lost luggage. However, the students enjoyed the visit and gained skills to support them in the curriculum. There will be a student report in the 6th form Fortnightly Focus next week. The Japanese exchange fortnight begins on Monday, and we wish Crispin and Theresa well as they travel with Y11 and Y12 students.

Have a good weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 20th October 2017

Posted: 20 October 2017

This last fortnight has been extremely busy, but I feel we have made some real leaps forward with standards of behaviour in lessons, extended writing and student participation. Having students as part of Goose Fair selling their apple juice, the 184kg collection for the food bank, and the Teenage Market were real highlights. Parents in the feeder primary schools that Tristan and I have visited over the last few weeks have spoken highly of the college and we are set to be oversubscribed again next year. The real challenge will be maintaining these standards as the Autumn term draws to a close and Christmas approaches. By all of us taking small and repetitive actions we will succeed.

After half term the first teaching and learning review of the academic year will begin. The purpose of this review is to examine the progress we are making with the tools given to accelerate HPA students and to diminish the difference between disadvantaged and the others. Many resources have been produced, not least the Top Ten Tips and these should now be evident in lessons and be seen to be making a difference. A major part of the review will involve observing student engagement with the work set and quality of work. Underpinning the quality of review will be the teachers’ use of end point planning; their planning to ensure the HPA students are challenged; and the efficacy of the differentiation strategies used to meet the needs of the students, including disadvantaged students. I will be undertaking these reviews in Faculties alongside the HOF with support by Barbara and Gareth. Governors will be involved in at least two of the 4 planned reviews for the academic year ahead. The role of the governor is not to comment on the quality of the learning and progress, but to talk to students and staff about their experience at Tavistock College.

There have been many evening events over the last fortnight. Yesterday, Barbara ran a highly successful voluntary ‘catch-up’ session for Level 2 Safeguarding. It was amazing that we were so overwhelmed by the number of attendees, many from the local community that we are training on a voluntary basis. What a measure of success for a co-operative school that engages with its community. In fact we were so popular we had to move the whole event! But Barbara received lots of positive feedback about the quality of the session. Definitely something to repeat. The other evening event yesterday was the Y7 settling-in evening. Again, many more turned up to this event than expected but the feedback was great in terms of positivity. Thank you to all who organised and supported both events. The Open Mornings have been running all term and it is a real privilege to walk prospective parents around the site to show them the lessons taking place. The most common reaction from these parents is that they are so impressed with the purposeful lessons and wonderful and supportive relationships seen between the teachers and the students.

Of course it is not all plain sailing, and there are times when every day seems a struggle. While we get to grips with the new curricular changes, the new examinations, changes to accountability measures and dark rainy days, there are the challenges we face around students’ complex needs. This is where the value of solidarity comes alive. Knowing that we are all aligned to make the college as good as it can be but that we all sometimes get tired. But a co-operative school always copes: when it’s tough, lift your head up and go out there. We get through the difficult times together by helping each other develop resilience, resourcefulness and reminding ourselves of our moral purpose.

I hope you all have a lovely break, and I thank you all for your hard work this half term.


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