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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 8th June 2018

Posted: 8 June 2018

As we approach the end of the year, with most appointments done and a budget that is just about hanging in there by the skin of its teeth, I reflect again on the unfairness in the system and the impact of the swinging cuts that we have had to absorb. This has not just meant larger class sizes, fewer courses, a reduction in staff and stretched resources. We are not able to provide the quality of provision for children that used to be considered their right. The right to a good education.

Nationally, creativity is being squeezed out of the system and subjects like the Arts and PE, proudly at the heart of education for many generations, are now fighting for survival. This is so wrong for young people. As an Art candidate reminded me at interview recently, 60% of jobs require some kind of creativity. If that is not encouraged in school, where will it be encouraged? She also quoted Picasso, saying “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”. At Tavistock College we are doing what we can to retain that soul to protect the kind of broad, principled curriculum that the next generation of young people should experience.

We need to make voters and politicians more sharply aware of the devastating effect the funding crisis is now having. After all, parents are voters and they, rightly, believe their children should be entitled to the same quality of teaching, curriculum and pastoral care that we have successfully delivered for generations in schools.

In assembly next week I will be using the themes of ‘work hard; be nice’ and linking these to our values. Included in this is the need to show sensitivity to everyone, as we never know what people are going through or undertaking in their lives. Not everyone wants to be in the spotlight. In preparation, and in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of some women gaining the right to vote, I remember my grandmother who, born in 1895, became a suffragette in 1913; a fully paid up member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. As a family we only discovered this after her death in 1987. The slogan of the WSPU was ‘deeds not words’. Many of our students and staff understand this. I have lost track of the charity events organised this term: golf to raise money for Meningitis UK, the dog show to raise money for the prom and Gables Cats and Dogs home, a mufti day on the last day of term to raise money for mental health charities… and the list goes on. Deeds, not words.

I often mention in morning briefing that we have had positive and affirming feedback from parents and visitors. This has continued during the week with wonderful emails coming in from happy parents, anxious to convey their thanks to one teacher or another for going the ‘extra mile’ for their child. 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, 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. 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 refectory. 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. NEVER underestimate the impact that you have or how much you are valued by the students.

Have a lovely weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 18th May 2018

Posted: 18 May 2018

‘There is no doubt that schools and teachers are fighting chronic national negativity, [policies that create] short termism and a tendency to put ideology above evidence.’
I wish I had said that, but this comes from Paul Drechsler head of the CBI. Never did it resonate more than after the announcement by Damian Hinds last week confirming the decision to allow existing grammar schools to expand through a new £50m fund, including the potential to open ‘satellite’ sites. Tom Middlehurst from SSAT wrote this week, ‘whatever your views on grammars, the announcement on 5th May by Damian Hinds is a slap in the face to most schools’.

Tom Middlehurst continues ‘for a secretary of state who claims to want to listen to the profession, he has failed to do so. For a department who want their schools to be increasingly evidence-based, we have a lack of evidence-based policy thinking. For ministers who value a knowledge-rich curriculum for all, we have an unavoidable dichotomy. Above all, although £50m may not be a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, all schools deserve a cut of this (and more besides), not just a chosen few.’
£50m is not a lot of money in education. But the fact that ministers have decided to focus on the 163 grammar schools in England, at a time when, every other type of school is being forced to reduce their budgets is genuinely insulting to the sector. It’s frankly wrong and it makes me very angry indeed. However, as in all things, it is sensible not to respond in anger, but to find ways to continue to improve the school for the benefit of colleagues, students and for the community.

A little while ago I read a discussion about sustaining change. This was related to leadership style, and specifically the pitfalls of competitive leadership. On the one hand, some say a competitive leadership style and the winning culture is important. On the other, some say that “winning” is a destructive force … especially when leading change. Perhaps, instead, we need co-operative leadership, especially in education. But what does this mean? John Shultz tells us that change should be driven by intrinsic motivators, those things that ‘tug at people’s sense of equity and feelings of service or accomplishment’. I believe that competition and co-operation can work when used together to achieve the right outcome … for the right reason.

In education, winning is potentially destructive. When we think of competition it’s usually a win-lose situation. Competition implies that someone else fails … this isn’t good for relationships. Relationships are crucial when leading change. What’s more, winning seeks compliance. It relies on the manager to persuade, cajole or demand people into accepting a vision for change. Sooner or later this approach fails. In most situations, co-operation is needed, where people work together for mutual benefit to achieve a shared business objective. Basically, success is not achieved by overcoming others but by encouraging co-operation.

Change ultimately should lead to the creation of a service that not only meets, but exceeds customer expectations. As we learn from John Kotter and Dan Cohen in their book ‘The Heart of Change’, employees can readily identify with delighted customers because they want and expect reliable outcomes and attentive services for themselves. In addition, people feel a sense of achievement and often generosity toward others because of association and the will to work together for the benefit of both the organisation and the customer. This is co-operation. Co-operation always works: it is neither soft nor weak. Rather, co-operation is about working with people to get things done. To get results quickly. Co-operation propels the organisation forward. Co-operation succeeds where competition fails because it is positive, tough, forgiving, and clear.

1. Positive
The successful change leader knows the benefits of co-operation and forming alliances. They also know why relationships are important when leading transformational change. A co-operative leadership style is appreciative, positive, confident and flexible. This means the change leader fully appreciates what people are saying and has sufficient self-esteem to hear critical feedback. As such, they are flexible and open in their approach, and are equally happy to follow as to lead.
2. Tough
The co-operative leadership style uses the tit-for-tat strategy. This was first described by political strategist Robert Axelrod in the 1980s. While the goal is always to co-operate, the co-operative leader does need to be tough at times. So, if someone is unco-operative the response is competitive … unco-operative behaviour is punished by capitalising on their mistake. And, when unco-operative behaviour ceases a return to co-operation follows.
3. Forgiving
The co-operative leader knows when it is necessary to smooth over awkward or rough patches to get back to business. They are confident, compassionate, and fair. They portray themselves with honesty and integrity, and have the confidence to share their feelings and to protect the feelings of others. Above all, they can move on and move the team forward. Their example motivates and builds confidence. Progress is made.
4. Clear
The best outcome for organisations and customers is co-operation. Co-operation gets results … quickly. People know what needs to be done because the co-operative leader is clear about the task and so are others. The co-operative change leader knows how to communicate the vision, but also knows how to encourage and listen to divergent points of view. Co-operative leadership isn’t about working together in harmony, it is about finding the best path to a solution. This is achieved when employees have a say in what happens.

Winning is for the athletics field. Serving customers is the job of a successful educational organisation. Talking of which, we have had some outstanding successes in athletics recently. Following on from success at the Plymouth and West Devon championship hosted at the college on Thursday, our athletes performed again on Tuesday at the Super 8 championships at Brickfields.

Shaun reports that the whole team were outstanding, but some notable performances include –
Tyler Hunt (Year 9) – 1st in hurdles and 2nd in shot.
Dan Luckham – 2nd in 1500 metres – running half with one shoe!!!!
Will White – 1st in 800m – running 2:23.
Will Russell – 1st in 1500m – running 4:51
Emily Frost had success at the Devon county finals on Sunday finishing 3rd in the 100m Under 17s women’s competition with a personal best time of 13:24 and 2nd in the long jump with a PB of 5:24m.

We are now in the final countdown to 25th May and the introduction of the new GDPR regulations. Please read the MAT Data Protection policy when arrives, and the new privacy notices. These are in place to protect you, even if they feel a little restrictive. Any changes we introduce are in place to guard against a data breach and will be built upon best practice. All school documents must be stored in Drive and memory sticks and hard drives of any kind will not be permitted. If you have a business case for using an external hard drive it must be made in writing to me and if accepted you will have a device encrypted by the IT team. Other measures in place are now the automatic locking if your computer (although you must still do this if you leave your station unattended) and the need to make all class plans electronic and stored in Drive.

Finally I’d like to say well done to Jenny Harris and Wendy Stephens who secured promotion into internal posts as Associate SENDCo and Head of Year respectively. They were both in a strong field, and as ever, I am delighted that colleagues take internal opportunities when they arise to continue the work we have started.

Have a lovely weekend

Principal’s Round-up – 4th May 2018

Posted: 4 May 2018

Working in schools is hard. Sometimes it is very hard. For schools with significant numbers of disadvantaged students (we have 32% of our school cohort, heavily concentrated in Y7 and 8) it is harder still. Occasionally working in schools with its constant, biased media criticism and ill thought-out political interference, it can feel like a battle against all odds. But it’s a battle worth having. Teachers and other staff are the ones who cannot give up: they are the ones who must pick up the pieces when everyone else has gone. When the finances of support services are cut, forcing them to retreat, schools are still there. Because they have to be. Even when school budgets are slashed, those that work in schools will not withdraw. Instead we shoulder the burden. To let children down is simply not an option. We provide the vital calm in society’s storm. Intolerant views and ‘hard line’ doctrines abound at the moment in the public discourse, and their influence has been felt recently in school. Stridency seems to be in vogue politically, and this filters down through families and in the community. Compromise, subtlety and ambiguity are perceived as weak.

Interestingly, then, the Education Secretary was forced to admit that he wrongly claimed school spending is going up. Damian Hinds, was wrong to claim that every school will enjoy ‘a small cash increase’. It seems the Secretary of State needed reminding that the mere repetition of a falsehood does not turn it into the truth. The official Commons record has now been corrected by the Department for Education to admit that school funding will only be “maintained” between 2017 and 2020. In reality, as the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, school budgets will decline in real terms by 4.6 % 2018 and 2020, because of previous cuts. This is not good news. Impact on us has now gone beyond not replacing staff to include making cuts in the curriculum offer and in resourcing. We have no plans at the moment to make redundancies but we must learn to cut our cloth accordingly and to ensure we learn to do things differently, and more efficiently. We simply have no choice. This is one more burden to shoulder. By pulling together we stand a chance.

At the Middle Leaders meeting this week we worked together to ensure the strategies we have introduced to accelerate progress for the high prior attaining and disadvantaged students are clear, achievable and valuable. Zoë also presented her new plans to improve SEND provision and referrals. It was a productive meeting and the outcomes should improve focus in the classroom. I talked about the importance of rigour. Rigour isn’t about excited enthusiasm. Rigour is part of a great teacher’s attitude. You don’t settle for sloppy thinking, mediocrity, half-hearted writing or incomplete answers. There is usually a general sense of high expectation in a range of areas: concentration span; extended writing; independence and self-help; maturity and sophistication. All these things reinforce a rigorous approach to learning in the classroom. The focus is on intrinsic reward and motivation through the learning; rigour is rarely associated with ‘having a bit of fun’. Actually, in great lessons, students get engrossed in rigorous tasks and enjoy the feeling of making progress. Serious endeavour, rigour and enjoyment are intertwined… a great teacher never dumbs it down or suggests that the ‘fun’ is all the easy stuff. You can’t do a bit of rigour every now and then; it is part and parcel of every lesson, relentless and automatic.

I have been overwhelmed recently with groups of students wanting to talk to me about fundraising for some wonderful causes including mental health awareness, the Tavistock Safe Haven, important local charities, and of course for SKRUM. I am feeling an increasing sense of pride in these events: a real sense of community pride and caring for others. Rarely do students simply ask for a mufti-day or bake sale. With much greater ambition they are actively organising bag packing in local stores, charity dinners and events, and we also have plans for Y10 to organise another dog show in June. We still have work to do on building relationships. The Humanutopia Heroes will be leading the way. But keeping everyone safe and happy is everyone’s responsibility. There are small acts of kindness that everyone can undertake every day that make the school a better place. Getting to know the students as people is so very important. When a child confides in you, it is not enough to make an entry on cpoms. It is your ball – don’t drop it.

Have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend