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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 19th October 2018

Posted: 19 October 2018

On the day DfE Performance Tables were published, I told colleagues that I had lost confidence in the accuracy of examinations. Once again, this year’s grade boundary changes from some examination boards means we are left comparing sheep with goats. Many head teachers are now urging ministers to move to one examination board for each subject because the competing boards create instability. Subject leaders up and down the country were again left pulling their hair out as boards made changes after examinations had been sat and marked. They need to know examinations will be marked accurately and fairly. Critics argue that results in this year’s tables reflect the boards that schools choose to study as much as the quality of teaching. And then we are left puzzling over the DfE tables and the descriptor given to our school. Tavistock College is ‘average’. Inspiring isn’t it? We are much more than ‘average’. What a bland word to describe the blood, sweat and tears that go into each day that we strive to make the school a better place to work and learn in. There is a school in Devon that was described as ‘above average’ last year and ‘below average’ this year. This makes no sense at all, as the incremental changes in its results at KS4 were subject to the vagaries of norm referencing and comparable outcomes. No doubt this school has all the brilliance in most areas, and has others to develop. Nothing will have changes. Yet the value judgements are persuasive.

Government guru Tim Oates argues that volatility in the system makes comparisons meaningless, “At an individual level, two similar candidates, in different years, can get a different score or grade if they prepare in different ways, face or choose different questions, or if what they do is treated differently.” Head teachers argue this is simply wrong, and ministers have created unfairness through ill thought out policy changes. New examinations continue to be rushed with inadequate pilot work, problematic questioning, inconsistent marking and even simple administration errors. The boards are making too many mistakes and cannot keep pace with demand, according to an ASCL spokesperson. Raw results do not take account of a schools’ context and each school sets a curriculum to meet the needs of their own cohort of children.

We have to remember that when we see such fluctuations in performance it is not schools that have changed, but the system. Our young people and teachers have been working as hard as they always have and will continue to strive towards reaching full potential. Our schools are so much more than a collection of exam results. They are rich and diverse communities of learners with a huge range of needs and interests. Sadly, these aspects of school life often aren’t reflected in league tables but are nevertheless valued by students, families and communities.

It is not just in performance where there are inconsistencies. We live in shifting sands and priorities. Take behaviour management for example. Inspectors graded a school ‘good’ this January and praised its tough stance on behaviour. Leaders were applauded for a “rigorous implementation of the school’s code of conduct”. But in February, just one month later, Ofsted wrote to the school to warn over sky-high fixed-term exclusion rates. I encourage you to read the article on the planned changes to the Ofsted framework for 2019 I have included in this week’s bundle of articles. You may be surprised by what you find.

Frustrating as the fluctuating landscape appears, developing co-operatively is at the heart of everything we do as a school and I appreciate all the varied and differing ways in which parents, carers and members of our local community continue to support the staff and students here at Tavistock College on a daily basis. Their on-going help and support is invaluable and enriches our life here together. We hosted another extremely well attended parent forum this week, thanks to Vicki Piper. The student voice events have made us revisit policies and staff voice is shaping our work to reduce workload. I am extremely proud of this work and it reaffirms my belief that we are stronger when we work together. We have been asked by teachers to revisit the actions we are asking them to take, and to reconsider some decisions. This is important, and it is something I take seriously. Whilst I will never lower expectations, I have always strived to reduce rules and compliance.

Key to bringing alive the targets in the Dartmoor MAT development plan will be our on-going work to improve emotionally intelligent responses and a focus on Tristan’s recent efforts to develop the concept of ‘behaviours to belong’. Here the emphasis will be on student expectations and finding ways to measure progress in this area. This is very different from recording how many warnings students receive. It is a positive philosophy that is underpinned by Humanutopia and our co-operative values, but it in no way allows for poor or unacceptable behaviour. The MAT development plan encourages us all to improve the work we do making our schools happy and healthy. Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Tuesday that the government will provide “tools to help schools measure their students’ health, including their mental wellbeing – building on the commitment to make education in mental health and resilience a compulsory part of the curriculum”. I look forward to this being released.

I hope you enjoy reading this week’s offerings, and have a restful half term.

Principal’s Round-up – 5th October 2018

Posted: 5 October 2018

Today is World Teachers’ Day. A time to give thanks to all our great teachers, because none of us would be where we are without the time and dedication teachers have put into helping to shape our lives. Teachers should be held in the highest esteem as professionals, not denigrated in social media and other quarters, blamed for not solving all of societies ills. I have never met a teacher who did not want to do a good job, or want to be a thoughtful professional who learns from others to be the best they can be. Students in this college are lucky. They have teachers who genuinely care for them; who spend more time than they have getting it right; and who are passionate about their subject. I have said before that we have all the answers within ourselves to be a high performing school. We should be trusted to be our own critics. However, with increasing degrees of control, direction and accountability from faceless apparatchiks, I am reminded of the quote by Theodore Roosevelt in his 1910 ‘citizen in a republic’ speech (excuse the use of solely masculine descriptors). It certainly helps me to bat away unwanted, ill-informed interference.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Your efforts and passions were certainly appreciated at the recent Open Evening. I had a great deal of feedback about the enthusiasm of the teachers and also the students who spoke alongside me, or who were tour guides and helpers in Faculties. Of course we would not have been able to run the event without the superb work and attention to detail put into the preparation by technicians, cleaners, caretakers and Jonathan Wates. Thank you to everyone who made the evening so successful.

In my Open Evening speech I was able to talk about the standards expected of Tavistock College students, and in particular, that to be a Tavistock student they needed to be prepared put effort into being strong: strong in mind (academic acumen), strong in body (making good choices about exercise and diet), and strong in heart (compassion and kindness). We know that some young people find that harder than others, and we must continue to pay attention to our co-constructed classroom strategies for disadvantaged students (FIRST) and the top tips for SEND. But the aim is to get to access those strengths, not to make excuses when they fail. These are mediated strategies and to be outstanding we must always remember that parents matter. Without the engagement of parents, the efforts of students and teachers will never be enough, so we all continue to build excellent relationships with our parents.

This week we welcomed back the wonderful HumanUtopia team. Students in Y10 fully engaged with the ‘Who am I?’ programme, and we now have 47 more Heroes to join our Y11 Icons and peer mentors. We also launched our Leading Life to the Full programme for Y8 supported by Virgin Health and surrogate parenting for Y11. Thanks to Neil Hosking for all his work. Collectively, these programmes, which run across all year groups, are helping us to bring to life our commitment to be a happy healthy school through objective 3 of our college improvement plan.

I hope you have time to reflect at the weekend on what a great job you do on a daily basis, and that you feel proud of your achievements.

Principal’s Round-up – 24th September 2018

Posted: 21 September 2018

This week we invested quite a lot of time and energy into events that promote our co-operative values.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we hosted the first Ability Games for the Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust. One event was aimed at students in KS2 and on Wednesday KS3 students joined our students from Okehampton College and from Holsworthy Community College. I was delighted with the way students interacted and how supportive of each other they were, whilst still enjoying a high degree of healthy competition. Credit must go to Shaun Hulbert and the PE team for the time and effort spent organising the event, along with our fantastic Y9, Y10 and Sixth Form Sports Leaders. It was really heartening to see some students, especially in Y9 who sometimes feel disaffected in the curriculum, supporting others to succeed. Sports Leaders from Okehampton College worked alongside our students and in observing what was going on I was proud to see the values of solidarity and social responsibility being brought to life. Being part of the DMAT is certainly helping to develop our young people.

Another important event took place on Tuesday evening; the Parent Forum organised by Vicki Piper. It was really well attended and involved high degrees of co-operation to provide a joined up and mature approach to a growing issue across the country, namely the use of the dark web to source drugs. We do not need to be reminded of the consequences of ignorance around the methods by which young people are tempted into this arena, and the presentations from the police and YSmart certainly did not disappoint. Parents left much better informed.

Tristan and I have been busy visiting our primary schools over the last two weeks, and we have been well supported by students, especially Issey Persse, Archie Allen, Phoenix Rinkowski, Amy Eaton and Emma Hardwick. It is a lovely moment to hear students describe the quality experiences they have had during their time at Tavistock College. They are always quick to say that you get out of school what you put in, so making good use of the tutor programme to encourage students to participate, contribute and to develop their character and resilience is important. As well as pressing ahead with ensuring all students make exceptional progress, we still need to work hard at sustaining a happy and healthy school. That is why Objective 3 in the college improvement plan is so important to me. Phil will be launching a new initiative soon that will enable students to capture their success outside of the classroom to help build self-esteem and strengthen mental and physical health. As I often say, we will never run out of things to improve.

It has been a really great start to the new academic year. Yes, we have been busy, but that is part of what it takes to work at Tavistock College. Pulling together is what makes it a really great school to work and learn in. We must continue to work really hard over the forthcoming terms to ensure that we provide outstanding experiences and care for all students, particularly those who are disadvantaged or who have special and additional needs. There are many approaches we could take. The good news from one of the world’s leading educationalists Professor John Hattie, however, is that most things work! But, it is the consistency of approach that makes the biggest difference. I am encouraging our teachers to adopt the strategies we all agreed on, and that are captured in the ‘Bottom Line’ alongside the ‘top tips’ in the staff handbook. They are the key elements of quality first teaching. We also know that some elements of QFT have a greater effect-sizes than others. Oral feedback and personalised fine diagnosis are techniques our teachers are very good at. What else does Hattie remind us of? Time on task and diagnostic testing all make a difference. But the key message from Hattie is the power of feedback, feedback, feedback. Newer staff should learn from more experienced staff on the differences between marking and feedback. This will not only accelerate progress, but it will also cut workload.

Finally, I am keen to revisit Staff Voice and I have asked Tristan to come up with some topics that you would like to discuss to be part of the on-going transformation.

I hope you have a restful weekend and have time to recharge your batteries before the next week begins.