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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 7th September 2018

Posted: 7 September 2018

A warm welcome back to everyone after the summer break. I do hope that you were able to spend time with your families and to recharge your batteries. To those who were working all through the summer holiday, thank you. You have all made such a difference to a smooth start to the term.

Last year I started the year talking about quality in all that we do. Quality performance is not a series of actions but a habit. We are now seeing these habits taking shape. We came through a challenging year in 2017-18 marked by an academy conversion, traumas of school closure due to extreme weather, staff reorganisation and of course Hannah’s death. Yet we return to one of our best overall sets of results to date, to a school that is over- subscribed, staffed well with experts in their field (often being poached these days) and financially sound. This situation is not down to luck but sheer hard work.

Top performing subjects this year at A level were English, History, Biology, Physics and Business Studies. At GCSE Japanese achieved a subject P8 score of +1.66 with a prior attainment indicator of +0.4. Construction had a prior attainment indicator of -0.70 but achieved a subject P8 score of +0.77. We saw similar success stories in Business Studies, Child Development, Dance, History, and Textiles. For the first time Ebacc had a positive P8 score, with English being a major player here. Attainment was high in English too with 84% of students gaining 4+ and 73% gaining 5+ (the new C and B grades).

Another great contributor to EBacc was Science. Remember when we all had to get behind science? Biology and Physics are now in the top 6 performing subjects with particular groups having progress measures +0.9 and +0.8. This has all made such an impact on overall results. That is not all. We also start the year having accelerated the performance of disadvantaged students and HPAs. This was the result of a rigorous and deliberate policy of focused support and methodology surrounding class plans and associated pedagogy. Our challenge will be sustaining and managing the successes. In addition, we must apply approaches that have worked elsewhere to pull up and accelerate performance in subjects that are underachieving and to focus on improving outcomes for SEND students.

When I started at the College in 2015 I tried to define what sort of school I’d like to lead. I defined Tavistock College as a Co-operative School which was “faith neutral and value driven; a school where we care more than people think is wise; a school where we dream more than people think is practical; a school where we expect more than people think is possible. In other words, what an aspirational parent would wish for their child, our co-operative must wish for all our children.”

To do this I believed we must focus on getting the culture right and that the results would follow. This work is now well embedded, but there is still more to do. It is no coincidence that certain teachers get good outcomes in terms of progress over and over. Neither is it coincidence that some teams function better than others.

Successful teams at Tavistock College embrace change; they don’t blame others, and they build exceptional relationships. It is not magic and it requires effort every day.

Co-operative teams with less individual talent will outperform groups of superstars who don’t work as a team – every time. Co-operation trumps competition – every time. We know. We’ve seen it.
Co-operation enables us to maintain and co-construct high standards bringing a sense of self accomplishment together. We can then Critique the work not the individuals.
And belonging matters – you have to care about everyone to work here. if we are to fight the many external threats we must not have dangers from within. The ‘I’m ok because I’m better than you’ attitude has no place here. We can still have a winning culture but not where we fight each other to be the most liked or best graded teacher. Winning in this sense is destructive. You can only win in this philosophy if someone else fails. It is not good for relationships and it will not create empathy, trust and belonging. Winning also seeks compliance. We, instead, need co-construction. This is why I often talk about impact not effort and outcomes not processes.

So, we will make co-operation work. Staff voice will be critical to the development of both participative democracy and solidarity this year. You must hold me to that. Our co-operative value of democracy is centred on voice. We have long used both parent and student voice effectively and last year I started to reconstruct staff voice. It exists strongly through both the MAT groups and union representation but the inaugural staff voice meetings were an attempt to enable better dialogue and feedback.

I know we have a long way to go together to develop a model of co-operation whereby we solve problems together, face the truth together, and contribute to an ethical civic society. But not at any cost. It must not be a joyless Gradgrind or treadmill. I also want us to continue to invest in the arts, creativity, sport, social responsibility and ensure we don’t atrophy into the same narrow exam culture other local schools have done. This trap merely creates Thatcher’s dream of a social recession whereby we are all simply drilled, tested, ranked and punished. In addition to improved results I delight in the activities that develop character: The business events, the Borneo trip, DoE and ten tors run by Andy, and the outstanding bands supported by creative arts faculty led by Eva and her team. 73% LAMDA distinction This is where the fun in learning comes from. Of course these things matter to parents and the community.

We have the answers- we have proven this. Let’s celebrate our successes and then work this year to take it to a new level. To achieve what we want we must be courageous, and punch above our weight in all things. It takes courage to have high expectations of our teams and others as well as ourselves; it takes courage to get up when you feel you’ve failed; it takes courage not to accept second best. That is what I am asking from you all.

In this vein, I would like to warmly welcome our new staff.

It’s been a fantastic start to the new term. Let’s keep out standards and aspirations high – everyday. Have a lovely weekend


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