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Principal’s Round-up

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.


Principal’s Round-up – 22nd September 2017

Posted: 22 September 2017

Tristan and I have been happily visiting many of our feeder primary schools over the last two weeks, and we still have some visits left to make. Attending parents’ meetings at these schools provide chances for us to talk about Tavistock College, the opportunities we provide and the high standards we expect. This was replicated at the Open Evening yesterday where I received some excellent feedback from parents and children about the college. Tiring to undertake in the middle of the week, but absolutely essential we get a chance to shine to attract the next generation of students. Thank you to everyone for making it a success. One parent admitted that the expectations seem much more challenging now. She was right, they are. We have to continue to ratchet up expectations like never before to hold our head above the water in the tough new accountability regime and to be successful.

Last time I wrote about the foundations of this future success being built upon the values and principles of the International Co-operative Alliance. I truly believe this to be the case. Strengthening Staff Voice is part of that process, and I was glad to have feedback from this week’s meeting from Tristan. The format we used will be similar each time, and ideas that affect day to day practice will be discussed. It means colleagues will have a greater say in the running of the school where appropriate. Feedback from this week’s meeting means that the changes we were proposing to improve afternoon lessons will not be adopted at this time, and alternative solutions to any problems over-spilling from the day into period 5 will be found. I am pleased that we can work this way to find mutually acceptable outcomes. CIT meetings provide another forum for staff voice through CPD. It is a self-development model that enables us to diagnose and improve from a position of mutual support. In the same vein, the formal process of the MAT consultation is now underway. Any comments can be made at consultation@tavistockcollege.org or questions can be asked at the meeting planned for 5th October when members of the Governing Body will be available.

There is certainly a correlation, and possibly a causal link, between challenging pedagogical approaches and student engagement, regardless of the time of day the lesson takes place. However, this does not mean that all learning must be fun. Learning does not have to be fun. This is not a controversial statement. Fun, as Jarlath O’Brien maintains, is a desirable by-product of learning but not something that teachers should specifically aim for in the planning of a lesson. ‘How can I make this fun?’ is a question we should never ask ourselves when conceiving schemes of learning. Instead we should be considering how to make it satisfying and rewarding by extending the level of challenge. I bring this up as it has recently been posited that children with poor behaviour should have lessons that are ‘more fun’. This indicates that the underlying reasons for behavioural problems is simply boredom and it is the teacher’s job to entertain rather than teach. This removes all responsibility for learning from the student and results in a poor work ethic across the curriculum. It is stretch and challenge we must look for if boredom is genuinely an issue, not ‘fun’. However, a classroom must also be a safe environment where a student knows that if they do struggle with their learning they will be met with unstinting support. If children convince themselves that getting something wrong, needing help or failing to understand something will be met with a withering look or some kind of sanction will be applied, we will also promote poor behaviour. Put simply, it is achievement, success and progress that drives a student’s motivation, not the other way round. There are some articles pertinent to this idea for you to read in this week’s edition.

Have a good weekend.


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