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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 23rd February 2018

Posted: 23 February 2018

Gareth. A lot of the time in the review is spent in the classroom talking to students about their work. Very often they speak highly about their teachers and the support they are receiving with difficult concepts. I feel we have much to celebrate from the work we have seen. The concept of performance being linked to teams rather than individuals is accelerating the level of collaborative responsibility and support. Progress has been made with differentiation and setting the higher levels of challenge. Where there are weaker practices, these are being identified more readily and colleagues are taking the lead in professional development of others. I will include details of the full review in the next edition when it is complete.

Half-term gave me plenty of time to catch up on my educational reading, and last week I became interested again in the ‘brain science’ aspects of learning. Drawing from some compelling international research, I thought I would synthesise some ideas and share them with you. Of particular interest was the work undertaken by Kirchner Bruyckere and his research on ‘urban legends’ that are now so well established that they have become truths in many people’s minds. These include the now scientifically be-bunked myths of ‘learning styles’, the ‘learning pyramid’ (where direct instruction lies at the bottom as the most ineffective learning approach and problem solving at the top), the benefits of single sex classrooms and the ineffective use of ‘brain training’. Also seemingly in our DNA is the need to teach so-called 21st Century skills like learning to work together, being creative and communication skills. Humans have actually been doing these things since the earliest communities formed! They are not new ideas. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but sometimes it is important to open our minds to the facts.

To detail a few of the ‘urban myths’. Firstly, pseudoscientists talk of young people being able to multi-task. Physiologically and cognitively this is wrong. A human brain cannot have two or more conscious thoughts at the same time: computers can, but the brain does not have independent processing units. What we actually do is rapidly switch between tasks, losing time and accuracy between each switch. Often we make more mistakes when we are switching so we are unable to complete either task quickly or accurately. Consider the use of hands free devices when we drive. It is shown that just as many accidents occur with a driver using a hands-free device as holding a phone, compared to one doing neither. This is because it matters not where your hands are, it is where your brain is. For students in school, the more they media multi-task, for example listening to music or being allowed to talk when individual work is required, the more susceptible they become to interference in learning.

Secondly, children really cannot self- regulate or self-direct learning. Without a frame or schema they cannot plan learning, carry out tasks and monitor progress. It is simply not possible! A child is not a small adult: a novice is not an inexperienced expert. Goals are not means. For learning there must be knowledge. Children cannot organise learning, discover what matters, solve problems without the knowledge behind the problem. For many adolescents, the frontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until they are 20 years old. So they need guidance with the original organisation of knowledge. This suggests that we need teachers to provide instruction and correction alongside attempts to solve problems. Without this we get ‘butterfly disorder’ where lots of interesting ideas that are not related flit about, and there is no schema for thinking.

This leads on to the third myth that I found interesting. That is that knowledge is as perishable as fresh fish. This is wrong. Knowledge is often added to our library, but rarely taken away, although there are notable confounding examples in science. ‘Old’ knowledge is not necessarily wrong. In fact, you need it to evaluate new knowledge. Therefore, it is not all about the internet. Some ‘knowledge’ found here is not tried and tested, and some is unreliable. For children, solving problems is not all about searching. It is about finding, choosing, evaluating and then using. To do this they need a schema. And to make this they need an outstanding teacher whose knowledge is exceptional.

So, importantly for young people in school, what you know determines what you see. If you have no knowledge you cannot work it out.

Moving beyond this indulgence in theory, we have to manage the day to day world of Tavistock College. We are facing challenges each day whether they be financial, political, social or mental health related. So we must also take time to celebrate the good things. We are delighted for Y9 student Ruby Stacey, who, during her recent gymnastics event where she competed for England, she won a gold medal for her performance on the bars, a silver medal for her floor performance and a bronze medal for her beam work. In Y7 Ethan Baker has now won two bronze medals in trampolining, and he is now preparing for Northern Ireland at the end of March where the national championships are being held. I have received emails praising other students who were a credit to the school on the recent ski trip and visit to Brittany. Parents were also quick to thank all staff for giving up their half term and own time to run these events. There are so many examples of the good things we all do.

Have a lovely weekend.

Principal’s Round-up – 19th January 2018

Posted: 19 January 2018

The last fortnight has been defined by one word – opportunity. We have seen a remarkable shift in compliant behaviour through ‘ready to learn’ but there is some way to go to ensure that those who are wriggling on the hook improve their learning behaviours. The majority of staff have enjoyed the freedoms that the new system has brought and this has been echoed by students. It might be a different story for those who are working in the RTL facility, but this was probably inevitable!

The opportunity to succeed has increased, and some students have certainly understood this. Yesterday we were visited by ITV news who are running a story about Ruby Stacey (Y8). Ruby has recently competed in the British Gymnastic finals. She qualified as the youngest competitor and came 4th overall, after competing against gymnasts two years her senior. This is a running theme. Charlie Elkington who should play in Plymouth Argyle’s U14 team now plays for the U15 and U16 teams. Will Russell has just qualified for the South West County Championships for cross-country, and was 1st in Devon. Ethan Baker is off to Kent in a week’s time to compete for the college in the semi-final of the schools’ trampolining event. Jack Hutchin is competing at a national level in swimming, and Ben Bluett continues to dive in national competitions. Darcey Hepworth now plays in the Plymouth Argyle 1st team, and these have reached the 4th round of the women’s FA cup. But it’s not all about sport, as we were delighted for Cyrus Larcombe-Moore and Molly Bolding when they received much coveted offers from Oxford and Cambridge University last week. The factor that unites these students is a strong sense of determination, resilience and grit. Not all students are well developed in this area and have the potential to become victims in a fragmented society. We can help them by using these students listed above as role models for them to emulate.

Opportunities exist for staff too. We made a very good appointment to the SENDCo post this week. Zoe Baring will be joining us in April and brings with her 9 years’ experience as a SENDCo and senior leadership experience. On the back page of today’s edition you will find a non-remunerated post for Assistant Head of Y9. This is an excellent CPD opportunity, and mirrors the posts created for Y7 and Y8.

The successes listed above have been achieved in troubled times. Schools and academies in Devon have been severely financially disadvantaged for at least a decade. Over the past three years additional rising costs have seen matters reach a critical point. On average, large secondary schools have been making savings of approximately £250k year on year. As you are aware, I, along with other Headteachers in Devon, have campaigned for much improved funding for our school for a sustained period of time. This week I wrote for the Tavistock Times about this issue explaining how, in order to protect teachers and the curriculum we have had to reduce services that should never have been removed from the school.

In September 2017 the government announced its new National Funding Formula. Consequently, the Department for Education reduced the amount that it had originally planned to take from school budgets by £1.3 billion (2015-2020) and confirmed new formula arrangements for how schools would be funded from April 2018. The new National Funding Formula has injected some additional cash in to schools. Much of this will be offset by rising costs. In real terms school budgets will either have a small uplift or will remain static in 2018 and beyond. The new National Funding Formula does not solve the two problems that it was designed to tackle – real terms funding decline and funding inequalities across schools and counties.

Schools in Devon, including Tavistock College, are being treated unfairly under the new formula. Despite promises to the contrary, a Tavistock student’s education is still worth less than that of many others. It is acknowledged that factors such as deprivation, mean that schools should be funded differently, but the disparities that will still be in place for the next financial year 2018-19 (and beyond) are impossible to regard as being satisfactory in any way.

Some basic headlines –using the Department for Education’s own statistics – confirm the following:
• Pupils in Devon will receive around £30 million less than the same number of pupils in the average funded authority, £139 million less than the same number of pupils in Westminster and £212 million less than those in Hackney.
• Over five years, for example, Years 7-11 – therefore, this equates to differences of £150 million
from the average funded authority and a staggering £1 billion less than students in Hackney.
• In Devon, a secondary school of 1139 pupils will have a budget of £5.4 million. This compares to a budget of £7.5 million for the same size school in Hackney. The total funding difference is £2.1 million (36%)
• In Devon, a secondary school of 1010 students will have a budget of £4.9 million. This compares to a budget of £6.7 million for the same size school in Hackney. The total funding difference is £1.7 million (36%).
• In Devon, a secondary school of 795 students will have a budget of £3.8 million. This compares to a budget of £5.2 million for the same size school in Hackney. The total funding difference is £1.4 million (37%).

The proposed new formula is not fit for purpose. I shall continue to lobby Geoffrey Cox and work with other Headteachers in Devon to improve the situation. Sitting back and accepting the ‘inevitable’ is not an option. As in all things, we will continue to fight for justice and equity. It’s what co-operators do well.

Have a good weekend.


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.