Principal’s Round-up – 17th January 2020

After 32 years in education I still get surprised, delighted, disappointed and confused

in close succession most days by the myriad of different experiences that are thrown at us. However, not a day goes by at Tavistock College where we don’t laugh and chat together, or look to each other for help. That is the joy of working in schools, particularly this one. There is simply no other environment like it. When we come together like we did on the training day on 6th January, we were learning collectively in a great act of solidarity. It is vital we share these experiences, not just so that we can continue to reflect upon and deepen our understanding of what is required of us, but because private ownership of knowledge is isolating and encourages over specialisation and secrecy. We don’t subscribe to working in secret or by segregating people. This works against our values – most importantly the values of openness and honesty. It is also cowardly. Instead we will be open and support each other.

In this framework, multi-disciplinary knowledge matters. It is essential so that we can understand each other’s point of view. It is simply wrong to just follow the crowd by accumulating and promoting ideas from other schools and planting them here. Ted Wragg talked about this in the 1980s and I still subscribe to that perspective today. He suggested that it is less than helpful to collect petals from lots of flowers and try to stick them together and call it effective. So it is in education. Our own context and expertise must be recognised. Anyone who does not understand this and tries to force us into a narrow specialist curriculum or approach is quite simply wrong. It mitigates against our values of self-help, self-responsibility and equality. We will find our own path together, and it will be a good one.

When I spoke on the training day on the 6th, I explained that it was going to be a challenging term. Learning from each other will continue to be critical. It is both easy and useful (for some) to blame schools for all of society’s ills. Obesity, drug abuse, social media, radicalisation, and knife crime to name just a few. Ed Darrell, writing in TES explains that because everyone has been through schooling, the average adult tends to assume that the failings they faced in the classroom in 1985 are what their children are experiencing in 2020. It has been a deliberate policy to make the public sector, especially schools, a convenient political football. But there is a mood that the profession now has the opportunity to take some kind of ownership and change the narrative. As the teachers supply is dwindling, those left can shape the future. External change cannot start though without internal improvement so lets grasp that and look forward to what we can do for ourselves. To quote Dowell “ be brave, be nice, and reject work that does not improve the lot of your students and their outcomes”.

Our pressures rest on three things this term. Firstly, we need to prepare to show to ofsted our strengths and demonstrate that our areas for development are improving rapidly. Secondly, we need to improve outcomes as Y11 are not yet making the progress expected, and, thirdly, we have to do this on a shoe string. We will achieve all of this not through ‘mock-sted’ approaches but by peer coaching where it is needed and by ‘sticking to the knitting’. This means continuing to work hard to meet school expectations whilst abandoning the things that do not add value. Stick to the work achieved through challenging EPTs, short marking and rigorous personalisation set in class plans. I see lots of attempts at challenge but the weakest is when extension tasks are used. This is, in essence unfair in intention. Extension work is based upon judgements and assumptions about the capabilities of students, and is often biased towards poor behaviour. And students always live up to expectations when they are low! Extension work is great for self-regulated and motivated students. It is disastrous for those who are not. They see it as extra work, and it also has the power to lower the self-esteem of the demotivated. Much better is to teach to the top. Expectations are never then capped. Teachers should have the highest expectations and provide scaffolds to allow students to achieve these.

So, simply, always cater explicitly for HPAs and foster the ethos of high standards and aspiration.

To achieve what I am suggesting will not be easy. But then you are not walking this path alone. We have invested in coaching programmes and coaching expertise to help. I will always look at the impact of approaches, not determine for you how things may be done. Unanimity is not the same as collective responsibility. Similarly participation is no substitute for democratic control. I was pleased to read the vast majority of the MAT voice surveys.  Staff, parents and student feedback was very positive on the whole and improved even from last years.

I look forward to an annual highlight, the Sports Personality of the Year event next week. There are some amazing success stories to share.

Have a restful weekend.