Principal’s Round-up – 18th October 2019

The training day last week built upon the excellent start that we made in September. Focused progression building a knowledge based curriculum that balances both academic with social acumen is the key to improvement here at Tavistock College. It was inspiring to be part of the team that is bringing semantic memory development to the fore, and ditching those tired old theories around ‘fun’ lessons that promote only episodic memory gains. Will it make a difference? That is up to you. Our academy ethos supports high achievement. Staff are supposed to be holding each other to account not colluding in low standards. That is what co-operative education is all about. We must build the culture and implement it in practice together, ensuring that it is absorbed throughout the school. Morale is high –and where it is not, I ask those who are indulging in lowering it, why are you dragging others down with you? There is simply no time for egotistical or negative behaviour. It gets in the way. We have work to do.

That work includes ensuring every child at KS4 experiences what is required to produce work of a Grade 9 standard. Some will need a great deal of help, but no longer is it acceptable to cut off aspiration by pitching work at a lower level. In the upcoming teaching and learning review, questions will be asked of heads of faculty where this work is within schemes of learning, and why they are sequencing their learning in the order that it is. Scaffolding will be critically important to ensure that students can experience this level of work, and that is why putting information in one place through Class Charts has been so helpful. There is more information shared than ever before.

Our work this year also means ensuring social standards are high. This is where students learn to build resilience instead of caving in to anxiety. Instead they learn to ask the question “how will I overcome this?” Cultural capital is at the heart of this approach, and the curriculum intent that faculty leads are constructing with their teams should include the extra-curricular provision that is so rich at Tavistock College, the types of trips and visits that they offer, and the contribution to the careers education programmes that are measured in the Gatsby benchmarks. It is a shame not to capture this information, and it acts as a prompt to some faculties to keep up with their colleagues.

Teachers should also be by asking “What would I like all students to do routinely?” School routines for behaviour in corridors, wearing uniform correctly waiting for the school bus have been carefully outlined so that everyone knows what is expected. It is everyone’s responsibility. Having established these, the rules must then be applied consistently. Everyone should be clear about exactly what is in the behaviour for learning policy and what is expected from them. For the majority of students, the regime that is described works well. However, all schools have children who have more difficulty in following the rules than others. In some cases, this is the result of a specific learning or behavioural difficulty. In other cases it might be a life event or temporary circumstance.

There is perhaps some tension here in how far all students must conform and the extent to which allowances are made for some. Teachers must ensure that they must make reasonable adjustments for children, for example, with autism, in order that they are not carrying out indirect disability discrimination. However, teachers must still aim high for these children. On a different note, did you hear this? Last week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson described school funding as being a “bit tight”. I could feel my blood pressure rising. It’s not “a bit tight” — we are in a funding crisis. We’ve lost teaching assistants. We’ve hours for some subjects on the curriculum. Teachers are paying from their own pocket for classroom supplies. Our school buildings are in disrepair. It’s not a bit tight when a whole generation of children are missing out on a proper education.

For headteachers like me struggling to balance the books, the Government’s blunder came as no shock. For years (since 2015) our school has been struggling with an impossible budget. Support staff, teachers and senior staff have done all they can to mitigate the impact on children. But the buck stops with the Government. While the Government has conceded that schools have suffered billions in cuts, the response so far has simply been inadequate.. For Tavistock College, the cuts since 2015 have been above average and amount to -£505 per pupil across those years. This adds up to the equivalent of 10 teacher’s salaries. When we were promised that school funding would be ‘levelled up’ I knew from experience that the devil would be in the detail. Trawling through the data, it is worse than I thought. Crucially it fails to reverse the cuts that schools have suffered since 2015. That’s why we’ll keep campaigning until the cuts are reversed. Let’s hope someone listens.

Thank you for your hard work this half term. I hope you have a restful holiday, and I look forward to next half term when we ratchet up the work for Y11 PPEs