Principal’s Round-up – 21st June 2019

We have a few more busy evenings and days left until the end of term, and most of these are exciting events. On 25th June I am really looking forward to the annual Product of the Year event. It is also the Camps International fundraising boat trip for Peru 2020. As I can’t be in two places at once, I am hoping some staff will support this venture. Also next week we will be taking the whole of Y8 to St Eustachius Church to give thanks for the people who founded a school in Tavistock and after who our college houses are named. The following week we welcome our new Y7 parents and students into school for two evening events where we set out our expectations for them as parents, and so students can meet their tutor. Tristan and I are busy visiting the 23 feeder schools over the next few weeks as part of the recruitment process for next year! And of course we are all looking forward to Y11 and Y13 graduation, also at St Eustachius and their proms. Seeing the students graduate is such a positive and affirming event and makes all the work worthwhile. Thank you to everyone who works tirelessly to make these events so special. The links we have with our partner schools and the community of Tavistock is what makes this school such an exceptional place to work in.

Now the testing period for most year groups is coming to an end, we should now turn our attention back to the on-going improvements to teaching and learning. The reviews I, and other colleagues, have undertaken alongside Heads of Faculty have revealed some sustained progress growth in the areas we have focussed on this year. There is certainly more coherence. The use of end point tasks and the associated road maps has brought a great deal of rationality to the knowledge base for subjects. The new Ofsted framework requires us to consider the intent and implementation of our curriculum and where the EPTs have been devised well, students have a much greater chance to show how they have created composite models in their memory from related ideas. Whilst I still believe that some of these require more challenge, students’ extended writing and productivity is now largely at the level expected. There is a way to go with improving the learning experience for students who do not wish to meet our expectations, and we must work hard on changing this. Additionally, I am delighted to finally condemn to the bin the low quality posters, cloze exercises, debates that encourage the recycling of misconceptions and time consuming, low impact model building in the academic subjects. None were seen and long may this continue. I will be encouraging teachers next year to improve the quality of methods used for regular recall exercises and spaced learning to ensure there is accurate and lucid knowledge being transferred to long term memory rather than attempting to run last minute revision lessons. More will follow in the feedback I will give to Faculties next week.

This continual cycle of review and improvement is what is strengthening our progress. Ed Dorrell writing in the TES recently reminds us of the theory – one that is growing in importance in the world of business – that says the more a company concentrates on its mission rather than its profits, the bigger the profits will be. ‘Built to last’ by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras was a huge success when it was first published in 1994. The idea has since become something of a touchstone for many business folk in the postcredit crunch world. The gist was, it’s better to be Google (mission: don’t be evil) than the Royal Bank of Scotland (mission: loadsamoney). This theory has some very real relevance for schools at this time of the year. I know teachers worry themselves half to death about exam season and results day, not because it’s their head on the block, but because they know what a low grade rather than a higher one could mean for a student’s entire future. However, we find that almost without exception it is schools that embed Collins’ ethos in their work that achieve long-term, sustainable success in their work. In short, they are ‘built to last.’ It is those that look for quick fixes – often under immense pressure from those above them- who can come a cropper.

It is attacks like those written into the recent Timpson report on exclusion that too often result in schools opting for short-term fixes. They chase the ‘top 10 tips’ and pick the ‘low hanging fruit’ in a desperate attempt to make a difference. This creates in turn a dependency culture that produces a workforce of teachers reliant on a controlling direction that stymies creativity. Just as we must move from a management culture to professional independence, we must try very hard to resist the urge to find the easy wins and work really hard at seeing lessons through the eyes of the learner. We will achieve this through ‘gentle pushes on the flywheel’ to provide sustainable improvements. We have discussed the vision and plan for next year. By working on the objectives we must remember that at all times our aim is to develop the academic acumen of our students whilst preparing them for the transition to adulthood – in a world that will be full of uncertainty and challenge. If we do not take the time to develop how we produce more independent learners with a zest for achievement, we will surely have failed in our aim. Strategies and priorities may change as the year progresses; I cannot promise they won’t. But our ultimate goal remains constant. Stick to that and find ways to achieve it.