Principal’s Round-up – 4th October 2019

Last weekend TA Ros Hopkins accompanied four students to the Commonwealth Judo Championships, this year held in England. They were joined by competitors from all over the world including South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka, Jamaica and India. In fact 23 countries participated. Alannah Hopkins in Y8 won the bronze medal in her category, and Ros herself won gold. The other students made a very commendable 5th or 7th place. These were Lottie Hay, Olivia Willson and Reuban Frise. These modest people would not tell you unless I did. Yet they should. They are role models for the rest of us. They are the elite.

Some outstanding teaching was seen by School Improvement Partner, Tom Winskill, this week. He commented on outstanding practice, not only because these teachers are experts in their subject, but because they are also experts at relationships. They are able to maintain high standards and challenge in every lesson, and not lower it under pressure. Instead, they seek alternative ways of working in order to succeed. They understand people. They find ways to motivate. They create. They are the elite.

So let’s talk about the elite. Some people are uncomfortable with that term. I am not. At Tavistock College we have elite staff and students lurking around every corner. We have elite performers (look at the number of LAMDA distinction grades), sports people; scholars who progress to top universities; staff who win awards and write books. Striving to be the best we can be is what we should all aim for. It gives us purpose. But it is hard. The gold medal won by Ros did not fall round her neck with ease. It was fought for with effort, sweat and probably tears. We must recognise this when we talk about the elite. It is not a dirty word centred on exclusivism and privilege. What goes hand in hand with being part of the elite is duty. I am not suggesting the term ‘the elite’ is synonymous with elitism where rank and position make you untouchable in responsibility, yet afford you superiority. Being part of our elite means you have achieved something worthy of recognition and have the obligation to be worthy in that role. Unless you inspire others, there is no status. Being the elite requires great effort to remain modest, and to be humble in the face of defeat when all eyes are upon you. This is predicated on great resilience and strength of character.

All eyes will be upon us when we are eventually inspected. But I know you will rise to that challenge. Because you are great, because the battles you have today and the disappointments you face will not turn into whinges and excuses. Instead they will spur you on. We will continue to punch above our weight in all things, even if we have to go our own way for a while. We will fight adversity together because we know we will always be stronger together . You deserve more than you are getting in recognition, resources and time. I am personally fed up with picking trusted colleagues up off the floor when they have been broken by the system. Sometimes in education we feel we are like the animals who are spying each other suspiciously as the waterhole dries up. At Tavistock College we will not bow to this pressure. It is the system we must fight, not each other. We will be like the water buffalo who circle round each other to prevent attack. We know that we deserve more than being judged by inaccurate, statistically invalid and unreliable numbers. We will judge ourselves by even high standards than that. And we will be the elite.

Of course, we need to keep learning to get there. Whether it is evidence based research or research informed practice, it seems a new dawn has broken across the educational landscape and I certainly welcome this. It has certainly created synergy with Mark’s plans for training days and on-going CPD . Tom Winskill was impressed that teachers were able to confirm what has changed in their practice as a result of CPD. That is rare in schools.

Research on cognitive psychology from leading academics from the finest universities across the world is finally outshining the technical low hanging fruit picking based on nothing more than ‘it works for me’. Hence my dislike of ‘teachmeets’ and similar banal, impulsive events. Some of this research has been around a long time and forms the basis of metacognitive study. Eg Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve (1885), Bjork’s work on retrieval (1975) and Sweller’s cognitive load theory (1988). It is so important to bridge the gap between classroom teaching and research by giving teachers access to it in CPD. This echoes development in other parts of the public sector such as the medical profession, where research under pins their work rather than relying on the ‘psycho –babble’ of accelerated learning, brain gym and learning styles which, here at least, are debunked and consigned to the bin. They were ideas based on tiny uncontrolled experiments and worse, on hearsay. We no longer need to waste time and effort coming up with strategies that might not work. You would be dissatisfied with a surgeon who tried out a medical procedure on you because it sounded like a good idea. There is a place for action research once the research is understood as guiding principles. Then personalisation can be brought into our context and classrooms. I read with dismay that the teacher training may move from a graduate entry requirement to an apprenticeship model. Without the academic acumen to learn understand and use theories I am left wondering how we might advance in a world where the elite is confused with elitism and the masses just left to suffer. We can do better in this country. We do not have to be lions led by donkeys

I hope that you enjoy the training day on Wednesday next week. Mark has crafted it so that it condenses research into accessible and understandable chunks.

Have a great weekend