Principal’s Round-up – 6th September 2019

A warm welcome back to everyone after the summer break. Thank you to everyone who was working all through the summer holiday, while some of us recharged our batteries. You have all made such a difference to a smooth start to the term.

Last year I started the year talking about the importance of quality in all that we do. Quality performance is not a series of actions, but a habit. We are now seeing these habits taking shape. We have had some exceptional results in the summer and we faced disappointments too. But we know how to deal with this. Two years ago, we targeted KS5 in the same way we must now target KS4, and now we have a convincing positive VA in both technical and academic qualifications. The disadvantaged students that we have worked so hard with have done well – the gap very reduced from one of the worst in the county 4 years ago to practically zero. In addition, the HPAs gap is less, but it is still not good enough… yet. These successes are the result of a rigorous and deliberate policy of focused support and determined pedagogical strategies. Our challenge will be sustaining and managing the successes. In addition, we must apply approaches that have worked elsewhere to pull up and accelerate performance in subjects that are underachieving and to focus on improving outcomes for SEND students.

When I started at the College in 2015 I tried to define what sort of school I’d like to lead. I defined Tavistock College as a Cooperative School which was “faith neutral and value driven; a school where we care more than people think is wise; a school where we dream more than people think is practical; a school where we expect more than people think is possible. In other words, what an aspirational parent would wish for their child, our school must wish for all our children.”

So, when we look at our milestones to success how shall we measure ourselves? Are we really going to be victim of hype and minority opinion, predicated on political ambition? Cowed under threat or failure? Judged on the narrow measures that are built on sand? Or will we delight in success born out of shared effort where we reflect on how far we have travelled together?

To do this I believe we must focus on getting the culture right and that the results will follow. Our work is now well embedded, but there is still more to do. It is no coincidence that certain teachers get good outcomes in terms of progress over and over. Neither is it coincidence that some teams function better than others. Successful teams at Tavistock College embrace change;

they don’t blame others, and they build exceptional relationships. It is not magic and it requires effort every day. Development will always be happening here -sometimes building on what we start but sometimes throwing it out, admitting it didn’t work and starting something new. To work in this school, you have to adopt that mindset. To improve there must always be change.

This year, then, given our financial circumstances, we must stop over complication and stick to research and our values. We might have to go our own way for a bit. Be brave. The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity. Consistency matters but blind conformity is weak. So, we will not be buying any more snake-oil or looking for quick fixes that might work in one context but are ill-matching to our context. We will set high and shared expectations and look at the impact of our strategies and not over think the input; we will be rigorous but not ruthless; and from this we will be being effective not simply efficient.

Belonging matters: you have to care about everyone to work here. If we are to fight the many external threats we must not have dangers from within. The ‘I’m ok because I’m better than you’ attitude has no place here. We can still have a winning culture but not where we fight each other to be the most liked or best graded teacher. Winning in this sense is destructive. You can only win in this philosophy if someone else fails. It is not good for relationships and it will not create empathy, trust and belonging. Winning also seeks compliance. We, instead, need co-construction.

I know we have a long way to go together to develop a model of co-operation whereby we solve problems together, face the truth together, and contribute to an ethical civic society. But, we will make co-operation work. Co-operative teams with less individual talent will outperform groups of superstars who don’t work as a team, every time. Co-operation trumps competition, every time. We know. We’ve seen it.

Staff voice will be critical to the development of both participative democracy and solidarity this year. You must hold me to that. Our co-operative value of democracy is centred on voice. We have long used both parent and student voice effectively and last year I started to reconstruct staff voice. It exists strongly through both the MAT groups and union representation and the additional staff voice meetings will be an attempt to enable better dialogue and feedback.

And we of course, must up our game to improve outcomes. But not at any cost. It must not be a joyless Gradgrind or treadmill. I want us to continue to invest in the arts, creativity, sport, social responsibility and ensure we don’t atrophy into the same narrow exam culture other local schools have done. This  trap merely creates Thatcher’s dream of a social recession whereby we are all simply drilled, tested, ranked and punished. In addition to improved results I delight in the activities that develop character: The business events, the Camps International trips, DoE and ten tors, and the outstanding performances supported by creative arts.

Whilst examining why results went the way they did at KS4 in the summer matters, driving along looking in your rear view mirror will always end in disaster! We have to drive looking forwards, glancing in our rear view mirror. That is what we will do. We have the answers- we have proven this. Let’s celebrate our successes and then work this year to take it to a new level. We have in place a plan. It is a rigorous plan but it is built upon sound research and a commitment to prediction and prevention, not finding and fixing.

To achieve what we want we must be courageous, and punch above our weight in all things. It takes courage to have high expectations of our teams and others as well as ourselves; it takes courage to get up when you feel you’ve failed; it takes courage not to accept second best. That is what I am asking from you all. It’s been a fantastic start to the new term. Let’s keep our standards and aspirations high – everyday. Have a lovely weekend