Principal’s Round-up – 7th September 2018

A warm welcome back to everyone after the summer break. I do hope that you were able to spend time with your families and to recharge your batteries. To those who were working all through the summer holiday, thank you. You have all made such a difference to a smooth start to the term.

Last year I started the year talking about 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 came through a challenging year in 2017-18 marked by an academy conversion, traumas of school closure due to extreme weather, staff reorganisation and of course Hannah’s death. Yet we return to one of our best overall sets of results to date, to a school that is over- subscribed, staffed well with experts in their field (often being poached these days) and financially sound. This situation is not down to luck but sheer hard work.

Top performing subjects this year at A level were English, History, Biology, Physics and Business Studies. At GCSE Japanese achieved a subject P8 score of +1.66 with a prior attainment indicator of +0.4. Construction had a prior attainment indicator of -0.70 but achieved a subject P8 score of +0.77. We saw similar success stories in Business Studies, Child Development, Dance, History, and Textiles. For the first time Ebacc had a positive P8 score, with English being a major player here. Attainment was high in English too with 84% of students gaining 4+ and 73% gaining 5+ (the new C and B grades).

Another great contributor to EBacc was Science. Remember when we all had to get behind science? Biology and Physics are now in the top 6 performing subjects with particular groups having progress measures +0.9 and +0.8. This has all made such an impact on overall results. That is not all. We also start the year having accelerated the performance of disadvantaged students and HPAs. This was the result of a rigorous and deliberate policy of focused support and methodology surrounding class plans and associated pedagogy. 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 Co-operative 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 co-operative must wish for all our children.”

To do this I believed we must focus on getting the culture right and that the results would follow. This 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.

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.
Co-operation enables us to maintain and co-construct high standards bringing a sense of self accomplishment together. We can then Critique the work not the individuals.
And 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. This is why I often talk about impact not effort and outcomes not processes.

So, we will make co-operation work. 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 but the inaugural staff voice meetings were an attempt to enable better dialogue and feedback.

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 not at any cost. It must not be a joyless Gradgrind or treadmill. I also 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 Borneo trip, DoE and ten tors run by Andy, and the outstanding bands supported by creative arts faculty led by Eva and her team. 73% LAMDA distinction This is where the fun in learning comes from. Of course these things matter to parents and the community.

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. 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.

In this vein, I would like to warmly welcome our new staff.

It’s been a fantastic start to the new term. Let’s keep out standards and aspirations high – everyday. Have a lovely weekend

Sarah