As we approach the end of the year, with most appointments done and a budget that is just about hanging in there by the skin of its teeth, I reflect again on the unfairness in the system and the impact of the swinging cuts that we have had to absorb. This has not just meant larger class sizes, fewer courses, a reduction in staff and stretched resources. We are not able to provide the quality of provision for children that used to be considered their right. The right to a good education.
Nationally, creativity is being squeezed out of the system and subjects like the Arts and PE, proudly at the heart of education for many generations, are now fighting for survival. This is so wrong for young people. As an Art candidate reminded me at interview recently, 60% of jobs require some kind of creativity. If that is not encouraged in school, where will it be encouraged? She also quoted Picasso, saying “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”. At Tavistock College we are doing what we can to retain that soul to protect the kind of broad, principled curriculum that the next generation of young people should experience.
We need to make voters and politicians more sharply aware of the devastating effect the funding crisis is now having. After all, parents are voters and they, rightly, believe their children should be entitled to the same quality of teaching, curriculum and pastoral care that we have successfully delivered for generations in schools.
In assembly next week I will be using the themes of ‘work hard; be nice’ and linking these to our values. Included in this is the need to show sensitivity to everyone, as we never know what people are going through or undertaking in their lives. Not everyone wants to be in the spotlight. In preparation, and in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of some women gaining the right to vote, I remember my grandmother who, born in 1895, became a suffragette in 1913; a fully paid up member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. As a family we only discovered this after her death in 1987. The slogan of the WSPU was ‘deeds not words’. Many of our students and staff understand this. I have lost track of the charity events organised this term: golf to raise money for Meningitis UK, the dog show to raise money for the prom and Gables Cats and Dogs home, a mufti day on the last day of term to raise money for mental health charities… and the list goes on. Deeds, not words.
I often mention in morning briefing that we have had positive and affirming feedback from parents and visitors. This has continued during the week with wonderful emails coming in from happy parents, anxious to convey their thanks to one teacher or another for going the ‘extra mile’ for their child. So, how do we get this level of commitment to succeed? Our most valued teachers, tutors and support staff at Tavistock do not blame students for a lack of enthusiasm, instead they have that knack of making students and their families feel valued. In and around the college great teachers have the habit of making sure they acknowledge and notice children. They use praise wisely and authentically. Students, or their parents, often go out of their way to thank me for having staff that believed in them. They tell me that what stands out, is that they really took the time to get to know them as an individual. Of course, they also appreciate these teachers for setting boundaries and for setting high standards.
Our best teachers at Tavistock somehow convey through word and deed that they really understand the emotional pressure children are under. They understand teenagers as well as their subject. They help children to see opportunities and show them how to contribute to their community. Through a love of their subject, great teachers convince children to take their studies seriously and for ensuring that a love of the subject is not only about passing an exam. They treat students as more than just a number. And yet in these classes, guess what – students do really well in public examinations, and this matters too. Great teachers give effective feedback. Those written comments, sticky notes, that word in the ear, that hint to the group, those annoyingly difficult questions just when they thought they’d got it…the written notes, test results, retest after retest, patience, cajoling and constant encouragement……
Tavistock teachers show children that they genuinely care about them. They take relationships seriously. They understand that relationships take time, effort and care. Relationships are messy, but the best are built on love, respect and trust. When times are tough they persevere. How do our teachers get to know each and every child as more than just a number, more than just a target grade? They talk to students and they listen. Simple. Within their lessons they always seem to have time for each table, for each child. They acknowledge their charges in corridors, on the sports field, in the refectory. They make the effort to go to watch them perform in assemblies, shows, exhibitions, competitions. They always seem to be able to convince children to try new things and push themselves. This gives children the courage to succeed. NEVER underestimate the impact that you have or how much you are valued by the students.
Have a lovely weekend