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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 23rd June 2017

Posted: 23 June 2017

I gave a talk at the Co-operative Party regional symposium in Exeter last Saturday. It was good to see so many people from all walks of life there, engaging with some challenging topics. I got asked many questions about co-operative education and what it is that convinces me to be so passionate leading a co-operative school. Co-operative schooling has been much maligned in recent years, and this is largely because it is not well understood.

Co-operative schools are certainly not woolly organisations. They have strict rules and strong accountability measures just like every other school. The difference is that, when established, they are consistently successful no matter what changes and regardless of external pressure. Distinctively, co-operative organisations are predicated on people: they place their people (parents, students, staff, community members) in a place of dignity as members of the organisation and fight hard to swim against the tide of structural reforms that challenge this.

We often talk to students about the values of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) and what it takes to bring them alive. Just like all co-operative organisations we commit to the internationally recognised statement of co-operative identity (ICA, 1995), and co-operative principles and values

The ICA statement of co-operative identity includes the definition of co-operatives:

“A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” (ICA, 1995)

The ICA also lists co-operative values, as well as personal values of co-operative members:

“Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.” (ICA, 1995)

The principles are means by which co-operatives can apply the co-operative values. We work hard to construct the school on the principles of our co-operative identity. It’s a good time to revisit them. These are:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership: Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their servicesand willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination. This is why we apply our rules to stay operationally safe, but are inclusive of all.
  • Democratic Member Control: Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. That’s why we invest in voice groups.
  • Member Participation: members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the assets of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Our assets and land are held in perpetuity by the Trust.
  • Autonomy and Independence: Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organisations, such as a MAT, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy. This is an important condition for the Dartmoor MAT.
  • Education, Training and Information: Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives. It starts with CPD, ends with CPD and everything in between. Through this we get a common understanding of our instructional pedagogy. Co-operatives also inform the general public – particularly young people– about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
  • Co-operation Among Co-operatives: Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
  • Concern for Community: Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

Co-operation matters. Consider how much stronger Student Voice has become especially through the College Houses. Students really do have a say in the running and organisation of the school. We have been able to adapt the Refectory, help students set up ethical enterprises and over-hauled the Behaviour for Learning policy through co-construction. We are developing the values of self- help and self-responsibility through these actions, and strengthening the principle of member participation. Parents have a much greater role in the running of the school than ever before. Gone are defensive attitudes to parental criticism replaced by developing partnerships that push our emerging improvements forward. Our developments around Show My Homework and a tougher response to the few who ruin it for others have been driven by parental suggestion. This indicates that we are taking the value of democracy seriously alongside the ethical values of honesty and openness. A recent staff meeting resulted in actions being collectively decided and implemented to reduce workload and improve solidarity.

I have often said that we will never run out of things to improve. We will always be in growth. Co-operators do not need an external set of criteria to measure themselves against – they know how to solve their own problems. Co-operatives find local solutions to local problems. They work best on a small scale and accountability is driven from its membership. Sometimes staff find the challenges that have been collectively set difficult to achieve. But these challenges are set for teams, leaving no-one in isolated misery. We will never subscribe to a reductionist ideology of external monitoring and inspection, although they will be activities we will participate in. Instead we will make improvements by taking responsibility for each other, to sink or swim as one organisation, and look after each other on this journey. We believe in this co-operative school that we will always achieve so much more together. We will strive for outstanding examination results but also be serious about developing the conscience of the next generation. Now that’s worth fighting for.

Finally, I am delighted to announce that we have appointed the new student leadership team this week. The new Head Boy is Cyrus Larcombe-Moore with Sam Beard becoming Deputy Head Boy. Darcey Hepworth is the Head Girl, and Rebecca Banks is her deputy. The House Captains are: Gemma Arundel, Holly Kellock, Abbie O’Donoghue, Laura Meredith, Emma Sampson, Tilly Cole, Jessica Davis and Aishling Heneghan. All of these students went through a rigorous selection process and have wonderful attributes that will enhance what we are about.


Principal’s Round-up – 9th June 2017

Posted: 9 June 2017

On the last day before the half term break over 100 staff members turned up to play rounders in order to raise money for St Luke’s Hospice. They were joined by 40 others. It was great fun, and was a good example of the value of solidarity that forms the foundation of our school. Despite some of us suffering the next day from muscle fatigue (I must remember that I am not 15 anymore!), the event was a great success with over £550 raised for charity. Thank you to all who attended, played the game and donated to St Luke’s Hospice.

One of the best parts of my job is finding out about our students’ great achievements. Y12 student Rebecca Banks has completed a rigorous selection process to be part of the Sutton Trust’s programme to support UK students who apply for and read for degrees in the US. The programme, delivered in partnership with the US-UK Fulbright Commission, includes a one week summer school in the US (either Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Yale University) with introductory events and university application support in the UK before and after. The Sutton Trust manages and develops programmes to address educational inequality in the UK. The programme Rebecca applied for is open only to students from state schools from families with a low to moderate income and they must have a proven record of high achievement and commitment to learning. To qualify for the programme Rebecca had to write five essays, be actively under taking a range of extra- curricular activities, and make a five minute video interview, covering three questions to be presented to a selection panel. She now faces a set of examinations which she needs to pass to a high standard to enable her to be considered to study for her degree in America, and must travel to London in June to take them. Well done to her.

Congratulations also to Jack Plummer (year 9), who has qualified for five events at the British Swimming Summer Championships in July and two events at the Swim England National Summer Meet in August. To qualify for the British Championships, swimmers from around Britain compete to set one of the top 24 times for each event. The next 20 times for events set by swimmers from England go forward to the English National Meet. In Jack’s age group there are about 1,000 competitive swimmers, so competition is tough. Jack was in the top 24 swimmers in the 50, 100 and 200 metres freestyle, the 100 metres breaststroke and the 200 metres individual medley.   For the English Championships he has qualified in the 50 metres breaststroke and 100 metres backstroke, in each case missing out on the British Championships by just four places in the rankings.

It will not be long now before we say goodbye to our Y13 students and some Y11 students who have chosen to continue their studies elsewhere or who are seeking employment. Sometimes schools are seen as places where students learn, teachers teach and grades are produced at the end of a 7 year process. And yet, of course, education is so much more than this. We want young people to achieve their full potential academically, but we also wanted to do more than this; to ensure that, as graduates of Tavistock College, our students are well-rounded human beings, capable of making the most of what those examination results open up for them. Not too long ago society became conscious of the need to be able to deal with change. We were told that young people could expect to have several different types of jobs over a life time. The importance of being able to deal with change has a whole new meaning and has taken on a reality that is very challenging. Students from Tavistock College must be equipped to rise to that challenge. The extra and co-curricular activities you provide alongside attention to detail in the pastoral programme have given students the skills needed to embrace these challenging times – to be innovative, creative, team players and thinkers. That is why we continue to have roles in the senior team that co-ordinate this work alongside enterprise and creativity. Phil and Tristan do a great job.

The world can seem a hostile place at the moment. We have seen three very serious terrorist attacks in our country over the last few months. These have been in cities where some of our Y13 students plan to live and study. Their purpose will be to make the world a better place. Much better than the hash my generation made of it. They are the leaders of tomorrow: the future politicians, police officers, teachers, leaders of business and environmental campaigners. As educators, never stop believing that you make the difference – continue to teach our students not to be cowed under threat. Stand up for what you believe in. Be brave.

Have a good weekend


Principal’s Round-up – 19th May 2017

Posted: 19 May 2017

We have been busy this week. Exams are in full flow with all the pressures they bring including last minute HOT lessons, last minute dashes to make sure equipment checks are made and keeping the rest of the school quiet. And stress, lots and lots of stress.

Students have been well prepared by their teachers to manage stress and the pressure examinations bring. At one level pressure can be considered a positive aid to performance: the deadline that spurs us on, the target to motivate, or the challenge to inspire. At another level, pressure may trigger a mechanism to tell you something is wrong – and this is where the pressure becomes stress. Continuing beyond this level for too long can seriously damage mental and physical health. Students have to manage this pressure for the examination period. Then it is lifted. For teachers and other education workers the pressure is continuous. It has never been greater.

Despite this we all still have choices, even within the reality of work currently upon us all. As the pressure at work increases we can either learn how to manage it or we can let work pressures manage us. Stress is considered an individual’s response to pressure, and we all respond to different pressures in different ways. However, learning to recognise our responses, identifying the sources of stress and gaining a sensible perspective are all within our control. It is documented that a universal trigger for stress is being forced to respond to situations that are outside of our control. I certainly feel this when I read unfounded criticisms about the college in public forums that have invited comments from others who happily pile in with strongly-worded responses that have no basis in fact. Or when I read, as I did this week, that the DfE expects all heads to band together to make cuts to teachers’ salaries to help make up the shortfall in funding from 2019. Or when, despite the severe and brutal reductions to school revenue funding, we are suddenly expected to magic a mental health worker out of thin air to help children who are suffering from politically driven austerity cuts and who simply cannot cope with their lives.

It is not helpful for me to reflect on situations over which I have limited or no control. These thoughts just confirm a sense of helplessness and it becomes my thoughts that generate stress rather than the situation I find myself in. I don’t spend time mulling over things outside of my control. I focus instead on what is within my control. I start with adjusting my own thoughts. I exercise choice. I reduce my stress. I would encourage you to find ways of doing this. Leaving teaching is becoming fashionable across England. Yet it still remains one of the best jobs in the world. It all depends on how you look at it really. The things that brought us into the profession are still the same. Whilst we all have a right to be angry over the attempts to dismantle the education system, we still are the ones whose responsibility it is to provide quality for the young people in our care. And it is a joy to do so.

Some people find exercise helps them think clearly and put pressures of work into perspective. If this is the case then Nick Read, Alex Jackson, Umberto Bergonzini, Lisa Mabey and Stuart Hearne, along with trainee Guy Kingston-Bray and community members John Holland and Laura Kirk-Potter must have almost pure clarity of thought! Between them they ran hundreds of miles in the Hope 24 challenge last weekend in some appalling weather. Well done to them all. They were the highest fund raisers for the event that supports young people in need. The rest of us can do a little bit of exercise-related stress busting next Friday. This is when we will be hosting a charity rounders match organised by Tristan Forster on behalf of the family of Charlie Lowe in Y11 to raise money for St Luke’s Hospice. Her mother died there a few short weeks ago and this fund-raising has helped her to cope with the loss. It will be great fun (if it ever stops raining!).

Have a lovely weekend

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