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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 21st July 2017

Posted: 21 July 2017

“Going far beyond the call of duty, doing more than others expect, this is what excellence is all about! And it comes from striving, maintaining the highest standards, looking after the smallest detail, and going the extra mile. Excellence means doing your very best. In everything! In every way.” Jack Johnson

That quote has been important to me over the years. I was reminded of its value as I reflected upon what we have celebrated together over the last few weeks. Sports Day was a great success, and with the return of the Houses at the heart of the competition students participated in the event by competing or supporting in a purposeful way. Celebration Evening and Open Evening allowed us to showcase the very best of what we do and I was proud and delighted to hear that our expectations of students are higher than ever before. Both events were there to recognise the highest performers and contributors. These students are the elite. They provide a model of emulation for others to follow, and events like these demonstrate that there is no place at Tavistock College for those who do not strive to be the best they can be, or who do not support others to achieve this through the value of solidarity. We expect students and staff to be proud of each other, and we do not expect them to use their own issues or problems to hold others back. Or to make excuses for actions that damage others. This is not a self-centred, egotistical organisation. This philosophy gave us an opportunity to re-enforce our standards at the Step-Up days to ensure that we are not dragged backwards by the minority who are not up to speed with our expectations. This is how we will continue to build a quality school for the vast majority.

I was delighted to welcome Mr Cox, MP to Tavistock College last Friday to engage in a robust discussion around the current funding crisis in schools. Mr Cox remains committed to supporting our on-going campaign to reduce the real terms cuts to school budgets and welcomed the opportunity to be shown the brutal reality of the additional costs that schools are having to absorb. The recent announcements by the Secretary of State are encouraging, and I am pleased that after two years of campaigning the government finally appears to be listening to the legitimate concerns that have been raised by headteachers, teachers, governors and parents across the country. There is a promise of an additional £1.3bn into core funding in schools over the next two years, but Justine Greening also stated that there would be no new money, rather a redistribution of funds in education. So, we still do not know where this money will be sourced from and I am slightly concerned that Peter could be robbed in order to pay Paul. The statement in the House of Commons this week focussed particularly on secondary schools, and the promise to fund every pupil across the country at a basic level of £4,800 per student is very welcome. The current funding is less than that at Tavistock College. However, this still does little to address the long standing current inequalities with schools in other parts of the country who may already be receiving £7,000+ per student. As Ms Greening said at the start of her statement, the same accountability and OfSTED expectations apply across the country but this is not matched by the same level of school funding. We will have to wait to see what unfolds in the new parliament.

So, we draw to the close of another school year. This is a time to reflect on what has gone, a time to plan for the forthcoming year, and a time to say goodbye. We are saying goodbye to a number of staff who are moving on to pastures new this term (see page 2). We wish all of them well for the future and hope that their chosen path will lead to success and happiness.

Thank you all for your hard work, loyalty and support over the last year. Now it is time to put your feet up and relax. Please do so: the work will wait until September. I hope to see many of you in August though, celebrating with our students as they open their results, and maybe drying the odd eye when all they hoped for did not happen. Never forget how important you are to their lives, and never underestimate your impact.

Have a great summer.


Principal’s Round-up – 7th July 2017

Posted: 10 July 2017

The College Improvement Plan for 2017-8 is now available for staff to read in the staff intranet. In it I outline the key objectives for the next academic year. Whilst the college has improved over the last few years, we know there are still challenges to address. Some students do not make the required level of progress and some disengage with learning and education. Whilst, the gap between those with free school meals and others is closing, it is not doing so rapidly enough, and not all AGT and HA students make the progress we expect. We are seeing sustained impact from reading recovery programmes and teacher led CPD beginning to bring about some consistency. We have done well to increase our percentage of students attaining high level grades at GCSE but to rise to way above national average requires far more. As leaders and governors, we must continue to be restlessly ambitious for change and improvement. In achieving our plan to be part of a Co-operative Multi-Academy Trust and we will work on securing partners with matching ambitious aims and a set of values that is commensurate with our own.

The Learning reviews I recently conducted reminded me that teaching is a highly skilled profession that is constantly being refined, challenged and developed to improve outcomes for students. Our teachers and teaching assistants see themselves as contributing collectively to our development. The renewed focus on the moral imperative of co-constructed teaching and learning has brought a strong sense of energy, collective purpose and professionalism. Inducting new staff into the college, as we do on Monday, is of great importance to ensure our developments do not stall or decline.

The vision over the next few years is to transform Tavistock College into an outstanding school. To work at the college means that you must be committed to this vision. We know that this will involve more than improving student achievement, and we know that we will always achieve more together than we do alone. The pace of educational reform and expectation of achievement is being scaled up like never before. Our status as a Co-operative School affords us with an opportunity to build a school around the principles of co-operation which will enable us to close the attainment gap and engender high quality social cohesion through constructive dialogue and mediated learning. This will lead to the reinvestment of the competences and values into the community thereby enabling learners and their families to contribute to economic and cultural regeneration. In short, we must pursue policies and take steps to future proof our school in our journey to ‘outstanding’.

The transformation will involve bringing alive the values and principles of the International Co-operative Alliance. They will be embedded in everyday practices in the school, and be evident in thoughts, words and actions. Leadership will be strengthened through enhanced democratic participation by students, staff and parent voice groups; no-one will remain isolated or alone except by their own actions of behaving badly or disrupting learning. We will develop a strong sense of solidarity amongst those who contribute and who do not disproportionately drain the limited resources we now have.

We will foster the values of self- help and social responsibility to build respect, pride and success within, and as part of, the greater college community. We will celebrate the very best and not make excuses for the poor. Becoming outstanding will also involve continuing to embrace innovation and healthy risk taking in the classroom; these are essential if we are to remove barriers to learning, close the achievement gap for disadvantaged students, challenge perceptions and aspirations and ensure that our students are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in a rapidly changing world. We expect everyone to contribute and flourish and not be dragged backwards by excuses and defensive attitudes.

Thank you all for your hard work over the last fortnight. I am proud to lead a school with such dedicated and committed staff. The feedback that I got from the recent Y6 parent’s evenings and Graduation events confirmed this, despite the fact that these happened so close to the end of an incredibly busy term full of end of year tests and assessments for every year group and report writing to go along with it. And still colleagues found time to support Y11 and Y13 Proms, both of which were a great success. Of course we would not achieve so much if it were not for the wonderful support we receive from many volunteers, including the many local councillors who participate when they can, or the fantastic Governing body who are on hand at every event ensuring that the college is always supported. I look forward to seeing many of you at the Celebration event on the 18th July where we will celebrate so many of the student success we have seen over the last year.


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.


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