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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 11th December 2015

Posted: 11 December 2015

The last two weeks have seen the Creative Arts showcase (AKA the Christwinklejinglesparkle show), a successful Y13 Parents’ Evening, the wonderful PTA Christmas Fayre and a busy Y9 Options and Parents’ Evening. It is no wonder people look tired! However, all these events were well attended and I want to thank everyone involved with the smooth running of them. It is what makes this school a special place. I know from the many, many positive emails and cards I get from grateful parents and students that your efforts do not go unnoticed by the people that really matter. You can read some of them later in this edition. And of course, we have to celebrate many sporting achievements. I was delighted to watch our rugby team play against Mount Kelly on Wednesday evening. It was a close match and we look forward to a return match here in the late spring.

Whilst we look forward to our well-deserved Christmas break, we must work really hard together next term to ensure that we improve the outcomes for all students, but particularly those in receipt of free school meals. There are many approaches we could take. The good news from one of the world’s leading educationalists Professor John Hattie, however, is that most things work. But, it is the consistency of approach that makes the biggest difference. I am encouraging our teachers to adopt the strategies we all agreed on, and that are captured in the ‘Bottom Line’. They are the key elements of quality first teaching. We also know that some elements of QFT have a greater effect sizes than others. Oral feedback and PiXL fine diagnosis are techniques our teachers are very good at. What else does Hattie remind us of? Time on task, personalisation, and diagnostic testing all make a difference. But the key message from Hattie is the power of feedback, feedback, feedback. This includes verbal as well as written feedback and quick turnaround marking as well as longer, more considered marking. I am delighted to see some of this embedded into the regular pedagogical approach used at Tavistock, but we need to ensure that it remains strong in every classroom, every day.

I had quite an intense meeting this week with Eileen Barnes-Vashell, Head of School Effectiveness at Babcock LDP. I was able to convince her that we are aware of our need to improve, and that the right kind of development is in place to achieve it all. I am certainly less convinced of the ‘stick’ approach, and more supportive of the ‘carrot’ , even if this is not currently en vogue. Despite the pressure of all this developmental work we must never forget great teachers are also subject enthusiasts. At Tavistock we have passionate teachers who share that through rich tasks and activities. The promotion of scholarship matters to them. It matters to me. The teacher who is passionate, humane, civilised and excited about their subject is also inevitably the teacher whose students do best in tests and examinations. We have many such teachers here. Tavistock teachers make students feel valued as individuals, treat them with dignity, and make them believe in themselves. That is the Tavistock way. It is the co-operative way. In so many classrooms in this school there is still the right balance of fun and fundamentals. In co-operative classrooms enjoyment, teamwork, humour, trust and warm relationships are the norm. This is what we must cherish. At the heart of co-operation and co-operative schools lies this notion of equity and equality. A friend and research colleague of mine, Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg argues it is culture and society that seem to have the biggest impact on results, not just schools. Equity is an important feature in Nordic welfare states. “Equity in education is a principle that aims at guaranteeing high-quality education for all in different places and circumstances. In the Finnish context equity is about having a socially fair and inclusive education system where children’s learning in school is less determined by their family background.”

Unlike many other school systems today, the Finnish system has not been “infected by market-based education reforms that typically emphasise competition between schools and high-stakes standardised student-testing”. Pasi says that one reason is that people in Finland remain unconvinced that competition and choice with more standardised testing than students evidently require would be good for schools. As a result, Finnish education today offers a compelling model of co-operation because of its high quality and equitable student learning. Through the co-operative schools movement it is what we are trying to achieve here at Tavistock College.

To everyone who has contributed to another successful year at Tavistock College, thank you. To one and all, have a really good Christmas. I look forward to welcoming you back for the New Year.


Principal’s Round-up – 27th November 2015

Posted: 27 November 2015

There have been a number of occasions this fortnight when I have been immensely proud of our College. Some of them seem quite limited, but have a larger butterfly effect than might be, at first, evident. I followed two Y9 girls along the English corridor last Friday. They stopped to pick up pieces of litter, unaware that I had seen them. I thanked them. They smiled. They said ‘we just want our school to look nice’. I was delighted. That is why I was so bitterly disappointed with the response from DCC over their refusal to consider our window refurbishment this coming summer. We appear to be a ‘low priority’, yet the surveyor who visited us in September told us that the windows in the main block were in a poorer state of repair than other schools’ windows that are being replaced this year. I have written to the DfE, Geoffrey Cox MP, the Schools Commissioner and high ranking officers of the LA and DCC fighting our case. Governors of the college are active in pursuing this issue and I appreciate the support and dogged determination of Philip Sanders to see this through to a positive conclusion. I hope this has a rather large butterfly effect.

Earlier this year we took part in research to find out what is working in schools to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. The latest study was conducted by NFER for the Department of Education.

The report found that high performing schools:-

  • Use a large number of strategies to support disadvantaged pupils utilising the pupil premium. Success comes through a combination of metacognitive, collaborative and peer learning strategies.
  • Leaders are able to describe implementing their strategies in great depth with great attention to detail. The research identified seven distinct ‘building blocks of success’
  • Had a process of development and improvement which had taken between three and five years to achieve. We are in it for the long haul.
  • One relationship with higher performance was with lower absence levels, and our attendance rates are currently higher than the national average.

The DfE has now produced a briefing for school leaders which aims to help other schools take stock of their approaches. It summarises the strategies used by the most successful schools, describes schools’ pathways to improvement and includes a set of relevant resources. I have summarised this on page 2.

This fortnight I have had the privilege of attending and presenting at the Creative Arts showcase and at last night’s Sports Personality of the Year awards. It was incredibly moving to hear Ashley’s father, Roy Tossell, speak about his son. Natalie and Barney were so brave to stand beside him composed and proud. I was so impressed not only with the organisation, professionalism and talent at both events, but by the way the students supported each other. As I said in briefing, I am as excited and motivated as any other school leader by fantastic examination results because they open doors for young people. But it is events like these where staff, students and parents come together to celebrate other kinds of success, effort and performance that makes me proud to be the Principal of Tavistock College. The lasting memories that are created by these events, and by the previous hard work and dedication to sport, performing arts or any other endeavour, will last a life time. I am so grateful to all staff who give up time to run extra-curricular activities, work with students on a personal level, and organise trips and events. Without you the College experience would be impoverished and reduce to the kind of ‘examination factory’ I so want to avoid.

We welcome back the seasoned travellers from Japan this week. I am very much looking forward to sharing their experiences with you in the next edition. You can also read below about the wonderful opportunity Y12 and Y13 had to listen to and participate in live debate at Exeter Cathedral.

All of the opportunities provided have to be organised on an ever shrinking budget and with an ever increasing workload. On page 3 I have included feedback from TES – 20/11/2015 about teacher workload. Whilst maintaining high standards of teaching, learning and assessment along with good behaviour, remain my priority, I have tried to respond to many of these issues since September. Things will not be right yet, and we may not always agree, but I encourage you to make good use of Staff Voice forums so that we can navigate the way forward together.

Thank you for all the work this fortnight. One more edition before Christmas!

Have a lovely weekend


Principal’s Round-up – 13th November 2015

Posted: 13 November 2015

This week’s open evening for post -16 students was exceptionally good. Thank you to all the staff who yet again gave up their time to make the evening a success. We need to recruit 150 students (a very ambitious target) into next year’s Y12 so that we can continue to offer the subjects that make us so successful. Last night’s event gave us a fighting chance. I heard many positive remarks from parents and students as they left. Of course, this is not the last opportunity to recruit and the best advert of all will be the results we anticipate this summer for Y11. These students have great potential, but some have begun to show signs of stress and fatigue as the pressure of controlled assessment and examination pressure mounts. The teachers feel this too. We will be finding time through staff activities and student events to try to assist everyone through this challenging time, whilst ensuring we still secure the outcomes that students deserve.

Some great things have been happening for the students. I have enjoyed reading reports and watching the films made from our recent trips abroad. The first ever Iceland Geography trip was a massive success. Tori said ‘’We did not have one negative or low point in the entire 6 days and the guides, drivers even hotel staff complimented us on the politeness and behaviour of our pupils. We had a laugh (onesie night, with karaoke, wearing glow sticks to mimic the Northern Lights) but they were sensible whilst whale watching, hiking on glaciers, behind waterfalls and up volcanic craters, looking out for one another and following the guide’s directions exactly. The guide told us he wished all school groups were like ours and he asked to be requested by name for our trip next year as he enjoyed the company and the enthusiasm of the group so much. As trip leader these are obviously the kind of comments that you pray for. From snow, sunshine, Gale force winds, drizzle, temperature range of -5°C to 17°C, we really did experience it all and the pupils grinned with huge smiles throughout. Honestly, apart from the sleep deprivation on the journey home, we arrived at College at 0400, I am still on such a high from an incredible experience with terrific students.’’

This week also saw us engaging in the remembrance events. The head boy and other prefects laid a wreath on behalf of Tavistock College on Sunday and we not only observed the 2 minute silence on Wednesday, but gave Y9 and Y13 the opportunity to participate in a very moving and reflective service at St Eustachious church. We were joined by cadets across all year groups along with members of the community, ex-staff, governors and current staff. I was immensely impressed with the organisation and heartfelt inputs from Helen Harris and Sally Hubbard, along with fantastic support from Marianne Hastings. On page 2 of this Newsletter is the poem that was written by Myles Hodge in Y11 that I read out at the service.

Have a lovely weekend


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