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Principal’s Round-up

Principal’s Round-up – 15th January 2016

Posted: 15 January 2016

We were delighted to learn last week that our first choice numbers are higher than they have ever been. We have 200 first choices for Y7 next year, and 45 second choices for a planned admission number of 210. Well done to all involved in securing this. It is the product of hard work over a number of years and it seems that we have gained the trust of the parents and the local community. We now must continue to deliver the service that is expected. This means continuing the drive for excellence in teaching, learning and assessment whilst sustaining the wonderful extra –curricular provision, including international trips, that makes Tavistock College such a wonderful school.

We have seen some early examination success this fortnight with 71% of the students who were entered in November gaining a C grade of higher in English GSCE. Well done to Freya Chambers who has had an offer from Oxford University to read Classics, and Katya Church who has her offer to read History of Art at Cambridge. Many offers are coming in for students in the 6th form, and I would like to thank staff and friends of the College (particularly Alan Wroath) for helping them prepare for their very challenging interviews.

The staff and students said farewell to Barry Crook last week. An ex-Tavistock boy himself, he retired from his caretaking role on Friday. We wish him well for the future and he tells us he has many plans to keep him busy over the forthcoming months.

The proposed Academy conversion information session for all staff took place this week. Thank you for all your questions and contributions to the discussion. Working in smaller faculty based groups enabled members of the Governing Body, and the senior team to answer questions more fully than in a large audience. Obviously, though, you were not able to listen to all that was said. On page 2 I have summarised the questions asked, with the answers given. Parents will be  participating in a similar discussion next week, and then the students will have their opportunity to do the same in a special circle time that will be constructed by Tristan Forster. I am always available to talk to staff, parents and students about this issue as we undertake the conversion. Bear in mind, however, that we are still in an early stage in this process. We have yet to even be approved by the DfE as a suitable school for conversion!

In my presentation I explained that the decision by the Governing Body of Tavistock College to pursue an Academy order has been taken in the best interests of the college and its students. There are many reasons for the decision. Our revenue will come directly from central government, not through the local authority. This will give us greater freedom to spend our money where we think it will most benefit our students. By forming an Academy Trust with other schools we will be able to work more collaboratively to raise standards of achievement and expand the range of opportunities we can offer staff and students in the college. Academy status will afford us greater opportunities for professional development for teachers, governors and school leaders and we will have the opportunity to bid for capital money direct from the DfE to further improve our school environment. Additionally, by converting to Academy now, we are able to choose a partner school who we want to work with. Economies of scale mean that, together, we can negotiate contracts and services that represent better value for money. But this whole decision is really predicated upon sustainability, not change. It is about taking some control over our destiny while we still can, and maintain the direction of travel we have begun. We will fight to sustain our co-operative identity. By pursuing this course of action now, assuming we are successful, we are able to adopt the co-operative articles of association (currently before the DfE) and not wait until a forced MAT is upon us with an academy trust board that we do not know, or a partnership with a school or group of schools that do not share our ethos. I hope that all colleagues continue to ask for support in understanding the actions we have taken, and please take me up on my invitation to consult with you further. As we progress on this journey, however, in our day to day work it is definitely ‘business as usual’

Have a lovely weekend

Sarah

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.

Sarah

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

Sarah

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