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Principal’s Round-up

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

Principal’s Round-up – 5th May 2017

Posted: 8 May 2017

I am writing this Round-Up feeling angry and frustrated. I am also agonising over whether I should share these emotions with you or simply focus on highlighting the brilliant work that is going on at Tavistock College. I am angry that I, some of you, and some Governors took the time to respond to the Green Paper consultation, ‘Schools that work for everyone’, and yet, even before the consultation was complete, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister made it clear that the government will plough ahead regardless with its plans to extend selection following the General Election. At a time when every school is struggling to make ends meet, valuable resources are being set aside for new selective free schools and the expansion of existing grammar schools. The DfE constantly tell us that we are operating in a school-led system, and yet the views of the profession are totally ignored.

As a school leader, I am very worried about our finances, and my hand is forced to make serious cuts that impact on the curriculum, class sizes and the experiences of young people. The money set aside for the Prime Minister’s vanity project could be used to support our school. Despite the fact we are told that funding for schools is not being cut, it is declining in real terms. The government is increasing the schools’ budget by 7.7% over 4 years from 39 billion in 2015-16 to £42 billion in 2019-20. But the Department for Education estimates the number of children will rise during the same period by 3.9 % in primary schools and 10.3% in secondary schools. Funding per pupil will therefore, on average, only rise slightly, and will amount to a real terms cut of 8% once cost pressures are taken into account. So, while converting to become part of a multi-academy trust will not give us more money, sharing resources will certainly give us a better chance of making the most of what we have.

The development around the construction of the Dartmoor Multi-academy Trust is well underway. Last Tuesday we conducted another formal consultation. Thank you for your attention, questions and engagement with the process. As I said at both meetings that evening, I am happy to continue dialogue. Co-operatives are predicated on people and I believe that we can continue to build the college by working in partnership with like-minded schools. Taking no action now, and standing still is not an option. All financial incentives to convert to become an academy are gone and there are plans to remove even the set up fund of a pitiful 25K. We are now past the tipping point: 70% of secondary schools converted to academies and half of these are in MATs.

Despite the politicians, great things are happening in our school. Y11 and Y13 remain focussed and calm in the approach to their examinations and are taking every opportunity offered, very kindly, by teachers and other staff in time outside of the curriculum. I love my walks around school, particularly talking to students. They tell me about the difference you are all making to their lives. You are creating an environment of success. You are raising students’ aspirations, lifting them to be different, and unlocking their creativity. Thank you for that.

Tavistock College students were delighted by the very kind donation by Mrs Esther Arnold made last week. Earlier in the year the college sadly lost the last remaining guinea pig that was cared for by students as part of the animal care programme run by Helen Harris. Some students had grown up with the guinea pigs and considered them an important part of the college, and they were very sad when they passed away. Mrs Arnold, an ex-parent and local breeder of guinea pigs, decided to donate two baby guinea pigs in recognition of the support shown to her son by Alex Jackson in the years he attended Tavistock College. She was an active participant of the PTA for many years and is welcomed to the college to participate in discussions and debates. It was a kind gesture that was heart-warming.

On Thursday 27th April a group of 14 students attended the Spring Devon Ability Games held in the Life Centre in Plymouth. The students took part in many games including Mini Red Tennis, Sitting Volleyball and New Age Curling competitively, with the Sitting Volleyball team winning 11 out of 12 games and the Mini Red Tennis team playing until the final round. The other taster games played were Archery, Table Cricket and Bouldering (Rock Climbing without ropes). Xena Armstrong, Yazlyn Wholton and Charlie Yeoman played in the Sitting Volleyball team continuously. They played 12 games winning each one until the final: which they lost to Ivybridge year 10 boys. At one point the Sporting Champion Chris Jones played alongside the girls and they played extremely well. At the end of the event, Lachlan Mitchell was given a medal for ‘Spirit of the Games’ awarded for his participation and enthusiasm in the Mini Red Tennis.

Many students and colleagues will be out on Dartmoor this weekend walking in the Ten Tors event including the Jubilee challenge. Thank you to all those who have helped prepare the students by giving up precious weekends and other time, and special thanks to those who will be sleeping on the moor in what is predicted to be cold and damp conditions.

I hope you continue to find the articles I have chosen to include in Fortnightly Focus interesting. If anyone would like to write or make suggestions for articles please send them to me.

Have a lovely weekend.

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