Principal’s Round-up – 23rd September 2016
In the busy start to the term we sometimes need to pause for reflection. We received some very sad news last week that a former colleague and great friend of Tavistock College, Gerry Woodcock had passed away. Many existing staff, some of whom are ex-students remember Gerry.
Helen Harris tells me that Gerry was very well known and really well regarded for his work as Head of History and then Head of Sixth Form at Tavistock College. He was also celebrated for a long series of books exploring different aspects of the history of Tavistock, and two books on the world wars – ‘Lest We Forget – The Tavistock Fallen of the Second World War’ and ‘We Will Remember Them – The Men of Tavistock Who Died in the First World War’. He wrote the definitive textbook on the history of Tavistock School, looking at its first thousand years, which traced the history of the school back to the founding of Tavistock Abbey in the 10th century. Helen said ‘As Head of Sixth Form I remember him as genial presence who nevertheless expected – and got – high standards of scholarship and behaviour from the sixth form. When he was in his office next to the sixth form study area (then on the top floor of what is now the IT block) you could hear a pin drop as the students worked in silence during their study periods and on the day he retired several of the staff were in tears.’Jo Neill also remembers Gerry. She said ‘Gerry was a bit of a legend in Tavistock, he pretty much built the sixth form here and I remember in the 5th year (before my exams) having to submit my letter of application for a place in the sixth form and then waiting in dread to hear whether I’d be called for interview, only then did I find out what grades Mr Woodcock thought I should be able to get and therefore how well I needed to do to get into Lower Sixth.’ I know many of you will have your own tributes to pay. I understand his funeral is on 24th September.
Tristan and I have been happily visiting all our feeder primary schools over the last three weeks, and we still have some visits left to make. These visits provide chances for us to talk to parents about Tavistock College, the opportunities we provide and the high standards we expect. We are also able to dispel many persistent myths still circulating about the college. So, thank you all for working hard to get the term off to a great start. I received some excellent feedback from parents and children about the Open Evening last week. Tiring to undertake in the middle of the week, but absolutely essential we get a chance to shine to attract the next generation of students. The Government has announced a real-terms cut in school budgets across the rest of this Parliament amounting to 8%. This will be extremely hard to absorb, especially alongside the 0.5% cut dressed up as the ‘apprenticeship levy’ that we will have to find from next year’s meagre financial settlement. There will be some challenging times ahead as we also grapple with our new curriculum and accountability measures. This is why I often talk about finding the ‘joy’ in teaching and learning. Despite the puzzling and fragmented, often ill-thought out, changes that are being imposed on the education system in England and Wales, we still have control over many of the day to day practices that brought us into the job in the first place. We need to hold on to those and remember why we get out of bed every morning to come to work. I will remind you of the slide I used at the end of my presentation on September 2nd:
Principal’s Round-up – 9th September 2016
The return to school after the summer break has been a relatively smooth one, with continuing good weather and a very enthusiastic new Y7 and Y12. We are able to start the year celebrating the many successes that Y11 and Y13 achieved. In terms of Y11 ‘headline’ figures, we have the new Progress 8 measure. There is no comparison to use for previous years, but the old measure of 5A*-C including Maths and English came out as 67% which shows a marked improvement on the 53% achieved in 2015. A major contribution to this was seen in the performance in English where 78% of students gained a C grade or higher, with 82% making good progress and 46% higher than expected progress. The Mathematics Faculty were delighted, having broken the 70% barrier for the first time. Our results in Y11 were above national average in the percentage of students achieving A*/A and A*-C (with some in both), for French; History; English Language; English Literature; Business Studies; Japanese; Drama; Dance; Btec Sport; PE; History; Graphics; and Textiles. Of course it is progress that also matters, and here we did well too with Japanese (81% of students made 4 levels of progress); Psychology; Drama; Dance; Art; Construction; PE; and English. This pattern is replicated in Y13 with Art; Photography; Business Studies; Product Design; English Language; History; Performance Studies; Music; Sport and EPQ, that made such a difference to students UCAS requirements, performing above the national average.
And that’s not all. We also start the year having reduced the gap between disadvantaged students and the others to 8% below the national gap (halving ours from last year) and with very low absence rates. The impact of the rigorous disciplinary policy has shown good impact, and recruitment has been good. We are fully staffed with subject specialists and are training three colleagues on the School Direct programme in English, Science and Geography. Our numbers are up (resulting in some busy times in the Refectory!) and we have some lovely new facilities including new teaching spaces, toilets and staff room. From 19th September (we believe) English rooms on the middle floor and history rooms on the ground floor will be taken out of action on rotation whilst we replace the ancient 1959 windows. Staff working regularly in those rooms will understand how vital this work is, and what a long battle it was to gain the £195,000 for the work from Devon County Council.
As we embark upon the work this year we need to keep in mind just how many changes colleagues are facing that we must embrace. The key ones are:
- No more ‘levels’ (but progress measures for Y8 onwards remains the same)
- Comparable outcomes for examinations
- Point scores have changed and are not comparable
- Weighted grading on P8 (and A8)
- Double language entries/outcomes
- Entries of EBACC versus outcomes
- 9-1 grading-phased in
- Disadvantage comparisons (the ‘gap’) compared to national, not in-school variation
- Grade 5 is the new expectation (so we need to look at B and above to predict)
- Disadvantage measures added to post -16 (from 2017)
- GCSE and A level reform- phased in
- Changes to the persistent absence measurement
- Development of the ‘mastery’ curriculum
- New statements in the Ofsted framework
- Reducing workload
- Multi-Academy Trust conversions.
So how do we meet these challenges? We must keep in mind that our work is to focus on keeping the main thing the main thing- and the main thing is learning. In this ever-changing world of education, we still have in our direct control over our pedagogical approach, our ability to keep those in our school safe, maintaining the outstanding ethos for learning, and our ability to provide a personalised curriculum and pastoral programme. These factors will enable us to succeed.
I have set out the vision for the college in the 3 year CIP, so while accountability measures may change, we will be future-proofed. Accountability measures are only judgements of adequacy. We will continue to foster an ambitious climate for learning, and make genuine and sustained progress towards our goal of achieving world class standards in the classroom. I often talk about an unrelenting restlessness for improvement. CPD will become a top priority because it provides tools to enable us to succeed. By focussing on excellence in learning we will improve differentiation and ensure that gaps continue to close between groups of students. This is important in a co-operative school where no-one should be left behind. The College Improvement Teams are there to ensure we exploit our talent pool and ideas that exist in our staff to enable purposeful change and transformation of teaching and learning. We will aim to support our students to not only develop academic acumen, but thrive in a world full of uncertainty and challenge.
We know that in order to achieve our goals we must have a well ordered and disciplined school. So, while we embrace inclusion, we must work hard to create a good climate for learning. This will involve a no-nonsense attitude to good learning behaviours and co-operative approaches that support others. Working hard on improving character education will become important. The ‘Golden Threads’ that hold the curriculum, teaching and learning, tutoring and extra-curricular work together will be more thoughtfully defined this year and we will use co-operation and co-operative strategies as tools to enable us to make sense of what we do. This will involve growing our democratic processes and re-instating some structures such as the College House system to encourage a sense of belonging and emulation for achievements.
We will embrace the many challenges brought about by the pace of curriculum and examination changes because we will have developed a strong sense of collaboration.
Partnership working will be essential to this academic year. We will seek like minded and ambitious partner schools for our Co-operative Multi-Academy Trust, and be an outward facing school in terms of support and development.
This year I want to encourage a new way of thinking that focuses on excellence rather than compliance; impact rather than effort; learning and progress rather than teaching. All staff have a role to play in this cultural shift. Consistency matters but it is superficial if we do the same things the same way. Rather, it is consistent high standards we should be interested in not unvarying practice. I am looking forward to working with you all this year, and wish you well in your endeavours.
Principal’s Round-up – 15th July 2016
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.
At the recent training day, I outlined the key objectives for the next academic year. Whilst the college has improved over the last three 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 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.
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 and we will develop a strong sense of solidarity. 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. 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.
Within the College we expect to enable all students to succeed with an increasing intellectually challenging curriculum. We must ensure that high levels of engagement result in a more focussed attitude and aptitude amongst our student body. The bar on attitudes and behaviour is being raised by us all working together. We fundamentally believe that our plan starts with progress. The main driver here is learning; the learning of all students and student groups is imperative so they are supported to make exceptional progress no matter what their starting point may be. There then exists a causal relationship to achievement. By the end of the first year we aim to be above ‘national average’ (on Progress 8 and on L3VA) and well above in years 2 and 3. We will achieve this through greater consistency of practice .We will enhance the way we measure the progress made across the college by balancing the need to provide rigour in our assessment policy whilst tracking appropriately. We will improve our methodology of telling the ‘data story’ by ensuring we are effective rather than simply efficient.
We will continue to improve teaching and learning with a particular focus on assessment for learning and high levels of challenge in order to ensure all students participate in their learning and make outstanding progress. We will ensure all faculties and teachers are providing high quality marking and feedback to students thereby raising aspirations and outcomes across all subjects. Students will develop a scholarly attitude to work and improve the quality of their writing; skills of interdependence and independence; and understand their opportunities for enterprise learning and character education. Students will work towards ‘end point tasks’ that enable them to practice skills needed for assessments and to improve their independence. Differentiation will become the default strategy in planning as teachers move to preparation for learning rather than teaching. The purpose is to improve dialogue between students and between students and teachers. This makes visible the thinking and misconceptions so enabling teachers to make purposeful interventions that rapidly accelerate the progress of students. We know that outstanding teachers make a significant difference.
Although we take seriously our purpose of ensuring students make exceptional progress, we have not forgotten that we are a school. The ‘flesh on the bones’ of our transformation will be ensuring that the ‘golden threads’ of education are fostered and promoted. We want to develop social acumen (character education) alongside the academic so that our students have an outstanding transition to adulthood. Social, moral, spiritual and social learning will underpin our curriculum and result in high levels of engagement in extra- curricular activities. Students will be expected to participate in these activities and contribute significantly to the local and school community. Hence, our young people will become highly skilled effective participants in both learning and increasingly in civic society. Co-operation has been described as “putting community back into community schools” because there is far more discussion and consultation with members having a greater sense of buy-in. We will ensure that we are leaders in safeguarding children. We will continue to enhance our work through the Multi Agency Steering Team (MAST) who will meet regularly and continue to engage community partners in early intervention and support our students in order to maximise student access to learning and ensure that appropriate academic outcomes are achieved.
As part of the wider community we will continue to promote the idea of democratic fellowship and the idea of developing co-operative global citizens. It is through this concept that we aim to transform dialogue to enhance learning in the classroom, between teachers and with our community of parents and partners. It also provides the framework to create the unique sense of belonging, well-being, and social connectedness that makes a co-operative school like ours such a special place to work in and to learn in.
Thank you all for your hard work and support this year. I am proud to lead a school with such dedicated and committed staff. The feedback that I got from the recent Open Evening confirmed this, despite the fact that it 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 participated in the ‘political speed dating’ event this week, or the fantastic PTA 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 Monday night where we will celebrate so many of the student success we have seen over the last year.
The newsletter that will come out on Monday captures all our recent work, so it only remains for me to wish you all a fantastic summer, and I will see you all again in September.