Principal’s Round-up – 1st July 2016
The weather has not dampened our spirits this fortnight! Despite the ‘wonderful’ summer we have produced some outstanding events. Y13 graduation (in the rain) was moving, poignant and exciting for me. I have only known this year group for such a short time but it was so uplifting and affirming to hear the wonderful citations from teachers for these young people. Other year groups have a lot to live up to and I hope many will return as alumni to inspire students at Tavistock College in the future.
Sports day (just) survived the rain. It started with a wonderful combined torch relay which led to the opening ceremony. Students competed in their houses and I was nearly deafened by enthusiastic spectators in the afternoon cheering on competitors as they finished event after event. Great stuff. We were lucky to be joined by Alex Beddoes an Olympic athlete from the Cook Islands who is currently using our running track for training. He presented medals to the winners and was happy to give the odd tip or two. Of course an event like this does not just happen. Thanks to the PE team who organised a spectacular Sports Day that ran like clockwork, to David Turner for the enthusiastic commentary, and all the other staff who measured, and timed and recorded. Many college records for events were broken this year, some of them quite significantly.
We said ‘hello’ to our new Y7 cohort (currently in Y6) who were somewhat in awe of our older students on Monday. I received many comments about how helpful and polite the older ones had been on the day. Thank you to all who made the day successful, especially Nathan Perkins and Alex Jackson from Science who revisited ‘awe and wonder’ with a stunning Science extravaganza!
Our Green Power team competed at Newquay last week. We presented two teams who did well and were a credit to the college. We also won the Carnegie award (again) with a really moving interpretation of ‘One’ by Sarah Crossan. Staff will be delighted to know that the students will be presenting this piece on Celebration Evening.
A group of trainee teachers leave us this week after substantial placements at the College. They have all contributed immensely to their faculty areas and to the wider character of the school and we wish them good luck with their future jobs and plans. Emily Roberts – history; Jack Cooper- geography; Carly Freemont – dance; Andrew Watson – PE. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in mentor or PST roles, wider support or anyone who has been involved in pupil shadowing days. All of these greatly enhance the experience of our trainees.
We have a few more busy evenings and days left until the end of term, and now the testing period is over we should turn our attention back to improving teaching and learning. Ed Dorrell in the TES last week reminds us of the theory – one that is growing in importance in the world of business – that says the more a company concentrates on its mission rather than its profits, the bigger the profits will be. ‘Built to last’ by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras was a huge success when it was first published in 1994. The idea has since become something of a touchstone for many business folk in the post-credit crunch world. The gist was, it’s better to be Google (don’t be evil) than the Royal Bank of Scotland (mission: loadsamoney). This theory has some very real relevance for schools at this time of the year. I know teachers worry themselves half to death about exam season and results day, not because it’s their head on the block, but because they know what a B rather than a C could mean for a student’s entire future. However, we find that almost without exception it is schools that embed Collins’ ethos in their work that achieve long-term, sustainable success in their work. In short, they are ‘built to last.’ It is those that look for quick fixes – often under immense pressure from those above them- who can come a cropper. Sir Michael Wilshaw robustly duffed up yet to be named ‘coasting schools’. A ‘culture of complacency’ is apparently to blame for this underperformance. This is not a teaching profession that I recognise.
It is attacks like these that too often result in schools opting for short-term fixes. They chase the ‘top 10 tips’ and pick the ‘low hanging fruit’ in a desperate attempt to make a difference. This creates in turn a dependency culture that produces a workforce of teachers reliant on a controlling direction that stymies creativity. Just as we must move from a management culture to professional independence, we must try very hard to resist the urge to find the easy wins and work really hard at seeing lessons through the eyes of the learner. We will achieve this through ‘gentle pushes on the flywheel’ to provide sustainable improvements. Today we have discussed the vision and plan for next year. By working on the objectives we must remember that at all times our aim is to develop the academic acumen of our students whilst preparing them for the transition to adulthood – in a world that will be full of uncertainty and challenge. If we do not take the time to develop how we produce more independent learners we will surely have failed in our aim. Strategies and priorities may change as the year progresses; I cannot promise they won’t. But our ultimate goal remains constant. Stick to that and find ways to achieve it.
Principal’s Round-up – 17th June 2016
I visited a school in London this week as part of a fact-finding range of visits to discover the elusive defining ‘outstanding’ characteristic. I found a school with 6 data drops based on testing for every year group, and a student community that stood in silence at the start of the school day and at the end of break and lunch, which was strangely delightful but disturbing at the same time! The methods that this school is using, replicating the Chinese education system, may well improve behaviour in the short term, but will do little to develop the students’ character. Our approach is to continue to work on creating the ethos that will prepare the students to be successful in their lives. That is why we must continue to work on our co-operative value of social responsibility. In particular we must focus on the importance of courtesy, manners and appropriate and kind language. Such topics are not part of the formal curriculum but are always there in the background of any school. Experts sometimes refer to this as the hidden curriculum. I believe that promoting these values through tutor groups, classes and around the school makes us all the richer. This pastoral work is an essential part of each child’s education and should see them through life.
Through co-operation we nurture the ability to work with others and the power of respectful self-expression. This is not only essential for a fulfilling existence, but fosters precisely the kind of human qualities needed by us all if we are to succeed in any sphere, whether it be business or simply living together. This is where being part of a co-operative school really pays dividends because it accentuates the human nature of learning. Desmond Tutu summed it up brilliantly in the following oft cited quotation.
“We don’t come fully formed into the world. We learn how to think, how to behave, indeed how to be human, from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. We are made for togetherness….to exist in a network of interdependence. That is how you have Ubuntu – you care, you are hospitable, you’re gentle, you’re compassionate and concerned.”
As well as ensuring students have an excellent transition to adulthood; we work hard at developing academic acumen. It was interesting listening to a subject teacher recently about the improvements in both quality and quantity of the written work of her students. She said concentrating on depth meant she was not ‘covering’ as much, but that students were more engaged and doing better than ever before. We refer to this as ‘mastery’. She says that by us believing in her professional judgement, her students are now learning enthusiastically and taking pride in the quality of their work. Students were no longer ‘turned off’ by levels and rushing through a syllabus and she rarely had to sanction anyone. “Discipline problems have all but disappeared and short marking means I am taking less work home and students are able to make more rapid progress”. Of course managing the change was hard and she was aware some of her colleagues are still struggling with the concept, but the exercise books were full of shining examples. Very often it is in the exercise books or longer written end point tasks we see the breakthrough. The first piece of real quality academic work a student produces is very often a written task. Getting students to write is one of the key tasks for good teachers. Both quality of writing and quality of speaking can be easily correlated to success in later life. This is not rocket science. “Good writing leads to success because it requires that students are able to read, comprehend, think, evaluate and then clarify their thoughts” (Glasser).
Glasser goes on to say that when students really start to believe in their ability to write then their feeling of intellectual competence and scholarship lifts. It becomes a virtuous circle as shown by our teachers who have used short marking as a vehicle to elicit high standards of written work. Of course, students embarking on this journey for the first time require well-modelled examples, effective scaffolding and constant feedback.
We hosted a visit by Jannine Webber, a holocaust survivor this week. Through her calm and thoughtful approach, students gained a great deal from her presentation. She gave them hope that they could be part of creating a better world. Jannine commented after the event how well behaved and positive Y9 students had been, and how sensitive they had been to the plight faced by millions of people who are victims of racism, homophobia and hatred.
Our Y6 parents’ transition evening was very well attended. Thank you to all who made the evening go so well. The parents felt that there was a real sense of purpose about the school, and that is down to all the work that you do to make Tavistock College a superb place to work and learn in.
Have a lovely weekend.
Principal’s Round-Up – 27th May 2016
This fortnight we have been tightening up on the misuse of social media and its impact in school, whilst at the same time taking a proactive approach to how we can build more resilience in students to deal with the pressures they face from cyber-invitations and potential bullying. PCSO Kevin Williams ran an excellent assembly with Y7 and we plan to work with the ‘Teen Angels’ and ‘KIND’ in order to help students develop on-going programmes supporting their learning, and enabling self-responsibility to flourish rather than an easily-led attitude to using social media. We plan to engage parents through Parent Forum and assist with family based interventions. With respect to the use of mobile technology we need to take a tight-loose approach. It is vitally important that teachers maintain ‘tight’ consistency around the agreed policy (not listening to music; phones off and in bags) whilst remaining ‘loose’ with respect to the valuable resource that mobile technology can afford learners (using the traffic light signs for usage; exploiting exciting new applications).
The Hope24 event provided staff with their own mega-endurance challenge last weekend. Two teams consisting of Tavistock College Staff, friends, and Year 13 student David Jones took part in the Hope24 non-stop ultra-Marathon at Newnham Park near Plympton. Starting at 12 midday on the Saturday and finishing at 12 midday on the Sunday both teams completed over 250 miles by running non-stop in relay around a 5 mile trail route over challengingly steep terrain. Staff included Tristan Forster, Stuart Hearne, Nick Read, Julie Greener, Alex Thomas, Alex Jackson, Lisa Mabey as well as former staff member Lee Cochrane and friend of the college Mark West. David Jones from Y13 also ran. Many other staff supported the event, in particular Wendy Stephens who was at base camp for the whole event. Stuart reports that temperatures dropped at night to 2°C! Considering many of the participants had never raced before, and that some had only just taken up running before the Hope24, achieving a near marathon distance each was a real example of how a seemingly unachievable target can be reached. The teams raised over £1150 in sponsorship for the Hope for Children UK charity.
The examination season commenced this fortnight. Whilst it will undoubtedly cause some anxieties amongst our students, I feel they have been fully prepared by a dedicated and expert group of teachers. With the emphasis on the progress of our students being taken into account, and on many superficial measures of accountability we often tend to fear the worst outcomes, especially when we face unfair and biased examinations such as the AQA Biology paper that created a media storm last week. And we are going into an Ofsted year next year. I believe that judging schools too simplistically does no one any favours, and results in many of the unforeseen consequences parents are now, quite rightly, expressing concerns about to the DfE. Peter and Waterman probably called it right in their seminal leadership work ‘In Pursuit of Excellence’ when they argued no one is ever as good or as bad as they think they are. Our road to success will be hard won; ‘little pushes on the fly wheel’ as Jim Collins describes. There will be no key defining moment. No magic ingredient. No quick fix. I made clear at interview that I was in it for the long haul, and that communities like ours need affiliation and long term commitment. There will undoubtedly be much heartache along the way. We will have setbacks and there will be many ups and downs. But when distinguished visitors give us encouraging feedback I cannot deny it is better for the soul than the constant carping and criticism from Government and the ever fluctuating whims of the Common Inspection Framework. Of course, W.E. Deming argued that good organisations should never rely on external validation, least of all inspection, to improve quality. Total quality comes, as it always has done, from within. At Tavistock College we build in quality through restless ambition, rigorous planning, evaluation and by co-constructing good practice with staff, students and parents. This is why Staff Voice, Parent Voice and Student Voice form such a key component of our own self-evaluation. As always, we are better together and live by both our successes and our shortcomings.
Have a lovely half term, and thank you in advance to all staff who are giving up their own holiday time once more to support revision classes, and good luck to Kathleen and the team taking students to Barcelona next week. I hope the sun shines!