Category: Principal’s Blog

Principal's Blog


On Monday, Year 11 received their trial examination results. Presented to them in brown envelopes – in an effort to replicate the results process as accurately as we do the examinations that precede them – the students learned their grades. As one would expect, some were delighted, some disappointed. Year 11 were also presented with some key messages: that it was not too late to make a difference to the outcome of the ‘real’ exams, that we are there to support them, and that parents and their peers were a source of support also.

I shared with them that every August I recall the story from Greek mythology of Cassandra. Her punishment for turning down the advances of Apollo, according to legend, was to be cursed – with the gift of true prophecy that no one would believe. She foresaw death, destruction, and even the fall of Troy. Her words fell on deaf ears, however – and the citizens of Greece declared her to be insane. This, ironically, drove her mad. In the painting here, Cassandra can be seen in front of a burning Troy literally tearing her hair out.

The relevance of all this to my blog? And to Year 11? Well, every year my advice to listen to teachers, revise hard, eat and sleep well, call time on some aspects of socialising is heeded by many – but not all our students. In August, I feel as though I have been cursed with the gift of true prophecy (that they will be disappointed on results day) that they don’t believe.

The signs are incredibly positive for our Year 11s. They are an amazing year group, full of commitment and energy. They are even more full of potential to succeed. I hope that every single one of them fulfils it.

Principal's Blog

Like the old adage about London buses, readers don’t see a Blog from me in six months, and now they have two within a fortnight!

I wanted to share with you all details about the John Taylor Charitable Trust. The Trustees (myself, parents and members of the PTA) convened last night for our regular meeting. There, I agreed that we needed to promote the positive impact that the Trust has on the John Taylor community with parents and friends of the school – hence my Blog this morning.

Established way back in 1991, the Trust has supported the school through the purchase of minibuses, contributing to building projects, supporting IT needs through providing the funds we need for new hardware, and buying all our Year 7 students reading books. A registered charity, overseen by volunteers, they exist only to help the school, and they are funded exclusively by donations. Over recent years, the number of these donations has fallen dramatically, and it is for this reason that the Trustees and I feel that we need to promote the Trust further. You may have seen a page all about the Trust in our most recent edition of ‘JT News’, for example.

The Trust has its own website ( ), at which you can see some examples of the impact of its work, and several ways that you can donate. Without the generous support of our community, the major contributions that the Trust has made in the past won’t be there in the future.
Thanks for reading.
M Donoghue

Principal's Blog

I was told by someone recently that they missed my blogs so, if not “back by popular demand” but back for at least one reader, I’m venturing back into the Blogsphere once again.

For now, I want to share with you our quotation for the week at school, and perhaps link it to someone I heard on the radio before Christmas. First, our quotation comes from Aldous Huxley, who wrote that “There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of influencing, and that is your own.” That may seem contradictory to our school vision statement of “we believe in the power of education to improve lives – and the world.” However, “the world” starts in our school, in our home, in our place of work, in our village or town. There, as Huxley states, we can be certain to have an influence – and hopefully a positive one!

This quotation also reminded me of a radio interview with the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. His background, achievements, and philosophy made compelling listening. Growing up in a farming community in a country which did not even have a space programme, Chris was inspired to become an astronaut when he saw the moon landing on 20 July 1969 when he was a boy. He thought about what he would need to do to become an astronaut and live in space: fix mechanical things (so he studied mechanical engineering at university), fly aircraft (so he took lessons and obtained his pilot’s licence), perform first aid and even minor operations (so he spent months working in ER departments in hospitals) and finally with the development of the international space station, learn a foreign language fluently (so he spent twenty years learning Russian). His motivation to do all this was a daily belief that, with every new piece of knowledge or skill acquired, he moved one step closer to his dream.

Chris Hadfield achieved his dream through education. And now retired, he has become a great educator, and inspiration, for children interested in space. Why not take a look at some of his videos from the international space station, and be inspired too?

Thanks for reading.

Principal's Blog

National Forest Teaching School Alliance – One Year On

Regular readers of my blog may recall that in a previous post, I shared news of our designation as a National Teaching School. A year has now elapsed since “The National Forest Teaching School Alliance” was established and we are currently working hard to both review our progress in that time and formulate the action plan for the forthcoming twelve months. With regard to the review, John Taylor is supporting Arthur Terry Teaching School’s annual review, and they will be assisting us with ours. Collaboration and partnership is very much at the heart of National Teaching Schools – both within our alliance of schools, with other schools with whom we work, and with other neighbouring Teaching Schools.

As we work quickly and purposefully throughout the year, it is sometimes only when we look back and take stock that we can really appreciate what has been achieved: We see the 24 participants from 11 different primary, middle and secondary schools that have engaged in our Improving Teacher Programmes, and a further 22 participants from 9 primary and secondary schools who have been through the Outstanding Teacher Programme.

At the time of writing, we have had 1153 bookings onto training courses run by or hosted at John Taylor and the National Forest Teaching School Alliance. During this academic year, we have trained ten new secondary and six new primary school teachers, and we have plans to expand this further next year (in fact, we are still recruiting for places in Maths, Design Technology, Art, Biology, Physics, Geography, and RE). We’re also working across the region on research projects and developments in the National Curriculum, organising fantastic events at the National Memorial Arboretum for primary colleagues who are developing the History and Geography programmes for the forthcoming year.

Staff from our alliance schools have been working in a number of schools to support their work – in Staffordshire, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Birmingham, and the feedback has been that they’re making a real difference.

We’re really proud of this work that we do. We’ll be showcasing some aspects of our work at the Staffordshire County Council “Impact and Innovation” event on 30th June at the Staffordshire Showground.

However, there is an appetite to do more – research and development work, collaborating with other Staffordshire Teaching Schools to create a “Maths Hub”, and many other plans in the pipeline. John Taylor’s “outstanding” Ofsted Report from our inspection in March gives us greater confidence to develop this work further. Watch this space!

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Mike Donoghue
National Leader of Education – National Forest Teaching School Alliance

Principal's Blog

Good news comes in threes!

First, I must apologise that I have been somewhat neglectful of my Blog in recent weeks. As my PA will testify, “Write Blog post” has been an ever-present phrase on my daily “to do” lists, but (until the Bank Holiday weekend) has never made it to the top.

Regular readers will know from this, and “JT News” how proud I am to be a member of the John Taylor community, and this pride was never greater than in the last few weeks, which saw us receive three accolades for our work from three very influential sources. First, both chronologically and in order of prominence, was our Ofsted inspection judgement. The report, which is downloadable via our website, was a validation of the work that we have all undertaken over months and years. The students, staff, and governors showed the inspection team what John Taylor was about – and the inspection team embraced it all: the lessons, the lunchtime activities, the meetings with students, staff, governors, the work scrutiny, and even “Strictly Come Dancing” for Sport Relief! To receive “outstanding” in all categories was wonderful, and important for our work as a National Teaching School. The inspection also gave us areas for development that will feature in our forthcoming School Improvement Plan for 2014/15. After all, “outstanding” certainly doesn’t mean perfect – and we’ve work still to do!

Only a matter of a few days after the inspection, John Taylor received a letter from the SSAT (formerly the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) informing us that we had been included again in their list of high performing schools. To qualify, schools must be non-selective and have students “best 8” GCSE results in the top 20% of state schools. Although we regularly receive this recognition, it is always important for me that we do. With changing criteria for inclusion in the status each year, it demonstrates that we maintain high standards of academic performance.

Less than a week after that, we were informed by the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) that we had been successful in our application to be a lead school for Initial Teacher Training (ITT), Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and academy conversion and management. This means that the National College will signpost other schools towards us for support and guidance in these areas, and we may be able to participate in a range of opportunities and pilots relating to these areas.

So, it’s been a great month for recognition of our work. Yet, we are always acutely aware of two things: First, that we work for the students, their families, and wider communities. Recognition from other parties, whilst gratifying and important, is less valued than the appreciation of the children and parents of the John Taylor community. Second, all of the accolades come from our achievements with those students – curricular, cross-curricular, and extra-curricular. These achievements are built by skill, effort, and determination over months and years by a terrific team who pull together.

That’s at the heart of what we do.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

M Donoghue


Principal's Blog

Spoilt for Choice?

On Wednesday, we had a fantastic evening with Year 9 students, their parents and our staff as we worked through the Key Stage 4 Options process together. In education, we often refer to the power of the three-way partnership between the child, the parents and the school. If this partnership is open, honest, mutually-supportive, and focussed, then it makes an enormous difference in the short term to the quality of education the student receives, and in the long term to the opportunities that they will be able to take advantage of in their life after school.

Transition events such as this, our Open Evening, and our Sixth Form interviews, show this partnership in action probably more effectively than at any other time in school. Getting students onto the most appropriate courses (and in the case of our Open Evenings at the most appropriate school) is crucial in making sure they achieve their potential. It is on those courses that, through excellent teaching and plenty of hard work, students will excel.
Almost all of our students attended Wednesday’s event, as did the vast majority of their parents. Once there, they listened to brief presentations from our subject staff and then had the opportunity to ask questions about the course content, the exams and assessments, and anything else they felt would help them make the right decisions for them. There was a wave of enthusiasm that washed from our passionate subject staff to our students and their parents. But far from being a “sales pitch”, our staff spoke openly and frankly about the demands of their courses, and what it takes to be successful.

Options Evening supplements Year 9 assemblies, sessions in our tutor programme, and information that can be found on our Virtual Learning Environment (“The Vault”)

It is a source of great pride that students of all abilities and backgrounds can find courses that engage them. I spoke to many Year 9s and their parents that evening, and no one suggested that there wasn’t a set of courses that they were enthused about. This is as much about their motivation and open-minded approach to learning as about the range of courses available to them. In fact, typical comments included “I don’t know what not to take – I want to do everything!”

In the final analysis, whether the choice of school, or the choice of course, it is crucial that children and their parents make choices that the young person will enjoy, that they feel they can achieve success in, and that will give them better opportunities for the next phase of education and life. It’s our job in school, once those choices have been made, to do everything we can – inspirational teaching, fantastic resources, enrichment opportunities, support for students from their peers – to ensure that the choice of school or course is vindicated as the right one. Our results bear out that we usually get it about right. But without parents and students engaging in the process so actively, and with such enthusiasm, our job would be so much harder!

Thanks as always for reading.

M Donoghue

Principal's Blog

Fail better!

Last week saw 28 year-old Swiss tennis player Stanislas Wawrinka win his first Open championship in Australia.  Ranked 20th in the world only last year, his victory over Rafa Nadal was both unexpected and widely-reported so that even someone who isn’t a tennis enthusiast such as myself was drawn to the story.

What I wanted to share was Wawrinka’s philosophy that led to his success.  He knew that he was playing in an era with some of the most amazing tennis stars of all time.  He explained: “It is how I see my life and my tennis life. Except for Novak [Djokovic], Rafa [Nadal], Andy [Murray] and Roger [Federer], you always lose at the end of a tournament so you have to be positive and come back and continue and fight.”

He reminds himself of this every time he hits a tennis ball, via the words of the Irish poet Samuel Beckett which he has tattooed on his left forearm:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

We know that at John Taylor we have many exceptionally gifted and talented students.  But we also know that, by definition, we cannot all be exceptional.  It was wonderful to be able to comment in the local press on the publication of the 2013 school performance tables last week that students who join the school – irrespective of their ability – leave us with qualifications that are better than they would be expected to achieve against national average.  In short, we add value.  If you feel, as I do, that education is more than qualifications and that skills and personal qualities are important, then I firmly believe we add great value to our young people in this way also.

By encouraging our young people to see failure as learning, and that by learning, we improve, it is possible for us all to aspire to be the best we can be.  To “fail better.”   And maybe, just maybe, we’ll end up champions.

Well done, Stan!

Thanks for reading.

M Donoghue

Principal's Blog

A time for giving.

For my blog this month, I would like to draw attention to the very latest edition of “JT News” – our half termly newsletter – which is a massive document on this occasion.

There are examples throughout of students, individually and collectively, giving generously. Sometimes this will take the form of charity fundraising (for Naama School in Uganda, or for the Teenage Cancer Trust, the Poppy Appeal, our own school minibus appeal), and in this context our young people are inventive and active. We’ve had “Santa’s Grotto”, a staff v Sixth Form football match, cake sales and raffles in this week alone. It is so important that our young people have a sense of civic duty. That may sound perhaps a little lofty or old-fashioned, but through this comes a belief that if we are to make a difference, for our world to be a better place with us on it, that we need to do something tangible that will have impact.

However, in “JT News” you will also find numerous examples where students and staff are giving of their time, their effort, and their energy. This is just as valuable, and just as meaningful. It creates a vibrant and caring school community.

I would urge you to take a look at “JT News”, and I think you will find it an inspiring read. I’m sure you’ll agree it presents our community in a very giving light.

Thanks, as always, for reading – and best wishes for Christmas and New Year.

M Donoghue

Principal's Blog

Lions and tigers and bears? Oh my!

From Tuesday through to Friday of last week, sell-out audiences witnessed a terrific school production of “The Wizard of Oz”.

As I closed the final performance on Friday night, I was filled with pride at the quality of the performances from the cast and orchestra, and the teamwork of our staff and students, together with the PTA and others in the community to stage such a show. As I said in my closing words, “it takes a good deal of brains, a considerable degree of courage, and a massive amount of heart.”

The contributions of all involved were exceptional. Our young people will have learned an enormous amount through their participation, and they can be assured that they have brought a great deal of pleasure to hundreds of people – my own children included, who were captivated by the show. The number of our students involved was impressive, and perhaps sets John Taylor apart from many other schools. Seeing the two preceding shows (“Bugsy Malone” and “Oliver!”), it is fantastic to see a “production line” of talent as younger students develop their skills and confidence, under the watchful and supportive gaze of staff who give of their time so generously.

School days should be special and memorable. I very much doubt that all those involved in the show, and those who saw it, will forget “The Wizard of Oz” in a hurry. I suspect the DVDs will be snapped up, to help keep those memories fresh.

With a Christmas Concert this coming week, and the annual Carol Service the next, there is certainly no winding down in the run up to the Christmas holidays. I’m very much looking forward to these events too, and hope that many of the readers of my Blog will show their support by coming along. To paraphrase Dorothy, “there’s no place like John Taylor”!

Principal's Blog

“The Engine Room”

For my Blog this month, I want to take the opportunity to highlight the role of our Curriculum Area Leaders at John Taylor. In some schools they are known as Heads of Department, or Subject Leaders, but whatever the title, the responsibilities of these individuals is worth considering.

As leaders of learning for their area, they have to have exceptional knowledge of their subject and the way it is assessed in the National Curriculum or via examinations at GCSE, BTEC, or Advanced level. Moreover, they have to be able to guide students towards careers and further academic study in their specialist area. They are required to be outstanding classroom practitioners, modelling high standards of teaching, planning and assessment to those within their teams. They liaise with students and parents to answer queries and provide additional support, and they work with their line managers and I to construct plans that are aligned with the school improvement plan – always looking to make what goes on in their subject area more effective. They are increasingly working alongside members of the governing body (identified as “link governors”) so that governors have a thorough understanding of our subject teams and can provide support in return.

Many of the above roles and responsibilities are longstanding. However, more so than ever the importance of effective leadership of our curriculum areas comes to the fore. New data dashboards show subject by subject the performance of the school, there is a new national curriculum to be implemented, new assessment measures to work on in key stage 3, a new examination regimen at key stages 4 and 5, and changes to the way in which some subjects are viewed by central government (EBacc, “Facilitating Subjects” etc.). As “the engine room” of the school – where our strategic direction is given the impetus and pace to move us forward – these new or accentuated features of the role of curriculum area leader cannot go unnoticed or unnoted.

So, why feature this in my Blog this month? Well, during Open Week and Open Evening last week I lost count of the number of visitors who commented positively on the quality of displays, the activities being undertaken in classrooms across the school and (perhaps most importantly) the passion for their subjects and the joy of teaching it that they caught a glimpse of when speaking with Curriculum Area Leaders. Their dynamism and enthusiasm is infectious on both their colleagues and our students. I am very proud to work alongside them.

Thanks for reading.

M Donoghue