Principal's Blog

“Behind the brown envelope” – Results at John Taylor

For my blog this month, I thought I would share with readers a little of the behind-the-scenes operation that we undertake each August here at John Taylor for both Sixth Form and Year 11 students receiving results.

We are all aware of the envelopes being distributed to students – often accompanied by equally-anxious parents and friends – on the third and fourth Thursdays of the month. What perhaps is less well-publicised is the work undertaken around the issuing of those results.

On the preceding Wednesdays, the examination data is downloaded by the school, checked and processed. Of course, it is strictly embargoed until the following day, with only a few key personnel being privy to its contents. An initial analysis is carried out at both a macro level (i.e. how well the school has done) and at a micro level (how well have individual students achieved compared to their potential and their aspirations for the future). The latter is most important, because this helps us to identify which students may need some support and guidance upon receipt of unexpected results, which could be worse or indeed better than anticipated.

On Thursday, a significant number of staff are present to issue results and provide informed and sensitive guidance. With clearing for university places opening at 8 a.m. my colleagues, equipped with the university guide on vacant places from today’s newspaper, the Internet, and a phone, sit with students and work through options with them. A comparable process is undertaken for students in Year 11 who need to look towards alternative course choices at Sixth Form, college, or apprenticeship options.

For some students in both weeks, this process will continue on into Friday. As I type on Friday morning, several students are in dialogue with staff to finalise their destinations.

When I compare this with my own experience of working in other schools and indeed of receiving my own A-Levels, it saddens me to state that this degree of commitment and care is far from universal. I recall from my own school days a friend of mine who had not got the required grades and was basically left distraught with only his friends to provide consolation. Whilst we did our best to mask our own joy at our success and support him, what we could not do was offer tangible and informed advice on what he should do next. He was cut adrift, no longer the responsibility of the school. I can only speculate whether meaningful guidance for him at his most vulnerable hour may have made a difference. What is clear was that at this most defining of moments he was essentially alone.

In the ‘news’ section of our website, you will be able to read our press release for our Sixth Form results (and next week we will publish the equivalent for Year 11). We’re delighted with the macro, but we know that John Taylor will have another set of results this time next year. At the micro, these results are life-changing for our young people, and I am proud of the work they have put in to their studies and the constant guidance from my colleagues – right through to today – that has led them to great success.

Thanks for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

In this week’s House assemblies, Mrs Rudge has very kindly recommended to students that they read my monthly blog.  It is thus only fair for me to reciprocate by sharing with you the theme from those assemblies, but perhaps adding a few thoughts of my own.

Both Mrs Rudge and I were fortunate enough to attend the National College for Teaching and Leadership’s annual conference at the ICC in Birmingham recently.  Entitled “Seizing Success”,  there was a diversity of speakers from a range of educational contexts conveying both practical advice and inspirational messages.  We both found none more inspiring than Jim Lawless, author of “Taming Tigers”.  A quick search on the Internet and YouTube will provide those of you who haven’t heard of him (I hadn’t either) with a brief summary of his achievements and his message.

In “Taming Tigers”, Jim describes the roar of self-doubt that inhibits us in life from being who we could become, achieving the things we could do, realising the goals we could aspire to.  The “Tiger” is the pin-prick of the party balloon, the rain on our parade.  It is what prevents us from daring to dream.  In a very warm and engaging manner, Jim shares his Ten Rules for Taming Tigers – simple to understand but not so simple to put into practice!  You can find them here: Taming Tigers Website  He holds a view that we all share here at John Taylor:  that individuals are amazing, and can achieve great things when they apply and commit themselves.   “We believe in the power of education to improve lives – and the world.”

My last blog didn’t refer to ‘amazing’ things.  My running will never be described as that!  However, I have followed Jim Lawless’ Rule #1 “Act Boldly Today – time is limited” by signing up for the forthcoming 10K run in The National Forest in September (to coincide with the first term as a National Teaching School and centre of “The National Forest Teaching School Alliance”).  I look at the athletes in the promotional photographs, and read the course record times, and my Tiger roars loudly!  But I have every intention of improving on where I am now.  To paraphrase Aesop’s Fable of The Hare and The Tortoise, “slow and steady… will see me finish!”  My intention is to try and raise some funds towards a new school minibus (in conjunction with other activities via School Council) – more of that to follow in the next “JT News”.

Heaven knows how they come up with such a statistic, but it is estimated that we all have 124,000 decisions to make in our lifetime.  Young people have more of these decisions ahead of them than behind them.  We can all look at defining moments in our lives when a ‘big’ decision really mattered.  How many of them were made by the “Tiger” in us?  How much happier may we be, and how much better a world we may have if, as Jim Lawless compels us to do, we ourselves wrote the story of our own lives.

Thanks for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

During half term, my family and I took a few days away from it all in the hope of catching some summer sun in Menorca. It was an ideal opportunity to spend some quality time together, which we did, but the sun was often missing despite its appearance in the holiday brochures and factoring in its inclusion in the blueprints for our holiday. We were told that we arrived on the island for the wettest May in 57 years. It’s always good to be a part of something exceptional! The children made light of the rain, arguing convincingly that if you spend all day in a swimming pool, you’re about as wet as you’re going to get in any case.

Each morning, I started the day by going for a run. Those of you who read ‘JT News’ or follow us on Twitter will note that the school has within its ranks of pupils, staff and governors some experienced and impressive runners who have consumed turf, track and tarmac in fun runs, marathons and even the 84 miles of Hadrian’s Wall. On the other hand, I have never run competitively, and last ran for “pleasure” about twenty years ago. My route was modest in the extreme (a gentle plod around the port area of Mahon), but I still believed I deserved a medal and one of those foil cloaks at the end of it. It is only when one attempts something seemingly straightforward that one appreciates the talents of those who are exceptional.

There are many authors and ‘life coaches’ who have written about what makes something or someone exceptional. Personally, I view exceptional acts as, de facto, being able to do something that most of us cannot: brain surgery, playing a piano concerto, designing a new car engine… or alternatively being able to do something most of us can do, but doing it really well: kick a football, write a poem, run.

In the last couple of months, our students have demonstrated their exceptional abilities by winning local and regional competitions in diverse areas such as public speaking, a mock trial, the UK Maths Challenge and the County Cup at rugby. They are currently demonstrating their exceptional academic abilities via examinations. Such achievements are a source of tremendous pride to all of us at John Taylor. However, as Jim Rohn notes, “we cannot change our destination overnight, but we can change our direction.” We can all improve. We can all make progress. We can all strive for better. And we can all take pride when we use the skills and abilities we have to achieve.

It’s called making the best of what we have. Just like playing in the swimming pool in the rain!

Principal's Blog

“What if we give all our staff great training, and they leave?”
“What if we don’t, and they stay?”

I first read the above dialogue when studying for an MBA several years ago. It is easy to see why it appeared in my textbooks, as in a few words it illustrates the importance of high quality training – despite the ‘risks’ – for any organisation. Training in schools can be diverse in nature. Sometimes statutory (for example child protection training), sometimes technical (using interactive whiteboards etc.), sometimes pedagogical (working with gifted and talented students, for instance), but always important and always focussed on moving John Taylor High School closer to its aims and its vision.

Training, both initial teacher training (ITT) and for staff and governors already working in schools (whether described as INSET – in-service training, or CPD – continuing professional development) is of critical importance to us, and will be at the heart of our work as a National Teaching School.

I chose to write about this topic this month for several reasons. First, before the Easter holidays, staff at John Taylor worked long beyond their contracted hours on a Training Day. With only five designated days in the academic year (far fewer than in some countries held up as exemplary systems by the government), such dedicated time is precious, and staff at the school will squeeze every last drop of learning they can from them. Much of our training is in-house, which is not only cost-effective (very important in difficult economic times), but also provides fantastic experience for staff as deliverers as well as recipients of training. Second, as a guest speaker at the Education Show at the NEC in Birmingham last month, I was reacquainted with the pressures and privilege of delivering training to fellow educators. Third, next week I will attend three days of training at the National College for Teaching and Leadership to support the work the school will undertake as a National Teaching School and I will embark upon as a National Leader of Education. Three days away from our busy school is a commitment not made lightly, but it is a worthwhile investment in getting it right as we begin to implement our programmes in earnest from September. Training is investment, and its value transfers to those who receive it, making them in turn feel valued.

I’m sure we all appreciate that the best teachers are those who see themselves still as learners. Whether it is new technologies, new teaching ideas, new syllabi and assessments, or a new curriculum, the staff at John Taylor embrace training as a way to improve their own ability to deliver outstanding outcomes to the students and their families that we serve. Those five days that our parents mark on their calendars are certainly every bit as rigorous as the 190 teaching days that they support.

Whether the dialogue from my MBA textbook ever really took place is unclear. Some attribute it to the CEO of Motorola in discussion with a colleague from Human Resources, but this is certainly far from universally-recognised despite its plausibility. Whether factually accurate or not, the sentiment is one I share: the worst that happens, is an education professional from John Taylor uses the benefit of their exceptional training with other young people in another context. Across the wider system of schools and training, we stand to benefit in the same way as we contribute. Many staff arrive at John Taylor having become highly-effective practitioners through training opportunities at other schools. As a National Teaching School, there is even greater scope to work collaboratively with a range of schools, other partners, and training organisations to make our staff development even more exceptional, the prospect of which we are all looking forward to.

Thanks for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

Dear Reader

185954For my March Blog, I thought I would share with you information from press releases and other sources about our National Teaching School designation:

Blazing the Trail: John Taylor becomes the one of the first National Teaching School in Staffordshire

John Taylor High School is one of 150 schools to be granted National Teaching School status this month – one of only two in Staffordshire.

The awarding of this status by the National College for School Leadership entitles the school, working with a strong alliance of partners, to lead training and professional development for teachers and leaders at all stages in their career. The government hopes that the current total of 350 schools will eventually rise to a total of 500 National Teaching Schools, covering all areas of the country.  Further information about this strategy can be found by following this links:  http://www.education.gov.uk/nationalcollege/docinfo?id=150813&filename=teaching-schools-fact-sheet.pdf

Case studies on the work of the first teaching schools can be found here:http://www.education.gov.uk/nationalcollege/docinfo?id=177293&filename=green-shoots.pdf

In a press release, Maggie Farrar (Executive Director at the National College), said: “Teaching schools like John Taylor High School should be proud of their achievement as they need to be at the top of their game to take on this role –  outstanding in their own performance and have a track record of raising standards through school-to-school support.

“These are the schools that are blazing the trail by harnessing the finest teaching talent in the profession to drive school improvement in innovative ways, and bring real benefits to pupils and staff. Trainees can learn from the best teachers in action and those who want to move up the career ladder are exposed to excellent practice within and beyond their immediate school.”

This is a great achievement for the school and its partners who have been working together tirelessly towards achieving this status.  There was a lengthy and rigorous application process, followed by a visit from a school inspector.

National Teaching School status gives us the opportunity to bring world class trainers into the Burton area, work even more closely with partner schools and local universities on training new and experienced teachers, working together in schools, and sharing great ideas on learning.  The school will receive some extra funding to enable our plans to take shape.

We are really excited about what lies ahead!

Thanks for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

As you will be aware, our focus with our students facing final examinations has been “don’t count the days…make the days count”. Indeed over the half term, whether it is through private study at home or via the several revision sessions we have run in school, students have been working hard. They know that the reward for their effort can last a lifetime, and that there is no substitute for hard work. Many will be using on-line resources (past examination papers, GCSEPod, BiteSize etc.) available on our website, and others will have taken heed of the advice in the examination section of the website and constructed a revision timetable.

When discussing with Year 11 students their next steps beyond the summer, it was clear that the trial examinations before Christmas had been a really valuable experience. For some, it was a validation that they were on track. For others, it was a wake-up call that more effort is needed. Whether they are in the former or latter group, we emphasise to all students that it is not too late, and that this is the time for activity, not complacency or despondency.

This reminded me of the fable of two frogs. The pair had fallen in a milk churn. After an initial struggle to get out, one gave up and promptly drowned. The other was resilient enough to keep kicking and kicking, turning the milk eventually to a butter pat upon which the frog could stand in order to escape the churn. Unfortunately, experience tells me that a small minority of students will not have the personal fortitude or motivation from their family to work hard at this crucial time. However, I am always heartened by the character and commitment shown by students of all abilities to ‘keep kicking’ until their final examination has elapsed. They receive all the support we can give them in school, and deserve all the plaudits when they achieve their success.

We know how important, and challenging, examinations are for our young people. But they know as well as we do that “it isn’t falling into water staying submerged in it that drowns you.” Keep kicking!

Principal's Blog

The power of generosity to improve lives – and the world

My first blog of the New Year brings together my assembly theme from last week (the power of generosity to improve lives – and the world), the Lance Armstrong confessions on The Oprah Winfrey Show, a ball boy in Swansea and a story I read recently. If only it received the same amount of publicity! I hope you enjoy reading it too.

On 2nd December last year, Basque athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai – bronze medallist in the 3,000-metre steeplechase at the London Olympics. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner – the certain winner of the race – mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.

Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.

Ivan Fernandez Anaya, 24 years old, who is considered an athlete with a big future (champion of Spain of 5,000 metres in promise category two years ago), said after the race:

“But even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn’t have done it either. I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well.”

Its message is a universal truth that we hope to instil in all our young people: Some things are more important than winning – integrity being one of them.

Thanks for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

This morning it was my privilege to join the Remembrance Day Parade and church service. Barton-under-Needwood was served proudly by The Royal British Legion, local servicemen past and present, children from the Scouts, Guides, Brownies and Beavers and our village schools, representatives from the emergency services and other local groups, and a significant number of residents. For those who regularly follow my blogs, you will note that this time of year always has a profound impact on me. Indeed, it was the focus of my November Blog last year.

However, this blog relates more to those who I stood alongside today rather than the reason for our gathering. Today was a very visible and impressive demonstration of community action. In Barton, as is the case in many of the neighbouring villages within our school catchment, if the community want events to happen (Jubilee celebrations, bonfire night firework displays, craft fairs) or groups to run (scouts, Mothers Union, cricket club) residents acknowledge THEY will need to make it happen. Whether that means being involved in organisation or in showing support through participation, village communities roll their collective sleeves up with relish – and to great effect! At John Taylor, we benefit from this directly through having governors who give so much time to the school, a PTA that works for our benefit with tremendous enthusiasm and energy, and volunteers and community partners who will help us and our children in the classroom, on trips, and in so many other ways.

This community spirit is contagious from generation to generation. On parade today were just some of the young people at the school who get involved. One young man in our Sixth Form had to make a quick change from his scouts uniform into a chorister’s robes for the church service and then back again! I know that many children from the school were also involved in events in Burton and at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas (where the school was also represented by our Chair of Governors). This level of participation often begins at primary school. Some of our children attend schools which serve small communities. Again, if these children want a sports day – they have to compete, if they want a school play – they have to perform. The transition to a large secondary school which many onlookers view as so daunting is made so much easier by the confidence and skills that come from active participation. Through our Year 7 ‘STRIPE’ programme, we develop these skills further in our ‘Community’ unit that Year 7 have worked on this term.
All our students, and most of their parents, will know that I believe success is derived from ‘turning up, working hard, and being nice’. To ‘turn up’ is not merely a request for good attendance and punctuality to school (important as that is), but a call to engage : to get involved with what you can, when you can, and give your all in the process. Many do this, following fine examples from their parents and others in their local communities. From this ‘virtuous circle’, we all benefit – and long may we continue to do so!

Thank you for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

“Don’t wish that it was easier. Wish that you were better!” (Jim Rohn)

At this point in the academic year, whole cohorts of our young people are undertaking final examinations in courses they have studied for the last two years. Nothing different about that compared with previous generations, we may argue. I would contest this.

First, in addition to the summer series of examinations, students will often have sat many ‘modular’ or unit exams throughout the course. These bring with them a constant sense of pressure, and a need to achieve. There is no cycle of ‘coasting’ and ‘cramming’ that certainly some of my peers built their educational success on at school!

Second, outside of exams, there will inevitably have been pieces of coursework, controlled assessments or personal studies that students will have worked on towards their final grade. Again, with such work comes a perception, often correct, that there is no “let up” in the work. Studying a broad curriculum of subjects, if we multiply these course requirements by, say, nine for our Year 11 students, or by four for our Sixth Formers, I think we can begin to empathise with their situation. Add to this the social pressures of teenage life, and the uncertainties in their world of high unemployment and access to further and higher education, we could paint a rather depressing picture. However, what I experience every day here at John Taylor is an enormous amount of positivity for the long-term, and incredible resilience for the immediate future. Our pupils and students are rolling their sleeves up and getting on with it! They are incredibly capable of differentiating between what they can change and what they can’t. This leads me on to why the quotation at the top of my Blog is so resonant at this time:

“Don’t wish that it was easier. Wish that you were better!” (Jim Rohn)

Our students can’t change the exam papers, they can’t make sometimes abstract subject concepts more straightforward, they can’t manufacture more time between now and their exams. What they can do – and what they are doing – is working on what they can change: their understanding, their skills, their knowledge, their exam technique, their time management. And they are doing it with smiles on their faces, and springs in their steps – mostly! It is this that makes working with young adults so rewarding and inspiring, and this that I want to share with you in my Blog. They are a credit to themselves and to the families who support them throughout.

I close with a ‘mention in dispatches’ to the school’s staff who also share our students’ pressures of constant assessments, modular examination, and the need to achieve exceptional results. They are as acutely aware as anyone of the importance attached to the reaching of potential for every child.

Together – parents, staff, and students – we meet the curve-ball of the examination challenge and send it into the long grass!

Thank you for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal

Principal's Blog

Why small talk is such a big deal!

In March, it was my privilege to accompany two of our Sixth Form students to the annual Drapers’ Company Court Dinner. This event, hosted as a means for all organisations and individuals that benefit from patronage by The Drapers Livery Company, is a wonderfully grand affair attended by a throng of illustrious guests – government ministers, peers and knights of the realm, and celebrated scientists, artists, and other professionals. Held in the Drapers Hall, Throgmorton Street (pictured above), the setting for many of the palace scenes in last year’s “The King’s Speech”, it is an awe-inspiring occasion.

Understandably, our students were a little apprehensive about being seated at separate ends of the large, formal, room. However, I told them that they would be afforded a warm welcome by the Members and other guests, and to engage in light conversation and enjoy the company of some very interesting people. This they did, in fine style, and a great evening was had by us all. On the train back to the Midlands, we shared our experiences – who we had dined alongside, their background and the stories they shared.

It is more than likely that we will not meet most of the individuals we spoke with that evening again. So, why engage in conversation with them at all? Small talk IS a big deal. First, it hones our skills as listeners, as empathisers, as speakers. These qualities are essential for us to be happy, sociable and maybe even for our success professionally. In a survey of MBA students ten years after graduation, Stanford University School of Business concluded, via their survey findings, that the final grade achieved by their students had far less bearing on their success than their abilities to converse effectively with others. In his famous work “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell notes that we are more likely to find out about new career opportunities from ‘acquaintances’ rather than friends – the rational being that we share the social circle of our friends, acquaintances put us in touch with other, neighbouring social circles. How do we establish such acquaintances? As often as not, through small talk.

At John Taylor, our young people are often praised by visitors for how confidently and articulately they welcome and engage with them. Having worked in several schools, I think this recognition is well merited. Whether it is through their experiences at home, their extra-curricular activities, travel or structured opportunities in the classroom, our pupils and students have plenty of practice in the art of conversation. This is not the case everywhere. In an age of “stranger danger”, where we are rightly cautious about the safety of our children, we must balance that with giving them opportunities to experience new social situations and develop the skills that will serve them well as adults – as family members, as workers, as friends. “Communication” comes from the Latin word ‘communicare’: literally, “to share”. For the good of our society, we must equip all our young people with the ability to share – knowledge, experience, stories, beliefs, emotions. Our curriculum, not least our revised programme for Year 7, aims to enable this.

Thank you for reading.

M Donoghue
Principal