Sunday, 25 February 2007

"The ideas that have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty and truth."
Albert Einstein

It has been a very strange day...

I got up at 3.30 to catch the 5.05 train to London from Leeds. Cllr Richard Harker and I arrived in London at 7.30, made our way across London to Westminster and had coffee and bacon sandwiches near Whitehall while we waited for our allocated time.

We arrived at 10 Downing Street at 8.45, went through the security systems and the door of Number 10 opened. We were ushered in to a Boardroom with a large table with name labels and a large flat screen TV. Three groups were there... one from Birmingham, one from Sheffield and us. Each group had a lead member, the lead for school improvement and senior colleagues from local universities. We were accompanied by Michael Arthur, Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds and Anne Gregory, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University.

The meeting was chaired by Tony Blair, with Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and Lord Andrew Adonis. Schools Minister in the House of Lords with responsibility for the Academies Programme. We all watched a DVD about a school in Nottingham which had awful buildings and poor outcomes. Nottingham University was sponsoring an Academy, with a health specialism, to replace the school. Tony Blair then asked each authority to talk about their strategy and vision for Academies...

This is what I said...
"With the Government’s help over the last six years we have transformed the learning landscape in Leeds. We have reviewed and restructured the whole of the central area of the city… closing schools, introducing new leadership and governance and opening new and inspiring facilities. We opened three new PFI secondary schools and an Academy in September 2006 with two more PFI secondary schools opening this September. We are also in Wave One of Building Schools for the Future and a further fourteen secondary schools around this central core will be remodelled and rebuilt with the first phase due to open in September 2008.

We have transformed standards and outcomes and moved from a situation where, in 2001, only 38% of our young people achieved 5 good GCSE’s to a situation where, last year, 52% of our young people achieved this important benchmark. We have also increased annual attendance by on average two additional days for every young person in Leeds and reduced permanent exclusions by around 50%.

We are working hard to address some of the continuing concerns around standards. We are working with the Learning and Skills Council to renew the 14 – 19 provision in Leeds… replacing worn-out colleges and inefficient and ineffective school sixth forms with inspiring highly effective provision. We have established links with Stockholm and Brno and are planning links with Helsinki to develop our leadership practice, explore personalisation and to learn from the best educational practice in Europe. We welcome the latest opportunities in ‘The Education and Inspections Act’ and we are planning to creatively use Trusts and Academies to ensure that we continue to drive up standards and achieve truly world class outcomes for our young people. We aim to set ourselves the most ambitious targets of any authority in the country, where we aim to get 80% of our young people to Level 2 qualifications by 2015 with 95% progressing to further and higher education.

Drawing, on the Manchester model, we are working with our partners in Leeds, including the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University, to build learning and progression pathways with centres of real excellence that link to the economic, business and regeneration agendas for the City. A central learning trust with a central network of specialist Academies could help us deliver the outcomes we all want to see in Leeds."

Tony, Alan and Andrew all said that they were genuinely impressed at the vision for learning provision in the three cities and would do all they could to help us achieve our ambitious agendas for change. Colleagues from the DfES are coming to Leeds tomorrow to continue the discussions.

I'll keep you posted!

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