Saturday, 13 January 2007

It's been one of those weeks that has flown by... blown away by the wind and the wonderful people I have managed to get to see and spend time with. People continually tell me that I am too positive and too optimistic... I am not really sure what the alternatives are... there is already enough negativity and pessimism around. I am not sure what messages you give your colleagues if you constantly see the problems, the drawbacks and the mistakes... I constantly see opportunities, ways to learn and develop, the potential to do more and better things for children and young people here in Leeds. We want all our young people to be happy, healthy, safe and increasingly successful. Taught, coached, mentored and supported by talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues in brilliant learning places. Is that too much to hope for...

Friday, 12 January 2007

I spent the afternoon at Blackgates Primary School. Elaine Kay-Devanney, the headteacher, had invited me to their Stephen Lawrence Education Standard Assembly. Kay's letter said that they had been working with Intake High School and Brigshaw High School to create something special which she hoped that I would enjoy.

The assembly was opened and closed by Zoe and Ben who started by asking who was Stephen Lawrence... Year Six danced to celebrate inclusion in action, musicians from the Advanced Orchestra and the Advanced Recorders played, the School Choir sang "Sing" adnd "Use me", 3J did a dramatic presentation on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, 3CW4 did a dramatic presentation, with a parachute, on the Colours of the Rainbow, 3PH4 did a dramatic presentation with poems on Racism and a young woman from 5E talked about her school days in Nigeria. We then had a fabulous performance by students from Intake High School. Year six students then did a dramatic presentation on the murder of Stephen Lawrence which ahd been performed by students from Brigshaw High School at the last Stephen Lawrence Education Standard Presentations. Zoe and Ben finally asked us all "What next" and the assembly finished with the children singing their "Song for Peace.

Incredible things like this are rare, even in my life, and some people were simply reduced to tears by an amazing group of children whose confidence, passion and enthusiasm shone through everything they did. The whole thing was conducted like a military operation... slick, polished and professional. The choir was outstandingly good... I haven't heard children sing like that for a long time. The whole thing was a powerful and emotional experience which touched everyone there. This had the WOW factor in bucketloads... great children taught, lead and encouraged by an amazing learning team and a fantastic headteacher.
The Education Leeds Leadership Team started the day at New Bewerley Community Primary School. It is a brilliant building and we were shown round by Patrick Wilkins, the headteacher, and some of his colleagues. The really amazing building contains a Children's Centre and a SILC (our term for a special school) Partnership area as well as the primary school... this is the future and it is wonderful.

Patrick's Learning Team have done an amazing job... the classrooms are bright, attractive and wonderfully stimulating places. It's true that the future isn't secured by fabulous buildings, though it certainly helps. The future is secured by talented colleagues who bring fabulous building alive and create brilliant learning places for our little learners. The challenge that Patrick and his colleagues must now address, with our help and support, is how do we deliver truly transformational learning and achieve fantastic outcomes for these children.

Patrick certainly believes that it is possible...
...together we must...
"Set the goal and invent the way;
Set the goal and make it happen."

Thursday, 11 January 2007

I was really looking forward to the publication of the secondary school performance tables today. Overall I wasn't disappointed...

We once again made more progress than the national average and for the first time we have over half of our young people achieving five A* - C grades at GCSE. It is reassuring that we have continued to close the gap between the best and the rest.

It was wonderful to see that Wortley High School and Pudsey Grangefield High School were amongst the top fifty most improved schools in the country. And that Abbey Grange CE High School, Allerton High School, Benton Park School,Brigshaw High School, Corpus Christi Catholic College, Garforth Community College, John Smeaton High School, Mount St Mary's RC High School, Otley Prince Henry's Grammar School, Roundhay High School and St Mary's RC High School all achieved good Key Stage 2 to 4 value added. We only had one high school achieving below the floor targets set by the DfES. All of this is great news for parents and carers and for Leeds.

However, the down side is that we still have 48% of our young people not achieving level 2 qualifications at the end of Key Satge 4 and overall our Key Stage 2 to 4 value added was the second lowest in the country... only Darlington did worse than us! I know that this cohort of young people started secondary education in 2001 and that we have transformed the learning environment and the learning culture and achieved some fantastic results over the last five years. We are also seeing really good progress in Key Stage 3 and the Key Stage 2 to 3 value added results are encouraging. We are also seeing some creative innovations... coaching, mentoring and curriculum pathways... achieving real progress in Key Stage 4.

It is really important that we all focus on the progress being made by individual young people and target our interventions and support to achieve a fundamental step-change in outcomes. We are looking to agree transformational outcomes for 2015... 80% achieving level 2 qualifications at 16... but rightly we will be asked what about the current groups of young people. We need to learn about what works and rigorously and ruthlessly focus on key groups. Raw scores and contextual value added scores only tell us part of the story, but it is a vitally important part which suggest that we all need to do better and some of us need to completely rethink what we are doing and learn from what is working at our most improved schools and our best schools.
It has been an incredible day today...

I started at Priesthorpe School where I attended the Year 10 assembly and presented the Inclusion Chartermark to members of the School Council and the school colleagues who had managed the application and accreditation process.

I went on to the Burley Park Pupil Referral Unit which caters for about forty of our most challenging young people in Key Stage 3. Simon Bean, the Head of Centre, and his colleagues have achieved something really special which has been recognised by OfSTED who recently acknowledged the 'outstanding progress' being made under Simon's 'excellent leadership'.

I finished my day at Benton Park School where I had been invited to officially open their brilliant new Student Support Centre. The Centre strengthens the work the school has been doing on inclusion and links with a huge number of partner agencies working to ensure that 'Every Child Matters'.

Our work on inclusion is outstanding and these three schools seem to capture what is really special about Leeds... brilliant colleagues working with some great young people and making a fantastic difference.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

It's a funny thing but I suppose if you make a habit of being out there you can expect to be cornered by irate parents and carers who feel let down by the system and even very occasionally congratulated for what we are doing in schools across Leeds.

I know that people think I am Mr Positive, Mr Enthusiastic, Mr Everything is great and that I want constantly to be told the good news but actually I don't. It's nice to receive compliments but I also want to know where we get it wrong so that we can constantly strive to improve what we do for young people... so that we can really make sure that all our children and young people are happy, healthy, safe and increasingly successful.

It's a fact that being told what is going well rarely improves what we do. Whereas, being told what is going wrong... what is going badly... focuses the mind and gets you asking the difficult questions. It's not about blame but about a shared and collective responsibility to do things as well as we possibly can and to hold our hands up and admit to our mistakes and to our limitations. We know that this isn't easy or we would have cracked it years ago. We must search for answers to the really hard questions we face about standards, about teaching and learning, about attendance, admissions and behaviour and critically about bullying and young people's safety.

This evening I was approached by Olivia and Hollie's grandma who felt aggrieved that we had refused to give Olivia a bus pass to get her to school and away from a group of bullies who had tormented Hollie, her sister, and were now threatening and bullying Olivia. Hollie was not attending school because she was terrified of the bullies. It's strange but I felt it was my fault... here was a young woman who we had let down... who I had let down.

So what do we do for the Hollie's and the Olivia's... talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful young people whose lives were being tormented by bullies and the fear of bullies. How do we build resilience? How do we give these young people the skills to cope with this? Answers on a postcard or a blog comment would be welcome. Costed solutions would be really welcome.
Another evening, another place... this time it was at the Long Room at the Headingley Carnegie Stadium. The Yorkshire County Cricket Club had invited me to their Presentation Evening to mark the end of the first ten week programme of "Playing for Success" at the Headingley Learning Centre... and it was packed!

The study support programme here in Leeds makes an incredible difference to huge numbers of young people... it works brilliantly, the impact is awesome and we have the evidence. Why does it work? Perhaps it's because young people choose to come in their own time that it has such a dramatic impact on young people's literacy, numeracy and ICT skills, on their confidence and self-esteem and on their ability to focus and work hard. Perhaps, it's because we have such a fantastic team of people working in study support led by Steve Smith, Mark Hopkins and their brilliant colleagues and supported by some wonderful volunteer mentors. Perhaps it's because of the pulling power ,for young people, of places like Yorkshire Cricket Club, Leeds Rhinos, Leeds United, Leeds Bradford Airport and the White Rose Centre.

I don't have all the answers but it's clearly doing something wonderful for young people in Leeds and I am truly grateful to everyone who has helped us make this happen... including our sponsors, the DfES, the schools and of course young people themselves and their parents and carers.
It was great this evening... I got the first real comment on the blog from a colleague in Sweden. A colleague who shares my passion and commitment and wants to work with us to develop brilliant learning places in Leeds and Stockholm and to connect schools in Sweden and the UK together to share their strengths and learn about what works and what doesn't. It is wonderful to know that the blog can build a bridge between our two great cities and get us talking, sharing and learning. I am deeply grateful to John Ellard, my colleague from ICG, who took the time to connect and encourage me to keep blogging.
It's funny but the only thing about blogging, and it is much the same with the InfoBase system, you can never be sure that there is anyone out there or that you are talking to anyone. It's the great things about managing by walking about... you see people's eyes and you can pick up their body language. As you walk about you can listen to colleagues concerns, their issues and their worries and hopefully get told about their successes, their achievements and the things that give them the WOW factor. Please let me know if you are reading this and if it is worth my while spending time trying to connect with more of the talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful people who make Education Leeds and education in Leeds such a fantastically successful operation.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

"If I were absolutely certain about all things, I would spend my life in anxious misery, fearful of losing my way. But since everything and anything are aways possible, the miraculous is always nearby and wonders shall never, ever cease."
Robert Fulghum

Let's be perfectly clear about what we have to do in terms of leading change.... in terms of our primary schools, our secondary schools, our behavioural provision and the 14 - 19 stuff. We have to make our colleagues think and understand that they are great; that they have enormous potential; that they can do anything and that the miracles and wonders are common place. I remember Lou Tice telling me that people act as they imagine themselves to be and that changing people's attitude was more important than anything else. I recently read a study by Cambridge University which looked at the concept of genius and came to a really interesting set of conclusions... success is about 1% inspiration; about 30 % coaching, teaching and support and about 70% sheer hard work. It's true you sceptics, you can be great at almost anything if you are prepared to put in the work! The only thing that is holding you back is your own perceptions of what you are capable of.

I have believed for a long time that those who believe they can, can and those who believe they can't, can't... simple and working with my colleague Dirk Gilleard has reinforced and strengthened these beliefs. Isn't it sad however that many of us have convinced ourselves that we are not clever, intelligent or talented... which is, of course, the excuse not to work hard at being the talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful human being each and everyone of us could be!

What's great about this is that our job is simple. We have to help our colleagues alter their attitudes and to alter the way they see themselves. Indeed, our primary function should be to help everyone we work with to change their self-image and to think better of themselves. We must constantly celebrate every achievement however small and work hard to inspire colleagues in Education Leeds, colleagues in schools, young people and parents and carers. We must work to release the enormous potential that currently lies dormant in our offices, our schools and our homes and we must create an environment where these things can flourish, grow and develop.

I would as always welcome your ideas as to how we do this.
I started the day with a group of secondary headteacher colleagues looking at how we take forward the review of 14 - 19 provision in the city. It was great to see them all after Christmas and again the couple of hours reminded me how lucky we are to have such talented and committed colleagues leading our schools.

Every secondary school in Leeds has outstanding practive and is in some way releasing the magic. The challenge we face is how do we connect the very best of this practice consistently to take our overall performance from below average to outstanding. We are already doing brilliant work in so many areas... coaching, mentoring, individual learning plans, curriculum pathways, specialisms, English, mathematics, science, modern foreign languages, history, geography, PSCE, vocational programmes, the powerful use of ICT and much, much more. In my visits to schools I am seeing inspiring teaching, targeted support, alternative programmes, young people actively engaged in deep learning in some awesome new buildings. I am also seeing a real understanding that our learners need to be happy, healthy and safe if we want them to be successful.

Our challenge is to ensure that all our provision becomes as good as the very best and that we drive up standards and achieve world class outcomes. We must work together to eradicate the irrelevant, the mundane, the boring and the ordinary. We must work with, and listen to, our young people to get them engaged and involved in developing and understand these approaches. We must work with all our schools to get every secondary headteacher, their leadership teams, their governors and their learning teams to buy into aspirational targets, to adopt and devlop an entitlement for all and to commit to partnership working that will share and network our best practice across a genuine learning community. A community that is focused on doing the best we can collectively for all our young people because no-one can do this on their own.

We must continue to talk about how can we achieve outcomes that are world class. Why can't we have outcomes like these in Leeds...
  • 80% achieving Level 2 qualifications at 16;
  • 60% achieving level 3 qualifications at 19; and
  • 95% progressing to higher and further education

The question we must all ask ourselves, whether you are a parent or carer, a local business, a partner, a local university or simply someone who is interested in the future, is what can I do to help!


Monday, 8 January 2007

Today has been one of those days when I go from meeting to meeting and wonder what real difference any of it actually makes. The great thing however is that you meet wonderfully talented people at these meetings... people who are doing things, creating things, changing things and challenging the assumptions we all make about what is possible.

People like my colleagues Mark Hopkins, Wendy Winterburn and Dorothy Smith. People like Ros McMullen and Hartley Moyes from the David Young Community Academy. People like my colleagues Pat Toner and the Human Resources team. People like Gail Palmer-Smeaton and Diane Reynard, two of our headteachers. These people are brilliant, talented, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues who passion, commitment, determination and persistence shines out amongst the control freaks and those people who can never smile or say anything positive

I know I am incredibly lucky that I work in an organisation where people, partnerships and relationships are central to everything we do. And it's true, you know, that you get back what you give away... smile and the world smiles with you... laugh and the world laughs with you... compliment people and the compliments come flooding back... trust people and they repay you by the bucketload. Sadly some people haven't a clue about this and they simply let their own limitations and frustrations get in the way.

We must all remember that good communication lies at the heart of our success and it's true that being positive helps colleagues to be their brilliant and outstanding best. These are some of the things I have learnt about leading successfully... we must...
  • always try to see the bigger picture;
  • always be as positive as possible;
  • always say thank you;
  • always share ideas and problems;
  • always tell the truth;
  • always listen carefully to what is being said;
  • always smile whatever happens;
  • always go the extra mile.


Sunday, 7 January 2007

Another weekend over... the weeks fly by and the weekends seem to go even faster. I had a strange week last week... it's the usual thing at the beginning of a new term or a new year... mountains of paper, great lists of e-mails, things to catch up on, things to remember, things to forget, things to finish off and things to start.
Four things made it a really special week...
... the training event for the new Parent Support Advisers;
... a meeting with the parents of a boy with special educational needs;
... the Prize Giving and Presentation Evening at Morley High School; and
... the visit with Martin Wainwright from the Guardian newspaper to Carr Manor High School.
And at the heart of each of these little bits of action were people who are dramatically changing what we do... Wendy Winterburn, Tommy, John Townsley and Simon Flowers. These are people who make this job so special and constantly remind me that we are about making a real difference to the lives, the expectations and the outcomes we achieve for children and young people here in Leeds.
We must continue to connect, communicate, share and learn from people like Wendy, John and Simon. People whose passion, commitment, energy, leadership and determined hard work are changing the world and releasing a very special kind of magic.