Friday, 19 January 2007

I was in London again today for the presentation to support our Healthy Schools Beacon bid... actually I never got home yesterday The presentation was at the IDeA offices near Farringdon tube station and I wasn't sure until the middle of the morning if the rest of our team would be able to make it.

The railway system on the East Coast mainline had been badly disrupted by the storms and it took Anne Cowling, Kat Johnston, James Young and Charlee Brewsher four hours to get to London as they dodged cancelled and packed trains, fallen trees, disrupted power lines and floods. However they made it and we were brilliant even if I do say it myself!

Kat and James, from Youth on Heath, led our presentation, showed our fantastic and inspiring DVD, introduced Anne and I to do our bits and then Kat finished with a real WOW factor finale! We then answered questions from the panel for the rest of our hour. Charlee, from The Project, had done a great job coaching Kat and James, who were so impressive. We'll now have to wait until March to hear if we are to get Beacon Status. I can't imagine that the panel weren't impressed... even I was!

What is great about Leeds and everything we do is the connections and how everything ties together... wherever you look we are all working collaboratively and collectively to ensure that all our children and young people are happy, healthy, safe and successful... whatever it takes! The Leeds Healthy Schools Programme is an amazing school improvement toolkit and provides a really powerful framework for integrated, joined-up, multi-agency working. It is a unique and innovative approach and it has brilliantly engaged and involved our schools, our colleagues and our partners to ensure that we are making a real difference where it matters.

Anne and her team have done a fantastic job over the years and I know that their energy, passion, commitment and hard work will be recognised in March.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Well that was some day... I left home at 6.30 to get to the station for the 7.00 train to London and I have been regretting it ever since...

I should have seen the weather forecast and simply stayed in bed! The train was delayed with an electrical problem in Darlington and finally arrived at 7.30. The trains were then running at a maximum speed of 80 miles per hour... so more delays... we would get to London at 9.30. We had more electrical problems at Newark Northgate and as the time passed the trains were now running at a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour... so we eventually arrived at Kings Cross at 10.35... an hour and a half late. I should have simply got back on the train and gone home but having come so far you don't like to give up do you.

The next surprise was that there was a power failure at Kings Cross and the tube station was closed and the station notice boards were down. Persevering as always... I walked away from Kings Cross and grabbed a taxi to get me to the Barbican Centre, where I was supposed to be attending a conference on the Education and Inspections Act. I finally arrived at the conference at 11.10 having missed Jim Knight, Schools and 14 - 19 Ministers contribution... the real reason I went. The conference wasn't very good... no answers and fairly pedestrian inputs but funnily enough it reassured me. As always, no one has sorted this all out. We are as advanced in our thinking as anyone else and further ahead than most. The focus at the conference on commissioning, choice and diversity simply reassured me that no one really has a clue what it all means... the DfES saying that there is no single way of doing this and they expect each authority to invent their own models, mechanisms and solutions. Anyway lunch was good if delayed along with the afternoon sessions because speakers hadn't been able to get to London... so all in all a bit of a waste!

However home called and I set off for Kings Cross once more. They say that it's always good to leave the best bit until last... I managed to get back to Kings Cross without any more problems. I was almost lulled into a false sense of security... only to discover that there were more problems... I think it was the wrong sort of wind. We waited at Kings Cross to be initially told the the trains would only be able to go at 50 and the journey times would be doubled... then miraculously it was increased to 80 only to be told almost imediately that there was another problem. A tree had fallen across the line and the alternative route out of London had the electric power lines down. There would be a delay while they sorted it out but if you didn't need to travel you were advised to go home.

That is what I wanted to do... but this day was turning into a nightmare and after a wait of around an hour and a half we were told that Kings Cross was closing and that no trains would be running for the rest of the day... all trains were cancelled. So where am I? I am in hotel in London waiting for the weather to improve so I can eventually go home!

Did I waste a day?... probably not. What did I learn?... lots. What we are doing in Leeds is amazing and generally way ahead of the game... whatever it is. Our colleagues in schools, in the Council, in our partners and in Education Leeds are releasing a very special kind of magic and already making a real difference with extended services, local partnerships, joined up services around children and their families ... but there is more to do. We must embrace personalisation, coaching, ownership, choice and voice as driving principles for everything we do. We must develop intelligent and powerful accountability systems to drive improved outcomes. We must embrace and achieve a step change in outcomes for our children and young people... whatever it takes. It simply isn't good enough to be innovative, creative and experimental... we have to prove that we are delivering and we have to deliver fast.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

I had a great start to the day... I went to Woodkirk High Specialist Science School. Jonathan White, the headteacher, had invited me to visit the school last year. We were joined by Dennis Fisher, the Chair of Governors, who accompanied us on a quick tour of the school. We visited English, maths, science, ICT, business studies... we looked in on classes in Year 7, Year 9, Year 10, Year 11 and the sixth form. What really struck me was the atmosphere around the school, the positive behaviour and wonderful relationships wherever we went, the focused, enthusiastic and caring staff and most importantly Jonathan's relationships with his students... the jokes, the banter and the sense of fun was really refreshing. I know that Jonathan has been at Woodkirk for a long time and his knowledge and understanding of the issues facing the school and his passion, leadership and commitment to his students shone through my visit. Woodkirk is very clearly a good school but it is going to be a great one under Jonathan's focused and determined leadership.

However, what really stood out for me and provided the highlight of my visit was that I was invited to a coffee morning by the Year 10 ASDAN Group. Apparently, the group do this on a regular basis ... they invite a special group of guests to come and have coffee and cakes. It was my lucky day... Jessica, William and Sam were part of this wonderful little group and they served me coffee and home made scones, flapjack and caramel shortbread... and it was fantastic. The group are taught by Miss Connelly and Miss Blight and it was wonderful to see a very special kind of magic being released with a very special group of young people. It was so good that I'm going to invite them to come and have coffee and cakes with me sometime.

In his book, 'All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten', Robert Fulghum says that wisdom is not at the top of the graduate school but there in the sandpit. Everything about how to live and what to do he says he learned in the early years. It's funny but my colleague Linda Sibbons sent me this reminder of the things that are important and I wanted to share it with you...

"I had a special conversation with my grandson Max, aged 3 years and 8 months, who started 'big' Nursery School yesterday. His perspective on what was really good about school..... and learning..... was refreshing! His highlights included:

  • finding his own coat peg, milk tag and photograph already there and waiting for him;
  • digging 'huge' holes in the outdoor learning area for workmen to put 'giant trees' in;
  • finding a lobster (!) in the wet area;
  • meeting two good friends from Playgroup, Otis and Esme, who had also just started at Nursery;
  • discovering that his mummy had included a 'tasty pudding' in his lunch box (2 mini Jaffa cakes!);
  • managing to get the lid off his yoghurt all by himself without it going everywhere (the practice definitely paid off!);
  • eating in a 'normous' room with great big girls and boys (the dining hall with the Reception children!).

His day was exciting and everything seemed 'super-sized' to him. It was underpinned by reassurance and meeting friends. The five key outcomes from Every Child Matters certainly tick all the right boxes for Max."

Life is certainly interesting in early years.


Isn't life wonderful .... I popped in to Cockburn College to see Colin Richardson... just to check that Colin and his wonderful team were OK... they were... I suppose you have to be resilient working in such complex and challenging circumstances.

Colin had received some more letters to add to his collection....Colin received a letter from the DfES last year as the 8th most improved secondary school in the country. The new batch included one from the DfES telling him that the school would lose its specialist status unless they had the 'notice to improve' removed.. .. another from the Specialist Colleges and Academies Trust from Sir Cyril Taylor welcoming Cockburn to their Most Improved Schools Club because of the great progress they have made..... and another inviting Colin to meet Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in recognition of their ongoing success as one of the most improved schools in the country.

We certainly live in interesting times!

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

I sometimes struggle through days and because of all the noise I can sometimes miss the brilliance of my colleagues who are shaping a new order here in Leeds. I know that by naming some of my talented colleagues by default I fail to mention you but forgive me...this week my brilliant people include...
...people like Gary Nixon who with his colleagues has transformed our behavioural provision. According to our friends at OfSTED every pupil referral unit in Leeds is now at least good with outstanding features and some of it is simply outstanding.
... people like Wendy Winterburn and her colleagues whose work with parents was already fantastic but has been taken to new heights with their work with Parent Support Advisers where we are simply the best.
... people like Anne Cowling and her colleagues who have shaped the Leeds Healthy Schools Programme to be one of the best if not the best programmes in the country.
... people like Chris Halsall, Chris Pollard and their colleagues who are driving transformational change in our primary schools.
... people like Brian Tuffin, Sylvia Lunn and their colleagues who are driving transformational change in our secondary schools.
These are simply some of a cast of thousands who are transforming the landscape here in Leeds and whose work has touched mine over the past few days and weeks.
I was at Corporate Management Team today and we had a presentation by John Fisher from the Local Futures Group. The Local Futures Group is a research and strategy consultancy in local economic development, regeneration and public policy, specialising in the new economy. Local Futures' analyses the geography of economic and social change in Britain and interprets the results for government, businesses and partnership clients. Each year they produce a unique geographical perspective on the state of modern Britain.

In the session John did for CMT he analysed the state of well-being in Leeds from three different perspectives – economic, social and environmental. He then summarised his findings and considered the implications for us as local policy makers. The session provided a thought-provoking analysis of ‘local futures’ in Leeds in a knowledge economy era. It focused on a new localism where he argued you can only succeed with better knowledge and better intelligence... sound familiar? He highlighted the real challenges we face around creativity, innovation and leadership in a conceptual age... sound familiar? He highlighted the real challenges we face around deprivation, health inequalities and crime... no surprises there then! Importantly, John highlighted the real energy and focus needed around education, learning and skills if we are going to survive in a world of abundance, asia and automation.

The session reminded me of the issues Dan Pink raises in his brilliant book 'a whole new mind'. He asks us to consider what we are doing to earn a living and asks three questions:
1. Can someone somewhere do it cheaper?
2. Can a computer do it faster and better?
3. Is what I can do in demand?
If your answers are yes, yes, no then you are in deep trouble as an organisation, a team or an individual.

John's excellent session reinforced the critical importance of Dan Pinks 'six senses' which he argues will increasingly guide our lives and shape our world. The six senses are Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning. Anyone can master these senses but those who master them first will have a huge advantage. So lets get on with it!

Monday, 15 January 2007

It's been a funny day... meeting after meeting after meeting... another of those days where you wonder whether you are making any difference where it matters... in classrooms with children and young people. It's funny but the Guardian reported that the single most important factor colleagues want to see in their leaders is inspiration and it's the message I often get from colleagues in schools and across Education Leeds.

The world is shifting and the DfES and OfSTED and everyone else are raising the bar. What was OK is now unsatisfactory... and increasingly it's not enough to be good you have to be outstanding! The usual leadership and management models simply won't do in this new world because they tend to limit, control and confine people's creativity, imagination and talent. PwC identified the characteristics of a non-creative organisation... prescriptive, centralised, risk averse, hierarchical, status conscious, low trust and with poor communications. Do you know any organisations like that? What we need is unusual leadership... what we need is inspirational leadership and interestingly I have been reading a really good book.

The Seven Secrets of Inspired Leaders is by Phil Dourado and Phil Blackburn of The Inspired Leaders Network. What are the seven secrets... well they actually identify eight!
Secret Number One...
Inspired leaders let their colleagues get on with it... our job is to create more leaders, not more followers;
Secret Number Two...
Inspired leaders ditch all the games... our job is to reveal our real authentic and individual selves;
Secret Number Three...
Inspired leaders engage people's energies, talents and beliefs... our job is to create meaning and purpose for our colleagues;
Secret Number Four...
Inspired leaders are innovators and creators... our job is about being different and making a real difference;
Secret Number Five...
Inspired leaders run edgy organisations... our job is to understand that the action takes place at the frontline where is where you should find us;
Secret Number Six...
Inspired leaders see the world differently... our job is to see that it's not out there, it's all around us;
Secret Number Seven...
Inspired leaders know that nothing is impossible... our job is to think the unthinkable and do the undoable.
Secret Number Eight... the bonus secret...
Inspired leaders see their organisations differently... our job is to turn our structures on their heads and see ourselves as the support team!

Our challenge as always is what are we going to do about it.
Be inspired!

Sunday, 14 January 2007

It has been an amazing weekend. I have driven a van from York to Colchester and on to Oxford and then back to York. 560 miles and 33 hours later here I am back home.. James is now back in Oxford and Felicity is back in Colchester.

We stayed over night in Oxford, which is a lovely city... it grows on us each time we visit. Bigger and busier than Cambridge, another of our special places, but the colleges seem even more spectacular. We have so far discovered a wonderful little hotel, some great bookshops, a fantastic covered market and some really good restaurants to sit alongside the history and the incredible buildings.

Back home, the house is strangely quiet, the washing bins are not bursting with wet towels and dirty clothes and the fridges are no longer self emptying. It always takes a while to get used to the peace and quiet and I always miss the banter and the jokes at my expense.
Still I should make the most of it...with a bit of luck they'll be back at Easter!