Friday, 2 February 2007

What a week!

It has been another of those weeks that proves to me that success is NOT plan driven, it is NOT the product of strategic thinking or planning or the product of focus groups. It is NOT about strategies, inspections, targets, meetings, command and control, power, bureaucracy, glossy publications and paper mountains. Success is NEEDS driven, it is messy, unpredictable, about living on the edge, evolutionary, trivial, creative, experimental and the product of trial and error. It is about brilliant colleagues, powerful relationships, dynamic partnerships, no-blame, trust, taking risks, empowerment, intelligent accountability and action.

It's been one of those roller-coaster ride weeks where you are one minute on a real high... with brilliant school visits and stimulating breakfasts... and the next hit by despair with yet another school going into Special Measures after an OfSTED inspection. Perhaps my problem is that I just take it all too seriously.... but failure is hard to come to terms with since it impacts so powerfully on some of our most vulnerable young people, their families and some tremendously hard working colleagues.

However, let's try to look at this as a learning opportunity and recognise that as a learning organisation working right at the edge we must learn from our bizarre failures. We must continue to look for innovative and creative solutions to the hardest problems we face and those seemingly intractable issues around our hardest to reach young people in the hardest to reach families and communities. I know that we can resolve these issues and learn from our best practice and from practice elsewhere... I suppose the thing is to simply get on and do it.

Why not let me know what you have learned about how we tackle the really hard things, because we must continue to think local, network, share, engage, involve and connect.
Share your magic and keep the faith.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

I went somewhere else really special today... a brilliant place full of talented individuals releasing a very special environmental magic...

I had been invited to Skelton Grange Environmental Centre which must be one of the best kept secrets in Leeds. It's a wonderful place run by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.
Skelton Grange Environment Centre is an innovative environmental education project that aims to bring alive the issues surrounding sustainable development. Their award winning and environmentally designed centre is fantastic and together with the surrounding wildlife area, supports a wide range of activities including education and training sessions, practical conservation and volunteer development. They work with children, young people and adults; schools, playschemes, community groups and individuals and help people develop an understanding and appreciation of their environment and their role in safeguarding its future.

BTCV was set up in 1959, and has a successful history of environmental conservation volunteering throughout the UK and around the world. As a charity, BTCV is almost entirely reliant on voluntary donations. Their vision is for a better environment where people are valued, included and involved. Their mission is to create a more sustainable future by inspiring people and improving places.

Green issues and sustainability are key issues for every school in Leeds and the Skelton Grange provides a real centre of excellence. If you haven't been you should go...
The Centre web site is
So what is it that makes a great school...

I started my day at 7.45 at Stanningley Primary School... breakfast club, governors sub-committee meeting, assembly and a tour of the school. It has changed incredibly since my last visit a couple of years ago and now has the WOW factor. Jackie Reid, the headteacher, and her brillaint, talented, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues have worked miracles with the buildings and the atmosphere and the focus and purpose and the children.. and things are fantastic.

Stanningley Primary School is one of those wonderful little places that are doing most things right... doing something wonderful, something magical, something we can all learn from. By the way the highlight of the visit wasn't breakfast with thirty children eating piles of toast and bowls of coco-pops and telling me about their wonderful school but the assembly which year six had arranged and managed. In particular, the reception children did a dance routine... bollywood style... and it was one of those precious moments when you wished you had a video camera and could capture it forever... the energy, the determination, the joy and the sheer impact on everyone in the school hall was simply amazing... if I didn't believe in magic before I saw it I do now.

We are so lucky in Leeds to have so many great schools... brilliant learning places making a real difference for children, families and communities and Stanningley Primary School, thanks to Jackie and her colleagues, is certainly one of them.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

I spent most of today on a train... a very nice train and of course you can get a lot of work done when you spend six hours on a train...

I went to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham to do the after-lunch slot at the ContinYou 'Learning Families - Healthy Communities' Conference. It was a fantastic opportunity to network and share... they had a great lunch... and I did a great session!

There were some amazing people there with wonderful sories to tell. The SHARE School of the Year was Robin Hood Infant and Nursery School,a wonderful little school from Nottingham, and the SHARE Authority of the Year was the Isle of Wight, clearly somewhere doing interesting things... Leeds won that award last year!

What were my highlights of a great day with some brilliant people...
  • I met Roy Smoothe, a charismatic young man, who produces these materials called Smoothe Mixx, a blend of inspirational, motivational and educational messages to music.
  • I met Neil Solo, another inspirational character, who works for Barnardo's and runs an African Caribbean Fatherhood Training Programme.
  • I found out about ContinYou's Young Leaders in the Community Programme which links to the National College for School Leadership's Student Leadership Programme to work with students of today to develop leaders of the future.
  • I got hold of a copy of the CEDC's 'It's a man thing! Reading together' pack which aims to encourages dads to read with their children.
  • I discovered The Basic Skills Agency's 'Learning with Grandparents' programme which encourages grandparents to actively support their grandchildren's learning.
  • I also met Julia Damassa, a storyshaper. Storyshaping is an interactive way of making stories and sharing them out loudusing storyshapesa nd handshapes. But it was actually Julia's t-shirt that attracted me and I'll tell you what it said when Julia sends me one.

All in all it was a great day... a day when you realise that all we have to do to release the magic is to SHARE! Thank you ContinYou for everything I learned today.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

I had lunch today with Til Wright and her team. It was another of those incredible experiences where you learn so much just by listening... their passion, commitment, knowledge and understanding of the issues facing some of our most vulnerable and important children is wonderful. Our challenge as an organisation, as teams and as individuals is how do we capture the stories, the experiences and the case studies... the little bits of brilliant practice we all carry around with us... and how do we network and share it.
I spent a couple of hours at the end of today with Tony Sheppard, Martin Fleetwood and their colleagues at the Temple Moor High School Science College 2007 Governors Leadership Conference. Tony is the Chair of Governors and Martin is the new Principal and the purpose of the conference was to start to develop the curriculum for their fantastic new 'Building Schools of the Future' school. Tony and Martin had invited me to talk about the future of learning in Leeds but I was struck by colleagues energy, creativity and ideas... by their sense of purpose, their focus on outcomes and their determination to be world-class.
I bumped into another brilliant colleague in the lift today and she wanted to tell me about STEPS. In case you don't know STEPS is one of the Pacific Institute programmes we are using here in Leeds to drive cultural change, to raise colleagues self-esteem and to help release the enormous potential across the company. My colleague wanted to thank me because she had got so much out of this brilliant programme. I am really pleased she told me how much she had enjoyed the programme and what a difference it had made to her as a colleague and as a person.

What's your experience of the STEPS programme or did you do 'Investment in Excellence' or 'Go for It'. I would really like to know if it changed your life.
And just in case someone is reading this and wondering how come he's blogging when I can't get a reply to my e-mails, the server is down and I haven't been able to function properly since last week. Colleagues in our office are delighted because things are quiet and everyone can focus on sorting and getting on top of the paper. They are taling about the benefits of have an e-mail free day every week! However, I know that out there somewhere in the ether is a whole host of stuff waiting to get to my inbox and a group of people thinking that I don't respond to questions and queries. There are other ways of keeping in touch... I am particularly keen on a cup of coffee and the opportunity to simply sit and listen.
And talking of amazing colleagues...

I had breakfast today with some of our headteacher colleagues from the TempleNewsam Halton Family of Schools... it would be very interesting to add up the years of experience in the room and the depth of understanding of the real issues we are facing. We talked about the characteristics of brilliant provision and how schools could maintain their focus with too many intiatives, too many pots of money to chase, too many consultants and experts and too much constant change. We talked about the importance of confident, self-critical and reflective practitioners who understood the learning process. We talked about confident, passionate and dynamic leaders who had a clear view of what was needed to drive change and achieve that step change in outcomes we alll want to see. And we talked about the children and young people for whom success cannot be measured by Level 4 outcomes or 5 A*-C Grades at GCSE .

We need to talk more, to share more, to network more and to celebrate more.
It's great to talk.
You meet amazing colleagues here at Education Leeds...

I was speaking to one of my colleagues just a few moments ago who told me that he was now a mentor at City Of Leeds School. He is mentoring a Year 9 student and it's making him feel old but perhaps at the same time it will keep him feeling young. That talented colleague is doing his bit and reaching out and helping to change the life of one of our students... an ambitious statement... not at all, we know that mentoring works. It is one of those inevitable truths but if only we could unlock the passion, creativity and potential we have here at Education Leeds and lock it into making a real difference for children and young people what couldn't we achieve.

So what are you doing to make a difference and to give your life some more meaning?

Monday, 29 January 2007

I was talking to my colleague Dirk Gilleard today about what makes a brilliant learning place... how do we define brilliant learning... what makes for a brilliant learning organisation. Dirk is a hugely talented colleague and, like me, he has spent a lot of his professional life exploring the nature of learning. Dirk's conclusions are very like mine... wherever and however you come at it the essential elements are the same... brilliant services, brilliant organisations, brilliant schools, brilliant classrooms and brilliant learning...
  • a totally positive culture and ethos;
  • real engagement and ownership;
  • really high expectations;
  • really high self-esteem;
  • a highly personalised offer;
  • powerful and focused coaching,
  • a strong nurturing approach;
  • focused assessment for learning,
  • really intelligent accountability;
  • a positive and stimulating learning environment.

Wherever you are the ground rules are the same... Is your learning place like this? If not, why not? Please let me know what you think?


At the start of another week I attended our induction programme for colleagues new to Education Leeds. The thing that always cheers me up about the new colleagues is their bright enrgetic and enthusiastic approach, their ideas, their passionate commitment and their potential. I shouldn't really be surprised because this is the group who have just joined Education Leeds... just signed up... and should be totally committed, totally engaged and not at all cynical about the future... or why join? I always think it is strange to think about the power and the potential we have here in Leeds to change the world if only we could get everyone to believe... to believe passionately in themselves and understand that they really are talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful.

The question we must all ask ourselves is what couldn't 18000 plus human beings achieve if they work together as a team. What couldn't we learn in the 18000 plus years of experience that we collectively accumulate every year?

What couldn't we do if we put our minds to it?

Sunday, 28 January 2007

OK so how do we build brilliant learning places?

It shouldn't be so difficult since we have outstanding practice wherever you look... I know I'll miss something but the learning landscape here in Leeds is full of brilliant stuff...

  • some outstanding headteachers;
  • some outstanding learning teams;
  • some outstanding primary schools;
  • some outstanding secondary schools;
  • some outstanding specialist provision for children with special educational needs;
  • a powerful and developing leadership development programme
  • an outstanding mentoring programme;
  • a powerful and developing framework for coaching learners;
  • an outstanding traveller education service;
  • an outstanding parenting programme delivering family support and STEPS;
  • an outstanding attendance programme;
  • an outstanding new ICT learning platform;
  • outstanding financial support services;
  • some outstanding personnel services;
  • an outstanding study support programme;
  • a powerful and developing framework for extended services;
  • outstanding school improvement services linking National Strategies, advisers and SIPs to drive change.

I think the trick is to think and act locally and to create places where health, equality and inclusion are at the heart of our practice in our drive for improved outcomes and world class standards. We also need to see ourselves as partners in this process... partners with parents and carers, partners with communities and faith groups,partners with businesses and further and higher education and partners with young people themselves.

I have been doing this for over thitry three years so surely by now I know the keys to achieving the sort of step change we need. I would start with the following...

  • engaged and involved learners;
  • engaged and involved parents and carers;
  • dynamic community governance;
  • passionate distributed leadership;
  • brilliant teaching by brilliant colleagues;
  • focused assessment for learning;
  • relevant and rewarding curriculum pathways;
  • powerful coaching and mentoring;
  • strongly targeted approaches around those underperforming;
  • joined-up multi-agency working to support families and children at risk; and
  • intelligent accountability.

Let me know what you think... what have I forgotten.. what did I get wrong... what are the answers?