Friday, 9 February 2007

I don't know if you saw it but I was reading the New Scientist...

"New Scientist revealed this week how to keep your hair and ditch your high blood pressure without emigrating to a Pacific island."

The article reveals the six steps to a stress-free career...
1. Create a good space... make your space a great place to work.
2. Raise your status... take control of your life and reduce your stress.
3. Be social... connect with your colleagues.
4. Don't be too social... find time and space to think and work.
5. Learn to switch off... forget the work sometimes and live your life as well.
6. Find ways of stress-busting... go for coffee, take walks and try deep breathing.

The solution then is to create the perfect office, have great colleagues and a happy home life. If you want to read more go to

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Another day, another brilliant school...

I visited St Joseph's Catholic Primary School today and it is another little jewel tucked away behind Pudsey Grangefield High School. Angela Rushall and her team have created a brilliant learning place... and the ethos and atmosphere are simply wonderful. I visited the school because Angela had told me about their 'Wake Up and Shake Up' programme which takes place at 8.30 every morning but I had also heard, on the grapevine, about their locally sourced school meals. It's a really impressive thing for a small school to source all it's food locally and to take back their school meals service and really invest in getting lunchtimes right... and the news must have got round because Angela and the cook have been asked to go down to London to meet Prince Charles! They are also trialling the new LLN learning platform, have a unit for 3 year olds, use Higher Level Teaching Assistants really well and are doing some incredible work with children with special educational needs. Angela and her talented team are certainly releasing a very special kind of magic at St Joseph's.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

We had a meeting with the Education Leeds Board today...

It was a brilliant opportunity to review and think about the future of learning in Leeds... to look at the challenges we face and the opportunities we have to build brilliant learning places that deliver world class outcomes for children and young people, their families and their communities in this great city.

So, what are the challenges we face?

The DfES have increased expectations of all of us and have continued to raise the bar... setting us more challenging targets and asking us to account for what we are doing around failing schools and disadvantaged groups. OfSTED have also rasied the bar with a new Framework and with increasing numbers of schools finding themselves in a category... more notices to improve and more schools in special measures. The Education na Inspection Act places new duties on the local authority as a commissioner of services and as the champion and advocate for the child and the parents and carers. It also ratchetes up the game with more Academies, Trusts and a new admissions code of practice. We now, of course, live in a Children's Servicse world where Every Child Matters, and through joined-up multi-agency extended services we are required to deliver the Core Offer. The new White paper also encourages us all to Think Local and to be driven by three key issues... choice, voice and ownership.

We also face a series of challenges because of three aspects of the rapidly changing world we all inhabit... abundance, automation and Asia require us to look carefully at the skills we all need in this new conceptual age. I have said before that Dan Pink suggest that we need to focus on the following six key skills... design, story, empathy, symphony, play and design.

And the opportunities?

The challenges continue to require us to raise our game but we also need to look at the opportunities we have to transform outcomes for all our learners... Building Schools For the Future, The Learning and Skills Council's Review of 14 - 19 Provision, the Primary Capital programme, the 2020 Gilbert Review, regeneration programmes and so much more.

So what are the golden threads that tie all this together?

We need to focus on the golden threads and together build a critical mass of understanding about what makes brilliant...
  • shared vision, values and beliefs;
  • strong, passionate leadership;
  • a culture of high expectations, celebration of achievement and high self-esteem;
  • inspiring teaching in brilliant learning environments;
  • assessment for learning and the powerful use of data and information;
  • a strong outcomes focus to deliver happy, healthy, safe and successful;
  • a coaching and mentoring culture; and last but not least
  • intelligent accountability.

We must also learn to listen... to parents and carers, to communities and to faith groups, to businesses and to our colleagues in further and higher education... but most importantly we must learn to listen to our children and young people.


My colleagues are an amazing lot... changing the learning landscape her in Leeds...

I had lunch today with Ken Morton and some of the area managers and initiatives team. They are some of the most creative, innovative and thoughtful colleagues and over the past five years have had an amazing impact here in Leeds... through the City Learning Centres, the study support programme, the mentoring programme, Aim Higher, the Windsor Junior Fellowship, enterprise activities, transition programmes, alternative programmes... this amazing group of individuals have been right at the cutting edge of our work.

We need to continue to share, network and connect. We need to celebrate our successes and tell our stories. We need to stay at the cutting edge, innovating, creating new programmes and challenging schools to learn and to do better.
There are a lot of great things going on out there... I was invited to Farsley Springbank Junior School where Juliet Agar and her team are doing some amazing things...

The invitation was to be interviewed on Springbank TV! What is Springbank TV? Well the school has created its' own little TV studio and a fantastic team children make up the crew... the technicians, the cameramen and the presenters are all from Year 6! The team who worked on my interview were Beth, Thomas, Ellie, Nicholas and Rajan. They did it all themselves broadcasting to every classroom in the school and they were brilliant. My interviewer was Beth who is an amazing young woman... confident, articulate and charismatic... Harry Gration, Christa Ackroyd and Ian White and the BBC Look North team had beter watch out... Springbank TV is coming!

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

I read one of our school's OfSTED inspection report today and it is simply brilliant...

Perhaps Beecroft Primary School, and the many other outstanding schools across the city, can help us understand what are the jigsaw pieces needed to build brilliant learning places...

OfSTED visited Beecroft Primary School a couple of weeks ago and the report states that "Beecroft Primary fully meets its aims for 'all pupils to achieve high standards of work, behaviour and attitudes to others'. It gives pupils an outstanding education at the end of which they leave as confident, well-rounded individuals with a strong sense of their rights and responsibilities. It is a happy, purposeful school and pupils, parents, staff and governors are immensely proud of it."

The report rates the various aspects of the school... achievment is outstanding, teaching and learning are outstanding, the curriculum is outstanding, care,guidance and support is outstanding and leadership and managemnet are outstanding. A line in the report gives you a clue to the success of this wonderful little school... "absolute attention to detail is what makes this school work so well"... but the real key to its success is the headteacher June Turner.

We need to research and study our outstanding schools... our brilliant learning places... and remember that we have lots of them all over Leeds. We must bring together our brilliant practice and identify the jigsaw pieces needed to build brilliant learning places consistently across Leeds.
'Of some of our teachers who inspired us most, we remember what they cared about, and that they cared about us, and the person we might become. It is the quality of caring about ideas and values, the fascination with the potential for growth within people, this depth and fervour about doing things well and striving for excellence , that comes closest to what I mean in describing a 'passionate' teacher.'
Robert Fried

Are these the jigsaw pieces needed to build brilliant learning places?

my starter for ten... a brilliant leader who leads by example, a great learning team who value each other and the children, an inspiring and creative learning environment which celebrates and stimulates, high quality learning programmes that reach every child, strong and positive relationships built on trust and understanding of each and every learner, fantastic teaching targeted to reach every learner, a dynamic coaching culture around the children and the learning team, high expectations of the children and the learning team, high quality family learning programmes which reach every family, an outstanding study support programme which enriches and enhances the core offer and powerful and intelligent accountability systems that use data and information to drive research, improvement and outcomes.

Let me know what do you want to add, to delete or to modify?
Another early start... another brilliant school...

I started the day at Asquith Primary School where Gill Austerfield and her team are doing something really special. For those of you who don't know the school it's a PfI building and it is a wonderful building brought alive by some incredibly talented colleagues who have simply created a fantastic learning environment and a brilliant learning place.

Two highlights lit up my visit to Asquith Primary School... the School Council and the 'Incredible Years' Group...

I sat in on the School Council who were brilliantly supported by Nicola Redfern. Mollie, Thomas, Max, Sienna, Amy and Joshua are the School Council and they discussed elections, fruit suppliers, their healthy tuck shop, buddies and tackling racism... these are some wonderful young people who are clearly changing the world at Asquith Primary School for the better!

I then was delighted to be asked to present certificates to a group of parents who had completed the 'Incredible Years' Programme. This brilliant parenting programme is run by Elaine Hartley and Marge Oldfield and is clearly making a real difference to parents and carers.

Gill and her team have built something incredible at Asquith Primary School and are releasing a very special kind of magic.

Monday, 5 February 2007

'Change comes from small initiatives which work, initiatives which initiated, become the fashion. We cannot wait for great visions from great people, for they are in short supply at the end of history. It is up to us to light our own small fires in the darkness'
Charles Handy

You all know that I read a lot...

I have been reading a DfES publication by Tim Brighouse and David Woods called 'Butterflies for School Improvement'. Tim and David recognise that this is not an exact science and that the whole process is complex and messy. However, the little booklet captures in many ways what we have been trying to do here in Leeds. Our challenge is, together, can we capture the little pieces of magic that work to improve our learning places and can we then put the pieces together to create brilliant learning places. Perhaps we should call our model 'the jigsaw pieces needed to build brilliant learning places'.

I am going to think about my list and I would welcome knowing what would be on yours... all contributions gratefully received. I'll then collect all the ideas together so we can publish the definitive list of pieces that build brilliant learning places. By the way if you want to read 'Butterflies for School Improvement', it is available from
AND challenge number three... how do we develop governance to provide strategic leadership for new conceptual age...

I was reading one of the many OfSTED inspection reports over the weekend and today I bumped into Richard Smith who agreed that this is another huge issue we must address if we are really serious about driving up standards across all our schools. Again, we have some developing governance models that we should learn from but there is a huge training and development task if we want governors to take up this enormous challenge. How do we create governance models for this new extended services world? How do we ensure that schools stay focused on the standards and outcomes agendas? How do we help governing bodies to develop a strong strategic approach which empowers and challenges headteachers and their colleagues
How do we develop intelligent accountability systems which build brilliant learning places where every member of the learning team and every child and every young person is happy, healthy, safe and increasingly successful.
AND... challenge number two...

One of the keys to brilliant learning places is brilliant leadership but are we doing enough to develop powerful and effective leadership in all our schools. We are working with Steve Munby and his colleagues at the National College for School Leadership but we need to do more. I spoke to Brian Tuffin about this and we agreed that we need to develop a portfolio of programmes to support and develop transformational leadership. I would welcome observations about this... what should we include in any programme? Is it simply inspirational leadership sessions? Is it coaching and mentoring? Is it pre-appointment, post-appointment, induction and on-going support our headteachers need? How do we develop the next generation of headteachers?
Let me know what you think.
OK then... challenge number one...

I spent a couple of hours last week looking at a case study to try to see what we can do about children exhibiting the most complex and challenging behaviour... children who are involved with our colleagues, with social services and with the police and are causing havoc in their communities. I am grateful to Tony Armitage and his talented colleagues for putting this into perspective for me and offering to take me on a home visit! What do we do then about the huge number of children, like Callum and Kyle, who are right at the edge of the education system? How do we help this family... a family coping with worklessness and poverty, and part of a network of families marginalised and forgotten by services, living in poor housing and surrounded by crime and drugs. I can't believe that it is hopeless... what can we do for this family to make a real difference.
I wasn't well today and missed a school visit...

I did get in eventually and I managed to get to the Blenheim and Elmete Centres. What always cheers and challenges me about my visits is the interactions I have with some incredibly talented colleagues. The quality of the discussions I have with them and the thinking they make me do around some of the real challenges we are facing is fantastically stimulating... and makes me even more convinced that whatever challenges we face the answers are out there somewhere.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

After a busy week there is no better way to unwind and clear the mind than building something...

I spent a significant part of the weekend building a new triple wardrobe and a new king-size bed. Amazingly, things went really well and I now have the satisfaction of looking at the things that Chris built... and it's strange, the real sense of satisfaction I get from doing things like this be it decorating, gardening, cleaning or making things... to be totally honest the satisfaction always comes at the end and very rarely while I am doing these things.

The downside of course, and there always is one, is that I don't think my hands will never be the same again and I have damaged my back with all the lifting and twisting. Still it proves what they always say you can't have great things without a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears.