Saturday, 17 February 2007

I went to the Royal Opera House over half-term...

We went to see Puccini's opera 'Madama Butterfly'. Now, this is opera at it's glorious romantic best... love, betrayal, suicide, great arias and brilliant music... great sets, good soloists and a brilliant orchestra. Be careful though, the Royal Opera House is a strange place where the seats can cost up to £175 each! You can imagine the nature of the audience... the upper classes and the nouveau riche in posh frocks and dapper suits being seen in the best places. It's funny but selection by income doesn't do anything for me... give me real life, our city and our young people anyday.

However, simply for the experience everyone should go once and there are no excuses because you can stand in the Gods or at the back for just £8!
I went to the dentist this morning...

I am always amazed at the service I get at my dentist. I know I have been going for years but his knowledge of me and my family is simply amazing... I am not sure but either he has an amazing memory or he has a great database! I was terrified of the dentist as a child but dentistry has changed so much over the years... from a painful place, reminiscent of the butchers, to a high-tech, sparkling pain-free heaven.

I suppose it's that thing about getting what you pay for... we all pay for dentistry now and we all expect and get such a lot in return. Perhaps that's the answer with schooling... would we expect and get so much more if it wasn't free at the point of delivery... if we had to pay something. The real trouble is that if anything is 'apparently' free we seem to take it forgranted and we don't care if the service is poor. What do you think?

Friday, 16 February 2007

I am suffering as I write this... I have had a very rare day off work today...

I have damaged my back again and bad backs are a curse as you get older. It is agony most of the time and I suppose that I should really get some treatment but in the past it has always got better by itself. So, if you see me hobbling around have some sympathy...
I always read a lot over half-terms...

This time I read two more of the Ian Rankin 'Rebus' novels which I am hooked on and I also read the third of the Mitch Albom books. I expect some people will have read 'Tuesdays with Morrie' and 'The Five People you meet in Heaven'. This one is called 'For One More Day'. It is a story about relationships, as they all are... on the cover is says "If you had the chance, just one chance, to go back and fix what you did wrong in life, would you take it?" I don't know about you but I would take it!

I also discovered a real gem which is the follow up to "Change the World for a Fiver". If you haven't read it you must go out and buy a copy. The new one is called "Change the World 9 to 5" and like the first one it has fifty actions this time to change the world at work. It's another brilliant book which aims to inspire people to use their everyday actions to change the world. Action 65 suggests that you should pass the book around... I am going to give it to someone to see if we can stir things up a bit.

If you want to find out more go to Let's change the world... share your lunch with someone, say thank you and avoid waste.

We are what we do so "Be the change you want to see in the world"
Half-terms are times to explore and escape. I went to a very special place this week...

The Courtauld Gallery is at Somerset House, the original home of the Royal Academy. It is a small gallery but a fantastic place with a wonderful collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. We try to go whenever we can and are always impressed... this time there were Seurat oils, Rembrandt drawings and Degas bronzes as well as the brilliant pictures we see every time we go. I always wonder which paintings other people would take away if them they could... my three would be Monet's 'The Vase of Flowers', Van Gogh's 'Peach Trees in Flower' and Modigliani's 'Female Nude'.

I think the gallery is one of London's secrets and you can find out more at
I don't know if you saw it...

A new report into the well-being of children in 21 industrialised countries was pulished by UNICEF on Valentines Day. Report Card 7, Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries brings together the best of currently available data providing an overview of the state of childhood in the most economically advanced nations of the world. In total, 40 indicators of child well-being – from relative poverty and child safety, to educational achievement to drug abuse – are brought together to present a picture of the lives of children.

The report measures and compares overall child well-being across six dimensions:
  • material well-being,
  • health and safety,
  • education,
  • peer and family relationships,
  • behaviours and risks, and
  • young people’s own subjective sense of their own well-being.

Interestingly, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland dominate the table, with child well-being at its highest in these countries . Unsurprisingly, the United Kingdom and the United States find themselves at the bottom. We find ourselves in the bottom third of the country rankings for five of the six dimensions. We rank higher in the educational well-being dimension, but lag behind in terms of relative poverty and deprivation, quality of children’s relationships with their parents and peers, child health and safety, behaviour and risk-taking and subjective well-being... no surprises there then!

You can read the report at

Monday, 12 February 2007

Paul Kasierman sent me Ken Robinson's brilliant contribution to the Music Manifesto Conference. It really made me think and interestingly connected so powerfully with the things we are saying and doing here in Leeds.

Ken said that we need to recognise that where we are with education, learning and schools, the initiatives we are involved in and the people we are... they are all the consequences of the journeys we have been on as individuals over the last however many years. I have been doing this for over 33 years and if we collect together the talent, the wisdom, the experience, the knowledge and understanding and the insight we have across Leeds we can build brilliant learners, brilliant learning places and brilliant learning communities.

Ken highligyhts that we are travelling through difficult and troubled times and that many of us have struggled over the years against a national framework... a potential straight-jacket which has in many ways limited and constrained learning rather than liberating and enabling it. This is an important time, they always are I hear you say. But it is an important time for those of us who are passionate about learning and how we create brilliant learners, briliant learning places and brilliant learning organisations. Ken syas that we simply can't continue to tinker, to fiddle, to refine and to adjust the controls every five minutes... the current systems simply aren't fit for purpose!

Ken's fundamental challenge is that the world is becoming increasingly complex, increasingly diverse and how we connect and communicate in this new conceptual age is critical to our success as individuals, as communities, as a city and as a country. Everything is changing and we had better wake up, stop looking backwards and start looking forwards. Looking forwards to a digital world, a world driven by abundance, automation, technology and global skills. We must understand that intelligence is everywhere... it is rich and diverse, it is dynamic and it is unique to each and everyone of us and not restricted to a priviledged and special few. As Dirk would say everyone is bright and everyone has a talent... it's the educators job to find it and to nurture and grow it.

We have missed the point with our never-ending focus and attention on testing and data and accountability and we must refocus our collective energies on creating a more personal, a more vivid, a more engaging and more stimulating offer for ALL our children, our young people, our families and our communities. If we are going to succeed in this challenge we must develop three things in our children, our families and our communities... creativity, capability and confidence. We must re-imagine our learning places and build.. brilliant leadership, brilliant teaching and intelligent assessment and accountability systems. We must work together to invent pathways to learning, pathways to excellence, pathways to success.

We must transform our provision... buidling on the outstanding practice we have here in Leeds and getting rid of the irrelevant, the redundant and the obsolete which clutters our lives. We must radically change the way we encourage, coach, nurture and support our children and young people, our families and our communities to become brilliant learners. This is fundamentally a partnership enterprise, a community enterprise, a cultural enterprise, an economic enterprise and above all it's a passionate enterprise.
And by the way anyone can join in!


Sunday, 11 February 2007

Weekends are great but half-terms are better...

I don't know about you but half-terms give me a chance to catch up and to think. We are all racing towards the end of the next week, the next big thing, the next project, the next plan, the next inspection and what we have all lost sight of is what it is all about. It's all papers and e-mails and strategies and meetings and we never get the chance to think about the real business... the learning business. We must all sit down and think and listen and reflect and re-imagine.

That's what I'll be doing over half-term.