Saturday, 3 March 2007

It's great to simply forget it all...

On a Saturday morning with the sun shining the world of OfSTED and the DfES seems so far away and so irrelevant. I was reading the Guardian today and there was an article about a BBC 2 documentary called 'The Trap'. The 'Prisoner's Dilemma' describes a world where everyday human relationships are built on self-centred suspicion and distrust. To test the theory a thinktank in California posed various dilemmas to pairs of colleagues where they could co-operate or betray each other. The theory predicted that they would choose betrayal because they couldn't trust the other person. Every time, however, they chose to co-operate.

The documentary argues that if you keep treating people as if they are selfish and calculating that is exactly what they will become. We will come to believe that we are those cold, strange, unloved and isolated beings. However, those of us who have been through the Pacific Institute programmes, 'Investment in Excellence', 'STEPS' or 'Go for It', know that it doesn't have to be that way and that we all can be brilliant, talented, gorgeous and wonderful.
P.S. The first episode of 'The Trap' is on Sunday 11 March on BBC2 at 9pm.

Friday, 2 March 2007

As you know I am also keen on laughter...

It's not simply the best medicine... research has shown that laughing can:

  • lower blood pressure;
  • reduce stress;
  • increase your muscle strength;
  • boost your immune system;
  • increase levels of disease-busting antibodies;
  • trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers;
  • produce a general sense of well-being.

Laugh and the world laughs with you.


Claire Norris, from our brilliant Travellers Education Service, sent me this after the wonderful Long Service Awards event last night...

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a tin, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, our baby cots were covered with bright coloured lead-based paints. We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking . As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a van - loose - was always great fun.

We drank water from the garden hosepipe and NOT from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this. We ate cakes, white bread and real butter and drank pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because......

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K. We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem . We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no text messaging, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms..........WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents . We played with worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever. Made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not poke out any eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them! Local teams had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!! The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!
And YOU are one of them!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good and while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were. Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?

PS -The BIG type is because your eyes are shot at your age

"Here’s to the crazy ones… the misfits, the rebels, the trouble makers… the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently. They are not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing that you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward and while some may see them as the crazy ones we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do!”
‘Think Different’ Apple advert

Command and control is history...

Command and control is based on a world that no longer exists... a rational, predictable and orderly world where processes produced results and better processes produced better results. This world left very little scope for brilliant, for passionate, for human value-added.. so we never considered it necessary to engage and involve people.

Our new conceptual world turns this logic upside down and requires us to get our talented, inspiring colleagues to work their magic. We must all ensure that we create a culture and an environment where every one of our colleagues contributes brilliantly, passionately and to the maximum of their potential... including the misfits, the rebels and the trouble makers!

It's all about 100% trust!
The most important asset in every organisation is the passion, energy and commitment of the people that make up the organisation and their ability to work as a team. At a time when people in many organisations are disaffected and disengaged the question we have to ask is how do you change this and bring culture into alignment with strategy?
I am sorry if you missed the chocolate today at MerrionHouse but it has been an interesting and challenging week with the Key Stage 3 results officially released by the DfES on Thursday, the admissions letters winging their merry way to 16000 families, the meetings with politicians and the DfES about Academies, Trusts, 14 - 19 provision and secondary standards.

Peopel constantly ask me what it is about me and chocolate. Chocolate is a psychoactive food made from the seeds of the cacao tree. The Greek term means literally "food of the gods". Cacao beans were used by the Aztecs and chocolate itself was reserved for warriors, nobility and priests. The Aztecs believed that chocolate gave wisdom and vitality.

More recently, a study of 8000 Harvard graduates showed that chocoholics live longer. Coincidentally, many of the worlds oldest people are passionately fond of chocolate. Their longevity may be explained by the high levels of polyphenols in chocolate which protect against heart disease.

Trials also suggest that chocolate consumption may subtly enhance cognitive performance... scores for verbal and visual memory are raised by eating chocolate... impulse-control and reaction-time are also improved. Experiments suggest that chocolate stimulates neurovascular activity, enhancing memory and alertness. Chocolate also makes you feel better.

Colleagues should eat small amounts of dark chocolate.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

It was the long service awards last night...

It was a brilliant evening, fantastically well organised by Claire Macklam and her colleagues.
Balloons, stars, good food, great company and 'Lizzie Kyte and the Quintessential Five', a wonderful band from Lawnswwod School. This is what I said to the colleagues who attended...

"The weather and the dark days leave many of us cold, sad and miserable and most of us long for brighter days and the summer sun. We live in an ever more complicated and chaotic world where we are facing a huge number of apparently intractable issues and our own fair share of problems. However, amidst all this darkness, there are so many, many, many wonderful, and amazing things happening around us and that is what we are here to celebrate this evening… your amazing service to Leeds!

Margaret Chase Smith said…
"My creed is that public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people with full recognition that every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration, that constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought, that smears are not only to be expected but fought, that honour is to be earned, not bought."

We all know that despite the press coverage at its best, education in Leeds is brilliant. We are working together to create a passionate learning community with a focus on leadership, coaching, brilliant teaching and learning, intelligent accountability, ownership, choice and voice. We are working together to create a powerful learning network where we share, discuss and develop our learning, our creativity and our ideas… everyone of us.

We must tell our children and our colleagues what Martin Luther King said…
"Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve."

The colleagues here this evening are wonderful examples of this and your achievements show what can be done with persistence, determination and hard work…through a life of service.

Albert Einstein said…
"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."

And it is so worthwhile to visit brilliant primary schools, special schools and secondary schools and our centres to see colleagues who are committed to delivering brilliant services, brilliant support, brilliant initiatives and brilliant projects. We live in a new world of learning teams, learning partnerships, of learning networks and joined up multi-agency working on learning campuses. A new world of brilliant learning places where every child, every young person and every one of our colleagues working in this amazing enterprise must be happy, healthy, safe and increasingly successful and where no child can be left behind.

Our success here in Leeds doesn’t depend on national strategies or synthetic phonics. It depends on amazingly talented individuals, like yourselves, whose work day-in, day-out is making such a difference.

Marian Wright Edelman said…
"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee."

Congratulations on all your achievements.
Remember James M Barrie said
"Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves."

It is great to see talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues releasing their magic and through their service, persistence and determination making a real difference for the most important resource we have in this City… our children and young people.


These are some of the evenings that make this job so worthwhile.
The Key Stage Three results are out today...

This is a great day for young people in Leeds. A day to celebrate their achievements at the end of Key Stage Three... at age 14 for those of you who are not yet converted. In Leeds:
  • 70% achieved Level 5+ in English (nationally 73%);
  • 75% achieved Level 5+ in Mathematics (nationally 77%);
  • 69% achieved Level 5+ in science (nationally 72%).

For those of you not into statistics, this means that 7 out of 10 of our 14 year olds have good levels of literacy skills and 3 out of 4 have good levels of numeracy skills... which is brilliant. We should celebrate our young people's achievments and the work of the talented teams across Leeds who have helped them achieve these results.

These results reflect real progress and a closing of the gap with other authorities. We are the highest performing of the core cities and perform in line with our statistical neighbours... and by the way City of Leeds (12th) and Cockburn(68th) were in the top 100 most improved schools in the country!

We are in no way complacent and there is much, much more to do but today must be a day to celbrate our young people's achievements and our schools.


We launched the latest Attendance Champions initiative today...

Give it 100% encourages children and young people across Leeds to attend school everyday throughout March and win fantastic prizes.... including iPods, helicopter rides, digital radios, concert tickets, cinema tickets and a visit to the MTV Studio. The initiative was launched from the top of the Town Hall clocktower with three previous winners of the Attendance Champions initiative from the brilliant Beecroft Primary School. Their class last year had 100% attendance for the whole of March!

John Normington, Jane Hall and their colleagues do a brilliant job encouraging young people and their families that good attendance makes a real difference. The Attendance Champions initiative is a wonderful part of the toolkit, helping schools to achieve better outcomes for every child and young person in Leeds.
It's World Book Day...

I met Julia Damassa at a conference recently and she has sent me a t-shirt with the logo 'we are what we speak". Today Julia sent me this "short story" to celebrate World Book Day:

Our sun
is like a golden
egg sitting in the sky
and should it hatch then
fledgling stars would
fall and float
and fly.

Long ago, our ancestors told stories about Giants and Monsters with amazing powers to explain the world’s mysterious ways. We were the Heroes of those stories. Now, stories shared serve each of us differently, and creative thinking is an adventure we can all enjoy equally. Julia runs an intiative called 'Storyshapers' which offers participants the opportunity to use their imagination, and to develop their interactive skills as the stories are created, stories of an almost endless variety. Storyshapers Training and Taster sessions now booking for Spring into Summer. You can contact Julia on 07931 561940 or email www.
Today is a very special day for all those parents and carers with children in Year 6...

The letters and e-mails are flying out to let people know the good news about their school places for September. This will also be a trying time for those parents and carers whose child didn't get into their first preference and we will be working with these families to help them manage this very difficult and uncertain period. I am, as always, deeply grateful to my brilliant colleagues in the Admissions Team who have achieved this target today and managed to get out the 16000 offers and will be working hard over the next few weeks and months to support parents and carers.

These are some of the unsung heroes of Education Leeds.
I went to Woodlands Primary School first thing this morning...

Woodlands Primary School was inspected by OfSTED recently and I read the report last night and wanted to go and thank the learning team. The report is really positive and shows the incredible progress that colleagues have made. What is really encouraging is the comments about the quality of pastoral care and support for the children which as we all know underpins their personal development and well-being. The report also highlights the fact that "the children learn in a calm, supportive and encouraging environment centred on positive, yet purposeful relationships."

What makes Woodands Primary School such a brilliant success story?
  • strong and passionate distributed leadership;
  • a wonderfully committed learning team who passionately believe in what they are doing;
  • clear, shared vision, values and beliefs driving the work of the school;
  • confident, creative and passionate use of appropriate strategies and approaches to raise standards;
  • high shared expectations of children and the whole learning team;
  • strong, dynamic and wonderful relationships;
  • inspiring teaching within a nurturing culture;
  • individual tracking and focused interventions;
  • high parental support, engagement and involvement.

It's wonderful to see and I am deeply grateful to everyone who has been part of the Woodlands story over the last two years.


Wednesday, 28 February 2007

It's funny but I received a comment from Mary who had just come across the blog. "u've got a nice job. visiting Tony Blair and a few schools, interesting. But what exactly do you do?" I sometimes ask myself that question... what does the Chief Executive of Education Leeds actually do?

I suppose the answer is I lead a brilliant organisation which has made an incredible difference over the last six years; a team of about 1200 brilliant, talented, gorgeous and wonderful people working with 270 schools, 16000 colleagues and around 4000 governors transforming outcomes for 113000 children and young people. Our success measured by a 25% increase in good grade GCSE results, an extra two days attendance for every child in Leeds and a 50% reduction in permanent exclusions. Our schools are fantastic... 25% of our primary schools are outstanding and our SILCs (special schools) are good with outstanding features according to OfSTED, and our secondary schools are improving year on year.

We have over this time developed a range of truly exceptional toolkits and programmes which are building brilliant learning places consistently across Leeds... from Healthy Schools, Inclusion programmes, Stephen Lawrence Education Standard, Study Support programmes, Breakfast Clubs, Wake and Shake, Investors in Pupils, Playing for Success, STEPS, Travellers support, PE and School Sport programmes, Assylum Seekers support, Talented and Gifted programmes, Mentoring programmes, Parent Support programmes... you name it we do it!

OK there is still a lot to do but we are getting there!
"Every moment is a golden one for anyone who has the vision to recognise it as such."
Henry Miller

I visited a wonderful school this morning...
I went to Seven Hills Primary School in Morley where Pauline Potter and her team are clearly doing a great job. I was shown around the school by two members of the School Council... Liam and Olivia... who were brilliant adverts for the school; articulate, confident, passionate, bright and clearly very talented learners. Liam and Olivia said that the best thing about Seven Hills Primary School was the learning team and the fact that everyone was really friendly.

I really enjoyed looking around the school with Liam, Olivia and Pauline. The children were brilliont, the atmosphere was great and the learning environment wonderful... shame about the fact that the roof leaks when it rains! However, I have to say that the best bit about my visit was going into the school hall and finding all of Key Stage 2 children doing 'Wake and Shake'... I simply had to join in and it was fantastic. It's funny how a small burst of exercise can not only make you feel good and get the heart racing but also releases a WOW factor that really brightens the day... a bit like chocolate and red wine!

Pauline and the team at Seven Hills Primary School are certainly releasing a very special kind of magic.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

"The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind... computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind - creators and empathisers, pattern recognisers and meaning makers. These people - artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers - will now reap society's richest rewards and share it's greatest joys."

From 'A Whole New Mind' by Dan Pink

Dan Pink's brilliant book offers a fresh look at what it takes to excel in this new conceptual age. 'A Whole New Mind' identifies the six skills on which, Dan argues, our professional success and our personal fulfillment now critically depend, and includes a series of hands-on exercises to help us develop the necessary abilities.

This book not only changes how we see the world but how we experience it as well. Visit Dan's website at
"Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst…a spark that creates extraordinary results."
Antoni Hadi

I don't know if you saw Estelle Morris' 'Opinion' piece in the Guardian today but it is worth reading...

"When we talk about chaotic families or the breakdown of some communities, we rightly look to schools to solve them. Whether we are worrying about drug use, underage sex, obesity, alcohol or poor parenting someone will always ask what schools are doing about it. Esssentially we are asking schools to do the job of families and communities as well as their own.

There is no holy grail, no magic solution yet to be found to all this. The answers are there, in the system. There are already successful initiatives in our schools and in voluntary organisations. We must find them and invest heavily in them. If mentors have worked, employ more; if small classes help, do that; if it's an alternative curriculum that's proved to be successful, go for it.

Schools are the solution, they are not the problem, but we will need to be much more determined to find their successes and back them up."

I am sure we all agree.

P.S. You can read the whole article at the Guardian's website
"The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination." John Schaar

We had another meeting this morning with colleagues from the DfES and Partnerships for Schools (PfS). This followed up the initial discussions with Lord Adonis, the DfES and the meeting yesterday with the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and Lord Adonis. Things are moving rapidly and we need to engage with our partners and our schools as we rethink and reshape the strategic vision for secondary and post-16 learning here in Leeds. We need to think how trusts and academies can help us to drive the standards agenda and achieve the sort of outcomes we all want to see for our young people... and we need to do it quickly to meet the timetable we have set with the Council, with the LSC and with PfS.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

"The ideas that have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty and truth."
Albert Einstein

It has been a very strange day...

I got up at 3.30 to catch the 5.05 train to London from Leeds. Cllr Richard Harker and I arrived in London at 7.30, made our way across London to Westminster and had coffee and bacon sandwiches near Whitehall while we waited for our allocated time.

We arrived at 10 Downing Street at 8.45, went through the security systems and the door of Number 10 opened. We were ushered in to a Boardroom with a large table with name labels and a large flat screen TV. Three groups were there... one from Birmingham, one from Sheffield and us. Each group had a lead member, the lead for school improvement and senior colleagues from local universities. We were accompanied by Michael Arthur, Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds and Anne Gregory, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University.

The meeting was chaired by Tony Blair, with Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and Lord Andrew Adonis. Schools Minister in the House of Lords with responsibility for the Academies Programme. We all watched a DVD about a school in Nottingham which had awful buildings and poor outcomes. Nottingham University was sponsoring an Academy, with a health specialism, to replace the school. Tony Blair then asked each authority to talk about their strategy and vision for Academies...

This is what I said...
"With the Government’s help over the last six years we have transformed the learning landscape in Leeds. We have reviewed and restructured the whole of the central area of the city… closing schools, introducing new leadership and governance and opening new and inspiring facilities. We opened three new PFI secondary schools and an Academy in September 2006 with two more PFI secondary schools opening this September. We are also in Wave One of Building Schools for the Future and a further fourteen secondary schools around this central core will be remodelled and rebuilt with the first phase due to open in September 2008.

We have transformed standards and outcomes and moved from a situation where, in 2001, only 38% of our young people achieved 5 good GCSE’s to a situation where, last year, 52% of our young people achieved this important benchmark. We have also increased annual attendance by on average two additional days for every young person in Leeds and reduced permanent exclusions by around 50%.

We are working hard to address some of the continuing concerns around standards. We are working with the Learning and Skills Council to renew the 14 – 19 provision in Leeds… replacing worn-out colleges and inefficient and ineffective school sixth forms with inspiring highly effective provision. We have established links with Stockholm and Brno and are planning links with Helsinki to develop our leadership practice, explore personalisation and to learn from the best educational practice in Europe. We welcome the latest opportunities in ‘The Education and Inspections Act’ and we are planning to creatively use Trusts and Academies to ensure that we continue to drive up standards and achieve truly world class outcomes for our young people. We aim to set ourselves the most ambitious targets of any authority in the country, where we aim to get 80% of our young people to Level 2 qualifications by 2015 with 95% progressing to further and higher education.

Drawing, on the Manchester model, we are working with our partners in Leeds, including the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University, to build learning and progression pathways with centres of real excellence that link to the economic, business and regeneration agendas for the City. A central learning trust with a central network of specialist Academies could help us deliver the outcomes we all want to see in Leeds."

Tony, Alan and Andrew all said that they were genuinely impressed at the vision for learning provision in the three cities and would do all they could to help us achieve our ambitious agendas for change. Colleagues from the DfES are coming to Leeds tomorrow to continue the discussions.

I'll keep you posted!
"No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted."

When Tim Pearson from RM came to see me last week he promised to send me something. Each year, TED Conferences involve some 'trusted voices and convention-breaking mavericks, icons and geniuses'. The talks they deliver have had such an impact on their audiences, they are now offering them to a wider audience. Each week, they release a new talk, in audio and video, to download or watch online. They say that for best effect, plan to listen to at least three, start to finish. It is a brilliant website and the talks are supposed to have a cumulative effect... Their website is at

Tim sent me a promotional video cast produced by TEDtalks featuring Richard St John. The theme was 'what leads to success?' and Richard had identified eight factors...
  • passion;
  • hard work;
  • being good at what you do;
  • focusing on what you do;
  • pushing yourself;
  • giving great service;
  • having brilliant ideas; and
  • persistence.

Richard goes on to argue that persistence is the number one reason for anyone's success.


"Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into a flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light."
Albert Schweitzer

It is strange how colleagues in Leeds have time and again helped me through the dark days and the troubled times and inspired me with their outstanding practice. Together, we have achieved so much over the last six years but we are all constantly being called to account and asked to do more... get all our schools above the floor targets, remove all our schools from Special Measures and Notices to Improve, radically improve standards and outcomes for target groups of young people, tackle ineffective and inefficient sixth forms, improve NEET outcomes, achieve better and better outcomes for everyone... the list goes on and on and every time you achieve something and feel great , someone raises the bar, changes the rules of the game and off we go again!

Tomorrow, Cllr Richard Harker and I are off to London at the crack of dawn to see Tony Blair and Alan Johnson. We were invited at the last moment by Lord Adonis to outline our approach to driving up secondary standards and how we see Academies contributing to the developing strategy. The other authorities at the meeting are Birmingham and Sheffield so it will be interesting to see their approach.

Wish me luck.
I saw this great little publication called 'Love Life, Live Lent' which the Church of England has produced for lent and to encourage people to carry out random acts of kindness! It's based on ideas from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation whose website contains some brilliant free stuff. Anything that will make the world a happier place is OK by me. You can find out more at and