Saturday, 13 October 2007

I went to see Opera North's production of Madam Butterfly this evening and it was fantastic...

I have seen Madam Butterfly twice at Covent Garden and this production apart from some silliness at the start and the end is at least as good. The orchestra was brilliant, the music is fabulous anyway. The cast were really good particularly Butterfly who was everything you would want a butterfly to be. If you catch any of this season offer from Opera North catch this one. You can find out more at

Friday, 12 October 2007

I finished the week at what I think was the highlight of my week...

I had been asked to speak at the Civil Gospel seminar at the 'Sikh Religious Educational and Interfaith Event' at Roundhay Park. This event celebrates cultural diversity and community cohesion and is dedicated to the 300th Anniversary of Guru Granth Sahib's perpetual Guruship.

The event features a wonderful exhibition of The Sikh Faith and Interfaith Scriptures. It also includes materials on the Sikh Gurus and the restoration of the Golden Temple. I hope that many colleagues shared the priviledge of seeing this wonderful celebration of The Sikh Faith.

The sminar attempted to explore our shared values, our rights and our responsibilities and how we are to continue to develop community cohesion and tackle diadvantage wherever we find it.
It was a great honour to be asked to contribute to the seminar with city leaders like Paul Rogerson, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, Simon Lee, Vice Chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University and Carole Hassan.

I learned a lot from my brief visit to this hugely impressive event. You can find out more about what you missed by visiting the website at
It has been a busy, non-stop and chaotic week with very little space and no time to think, to reflect or to listen...

Friday started in the same way with the Learning Partnership closely followed by the set-up meeting for the Joint Area Review; the inspection of Children's Services here in Leeds. The inspection is being carried out by colleagues from OFSTED and the team were in Leeds to explain the process they would be following and the focus of the inspection.

All Joint Area Reviews are required to focus on Looked-After Children, Children with Disabilities and Safeguarding. In additional the teams look at two or three additional areas chosen to reflect the big agendas and the wicked issues for each authority. The team have selected two additional areas to inspect in Leeds... Childhood and Adolescent Mental Heath Services and 14 - 19 provision.

As I always say, we live in interesting times!
I ended the day at the "Challenging Racism Together" event that my colleague Rehana Minhas had organised with the Trade Unions...

Colleagues who had attended the day talked about the impact of the sessions and the impact of the workshops they had attended. The real challenge for us all is how we reach the colleagues who didn't attend and how we spread the messages and together eliminate racism from all our classrooms, staffrooms, schools and workplaces. We need to take forward the learning from the Morley experiment where schools worked together to tackle racism, to adopt the Stephen Lawrence Education Standard and to work as a community to build trust, respect, tolerance and understanding.

What are you doing to challenge racism in your classroom, your school or your community?
Thursday started very early so that I could arrive in Skipton to start a conference for our newly appointed headteachers...

Colleagues had asked me to open the conference this year and it was wonderful to spend time witha group of our most enthusistic and positive colleagues. Their passion, commitment and energy is already changing the learning landscape across Leeds.

I talked to them about the opportunities we face and the power of teamwork. We know what works. We know how to to build brilliant and together I know we can ensure that we end up producing powerful little learners who leave our schools ready to fly!
I finished the day at the National Railway Museum in York for the Annual Dinner of the Yorkshire and the Humber CBI...

I had been invited by Maxine Room, the new Chief Executive and Principal at Park Lane College. It was a great, and very long, evening with wonderful company which finished with a speech by Giles Brandreth.
On Wednesday after the Board Meeting I moved on to the Headteachers Forum...

I am always impressed by the colleagues who make up the Headteachers Forum; their readiness to listen and reflect, to guide and advise, to challenge and support. Their willingness to discuss difficult issues and help us find ways forward, and to work with us to improve and develop provision... whatever it takes.

These are not easy times and I look forward to working with colleagues to continue to find ways to move ahead and deliver even better outcomes for all our children and young people.
I moved on to the away day with the Education Leeds Board...

We had found it almost impossible to find any time so we decided to have an overnight session where we could look at the Strategic Plan and the challenges and opportunities we are facing. The real challenge as always was to clearly identify and focus on what diffference we have made and where we need to continue to work to really make a difference in terms of outcomes for children and young people. These sessions really help us stand back and think about why Education Leeds exists and what we need to do to continue to drive the standards agenda and achieve world class outcomes for all our young people.
I went on to Hovingham Primary School where Janet Spence and her colleagues continue to do wonderful things...

This is a wonderful little school which serves a hugely complex community. Janet and her team all work so hard to make a difference for these children and their impact is very obvious.
I went on to talk to the Rotary Club of Headingley...

Professor Cliff Beddows had asked me to go to talk about what we were doing to drive up standards in schools here in Leeds; the challenges we face and the progress we are making.
It was a really great opportunity to talk to a group of very talented and able people who were aware of the history of Leeds and the challenges we face in moving from mediocre to brilliant!.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

On Tuesday, I started the day at Drighlington Primary School where Sue Jackson and her deputy are doing great things...

The school has made real progress under Sue's leadership over the last few years. We have made real progress with the building over the last year and as I walked around the school with Sue I could see that things are really going well. What makes Drighlington Primary School such a great learning place? The answers...
  • Sue's strong, focused and passionate leadership;
  • a talented, energetic deputy and an enthusiastic team;
  • clear values and beliefs driving the work of the school;
  • a focus on standards, behaviour and discipline;
  • a focus on purposeful teaching within a positive learning environment;
  • high expectations and hard work!

Sue and her learning team are doing a great job and are building something really special at Drighlington Primary School .

My colleague Kathryn Atkins, Primary School Improvement Adviser sent me this...

"Hello Chris - thought you may want to hear some good news stories.
We held the Welcome event for our newly qualified teachers on Sept 26th - I'm sorry you couldn't be there but Dorothy did the business well on your behalf. I have recently taken over responsibility for NQTs and decided to make it a full day event with guest speakers etc. We promoted it very heavily in schools and had a fantastic response - only around 16 teachers did not attend out of 143 - I was delighted!

In the morning I had booked a speaker recommended to me - an ex teacher called Jason Bangbala - who was fantastic. We could not have wished for a better message for our young teachers - essentially- if we treat children with respect, build self esteem, handle behaviour appropriately, stay positive - it does work- and children will respond. He gave them lots of practical strategies in a very entertaining way. In the afternoon one of the activities gave them chance to meet and discuss issues with colleagues from local schools which they found helpful. The evaluations were very positive and so was the atmosphere .

On a personal note, there were 2 young teachers there who I had taught- one when I was deputy at Grange Farm and the other when I was head at Westwood. It was brilliant for me to see how well they had both done. I really appreciated the support I received from HR, in particular Faaem Lal and Pauline Hildreth who did a great job. And on another positve note - I was on a course last week with Advisers from lots of different LA advisers - it made me realise what a good job Chris Halsall and Dorothy have done putting together such a strong school improvement team and co-ordinating the SIP role with advisers and associate SIPs - we seem to be well ahead in Leeds.

If you ever have a spare 10 minutes I would appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts as someone who has recently " crossed over" from school to Education Leeds. Have a good week. Regards, Kathryn"

We do have a great team here in Leeds and interestingly we have so many colleagues from schools sharing their best practice, engaged as partners and involved in our teams helping other schools drive up their standards. It's brilliant here!
I had a very sad message from my colleague Til Wright, Team Leader - SEN and Inclusion Support Services this morning. Although I heard about it yesterday on the grapevine...

"Hello Chris, as you may have heard that Stephanie Taylor, a member of our SEN Support Service, died on Tuesday after a brief illness. She had been on secondment with us from the West Silc for 2 years and should have become permanent this September but....
I wanted you to know what a great colleague she was and how she simply loved working for Education Leeds - she often told me it was the best job she has ever had because she felt she was supporting so many great children and schools. She loved all the people she worked with and she felt that it had been a privilege to do her job.

She is a great loss to us personally and professionally - she had a wonderful spirit and always a good and positive thing to say about everyone. I believe you met Stephanie on more than one occasion - her bright red hair always made her immediately stand out. She has been her husband Jim's main carer for many year - he suffers from MS and she leaves behind two marvellous daughters. Her funeral is tomorrow and the most of the team will be attending.
- we will miss her. Thank you...Til"

These are sad times and I do remember Stephanie, her red hair, her energy, her passion and her enthusiasm. We will all miss her and our thoughts are with her family and friends at this very difficult time.


Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Message of the Week Seven

"When we experience something together we share a common memory, a common insight and develop a common wisdom. The more we share the easier it is to work together and the more we develop a common language and common understanding."

I had another great week last week. We had a brilliant meeting with Professor Stephen Heppell looking at the future and how ICT will transform what we do. I attended a wonderful event to celebrate the work of the Children’s Fund and their achievements over the last six years. I had stimulating breakfast and tea-time meetings with new headteacher colleagues. On Friday, I attended the Leeds Chamber of Commerce Annual Lunch where Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools talked about the economy, transport and skills and the critical importance of schools in securing the future well-being of Leeds, the region and the country.
I also managed to fit in fantastic visits to Roundhay St John’s CE Primary School to meet with the team; Hunslet St Mary’s CE Primary School to attend the official opening of their Children’s Centre by Hilary Benn MP; South Leeds High School to talk to Colin Bell about the progress they are making; and West Leeds High School to attend their celebration of 100 years of learning in west Leeds.

We also faced yet another annual performance assessment, which went really well thanks to the passion, energy and efforts of everyone in Children’s Services. I wanted to thank colleagues for everything they have done over the last few weeks as we geared up for the annual performance assessment by our dear friends from Ofsted and the Audit Commission. We have achieved so much together and once again you have made such a difference… something that I know will be officially recognised once again when Ofsted and the Audit Commission visit us again for the joint area review.

Here in Leeds, in children's services, in Education Leeds, as with any large organisation, we have many different teams, different agendas, different perspectives, different beliefs, and different personalities. These "differences" help to make us unique and provide us with an opportunity to do things differently, to be creative, to be disciplined and to be focused. Just look at how successful so many of our teams are! However, I also know that unless we are careful the differences and tensions and the jealousies can stop change and innovation dead in its’ tracks. So what's the trick? We must all continue to work to create an environment where all our colleagues can be happy, healthy, safe and successful, and where we collectively move towards one common and shared vision for our children and young people, their families and communities.

This takes courage, it takes patience, but most importantly it takes great leadership…and not just from Rosemary Archer as Director of Children's Services, or from me, as Chief Executive of Education Leeds… from all of us. Over the next few weeks and particularly when the going gets tough we all need to be more visible… we all need to know when to calm the waters and when to ruffle the feathers. We all need, having established our shared vision, to repeat it time and time and time again. We all need to understand the journey we are on… to celebrate our successes and our failures… to send letters and e-mails… to hang posters… to find quotes… to make buttons… to design the t-shirt… even to make people wear them… whatever it takes.
Our work here at Children Leeds is about managing change… it’s about questions, answers, problems and solutions and we must invite everyone to comment… to criticise, to praise, to suggest alternatives and to question. We need all our colleagues, our partners and our stakeholders and most importantly our young people to understand that their opinions are valued and welcome.

As we approach yet another critical period in the Education Leeds story, some colleagues are finding the situation worrying; too many challenges, not enough time, too much change and not enough attention paid to the things that really matter. I prefer to see things differently. I feel energised and uplifted by the challenges we face. Wherever you are in this organisation these are opportunities to share, opportunities to grab the initiative and to make a difference. Remember that the real difference we have, our greatest advantage, our greatest asset is you.
Our colleagues are not like Mars bars… they are not identical in size, weight or shape. Each is a unique, fragile and brilliant human being with enormous potential - if only we can release the magic. So loosen up, relax, smile, laugh and enjoy yourself. Unless we are having fun it is impossible for the colleagues we are working with to have any fun… and unless they are having fun they will never release the magic and never be the people they are capable of being.

Thank you for all your hard work. It is always appreciated and is never taken for granted.

Monday, 8 October 2007

I ended the day with dinner with Anders Hultin, the Chief Executive of Kunskapsskolan, a group of publicly funded private schools in Sweden...

These schools have pioneered work on coaching, personalisation and an internet based curriculum offer that has attracted the interest of many local authorities across the country.
Kunskapsskolan operates 21 secondary schools for students between 12 to 15 years old under the name Kunskapsskolan and operates 9 upper secondary schools for students between 16 to 19 years old under the name Kunskapsgymnasiet. Kunskapsskolan is the largest independent school operator in Sweden and their schools are open to all students. The students do not pay any fees; all income comes from the national voucher system. This ensures that all independent schools operate with the same legal and financial conditions as public schools. The schools follow the national curriculum, participate in national tests and conform to the national grade system.

We are hoping that we may be able to work with Anders and his colleagues developing coaching and personalisation approaches here in Leeds. If you want to find out more you can visit their website at
I met with some of the secondary headteachers later in the day...

We are publishing a batch of papers around the transformation of secondary and post-16 provision in Leeds and we wanted to brief the central area headteachers about the papers and start to talk about how we take this vital agenda forwards with governors, parents and students and with ward councillors and communities.

We certainly live in interesting times!
I went on to Cookridge Holy Trinity CE Primary School...

The new headteacher Andy Pickles has a very clear vision for the school and walking around with Andy you realise the enormous potential in the school with a real mix of young and enthusiastic and older and more experienced colleagues. t is a school that will be going places under Andy's dynamic and committed leadership.