Friday, 7 March 2008

I met three fantastic young people today...

The team from Primrose TV were at the Extended Services Conference interviewing Lord Mawson, Christine Gilbert HMCI and others and they were fantastic! This is the picture they took of Christine Gilbert HMCI and I.

I am doing a brief input after lunch and the key messages are...

Building Brilliant…
…releasing the potential of your team!
our mission… our ambition

“We want to be world class…
… whatever it takes!”

The Six Keys to BRILLIANT…
Ownership & Engagement!

Success is NOT plan driven, it is NOT the product of strategic thinking or planning or the product of focus groups.
Success is NEEDS driven, it is messy, evolutionary, trivial, experimental and the product of trial and error.

Have you
changed the world

And finally...
...those who say
"it cannot be done"…
…should not interrupt
the person doing it.
Chinese Proverb


No Guns, No Knives, No Nonsense!

I bumped into Mark Cooper the Weapons Awareness Project Co-Ordinator at the Royal Armouries...

Mark and his colleagues are doing brilliant work on weapons awareness, tackling knife crime and building resilience and the power of young people to make positive lifestyle choices. If you want to contact Mark his e-mail address is


Christine Gilbert HMCI

We are now listening to Christine Gilbert HMCI who has been really complimentary about our mission and purpose: to build a world class education service to serve the City of Leeds...

Christine had looked at what we are doing and she highlighted the provision in the early years and our progress in terms of improving schools and improving GCSE outcomes. She also recognised the challenges we face and the importance of looking beyond the school to extended services, community engagement and the family.

What is a Social Entrepreneur?

"They were a ragtag group of misfits and mavericks, heroic figures, seemingly single-handedly bringing jobs, healthcare and education to deprived communities. They were visionary and relentlessly optimistic, but practical and pragmatic. They self-consciously applied business methods to social problems, but weren't motivated by profit. This iconoclastic, inspirational, sometimes frustrating and often self-promoting group did not even have a name for themselves."
Charles Leadbeater

I looked it up and discovered that social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change. Rather than leaving it to the government or business, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading u to take new leaps.

Social entrepreneurs seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.

Each social entrepreneur presents ideas that are user-friendly, understandable, ethical, and engage widespread support in order to maximize the number of local people that will stand up, seize their idea, and implement with it. In other words, every leading social entrepreneur is a mass recruiter of local changemakers—a role model proving that citizens who channel their passion into action can do almost anything.

I think on that basis we are all social entrepreneurs!


I am sitting here at Saviles Hall at the Royal Armouries at our Extended Services Conference...

It's a wonderful collection of colleagues listening to an inspirational input from Lord Andrew Mawson one of the leading social entrepreneurs in Britain. He has created a huge range of projects including the Bromley-by-Bow Centre in East London. I think we should all read his book "The Social Entrepreneur - making communities work".

Thursday, 6 March 2008

I moved on to Seacroft Grange Primary School...

I had been asked to visit the school by Terry Ayres, Chair of Governors, who wanted to talk to me about cutting down the paper associated with governing body meetings. I also had an opportunity to walk around the school with Mike O'Grady to meet some of the learning team and some of the children.

This is a great school doing some brilliant work and releasing a very special kind of magic!
I started the day at Boston Spa School...

I had been invited by Chris Walsh, headteacher at Boston Spa School, who wanted to talk to me about Trust status. I was deeply impressed by Chris' passion and commitment to his young people and how he saw Trust status as a way of helping the school to achieve its goals.


My colleague Stuart Myers, headteacher at Whingate Primary School has confirmed the school took part in the World Maths Day Event - which is internet based and they have achieved 1st place in UK and Europe, plus achieving 5th place in the World! Calendar have been into the school today filming and will be broadcasting tonight at 6pm.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

This evening I attended the Long Service Awards with Cllr Andrew Carter and Cllr Richard Harker...

It was a wonderful evening where we celebrated and recognised the contribution made by 65 colleagues who collectively have served the City of Leeds for 1700 years. We were wonderfully entertained by the Leeds Youth Jazz Rock Orchestra made up of talented young musicians from Guiseley, Lawnswood and Ralph Thoresby High Schools.

I hope we will have some pictures to share with you tomorrow.
Dirk and I had lunch today with colleagues from our Personnel team...

We are priviledged to work with colleagues like these... talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful... colleagues who are doing great work in so many areas; induction, individual and team development, coaching, the single status work and much, much more. Most of the team have been through Investment in Excellence and talked passionately and positively about the culture of Education Leeds and what we have achieved together over the last few years.

We must always remember that these are some of our most important front-line staff and their commitment, energy, enthusiasm and hardwork is what really makes the difference and helps us continue to deliver outstanding services to our schools.

The Big School Sing Up!

I know how many of you enjoy a singalong...

My colleague Sarah Rutty, headteacher at Bankside Primary School sent me this e-mail.
"Hello Chris, Thought I'd drop you a line to tell you, if you haven't heard already, about the Big School Sing Up, which is a chance for 'Primary School Children to sing live on the radio'. Actually, this is not strictly accurate as, in fact, the children are pre-recorded and will be played, if lucky and good enough, on their local radio station. Bankside Junior Choir, accompanied by the ever talented Mr Copperwheat and Mr Monether, on bass and acoustic guitars respectively, made their recording for Radio Aire this morning - a rock and roll update on the Greensleeves theme, called Henry's Happy Hour, chosen from the Sing Up Songbook. And a great time was had by all. I'll let you know when we hit the airwaves, so you can have a dance-like-Showaddy-waddy moment all of your own, just as I did this morning. The Sing Up vision is to promote opportunities for singing, performance and staff training in our schools. It aims to 'increase understanding of how singing can help in the social, personal and musical development of children.' If you've got a minute, you can find out more about it on

Have a happy and harmonious day. Are you going to be at the extended schools meeting on Friday, if so, see you then! As ever, Bankside Best Wishes, Sarah"

Singing reaches the parts other things don't and it releases endorphins that simply make you happy and brighter. I hope 'Bankside's Best' make it on to air!

We seem to spend so much of our time in meetings and I think the real challenge we face after a day together are to answer the following questions...

  1. So what is different?
  2. So what are we going to do this week that we wouldn’t have done last week?

We talk a lot about radical options and about creative solutions and yet we constantly build the barricades to protect the status quo, protect our bit of estate … keep our sixth form, keep our students with us … convincing ourselves that they can’t travel, that they can’t connect, that they can’t manage on their own.

The real challenge is how do we ensure that we deliver brilliant learning outcomes … a step change on what we do now. And how do we ensure targeted support for those young people who need more pastoral care, more coaching and more support.

Who’s brave enough to develop a more human scale approach? Who’s brave enough to develop coaching strategies? Who’s brave enough to get out of their comfort zone and break the mould? Any offers?


I was reading the Times Educational Supplement over the weekend and there was an article on the '24 hour school'...

We need to re-engineer our provision to encourage and support young people. We do need to think differently about how we engage young people in learning; how we develop our young people as passionate and powerful learners; how we get young people to understand that the keys to success are attitude, discipline and hard work.

What works?

  • Opening early with breakfast works.
  • Coaching and mentoring works.
  • Small nurtured groups works.
  • Study support works.
  • Family support through STEPS works.
  • Enterprise works.
  • Sport and activity works.
  • The arts and creativity works.

What else works?

I started the day at South Leeds High School...

I had gone to catch up with Colin Bell the school's headteacher. Colin told me about the visit to London for the Local Government Chronical Sustainable Communities Awards Ceremony last week, the real progress the school is making, the results he is expecting this Summer, the achievements the current Year 9 and the feedback the school has received from parents and carers at a recent Year 9 Parents Evening... FANTASTIC!

Whatever anyone says this is a school going places; with strong and highly effective leadership and great kids!
My Colleague Viv Buckland who leads the Admissions Team here in Leeds sent me this e-mail...

"Hi Chris, just to let you know we have a new statutory duty to send preference data for secondary to the DCSF on March 1st. We have avoided using this data before as it is our worst picture and usually publish, as other Authorities do, data after the appeals and waiting list. Anyway the good news is 86.2% of Leeds parents were given their first preference and 98.2% of Leeds parents were given one of their three preferences. Best wishes.Viv."

Viv and the team have done a brilliant job managing 16000 admissions to primary and secoindary schools for the coming September.


My colleague Wendy Winterburn sent me this e-mail...

"Dear Colleagues
I am delighted to let you know that under the management of Bridget Mork the Parent Partnership Service achieved Chartermark status yesterday. A brilliant achievement for a small team of dedicated committed colleagues I would say!!
Regards, Wendy"

This is fantastic news about one of our STAR services. Congratulations to everyone involved.
I met my colleague Anne Lomas, Visually Impaired Team Leader, the other day and Anne told me about Haider, one of her teams many success stories which I wanted to share with you...

"Dear Chris, Following our brief conversation this morning, I am writing to tell you about some amazing work that is going on in the Visually Impaired Team.

Haider is a Y10 student at Ralph Thoresby HS, supported by the VI base staff, and teachers from the VI team. He has never found school easy, and has struggled with aspects of braille and literacy. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend a full 2 days at College from last September, so the VI team have put together a personalised programme, in order to keep him engaged with school, and to promote some of the VI skills that need to be developed. This has taken three routes; Boxing, cycle repair workshops and specialist sports sessions; cycling, cricket.

One of our new teachers, Steve Thompson, who came to us from Royds, had been involved in improving fitness and motivation for sighted students in his former job, through BoxFit sessions. Boxfit is an activity which aims to improve fitness through a variety of boxing skills and promotes a healthier lifestyle and improved self-esteem via the range of activities involved and the social aspect of the sessions. Steve arranged for a coach to come to Thoresby to work with Haider, and then he took up the challenge of weekly coaching. Over a 4 month period, Haider has progressed beyond everyone's expectations. Following a hard session he recounts "My power, speed and balance have improved as well as my confidence": however the benefits and over-arching life skills which Boxfit promotes are also evident, not only to staff who work with Haider at Ralph Thoresby, but also to Haider himself "I like it because it’s taught me about self-control, and if I think something’s hard, then I’ll give it a go now – before I would have just given up". Haider's parents are equally as delighted with the change they have seen in him.

Last Thursday, Steve took Haider to a local gym where he had a training session with a professional boxer, followed by an hour session of boxfit with other sighted students. This gave him the opportunity to socialise with the other boxers and to make contacts and form friendships which may well last for years, and it is this aspect of boxfit which is perhaps the most important to Haider "If you can’t see then it’s unfair that you can’t have a go – I just like having the chance to do the same as everybody else". Simultaneously, the VI team knew that Haider had an interest in bikes, and rode one at home in the street with his friends. Efforts to pursue this via College were unsuccessful, but Eve McLeish, VI teacher at Ralph Thoresby made contact with the Edinburgh Cycle workshop, and persuaded someone to come in and meet Haider, and just have a chat. Before the end of the first session, the bike was stripped down, and it was evident that this was going to be another success. Haider can now strip down and service the brakes on his own bike, and school have found funding for a further 10 sessions. In addition, the person who comes to do the workshops with Haider has persuaded him to visit a residential college for the visually impaired, that runs the only bike course in the country, and he is going to accompany the team on a visit.

Sarah Cross, a PE specialist in the VI team, has been developing and delivering specialist PE sessions for all the visually Impaired young people at Ralph Thoresby, which has included cycling (independently) and cricket. Again, Haider has shone and discovered success and enjoyment. These successes, and many more, are a direct result of the fantastic work that the Secondary team have been doing on personalisation, and the VI curriculum, and our new team plan has more exciting developments. I cannot praise the efforts and commitment of these staff enough, and I invite you to come to Ralph Thoresby to see boxing, and other sports on any Monday or Tuesday mornings. I attach a picture of Haider.

Best wishes. Anne"
It is great to hear stories like this and to see how we can build pathways to excellence for everyone.
Last week was a funny old week…

I spent most of the week in meetings: meetings with Rosemary Archer and her Children's Services Leadership Team; a meeting with the Education Leeds Board; a meeting with colleagues at the DCSF; a meeting with colleagues from the Hay Group; a meeting with John Battle MP; a meeting with June Turner, headteacher at Beecroft Primary School; a meeting with Councillor Richard Harker; and a meeting with Dirk Gilleard and Ros Vahey before I headed off to Oxford for my son’s graduation ceremony

I did manage one brief school visit. I visited Lawnswood High School. The school had been plagued by false fire alarms and I popped in to see Milan Davidovic who took me on a quick tour of the school and talked to me about this year’s GCSE results and the progress the school is making.

It’s easy for us here at Education Leeds to talk about the challenges, the difficulties we face, the stress and how difficult our jobs are. But we need to always remember that it’s Milan and his colleagues and colleagues in schools across the city who day-in, day-out are really at the front line.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

"There once was a group of climbers who arranged a climbing competition. The goal was to reach the top of a very high mountain. A big crowd had gathered around the mountain to see the race and cheer on the contestants...

The race began...Honestly, no-one in crowd really believed that the climbers would reach the top of the mountain. You heard statements such as:

"Oh, WAY too difficult!!"

"They will NEVER make it to the top".

"Not a chance that they will succeed."

"The mountain is too high!"

The climbers began collapsing. One by one, except for those who in a fresh tempo were climbing higher and higher...

The crowd continued to yell

"It is too difficult!!!"

"No one will make it!"

More climbers got tired and gave up...But ONE continued higher and higher and higher. This one wouldn't give up!

At the end, everyone else had given up climbing the mountain. Except for the one who, after a big effort, was the only one who reached the top!

THEN all of the other climbers naturally wanted to know how this one had managed to do it? They asked how the one who succeeded had found the strength to reach the goal?

It turned out that the winner was deaf."

It's true you see, that with determination, self-belief and hard work you can achieve things that others believe to be impossible... and don't listen to the voices that say it's impossible.


I've been thinking about the future and what it looks like...

Whatever it is we need to keep it simple, keep it focused and keep it disciplined. It's too simplistic to think that the answer lies in Trusts or Academies or Federations or Specialist Schools... although they are clearly part of the toolkit that will help us deliver brilliant outcomes for all our children and for all our young people.

The trouble with the current approach, where we look to continue to steadily and systemtically improve our outcomes is that it is simply too slow and fails to recognise that we need a significant step-change in outcomes if we are to deliver world class learning for our young people.

To reach the target of 80% of our young people reaching Level 2 qualifications at 16 requires all our schools to achieve between 65% and 95%. Simply outstanding outcomes require us to think differently and use every possible strategy and approach.

However we know we can do it and we know that the keys are:
  • distributed leadership;
  • clear, shared vision, values and beliefs;
  • appropriate strategies and approaches to raise standards;
  • high expectations;
  • a coaching culture;
  • strong relationships;
  • inspiring teaching;
  • individual tracking;
  • focused interventions;
  • high parental engagement.
What do you think are the keys to your success?
I started the day with Education Leeds' Leadership Forum at Space@Hillcrest before I went on to Adams Court to spend the day with the Council's Corporate Leadership Team.

Monday, 3 March 2008

My colleague Debbie Clark sent me this e-mail...

"Hi Chris, The students of the West SILC - Victoria Park site all leapt for Martin House on Friday. It was great fun and we raised about £25 which is great for us. Debbie"

We had a great day leaping for Martin House on Friday and while I am not sure how much we raised I thought these pictures from the West SILC captured the moment brilliantly.
I received this e-mail from my colleague Tracy Dell, Headteacher at Methley Primary School...

"Dear Chris,Hope you have a had a good week! Read your blog and used it to reflect on my great team! Thank you, Tracy

It's great to know that Tracey is 'Making Methley Brilliant'!

The University of Cambridge Primary Review

While the DCSF have already dismissed this research, everyone who cares about learning in this country and who passionately believes in brilliant primary education should read it...


• Funding primary education: should there be parity between primary and secondary?

The first report records a marked increase in expenditure on primary education from 1998 onwards, yet ’when expenditure is expressed relative to per capita GDP the UK comes 18th out of 29 OECD countries on expenditure on primary education’ and the per pupil primary/secondary funding differential is greater than in some other OECD countries. The report argues that because children’s ‘later progress and achievement are highly dependent on earlier attainment ... it is by no means self-evident ... that primary schools should be less generously funded than secondary.’ DISCUSS!

• Is there now a ‘state theory of learning’?

The second report shows how since 1997 ‘central control in key areas of educational action has been strengthened within a framework of administrative and fiscal devolution ... Government has strengthened its hand through what may be called a “state theory of learning” ... based on the idea that the repeated high stakes testing of pupils, a national curriculum, and in primary schools mandated pedagogy in numeracy and literacy, will raise standards ... There is little doubt that the machinery of surveillance and accountability makes it difficult for schools to deviate from focusing on test performance’ The report questions whether it is right or sensible for governments to intervene to this extent in the fine detail of professional practice. DISCUSS!

• The impact of two decades of ‘reform’.

The reports track change and reform in the primary sector under both Conservative and New Labour administrations and warn that ‘tracing causation between particular reforms and children’s learning is extremely difficult’, though that has been no bar to confident claims both for and against the various reform initiatives. Yet ‘all studies shows clearly that change has occurred, and that in 2007 primary classrooms are very different places from the way they were in 1988, or even 1997.’ It records greater system coherence and improvements in the standards achieved by many pupils, ‘but a decrease in the overall quality of primary education ... because of the narrowing of the curriculum and the intensity of test preparation.’ Moreover, while one major study reported significant changes in teachers’ practice, a much larger number showed that ‘the quality of teacher-pupil interaction on which much learning depends has shown little sign of improvement and there is some evidence of decline ... At the same time, the range of teaching methods employed is probably narrower now than hitherto.’ DISCUSS!

• School inspection: stability, trust and relevance.

The fourth report notes that ‘constant change in quality assurance procedures has proved a great burden and cause for complaint by schools and teachers. While some change is inevitable to meet cultural and political expectations, the degree and pace of change have been exceptionally great in the last fifteen years ... The need to address poor provision and poor teaching is undisputed, but empirical studies have revealed flaws in the [Ofsted] inspection processes and possibilities for improvement ... It is important that policy on quality assurance should inspire the maximum possible trust between politicians, parents and professionals.’ The report also warns that ‘many research studies point to the tendency of narrowly-focused inspection to distort the curriculum. DISCUSS!

Everyone should read and talk about these reports which are available on the Primary Review web-site at
I think the things that make brilliant are...
  • strong, disciplined, focused and passionate leadership;
  • clear, shared vision, values and beliefs;
  • a talented, energetic, enthusiastic and creative team;
  • empowered, trusted and disciplined colleagues;
  • stimulating, exciting and engaging work;
  • beautiful systems and routines;
  • a powerful, stimulating and interesting learning environment;
  • high shared expectations;
  • strong, dynamic and meaningful relationships;
  • high engagement and involvement of colleagues.

I need your help here and would welcome feedback... is this the recipe for releasing a very special magic or have I missed something?


I started the day at the Thorpe Park Hotel where we were holding a 14 - 19 Review Day with colleague headteachers and college principals...

This is one of the biggest agendas we are dealing with here in Leeds and the day set out to:
  • revisit the vision, values and principles underpinning the 14 - 19 reforms;
  • improve shared understandings of the challenges we face here in Leeds;
  • progress the concept of a learner entitlement;
  • explore how we secure localised comprehensive access for all young people;
  • agree how we collectively and individually move the agenda forward.
I'll let you know how it went.