Thursday, 20 March 2008

Now we are SEVEN!

I have been in Leeds for nearly seven years…

And today… 1st April 2008… Education Leeds is seven years old! They say time flies when you are having fun and it has been great fun thanks to the brilliant, talented, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues who have made me laugh, made me smile and brightened my life over these seven incredibly wonderful years. At it’s best our schools, our educational provision and our support services here in Leeds are breathtakingly wonderful and my colleagues are just incredible.

Let’s make sure that we continue to clear away the stuff that gets in the way and release the magic…. whatever it takes!

I am sorry but I need a break...

The blog is going to go quiet for couple of weeks while I unwind and get rid of the knots, recharge the batteries and gear myself up for another year in Leeds. Take care and look after yourself while I am gone.
What a morning...

I started the day early at a meeting with Catherine Marchant looking at the next steps with Children's Services here in Leeds and how we further develop responsibilities, accountabilities and communications. I went on to Cockburn Arts College to officially open their new technology facilities with Cllr Penny Ewens. Then it was over to the new West Leeds High School for some photographs of the site for the new school with young people and the headteachers from West Leeds and Wortley High Schools. Then on to Wortley High School to attend a special presentation to Doris Dalton; tea-lady, lunchtime superviser and cleaner since 1975! Finally I attended the latest 'staff induction session' at the Derek Fatchett Centre where I met another talented group of new colleagues.

What a day!
My colleague Valerie Hannon, Director - Strategy at The Innovation Unit sent me this e-mail about a project that builds on the Musical Futures initiative we have been working on...

"Dear Chris, I would like to draw your attention to the ‘Learning Futures: Next Practice in teaching and learning’ booklet which will be arriving on your desk very soon, if you have not received it already. This project, in partnership with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, is founded on our shared belief that to make really significant advances now, we need to hone in on the learning-teaching process: particularly on how students become deeply engaged in their learning in classrooms and beyond. We have sent this booklet to all secondary schools in England with an invitation to engage with the work. That engagement may be at a variety of levels – from becoming part of a community of interest to applying to come to one of two forthcoming events in which we will enable people to co-design possible new approaches, which in turn could form part of a major new initiative with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

With this in mind, I wonder whether you would wish to draw it to the attention of any of the secondary schools in your authority who you feel would be well placed to take part and who might be particularly interested in this innovative project? Information on how to get involved can be found at

The timescales are quite tight – schools need to have come back to us by Friday 18th April 2008. Best wishes ~Valerie"

This is a brilliant initiative and I hope schools will see how it connects with 'brilliant learning' and get involved!


Wednesday, 19 March 2008

I went on to Headteacher Forum at the David Lloyd Centre...

We had brief presentations from Mariana Pexton, Simon Flowers and Peter Lawrence on Children Leeds issues, from Mark Hopkins on Extended Services and from Sally Threlfall on our Early Years Outcomes. These powerful sessions simply reinforced the need for us to work collaboratively with colleagues across Children's Services to secure better outcomes for all our children and young people and their families.
I went on to South Leeds High School to meet with Colin Bell and Cllr Geoff Driver...

Dirk Gilleard, Pat Toner and I had arranged a meeting with Colin, Geoff and Paul Edwards from Garforth Community College to take stock after the recent monitoring visit by our friends from OFSTED. The South Leeds story is a brilliant one and Colin and his team have achieved such a lot already... the challenge for us all is how do we continue to drive up standards, continue to improve attendance, further develop teaching and learning and secure brilliant outcomes for some wonderful young people. Answers on a postcard!
I started the day early at Blenheim...

I had coffee with Gary Nixon and Mike Haworth who have been doing some brilliant work around our provision for young people with behavioural problems. It is remarkable that ALL the behavioural provision here in Leeds is at least satisfactory and the majority good and outstanding. Our friends from OFSTED have told us that we are dealing with some of the most complex cases locally and what we are achieving is outstanding.

Gary, Mike and colleagues have certainly helped us focus and deliver at the hardest end of our provision. I know that there is still a lot to do but it is brilliant to see the progress we have made and it's impact across the city.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

"If you always tell the truth, you don't have to remember what you said."

After another term where we have been inspected, monitored and srutinised to death I still believe that honesty is a good thing, here’s how to survive...
  • Remember to keep your balance.
  • Remember to focus on behaviour.
  • Remember that absolute feedback doesn't exist
  • Remember that it's their opinion, it's not fact!
  • Remember to stay positive!
  • Remember not to argue.
  • Remember to always ask for feedback.
Now that you have some pain-killers when the inspectors attack, here’s how to ask for more:
  • Say thanks
  • Be totally honest.
  • Don’t justify
  • Laugh at yourself.
  • Compliment others
  • Be Positive.
  • Understand.
  • Disagree.
Remember never take criticism from people who you don't hold in high regard.
This is the picture of the team that organised the fantastic Long Service Awards at the Civic Hall recently...

They are truly brilliant, talented, gorgeous and wonderful!
Interestingly I moved on to attend another STEPS celebration...

This was a fairly unique event which reached 26 women from a variety of nationalities and cultures and it was organised as a partnership event between REEMAP, Children's Services and Education Leeds at St Augustine's Church Hall on Harehills Lane. It is important that as we continue to deliver brilliant outcomes for all our young people we never forget the key part played by parents and carers. The STEPS programme reaches the parts that others can't reach and simply listening to these women makes you feel humbled by the amazing work my colleagues are doing to release this energy, this potential and this magic.

We must continue to run these programmes and increase the number of trained facilitators like the three talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful women who spoke today about their experience of STEPS and how it had changed their lives.
My colleague Tony Evans found this wonderful article by Peter Wilby on the New Statesman website...

"'The Toxicity of Poverty'

"The poor," as the Bible advises, "always ye have with you." Should the same be said of failing schools? Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, tells the Guardian that local authorities must produce "action plans" for 638 low-performing state schools. Yet only last year, a Downing Street press release boasted that "tough intervention . . . has reduced . . . failing schools from over 500 to barely 200". So what is going on?

The answer is that ministers keep raising the bar. In 1997, Labour called on local councils to set up "fresh start" schools where less than 15 per cent of pupils had got five or more A-C grades at GCSE. Now, it wants councils to act where less than 30 per cent get five A-C grades, which must include English and maths. There is nothing wrong in a country aspiring to higher performance for its children. Unfortunately, every time achievement levels go up, the gap between schools in poor areas and those in affluent areas remains stubbornly unchanged. Most of Balls's 638 target schools, like Downing Street's original "over 500", are full of poor children - as anyone who has studied the relationship between education and home background at any time in the past century could have predicted.

"I don't accept there should be a link between poverty and educational attainment," Balls said. He might as well say he doesn't accept the link between smoking and cancer. That poverty and low social status are associated with inferior school achievement is one of the few laws social scientists can state with the same confidence as physicists state the laws of thermodynamics. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was recently told that poverty in early childhood poisons the brain: on top of the damage caused by inadequate nutrition, stress hormones impair neural development.

The extraordinary thing is that the government itself accepts the link that Balls doesn't. It publishes, in addition to "raw" exam results, "contextual value-added" (CVA) scores for each school. These take into account background influences on school performance, including the proportion of children eligible for free meals. The effects are startling. To take just one example from the 2007 GCSE results for state schools, only 28 per cent of Harrow High's pupils achieved five A-Cs including English and maths, easily the lowest in the borough. Yet its CVA score was easily the highest.

If Balls does not accept a link between poverty and educational achievement, why does his department publish, for every state school, a score that depends on precisely that link? It is tempting to make the usual joke about what he is talking. But his Tory shadow, Michael Gove, is a bigger offender. He talks constantly of a shortage of "good school places" which, he argues, frustrates parents. He should (and I think does) know better. A "good school" has a fair number of advantaged children. A "failing school" has a high proportion - say, 30 per cent or more - of children who, for various reasons, are difficult to teach.

As a report to the children's department in January put it: "It is a misconception to think that the unfairness of admissions consists in some groups being denied access to 'good' schools. It does not take adequate account of how intake contributes powerfully to the public perception of schools as 'good' or 'bad'" (Secondary School Admissions by John Coldron et al).

That is not to blame snobbish parents. Seeking schools with advantaged intakes, and avoiding those with large numbers of "problem children", is a perfectly rational strategy. Even parents who refuse to "work the system" still want the best for their children, as a new report for the Economic and Social Research Council shows. Cambridge academics interviewed 125 white, middle-class, Guardian-reading parents who sent their children to socially mixed comprehensives with below-average results. Nearly all the youngsters got to good universities, and several to Oxbridge. But most of the parents, said the report, "were vigilant . . . to ensure protection for their children". They helped with homework and paid for extra tuition and music lessons. Their liberal values did not extend to depriving their children of cultural capital.

While we have gross social inequalities, we shall have gross educational inequalities. Any school landed with large numbers of poor children will probably become "failing". As Philip Hunter, the chief adjudicator for schools, suggested to me in an interview for the Guardian, the best solution for many such schools is to close them and disperse the pupils elsewhere. But as Jack Shonkoff, Harvard's professor in child health, told the AAAS: "There are no magic bullets." The only way to remove the toxicity of poverty is to abolish poverty itself."

It is important that as we continue to struggle to deliver brilliant outcomes for all our young people we must also tackle poverty, worklessness and despair.
I started the day early at one of my favourite schools...

I went to Quarry Mount Primary School where Jan Warton and her team have been doing a great job. Our friends from OFSTED visited the school last week and decided that the school was now satisfactory with good features and highlighted the 'united staff team' as one of the real strengths. This is a fantastic compliment to the work Jan has been doing at Quarry Mount Primary School.

Monday, 17 March 2008

I was visited today by two colleagues from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan...

Yasumasa Shinohara and Akiko Saito were visiting the UK to look at innovative practice in schools, extended services and lifelong learning. It was great to be able to talk to Yasumasa and Akiko about the Education Leeds story and our successes in so many areas... Study Support, Playing for Success, Healthy Schools, Stephen Lawrence, Inclusion Chartermark, STEPS, 14 - 19, Diplomas and much, much more.

They were so positive about what we have achieved here in Leeds and I hope that we can stay in touch and learn from our colleagues in Japan about their successes.
I went to another great primary school this morning...

I visited Seven Hills Primary School where Pauline Potter and her colleagues are doing great things. Pauline hasn't been at the school very long but she has brought a focus and energy which is wonderful and her Deputy has developed tracking and monitoring to ensure that progress is at the heart of the school's practice. Pauline took me round the school to meet some of her colleagues and some of her wonderful children.

What makes Seven Hills Primary School such a great place?
  • strong, focused and passionate leadership;
  • a clear vision driving all aspects of the school;
  • some talented, energetic, enthusiastic and creative colleagues; and
  • some wonderful young people.
This is another school going from good to great,

A Funny Old Week!

It’s been a funny old week full of ups and downs which challenged my usual optimistic approach to things…

The week started with a flood of meetings: leadership team; Narrowing the Gap Board; corporate leadership team, Education Leeds Board; Executive Board; and meetings with Cllr Mulherin; Cllr Blake; Cllr Wakefield; Cllr Blackburn; Ros Vahey; Dirk Gilleard, Cllr Harker and Keith Burton.

I had lunch with the Director of the British Council for the North East Region of the Ukraine, the deputy head of international relations for Kharkiv in Ukraine and my colleague, Jenny Hill, from our international relations team. Dirk and I had coffee with our former colleague Ruth Baldwin who looked fantastic and is doing some great work with the National College for School Leadership.

I did manage a couple of schools visits. I went to Carr Manor High School where we were filming for our new corporate induction film. It gave me the chance to catch up with Simon Flowers, the Headteacher, whose enthusiasm, commitment and energy is an example to us all. I went on to Bracken Edge Primary School who have just had a visit from our friends at Ofsted ,who removed their ‘notice to improve’. Julie Harkness and her colleagues have done really well and the school is now going places.

I attended the Richmond Hill Family of Schools meeting to talk to some wonderful colleagues who are doing great things in this changing and very challenging community. I was also asked to do a session on ‘Releasing the potential of your team’ for Doug Meeson and his corporate financial management team at their away day at Herd Farm. It was an interesting session!

And finally Cllr Carter, Cllr Harker and I met with Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and Lord Andrew Adonis, Minister for Schools. The Ministers, whilst recognising the progress we are making with secondary standards here in Leeds, wanted to know how we could increase the pace of change and get all our schools above the ‘new’ floor targets.

It often appears that however hard we work and whatever we achieve, we still need to do more. More quickly, more effectively and more sustainably to secure better outcomes for young people across the city. I suppose you have to always remember it’s the most important thing this city does!

And after all it is the best job in the world... but roll on Easter, I need a rest!
"Brilliant!", "Fantastic", "Great" is the response I always try to give to the question "How are you?" and it always seems to confuse some people who would clearly prefer it if I said "I'm OK!"...

When I gave this response recently to a colleague he asked me how I can always answer that way. "Life ISN'T always brilliant, fantastic or great" he said to me and of course he's right. My life, like yours I suspect, isn't always great. In fact, sometimes life can be dreadful. But most people don't want to hear about the things that are going wrong in my life. It's not that I live in a world where everything is always brilliant and I expect everyone else lives in that same world. I live in the real world where we all have difficulties, awful days and where things often go badly. I have colleagues with whom I share the ups and downs and they share their lives with me. I am grateful to have people like that in my life. They are the ones I know I can call when my life is falling apart and they can call me too.

However, I believe that I have a choice each day. I can look for the brilliant in everyday and be grateful for it or I can focus on all the stuff that goes wrong and the tragedies that surround us. I choose the brilliant and the everyday magic. And that makes my life great, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

What are you going to choose?
My colleague Peter Alp who is Senior Financial Manager (Charities) within the Corporate Financial Management Team sent me this e-mail after my session with them on Friday...

"Dear Chris, Thanks for Friday morning's talk at Herd Farm. You were preaching to the converted as far as I am concerned. Here is my story. I look after the finances of Council related charities such as Lineham Farm, Leeds Grand Theatre and the Riding for the Disabled equestrian centre at Middleton Park. My job is brilliant because I am working with a range of diverse cultures, histories and hopes. As with Education you soon realise that Charity sector people are passionate about why they are doing what they are doing.

Anyway, charity finances are not mainstream core activities compared to the local authority finance function. Over the years I have been allocated staff who have a low esteem of themselves personally. They have felt that they don't fit in with the perceived template of what a successful accountant should be. With each person I use a "just do it" approach whereby I let him or her get on with the job in his or her own way. Instead of being the boss I position myself as a mentor who uses the inevitable learning curve set backs as growth opportunities for each person. Until he or she is competent and confident enough to stand on his or her own feet I take full responsibility for all and any mistakes they make. And guess what? In each case every person has transformed him or herself from being a no-hoper into eing a technically brilliant, extremely reliable and very loyal accountant. I find that even before I have thought of something, it has been done and done very well. Errors and mistakes? They just don't happen.

As you said on Friday I find that investing trust in someone, taking off the reins and letting him or her run free and taking an interest in him or her as a whole person is always repaid many times over. During your talk you mentioned your Friday routine whereby you go round and show your face and talk to staff etc. Although I don't work with her, I am always impressed that Clare Maidment does this sort of thing with her staff on a consistent, daily basis.
Anyway, thanks again for Friday. Peter."

Across Education Leeds and the City Council leaders are releasing the magic and the potential of talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful individuals and it is wonderful to hear from Peter about his work, his approach and his passionate belief in his colleagues.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Some weeks it seems that whatever we do, however hard we work it is simply not good enough...

I recognise of course that this is important and no one needs to tell me that we need to do better. I know that every year where we sit below the national averages in terms of our standards, our attendance and our behavioral indicators groups of young people are being disadvantaged, being failed and result in a continuing problem for all of us.

The answers however aren't easy and it is hard, considering everthing we are currently doing to imagine what we can do to move things on more quickly... surely if there were any quick fixes we would have found them by now. Any suggestions would be very welcome.