Friday, 6 February 2009

I was back at Low Road Primary School today...

Low Road Primary School was opened by Neil Kinnock, then Leader of the Opposition, on 20th January 1984 and the school is now 25 years old. I was there with Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, and Cllr Geoff Driver, who was at the opening in 1984, for an assembly to celebrate their 25th birthday! The assembly was a clebration of the work these wonderful children had been doing looking at the history of the school, how it had changed over 25 years and how it might change in the next 25 years. They also had a fantastic birthday cake with 25 candles and everyone was going to take a piece home.

It was great to be there with Sally Sumpner and her team who have worked some incredible magic at Low Road Primary School for some fantastic children.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

I moved on to Low Road Primary School which is 25 years old...

Low Road is part of a Federation with Windmill Primary School and Sally Sumpner, headteacher and Mike Tilling, Chair of governors, have created something incredibly powerful and highly effective.
I visited Harehills Primary School again today to see Margaret Broughton who has recently been appointed to the headship after a period as consultant headteacher...

It was great to visit the school and talk to Margaret and some of her colleagues. I also talked to some of Margaret's wonderful children who were simply incredible and the most amazing ambassadors for the school. We also managed a quick walk around the school to see some of Margaret's colleagues and more of her great children. It was deeply reassuring to see the emphasis on tracking, data and standards set within a rich and exciting curriculum offer that included the arts, sports and mad science!

This is a school that is certainly releasing a very special magic.
I moved on to another staff induction session at the Derek Fatchett CLC...

It was wonderful to be able to spend some time with this great group of new colleagues from across the company.
I started the day early at Carr Manor High School...

I arrived having travelled through a snow storm to find business as usual with their great team out on duty shepherding in the students. It is reassuring to see the transformation that is happening at Carr Manor and to talk to Simon about the incredible work they are doing to drive up standards and extend and enrich the offer we make to these young people. The 21st Century Schools consultation document reinforces the importance of this work on different models of leadership and governance, extended services, partnership working, family support, learning campuses and learning communities. It was a great start to yet another snowy day.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

I have just seen the latest weather forecast and it looks like we are in for more snow tomorrow...

It will be interesting to see how bad the weather is tomorrow and how many schools are once again forced to close. It certainly has been a very challenging week for headteacher colleagues who will once again have to make a difficult call first thing in the morning.
I went on to West Park to attend Headteacher Forum...

I haven't been able to attend the Forum recently so it was great to be able to spend time with this wonderful group of colleagues looking at some of the big issues we are facing. The feedback session raised the following issues:
  • School closures for snow and ice;
  • Secondary provision in East and North East Leeds;
  • The National Challenge;
  • New headteacher roles and responsibilities;
  • Safer Schools Partnership.
The agenda also covered the harnessing technology grant, the inclusive learning strategy, secondary standards, primary standards.
I met with two young students today...

Jessica interviewed me for her dissertation on the creative curriculum and Kim did a radio interview on healthy eating in schools. It was great to talk to these talented young people about the work we are doing here in Leeds.
I visited another great little primary school first thing this morning...

I arrived early at Lady Elizabeth Hastings Church of England Primary School in Ledston to see Amanda Leathley, the new headteacher, who took over as headteacher last September. She is clearly doing a really good job and releasing a very special magic with her new deputy. Amanda has great plans for this little school and it was wonderful to be able to visit after two days of snow and ice.
I received this e-mail from my colleague Mike Woods, Headteacher at Corpus Christi Catholic College...

"Hi Chris, Just a bit of positive feedback despite the severe weather. We had our dress rehearsal for Bugsy Malone on Monday 10am with an invited audience from our local Primary Schools. All the cast of 47 made it, as did our Primary Schools; two of whom (St Theresa's and Our Lady's had to bus pupils in). All went great. School too functioned well although we had to close early and cancel the first night's perfomance. On Tuesday we had nearly 550 pupils in and ran a full curriculum and the new first night of Bugsy Malone played to a full house. I never cease to be amazed at the dedication of teachers and support staff. They worked brilliantly throught the severe weather and take Bugsy Malone for instance, there was a production team of 49 plus Thomas Danby Students doing a fantastic job with hair and our PTFA. Curriculum disruption was an absolute minimum (only the Monday first performance with Primary Schools). Everything being done X-curricular including the last two Sundays! So great things are happening on your patch. Best wishes, Mike."

It's great to hear about some of the amazing things colleagues are doing across Leeds despite the weather!


Tuesday, 3 February 2009

I have been reading the DCSF publication '21st Century School: A World Class Education for Every Child'...

This really excellent document sets out how world-class schools, and world-class standards for every community, are central to realising The Children’s Plan ambition to make England the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up and how it is vital that our school system is capable of preparing every young person to make a success of their life. Like us the DCSF believe that every young person, no matter what their background, has the potential to achieve and succeed, and that it is the task of our schools to make that a reality and that we need a school system which is supported to break down barriers to achievement and which breaks the link between deprivation and low educational attainment.

In the publication the '21st century school system' must ensure that:
  • children and young people are fully engaged with their education until at least the age of 18, reach world-class standards and acquire skills, understanding and qualifications that will serve them well in the future;
  • all children and young people are supported to progress, with excellent teaching; stretched to develop their talents; given the opportunities to pursue an engaging curriculum and qualifications; and to learn in a way which excites them and meets their needs;
  • all children and young people learn in an environment of good behaviour, are not bullied or discriminated against, and develop the wider personal skills, characteristics and attitudes they need to succeed and make a positive contribution to society, while enjoying a fulfilling and healthy childhood;
  • through collaborative working with other services, children and young people’s additional needs (including SEN) are met as early as possible – an end in itself; and because doing so supports learning by removing barriers and ensures that children and young people do not become distracted or disengaged from learning; and
  • we achieve high levels of parental engagement and satisfaction.

The key components of a 21st century school system

  • great leadership;
  • a diverse and highly expert workforce of skilled professionals;
  • a shared determination to do the best for every child;
  • high aspirations for all children and young people;
  • excellent personalised education and development;
  • good progress and high standards.
  • a key role in identifying and helping to address additional needs,
  • working at the centre of a system of early intervention and targeted support;
  • a range of activities and opportunities to enrich the lives of children, families and the wider community; and
  • contributing to community objectives such as local cohesion, sustainability and regeneration.

21st Century Schools will support improvements in outcomes and, in turn, children and young people’s life chances by:

  • providing a more personalised approach for each child and young person;
  • greater integrated working and coherence between services;
  • delivering a wider offer and, with other partners, a greater range of provision;
  • meeting additional needs to ensuring problems are identified early and addressed;
  • maximising the impact of the best leaders and governors and sharing effective practice and professional development;
  • making the best use of resources, sharing staff, functions and facilities across a number of school sites; and
  • ensuring greater collective accountability for outcomes for children and young people in the local area.

It is important that every school reads and responds to this vitally important consultation. You can access it at


I received this e-mail from my colleague Shelagh Henderson, headteacher at Rawdon Littlemoor Primary School...

"Dear Chris, I would just like to let you know that Rawdon Littlemoor is open despite the snow and despite other schools around me being closed. All my staff are in and we are working as normal. We didn't close yesterday and neither did we close on December 4th when most other schools did. Does this entitle us to a special award for being resilient and dedicated to children's education? Yours, Shelagh."

It is great to hear about schools that have opened despite the weather, and of course even with 105 schools closed across Leeds, we still have 160 brilliant schools open and working as usual.
I was reading 'The Good Childhood Inquiry' commissioned by the Children's Society, which concludes that children's lives in Britain have become "more difficult than in the past", adding that "more young people are anxious and troubled"...

The Report argues that the aggressive pursuit of personal success by adults is now the greatest threat to British children and calls for a sea-change in social attitudes and policies to counter the damage done to children by society. Family break-up, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and income inequality are mentioned as big contributing factors.

The recommendations from the Report are:

Parents should:

  • Make a long term commitment to each other.
  • Be fully informed about what is involved before their child is born.
  • Love their children, each other and establish boundaries for children. .
  • Help children develop spiritual qualities.

Teachers should:

  • Help children to develop happy, likeable social personalities.
  • Base discipline on mutual respect.
  • Eliminate physical and psychological violence from school.
  • Make Personal, Social and Health Education statutory.
  • Present sex and relationships education not as biology but part of social and emotional learning.
  • New tests on emotional and behavioural well being should be carefully piloted.

Government should:

  • Introduce non religious, free civil birth ceremonies.
  • Offer high quality parenting classes, psychological support and adolescent mental health services throughout the country.
  • Train at least 1,000 more highly qualified psychological therapists over the next five years.
  • Automatically assess the mental health of children entering local authority care or custody.
  • Raise the pay and status of all people who work with children including teachers and child care workers.
  • Give a salary supplement to teachers taking jobs in deprived areas.
  • Replace all SATS tests with an annual assessment designed mainly to guide a child’s learning.
  • Stop publishing data on individual schools from which league tables are constructed by the media.
  • Start a major campaign to persuade employers to offer apprenticeships.
  • Build a high quality youth centre for every 5,000 young people.
  • Ban all building on sports fields and open spaces where children play.
  • Ban firms from advertising to British children under 12.
  • Ban adverts for alcohol or unhealthy food on television before 9 pm.
  • Reduce the proportion of children in relative poverty from 22% to under 10% by 2015.

The media should:

  • Rethink the amount of violence they put out, the unbalanced impression they give of the risks that children face from strangers and the exaggerated picture they portray of young people threatening our social stability.

Advertisers should

  • Stop encouraging premature sexualisation, heavy drinking and overeating.

All Society should:

  • Take a more positive attitude to children. Welcome them into society and help them.

Visit the Children's Society website at to find out more.

As an ex-maths teacher, I was interested to read that Carol Vorderman, the former co-host of Channel 4 gameshow Countdown, is to head a maths task force...

She has been asked by David Cameron to assess teaching methods in England, how to tackle the "fear" of maths and if tests have got easier. A package of proposals aimed at improving numeracy is to be unveiled later.

Do we need yet another review of maths teaching in this country. We have some incredible work going on across Leeds. Don't we simply need more great maths teachers to inspire our young people and show them that maths is fantastic and actually dead easy!
My colleague Chris Walsh, headteacher at Boston Spa School sent me this message late last night...

"Chris, I appreciate that I am not writing about rules that you have defined, but can I nevertheless share a frustration with you? Boston Spa School staff attended in their droves today, and First Leeds ran a full bus service for us. Inevitably and regretfully some parents chose not to send their young people in, probably because of news of school closures appeared widely across the city including many primaries where our siblings would have been learning. In addition there was news of schools closing in the east where young people almost entirely walk to the school. Both of these factors would have affected parents’ early morning decisions.
At Boston Spa however we provided a full curriculum with taught lessons for all, some of which were enriched with free hot chocolate. Our professional decision to fulfill the young peoples’ entitlement to learning irrespective of the weather will have a significant negative impact on our attendance figures. As we are open, all the absences count. Had we chosen like other Leeds high schools to close and denied access to learning, there would be no detriment to the attendance indicator. Surely there is not only an anomaly here but some injustice? If the decision is marginal, the incentive rewards the wrong choice. At the moment, as long as First Leeds run a bus service and the site is staffed and safe, Boston Spa School will provide proper learning (and maybe hot chocolate) for all who arrive tomorrow. This will come with yet another negative impact on our attendance figures. I can resolve this by closing the school, but it seems perverse that I should be rewarded for laying aside my moral obligations. As ever, Chris"

I think that much of what we do has peverse incentives and the harder we work and the better we do seemingly the harder the DCSF make it in terms of the rules, regulations and funding. I applaud the fact that Boston Spa have stayed open and the team are doing their usual brilliant job plus hot chocolate!
I received this e-mail from my colleague Dee Reid...

"Hi Chris, We are going to headteacher forum in March with a proposal for heads to consider. The proposal will invite school staff to register with the school nearest to their home so that in the event of an emergency, for example, severe weather, staff could provide cover at local schools that would otherwise be forced to close. We will also be seeking the views of headteachers about alternative proposals to closure. We realise that there may be some perceived barriers to setting this up, but the potential for keeping schools open, and therefore children and young people safe and engaged in learning makes it worthwhile. Kind regards, Dee"

I am pleased that we are working with colleague headteachers to look at these issues.
I am deeply disappointed this morning that so many schools in Leeds are closed...

105 Leeds schools are closed this morning at the last count and as I look out from my office, here at Merrion House, the sun is shining, the roads are clear and free running and there is little real evidence that we are in the middle of another ice age! Clearly, the Met Office got it wrong and BBC Radio and TV's advice about only travelling if it is essential meant that many people simply panicked. Surely, we are an essential service; especially for those children and young people who need us most. We will never be able to say that every school day counts ever again... parents, carers and young people will simply laugh at us!

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "We would hope headteachers can keep schools open while it is safe for them to do so, but decisions about closure have to be taken locally by those who know the local conditions." Is there a logic to the closures because if there is I can't work it out. It is strange that all the schools in Bradford, Birmingham, Dudley, Solihull and Surrey are closed. Why are the schools in Garforth closed and the schools in Kippax are open? Why are Wetherby and Boston Spa open and David Young and Parklands closed? Why are schools on main roads closed and schools in estates open? Why are so many secondary schools closed and so many primary schools open. Answers on a postcard!

Monday, 2 February 2009

I have been reading the Department of Health's 'Health Profile of England 2008'...

It provides a snapshot of health and well-being and contains loads of good news:
  • homelessness is reducing;
  • more young people are achieving 5 A*-C grades at GCSE;
  • teenage conception rates are falling;
  • suicides rates have fallen;
  • the proportion of schoolchildren drinking has fallen;
  • the proportion of schoolchildren smoking has fallen;
  • the proportion of schoolchildren using drugs has fallen;
  • the proportion of schoolchildren engaging in physical activity has risen;
  • the proportion of schoolchildren eating five portions of fruit and vegetable everyday has risen;
  • life expectancy is increasing for both males and females.
  • child and adult obesity has increased alarmingly;
  • cases of diabetes have increased alarmingly;
  • chlamydia rates have risen steadily.
And the bad news is that the picture is different across the country with Yorkshire and the Humber lying towards the bottom of many of the indicators:
  • GCSE achievement;
  • violent crime;
  • carbon emissions;
  • teenage pregnancy;
  • adults who smoke;
  • binge drinking adults;
  • healthy eating adults;
  • drug misuse;
  • infant deaths;
  • road injuries and deaths.
The message seems to be that we should focus our energy and efforts on addressing the following issues;
  • encouraging healthy lifestyles;
  • tackling obesity through better diet and increased activity;
  • tackling sexual health and teenage pregnancy;
  • addressing infant mortality;
  • addressing school underachievement.
I have just finished the radio interview where Radio Leeds rightly asked why we have closed so many schools today. Actually, compared with 4th December when 140 schools closed, today, with only 85 shut, is progress...

I want to be clear that I don't blame anyone about school closures when the radio and weather are predicting the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. My question would be could you open and operate with available colleagues to ensure that your children are safe, warm and with you? My worry is that many children will be unsafe, cold and somewhere else as a result of our inability to manage the weather. I think it would be helpful for us to agree a new strategy since the scientists tell us that this is likely to be a thing we see more of in the future.

Happy to discuss this with anyone with a view.
I know that every school day counts so I struggle to understand why when it snows we close...

As Radio Leeds put it to me this lunchtime, hospitals don't close when the snows come so why should schools? Clearly, every school needs to conduct a health and safety audit to see if they can safely manage to open, but why are schools contacting Radio Leeds to find out whether neighbouring schools are open? Clearly, the buses are vital for some schools but what about local children who can just walk to school? Clearly, teachers don't all live close to their schools but a lot of colleagues do and can get in? What happens to those young people whose parents and carers don't listen to Radio Leeds and turn up at school?

Our priority will always be ensuring the health, safety and well-being of our children and young people. Headteachers have a hard call to make but we advise schools to try to remain open whenever possible. Do we need schools to develop a snow strategy which kicks in when it snows and means that we operate on a basic staffing model with every child and young person who turns up at school.

I would welcome your comments and suggestions.
I started the day battling through snow and ice to attend the EOTAS Full Service Development Day at Elland Road...

EOTAS, for those who are thinking what is that, is our 'Education Other Than At School' team and the theme of the day appropriately was Putting Children and Families First! The day was aimed at improving communication, integrating our work with other services and agencies and ensuring that the team contributed to the developing 'Inclusive Learning Strategy', the '14 - 19 Strategy' and our relentless and uncompramising drive to improve standards and outcomes for all our children and young people... whatever it takes!

I spoke to EOTAS colleagues about the opportunities, the challenges and our shared commitment to our most vulnerable young people; the disadvantaged, the looked-after and those with special educational needs. I stressed the need to develop and articulate our promises to all young people in Leeds... how do we ensure that they are all happy, healthy, safe and increasingly successful.

These are some very special colleagues who are tackling some of the really hard bits of what we do... we must continue to work hard to re-engineer the learning landscape, to build a brilliant offer, to reduce exclusions, to improve attendance and to work with parents and carers and the young people to improve their life chances.
It has been a very busy week with the usual round of meetings supplemented by an interview with Look North about the challenge of improving attendance at two of our secondary schools and a session looking at the future with our Chair, Professor Stephen Parkinson. It was Holocaust Memorial Day during the week and looking at what is happening around the world reminds us all that we need to be constantly vigilant and remember in our search for excellence that we must never forget that love, respect, tolerance and understanding are even more important than SATs or GCSEs.

I visited St Mary's Catholic High School to talk about post 16 provision and future developments. I visited Royd's School to meet Terry Sweeney, RM's Chief Executive, and a group of secondary headteacher colleagues to talk about infrastructure, capacity and partnership. I met colleagues from the LSC to talk about Post-16 SEN funding and I met Neil Straker and Marion Wood from The Pacific Institute to talk about their exciting new PX2 materials. I also had lunch with our wonderful 14 - 19 Team and coffee with Geoff Roberts who chairs the West SILC.

To keep me sane, I visited Birchfield and Gildersome Primary Schools before I went to London to collect our Best Companies 'One to Watch" award. I also attended the official launch of the fantastic new Hunslet Hawks Learning Centre, attended the open day for 'Volunteer Reading Help''s new offices and finally made the STEPS Celebration at Armley Children's Centre with another amazing group of mums.

Our schools are constantly improving and much of what we do is now good and outstanding but everyone expects so much more. We face relentless pressure and higher and higher expectations, along with increased and increasing demands to drive and guide provision in Leeds towards improved performance and better outcomes for every child and very young person. The biggest challenge lies in how we engage the energy and commitment of young people, parents and carers, partners and stakeholders... success, however we define it, lies in the power of TEAM and how we bring our collective energies and efforts to bear on the task of building brilliant for all our students... brilliant values, brilliant attitudes, brilliant attendance, brilliant learning and brilliant outcomes?

We know that we must do more; particularly where the challenges are greatest. We must continue to re-imagine and re-engineer our systems, our processes and our provision and be brave enough to ask ourselves the difficult questions about why things are currently not working and what we can do to ensure that there is step change in outcomes for all young people here in Leeds... whatever it takes!