Saturday, 28 February 2009

“How do we lead and create the future while at the same time managing and safeguarding the present.”
'The Fundamental Maintenance/Development Dilemma'

The negatives roll in constantly and we are challenged all the time to do better, work faster and harder and more effectively in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our communities. We have achieved brilliant results over the last few years and I want to put it on record that I currently work with some of the most creative, talented and effective people I have ever worked with. We have relentlessly and rigorously driven up standards and outcomes, improved attendance and reduced exclusions. However we need to do better and each of us needs to look carefully at the way we work with our colleagues, our partners and our stakeholders - conversation by conversation, project by project, meeting by meeting - and work even harder to:

  • cultivate relationships and cultures to create openness, honesty, trust and understanding;

  • build an open-minded culture where change, innovation and ideas and 'our shared agenda' drives a relentless and uncompromising focus on standards, outcomes, attendance and behaviour;

  • create intense debate about ideas, innovation and new models, approaches and ways of working to ensure we continue to tackle the hardest issues and to make real progress;

  • maximise individual talent and organisational strength through networking, sharing ideas and pooling information drawing the strongest partners to work with those facing the greatest challenges;

  • effectively deal with individual egos which can limit performance and prevent innovation and change.

I constantly visit schools here in Leeds where we are releasing the magic and proving that the assumptions people make about underachievement and underperformance are simply nonsense. There are no excuses any more because we know that across the city, and particularly at places like Carr Manor, David Young and John Smeaton, we are making a real difference to young peoples lives and achieving better outcomes year on year. We know that we have the processes, we have the materials, we have the passion, we have the discipline, we have the intellectual rigour and more importantly we have the people to deliver real magic and achieve brilliant outcomes.

Like you, I am not in any way complacent about the challenges we face here in this wonderfully rich, diverse and incredibly challenging city and no-one needs to tel me that it's hard. Like you, I am constantly looking for the answers and asking myself how we can do better and how we can do more. We need to support and nurture talented leaders, coaches, guides, mentors and teachers building provision and developing pathways to excellence for each and every one of our young people. I passionately believe that the real key lies in convincing our leaders and our learning teams that anything is possible and convincing them that the journey we are on is the right journey.

I was delighted to hear from my colleague Ros McMullen who is Principal at David Young Community Academy about their OFSTED visit...

Ros tells me that the four HMI who visited this week were really impressed by what they saw and I look forward to reading the report.
The OFSTED publication 'Twelve Outstanding Secondary Schools Excelling Against the Odds' is worth reading...

The report looks at schools serving 'poorer communities' facing problems including drugs, racism, violence and gangs. These schools have been rated as outstanding in at least two OFSTED inspections. These schools focus on the right things; maintaining the right culture and ethos, securing consistently good teaching and ensuring that behaviour is well managed.

The outstanding schools in the sample succeed for the following reasons.

  • They excel at what they do, not just occasionally but for a high proportion of the time.
  • They prove constantly that disadvantage need not be a barrier to achievement, that speaking English as an additional language can support academic success and that schools really can be learning communities.
  • They put students first, invest in their staff and nurture their communities.
  • They have strong values and high expectations that are applied consistently and never relaxed.
  • They fulfil individual potential through providing outstanding teaching, rich opportunities for learning, and encouragement and support for each student.
  • They are highly inclusive, having complete regard for the educational progress, personal development and well-being of every student.
  • Their achievements do not happen by chance, but by highly reflective, carefully planned and implemented strategies which serve these schools well in meeting the many challenges which obstruct the path to success.
  • They operate with a very high degree of internal consistency.
  • They are constantly looking for ways to improve further.
  • They have outstanding and well-distributed leadership.
The report concludes that every school can be a great school if we focus on the right things. If you want to read the report visit the OFSTED website at

Friday, 27 February 2009

My colleague Jane Fisher who works at Hovingham Primary School let me know that her class are blogging again...

"Dear Chris, I thought I should write and let you know that I have started to blog again!
You may recall that I had a blog, but an unsigned complaint about the 'next blog' facility meant that I gave up and started our website. Over half term I had a meeting with the Yorkshire and Humberside Grid for Learning and they have set us up a blog, which I have linked to our website. It has no advertising and no next blog..... fanastic!
This time the children in the class have usernames and passwords as authors and so they will be writing it! We have just started it today! Yorkshire and Humberside Grid for Learning are going to do a project with us, giving me £2000 which we are going use to get netbooks in the class, so that a group of children can write on to the blog together. We are looking at the impact on writing. I'm sure it will be a great motivator, and I'm sure to it will be good for building home school relationships as parents can join in and comment. Best regards. Jane"

Jane is doing fantastic things at Hovingham and this initiative will further develop some great work with some wonderul young people. Why not visit the website and the blog!


My colleague Rosemary Archer, Director of Children's Services sent me this piece of good news...

"Dear Chris, I am writing to share with you the latest teenage conception rate figures for Leeds. The figures are for 2007 and have been announced today by the National Audit Office. As you will be aware reducing teenage pregnancies is a priority for the city and all partners and is a priority within the Children and Young People’s Plan and the Local Area Agreement. Over recent years teenage conception rates in the city have been increasing with the rate for 2006 being 50.9/1000 teenage conceptions in our 15-17 year old population. I am pleased to share with you that the rate for 2007 is showing a decrease, down to a rate of 48.1/1000. This gives us a total 4.6% reduction from the baseline figure we had of 50.4/1000 in 1998.

This is a great achievement and one that is thanks to colleagues applying real focus to this challenging target. Whilst there is no single element that has solely contributed to this, but your ownership and leadership contribution to this issue has been vital. We will continue to push hard to implement our strategy that focuses on;

  • Providing effective leadership
  • Improving our data collection, sharing and management
  • Robust performance management
  • Visible and effective communication and social marketing
  • Increasing the provision of contraception and sexual health services
  • Strong and effective delivery of Sex and Relationship Education in schools and non school settings
  • Targeted work in priority wards and with vulnerable groups, and
  • Providing support to teenage parents.

Whilst this is a great achievement, we still have a long way to go to meet the 55% reduction target by 2011. I am sure you will continue to give this your time and energy. Rosemary"

This is a fantastic result and reflects some incredible work by colleagues across the city; in Education Leeds and in schools. I am grateful to Keira Swift, Jenny Midwinter, John Freeman and Anne Cowling and her colleagues.

Great progress, but more to do so let's press on with this vitallly important work.


Tuesday, 24 February 2009

It's great to get some good news. My colleague Penny Woodhead who is Head of Hospital and Home Teaching Service [East SILC] sent me this...

"Hi Chris, You will remember we entered a competition last Oct called The Big Draw. We have won a £500 prize due to be presented by the children's illustrator Quentin Blake in London March 31st. Two young people plus Tim Boardman and Sarah Mc Andrew [teaching staff] and mother of one student, Jackie, will hopefully be attending the ceremony. It is a great achievement by Tim and the students. Best wishes. Penny"

Great news from a great team doing brilliant work with some really special young people.


Sunday, 22 February 2009

We are facing another period of real change, real challenge and real opportunity. We must remain focused on the things that matter and not be distracted by the noise, the clutter and the distractions...

Half-term has not been uneventful as we wrestled with the Machinery of Government, the National Challenge and new Academies. Whatever we do, we must never forget that our priority is to continue our relentless and uncompromising focus on standards, outcomes, attendance and behaviour. We must ensure that young people currently in Years 9, 10 and 11 are targeted with every possible strategy to ensure that they achieve good GCSE results including English and mathematics.

Trust, respect, honesty and openness must shape the way we deal with everything we are doing to drive excellence. As we wrestle with these important issues we must remember that communication is going to be a key element of our work. How we communicate with our colleagues, with our schools and with our partners is vitally important. They say that strong, dynamic and proactive communication lies at the heart of an effective organisation. I am told that only 7% of the messages we receive are the things we say, the other 93% is wrapped up in our body language, our tone of voice and our expressions. In a people organisation like ours we need to understand and practice the 93% rule.

Here are a few practical tips we must all consider:
¨ Smile;
¨ Listen and pay attention;
¨ Don’t interrupt or dismiss concerns;
¨ Use names;
¨ Focus and concentrate;
¨ Encourage;
¨ Give genuine praise;
¨ Take a personal interest;
¨ Spend time;
¨ Learn.

Remember, simply be your brilliant best.
My colleague Tony Adlard, Principal at Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form College sent me this fantastic news...

The College recently received a letter from Sion Simon, Minister for Further Education, advising that Notre Dame has been awarded Learning and Skills Beacon Status by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service. This is brilliant recognition for the work that the College has been doing to develop 16-18 provision for young people here in Leeds.