Saturday, 3 October 2009

Another relentless and uncompromising week at the office, but one in which I realised that to really develop Children's Services and a children's world here in Leeds, we must change the language and reinvent our vocabulary. We must move away from language which carries so much baggage and history, and start using more inclusive and supportive terms like learning places; learning teams; colleagues and partners...

The week started with our leadership team meeting before I attended a corporate leadership team emergency planning session at the Carriageworks, whilst my colleagues attended the launch of the new Children and Young People's Plan. I attended the usual mix of meetings with councillors, colleagues and the corporate leadership team. I also managed to squeeze in dinner with our visitors from Brno in the Czech Republic. On Wednesday, I visited Rawdon Littlemoor Primary School where Shelagh Henderson and her team are doing brilliant work and achieving great results, before visiting Swallow Hill Community College to be interviewed about our developing partnership with RM. I also attended the Cabinet meeting to discuss the next executive board agenda, and later I met Vladimir Moskovan and Roel Rhoner to talk about how we might continue to develop the relationship with Brno and build on the partnership and the learning between the two cities. On Thursday, I spoke at the Primary Newly Qualified Teachers welcome event at the Village Hotel. The event attracted around 150 young talented teachers starting their learning journey here in Leeds, and it was wonderful to be with them. I moved on to visit Carr Manor High School for their launch of Black History Month with colleagues from Primary Colours. Linda Bowles and her team are doing fantastic things and achieving great results. I also attended the Beeston Community Forum to talk about the progress we are making in the Beeston schools and the challenges we still face. And finally the week ended with another extended Leadership Team meeting looking at the challenges we are facing with the new Ofsted framework. A framework focused on safeguarding and standards, and underpinned by co-operation, teamwork, networking and partnering.

We must continue to encourage colleagues from across Children's Services to co-operate, network and partner; working together on BRILLIANT projects, challenges and initiatives to improve outcomes for children and young people, their families and their communities. We must dig deep to find, nurture and sustain talent across the Children's Services world and wherever possible we must celebrate our successes however large or small with t-shirts, buttons, badges, wristbands, certificates, awards and chocolate! And to conquer the new challenge from Ofsted we must declare war on complexity; stay focused on the basics, on outcomes, standards and evidence; keep it simple; and create beautiful systems that reinforce our culture and our values. Above all, we must communicate, communicate, communicate.

Friday, 2 October 2009

I started the day with colleagues at the West Park Centre...

We were looking at how we support our most vulnerable schools, schools in transition and those in challenging circumstances and the impact of the new OFSTED Framework. I sometimes wonder what is driving this uncompromising and relentlessly critical approach to standards, safeguarding and provision by the DCSF and OFSTED.

Do we really believe that headteachers, teachers and schools will only do their job properly if they are constantly criticised, tightly directed and carefully monitored. Do we really believe that a significant and increasing minority of headteachers, teachers and schools are performing so poorly that they need to be identified and removed from their roles. Do we really believe that headteachers, teachers and schools are generally well intentioned and professional in their work, but that they need to have continuous, unequivocal external guidance about what they are doing.

What we all need is intelligent accountability. Accountability that...
  1. preserves, enhances and develops trust.
  2. develops ownership and involves us in the process.
  3. supports professional responsibility and initiative.
  4. encourages deep, worthwhile responses rather than shallow surface window dressing.
  5. recognises and compensates for the severe limitations of our ability to capture educational quality in simplistic performance indicators.
  6. provides effective feedback that promotes insight into performance.
  7. supports good decision making about what we should celebrate and what we should change.
Let me know what you think.
I spend this evening at the Beeston Community Forum and quite rightly the questions come down to why haven't we cracked it and why aren't we delivering brilliant learning and fantastic outcomes in Beeston, Seacroft, Armley and across the whole of Leeds...

It's one of the questions I often ask myself and I wish it were that easy. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves as a society why we haven't tackled poverty, deprivation, worklessness and the common factors that conspire to prevent young people achieving good outcomes however hard we all work. I know from countless school visits over the years that talented colleagues here in Leeds and amazing colleagues up and down the country are releasing the magic and driving up standards and outcomes in some of the most challenging contexts. You only have to look at our stories here in Leeds.

Interestingly many schools where 'radical measures' are needed are achieving fantastic results when you are prepared to look for them. When you are prepared to look more intelligently at their outcomes and where you better understand the context within which they work and when you look at the progress of different cohorts and target groups. It is important to understand that this isn't an excuse for underachievement or poor outcomes and it isn't an alternative to a school culture where we demand discipline, hard work and constantly strive for excellence. But more than ever we need to challenge the current obsession with unrelenting critical analysis and develop more intelligent accountability.

Those of us who have spent our lives at and on the front line know the real answers lie where they have always been...
  • strong, disciplined, focused and passionate leadership;
  • clear, shared vision, values and beliefs;
  • talented, energetic, enthusiastic and creative teaching teams;
  • empowered, trusted and disciplined colleagues;
  • brilliant teaching supported by strong assessment for learning;
  • stimulating, exciting and engaging curriculum pathways;
  • powerful, stimulating and interesting learning environments;
  • rigorous tracking, monitoring and intervention;
  • high self-esteem and high expectations of everyone;
  • strong, dynamic and meaningful coaching relationships;
  • high engagement and involvement of young people;
  • positive engagement and involvement of parents and carers.
My answers to the challenges we face? We must trust, empower and engage colleagues and invest in local authorities and schools as the front line of an attack on poverty, deprivation, worklessness and under-achievement. Of course in a world where appearing tough and delivering soundbites is seen as important, these things take leadership, persistence, determination and courage.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Our International work is brilliant and it is great to know that colleagues have secured €134,500 EU funding, over the next two years, to develop partnership working across Europe. The money will be used to fund three projects, which will promote innovation in local teaching and learning through international cooperation...

The first project sees Leeds schools working with the Andalucian Education Authority, to enhance access to quality language learning for young people. They will develop foreign language teaching using cross-curricular approaches focusing on PE, art and new technologies.

The second project will see a partnership between Leeds and Nykoping, in Sweden, promoting community cohesion and celebrating diversity. The project aims to ensure different minority ethnic pupils, particularly international new arrivals, achieve their full potential.

And the third project sees Leeds work with Stockholm to provide lifelong learning opportunities for participating schools, focusing on sustainability, culture and personalised learning.

As funding gets increasingly tight and we carefully look at everything we spend we must continue to develop projects which draw down additional funding to sustain and develop our brilliant international work.
This afternoon I went to Carr Manor Primary School for the launch of Black History Month here in Leeds...I had been invited because the brilliant 'Primary Colours' team were working in the school and releasing their usual magic with the children. Primary Colours was set up by Marcia Hutchinson and is one of the leading providers of high quality, culturally inclusive resources, helping schools to embed cultural diversity within the curriculum. The team includes Creative Director Pete Tidy, Shazia Azhar, Katherine Platt and John Ashton.

It was great to be back at Carr Manor Primary School and to see how the school continues to develop its brilliant provision through the Children's Centre, the extended services work and the focus on real excellence. Linda Bowles is an inspirational headteacher and she has developed and nurtured a quite exceptional team of talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues. You just have to walk the school to see that they are releasing a powerful and wonderfully rich curriculum mixture focused on literacy, numeracy, ICT, the arts, sport, personal and social education and rooted in a great learning environment, fantastic relationships and a real understanding of what really matters; quite simply, primary provision at its brilliant best!
I started the day at the Primary Newly Qualified Teachers Induction Welcome Event at the Village Hotel...

My colleagues Kathryn Atkins, from our Primary Advisory Team, and Rachale Dearns, from our Hunman Resources Team, had worked really hard to set up this day for the 150 young, talented and gorgeous teachers who have joined our primary schools and SILCs this term. It was inspiring to be able to talk to so many young colleagues starting their learning journey here in Leeds as members of simply wonderful primary and special school workforce. It's like being in a school assembly and looking at the talent, the potential and the magic and again you wonder what we can't achieve together here in Leeds.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

I met Vladimir Moskovan and Roel Rhoner again this afternoon...

They came to my office with Lydie Zukalova, Jodie Driver and Jenny Hill to talk about how we can continue to build on the relationship between Brno and Leeds. It was great to talk about the Dalton approach the schools use in Brno and Utrecht and our approach to coaching, personalisation and pathways. We agreed to work on a Comenius bid to support this work and look at having a conference here in Leeds to continue to build the relationships and the learning.
I started the day at Rawdon Littlemoor Primary School...

It's a fantastic school which was built as part of the ten schools PFI project five years ago and still looks great. Shelagh Henderson, headteacher, and Arthur Rawnsley, Chair of Governors, were there to meet me and to show me their school. Shelagh and her talented colleagues are doing a great job and have created a brilliant learning environment for their children. It was a wonderful start to the day.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

This evening I had dinner with colleagues and friends from Brno in the Czech Republic...

Jenny Hill, my colleague, and I spend wonderful 48 hours in Brno, the Czech Republic's second city after Prague, in May 2007. This evening I was reunited with Vladimir Moskovan, Headteacher at the Chalabalova Scola in Brno, and Roel Rhoner, from the University of Utrecht, who I first met in Brno during that visit. It was great to be able to spend some time with these wonderful colleagues and the other visitors from Brno who had spent a brilliant day at their partner schools here in Leeds; New Bewerley Community Primary School, Valley View Primary School, Allerton CE Primary School and Tranmere Park Primary School. Their passion, enthusiasm, commitment and magic shone through our evening together as they laughed and talked about their day here in Leeds and the magical practice they had observed in their partner schools.

Monday, 28 September 2009

This afternoon other colleagues attended the launch of 'Building Brighter Futures in Leeds', the new Leeds Children and Young people's Plan 2009 - 2014...

The Plan sets out our approach to improving outcomes for all our children and young people. The document outlines our progress since the last plan was published in 2006 and establishes the ten areas where we need to work in partnership to drive up standards and secure better outcomes.
  • improving outcomes for our looked after children;
  • improving attendance and reducing persistent absence from school;
  • improving early learning and primary outcomes in deprived areas;
  • providing places to go and things to do;
  • raising the proportion of young people in education or work;
  • reducing child poverty;
  • reducing teenage conceptions;
  • reducing the need for children to be in care;
  • strengthening safeguarding;
  • enabling integrated working.
The Plan makes it clear that over the next five years we will work to make sure that all children and young people:
  • are safe and secure;
  • are safe and supported in stronger communities;
  • are helped to narrow the gap;
  • are thriving and learning;
  • are safe and supported in stronger families;
  • enjoy life and have places to go and things to do;
  • make the right choices;
  • make a good start; and
  • are supported by excellent integrated working.
These are ambitious statements but we all know that everything we do needs to be good or better and there can be no exceptions. We all believe that the children and young people of this great city are its future and have extraordinary potential. It is also important that we recognise that our parents and carers, our communities and our partners want every school and all our provision to be brilliant... whatever it takes.
I moved on to an Emergency Planning Session with the Council's Corporate Leadership Team...

The session led by Roger Carter, the Council's Chief Emergency Planning Officer, and Tim Pouncey, Chief Officer, Audit and Risk and looked at how we strategically manage major emergencies like the swine flu pandemic, floods and other catastrophes.
i started the day with our Leadership Team looking at our three year financial strategy...

The budget situation looks interesting as we face tighter public spending and the Government's intention to continue to move to place the money with schools to purchase the services and support they need to drive up standards and outcomes. This is right and means that schools will be increasingly shaping and owning the services we currently provide. It means that we need to ensure that we all understand the real cost of everything we do and ensure that all the services we continue to provide are outstanding.
My colleague Steve Clark, Headteacher at Whitkirk Primary School sent me this message at the end of last week...

"Hello Chris, Just a quick note to alert you to an item on tv this evening that might be of interest. Calendar on ITV is showing an item about two of our pupils who have worked with the Willow Young Carers team. As I know you know, the Willows team does a fantastic job of raising awareness about the lives of young carers and they spent a whole day with us here at Whitkirk recently, allowing all children to understand what it means to be a young carer. The Calendar cameras were here on Tuesday filming some of our children and I have just learned that they are showing it tonight. Tune in and you should see some of our young stars in action!
Best wishes, Steve."

Willow Young Carers is a wonderful organisation reaching and supporting some of the young carers in Leeds. Whitkirk Primary School has pioneered some of this work and it is wonderful to see their work being given such coverage and recognition.


Sunday, 27 September 2009

Our visitors from Sweden told me about 'The World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child' which is a bit like the Nobel Prize but goes to a child...

The WCPRC strengthens the voices of children and young people, promotes their ‘humanitarian growth’ into global citizens, and helps them to demand respect for the rights of the child. Students from all over the world work with the WCPRC, which is the world’s largest annual education and empowerment process for the rights of the child, democracy, the environment and global friendship.

The WCPRC was founded by Swedish organisation Children’s World, but it is open to all schools and organisations all over the world.You can find out more by visiting their website at