Thursday, 25 February 2010

I started the day early having soup for breakfast at Harvey Nicholls and in case you are jealous it was for a good cause...

The breakfast was to find people who would companies, organisations and individuals who would champion a very special organiastion called 'Simon on the Streets'. 'Simon on the Streets' appears to reach those vulnerable people that other organisations don't seem to be able to reach. They are a group of volunteers and outreach support workers who provide emotional and practical support to people with complex needs who cannot or will not access other services. Within that group 'Simon on the Streets' focus on people who are homeless and rootless, especially those with issues related to rough sleeping. They also work with other agencies to ensure that their service users are never left unsupported and aim to provide continuous support to prevent relapse into problematic behaviour and to enable individuals to move to a stage where they no longer need support. They provide volunteers with the opportunity to develop new skills, and to be part of an organisation where the values of understanding, respect, commitment and trust are paramount. They also seek to enable people to respond to their service users in a compassionate, caring and empathetic way, to raise awareness of their plight and to articulate the voice of the marginalised.

Having listened to some of the volunteers and outreach workers telling their stories over breakfast 'Simon on the Streets' is making a real difference to some of the most vulnerable people here in Leeds. If you want to find out more about 'Simon on the Streets' and how you can help, you can visit their website at
My colleague Stefan Frontczac, headteacher at Primrose Lane Primary School, Boston Spa, sent me this letter from Derek Gallamore his Year 6 Teacher...

"Dear Chris, I was reading your blog this week and noticed that you welcome news from schools. I would like to share and celebrate some exciting work my class have been undertaking recently. As part of a design project to design a 'House of the Future', we have made a link with an internationally renowned architectural practice based in London - Amanda Levete Architects (formerly, and more widely, known as Future Systems). www.amandalevetearchitects.comThe project started on Tuesday 12th January, when we video conferenced with an architect at Amanda Levete Architects (AL_A). The video-conferencing call lasted over an hour, with the architect talking to the children, showing them a PowerPoint to show how the design process and architects work. He talked to us about design and showed us lots of inspirational pictures. The architect then 'employed' the children as architects and gave them a brief to design a 'house of the future'.Over the last month the children have been really busy designing, writing, making models, playing with materials and exploring ideas in groups. Our work has touched many curriculum areas beyond art and design, including Literacy (e.g. writing booklets to accompany their designs), Numeracy (3D shapes, area, costings of buildings), ICT (control technology), PSHCE (sustainability, team-working) and science (e.g. materials). Having been invited to London by AL_A to present our designs and share our ideas, we are visiting London by train this Friday (26th February). Each group is to present to the architects in London verbally and using A1 graphical presentations which they have created. After visiting the architects on Friday morning, the children will be visiting the Media Centre at Lords Cricket Ground (designed by Future Systems) followed by a ride on the London Eye. There is no cost for this visit to either school or children - the Year 6 pupils and parents have raised over £2000 to fund the visit! Finally, our school badge is on Amanda Levete Architects website (alongside an article about work being exhibited at the Guggenheim museum in New York!) Thank you, Derek."

I am constantly amazed at the work talented colleagues are doing across Leeds to release the magic and the WOW factor.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Conference this morning featured three fantastic scrap art butterflies...

The butterflies were made by children at three Leeds primary schools working with an organisation called 'Scrap Arts'. Scrap Arts is a unique and independent social enterprise promoting the belief that waste materials are precious resources and can be used in creative arts programmes which use waste in imaginative and creative ways... like the fantastic butterflies. If you want to find out more or contact them visit their website at
I started the day at the 'Healthy Schools and Well-being' Celebration at Elland Road...

Eighty of our schools were represented at this wonderful event involving our primary schools, secondary schools and SILCs: extra-ordinary places committed to developing and improving the health and well-being of every child and every young person. We celebrated:
  • 4 schools who had achieved 'Advanced Healthy School' status;
  • 25 schools who had achieved 'National Healthy School' status;
  • 17 schools who had achieved 'Investors in Pupils';
  • 26 schools who were pilots for our 'Sustainable School' status;
  • 3 'Smoke Free Schools'.
We also recognised the achievements of some brilliant colleagues who had completed the PSHE CPD programme and others who were working as PSHE mentors.

We want every child to be happy, healthy, safe and successful in our schools and it is a truly remarkable achievement by Anne Cowling and her colleagues that over 97% of the schools in Leeds have now achieved 'National Healthy School' status. The challenges we face around child obesity, mental health, sexual health, poor diets and poor activity levels require us to continue to work to ensure that health and well-being lie at th heart of what we do here in Leeds.

We all need to get involved and get our children and young people involved by embedding 'Health and Well-being', becoming a 'Sustainable School', becoming an 'Investor in Pupils', adopting "Spirit Alive' and signing up for this years 'Be Healthy Be Creative Challenge 2010.
My colleague Hannah Lamplugh, Lead Participation Officer at Education Leeds, gave me a copy of 'Speak Out!'...

'Speak Out' is the Leeds Youth Council's guide to running an effective school council. The booklet is available to all schools and outlines the benefits of having an effective school council, how school councils can make a difference and the big issues that prevent school councils from being effective and what you can do about them.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

We are facing another period of real change, real challenge and real opportunity...

I hope that you have had some time to relax, unwind, get rid of some of the knots and recharge the batteries over half-term. This next half-term, in the run up to Easter, is going to be challenging for all of us. On top of the day jobs we’ll be really busy as we continue to wrestle with the huge number of consultations we are involved in, our work on the last pieces of the National Challenge jigsaw and our planning for the World Class Primary Programme, which aims to support those primary schools stuck below the Government's floor targets. We know that this is going to be a tough few months with a general election, local elections, the review of children's services, interim appointments, senior council appointments and a huge agenda to deal with as we struggle with capacity across the company. However, we must remain focused on the things that really matter. We must not be put off by the noise, the clutter, the distractions and the angry voices. Whatever we do, we must never forget that our priority is to continue our relentless and uncompromising focus on improving standards, outcomes, attendance and behaviour... whatever it takes!

I know from bitter experience that these are difficult times so trust, respect, honesty and openness must shape the way we deal with everything we are doing. As we tackle these important issues we must remember that communication is going to be a key element of our work. How we communicate over the next few months with our colleagues, with our schools, with elected members and with our partners and stakeholders is going to be more important than ever. We know that strong, dynamic and proactive communication lies at the heart of any effective organisation but I am told that only 7% of the messages people receive come from what we say. The other 93% is wrapped up in our body language, our tone of voice, our expressions and quite simply how we do things. 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, however tough things get, simply be your brilliant best.

'An Evening with Gervase Phinn’

My colleague Gervase Phinn is speaking at an event to raise money for the Lord Mayor's charity appeal on Thursday 8 April 2010 at the Banqueting Suite, Leeds Civic Hall...

Gervase taught in a range of schools for 14 years before becoming an education adviser and school inspector in North Yorkshire. He is now a freelance lecturer, broadcaster and writer, best known for his best-selling autobiographical novels: The Other Side of the Dale; Over Hill and Dale; and Head Over Heels in the Dales. Tickets for the event cost £15 each, and can be bought from the Lord Mayor’s Office, Civic Hall, Leeds LS1 1UR. Please make your cheque payable to ‘The Lord Mayor’s Charity Appeal’ and send it with your name and address to the office.

The Lord Mayor, Councillor Judith Elliott, is supporting three charities this year: Riding for the Disabled which operates at Middleton Park Equestrian Centre and helps over 150 disabled and disadvantaged children each week; the Leeds branch of Samaritans which supports people who are desperate, in despair or crisis; and Create, a not-for-profit company which develops training and employment opportunities for homeless, marginalised or vulnerable people.

Monday, 22 February 2010

'Infinity. No short cuts. No limits'

Those people who still tell me about 'kids like these' or 'it's the community we serve' should all read this wonderful article about the KIPP schools. It was in the TES on Friday and in case you missed it I wanted to share it with everyone who shares my passion, commitment and belief that every child and every young person in every community can achieve. We just need to find the way to build brilliant and release the magic...

Relentless positivity is a hallmark of KIPP schools, where teachers give out their cellphone numbers to pupils, 80 per cent of students are from low-income homes, but 85 per cent go on to university. William Stewart meets Dave Levin, creator of a system admired by both Labour and the Tories

Dave Levin discovered the secret of his success through an unfortunate mistake. In 1992, he was an idealistic young member of the Teach for America scheme. Fresh out of Yale, with minimal training, he had been plunged into the harsh realities of an elementary school in a deprived area of Houston, and he was struggling.

One day, faced with a 5ft 10in class bully completely ignoring his call to sit down, Mr Levin lost his patience and committed a complete no-no. He manhandled the boy across the room and, running out of strength, lost his grip on the overgrown 11-year-old, who slammed back into his chair.

Mortified, Mr Levin decided to break another cardinal rule. Ignoring warnings of the dangers for young white teachers of a largely African- American neighbourhood, he visited the boy’s home to apologise. He was welcomed by a grateful mother, pleased that he was the first teacher to show her the respect of coming to her home rather than summoning her to school.

Today home visits are a cornerstone of the influential Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools Mr Levin founded two years later with fellow Teach for America recruit Mike Feinberg. He believes teachers need to reach pupils’ and parents’ hearts as well as their heads to stand a chance of helping those from disadvantaged backgrounds reach their full potential.

And that means “home visits, things like all of our teachers giving out their cellphone numbers so they are available 24/7”.

In 16 years, KIPP has gone from a single middle school in Houston to 82 schools covering 19 of America’s 20 biggest cities.

That success is now making waves in England. Last summer the Cabinet Office featured KIPP in a report about “the world’s best public services”. And in November, when the Conservatives said they wanted teachers to set up their own schools, it was the “phenomenally successful” KIPP they cited.

I meet Mr Levin in a tiny interview room off a corridor in KIPP Infinity, an 11-13 charter school rated the very best of New York City’s 1,100 state funded schools in 2008. It is housed on the third storey of a large red- brick building that contains an embryonic KIPP high school and three conventional state schools.

The West Harlem setting, immediately behind an enormous high-rise slab of public housing, is stereotypically inner-city New York, with a liberal sprinkling of graffiti tags on its lower levels.

But KIPP Infinity is an oasis of calm and order. To visit the “teachers’ bathroom” you go downstairs to a floor occupied by a conventional state school where pupils hang around the corridors and you notice an instant rise in noise. Back in the KIPP sanctuary, the corridors, brightly decorated with slogans like ‘Climb the mountain to college’ and ‘Infinity. No shortcuts. No limits’, are empty during lessons.

At change-over time pupils, wearing T-shirts printed with the year they will graduate from university, line up and recite multiplication tables before entering classrooms decorated with pennants from their teacher’s alma mater.

They are tactics known to anyone familiar with the US charter school movement. But non-profit KIPP was in at the beginning of this new culture of high expectations for disadvantaged pupils.

We were starting with fifth graders, which are nine year-olds,” Dave Levin remembers. “The idea we were going to talk to them about college, going to college and graduating college; no one was doing that. Everyone was talking about ‘let’s do a little bit better on our state test scores’. We were talking about a transformative life change.

That’s the ultimate result. But you can’t wait 12 years. You can’t tell parents ‘Trust me, 12 years from now everything is going to be OK.’ There has to be a focus on short-term results as well.”

KIPP has succeeded on both counts with pupils who are 80 per cent low income and 90 per cent African American or Latino. After four years at its middle schools, all of KIPP eighth grade classes have outperformed their district averages in maths and English.

Even more importantly, 85 per cent of KIPP pupils go to university, compared with 20 per cent of low-income pupils nationally. The KIPP approach, which includes a relentless data-driven focus on test performance and accountability, is now succeeding in 19 separate states and in the District of Columbia.

Mr Levin does not have a big office or a personal assistant. The curly haired 40-year-old’s collar and tie peek out under a crew-neck sweatshirt, making him look like a scruffy sixth former.

He shares the enthusiasm, and a touch of the geekiness, of those other two American pioneers, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Ideas come tumbling out at such a rate that he rarely has time to end a sentence. But you quickly grasp the energy and engagement that make him such a good teacher.

How do you read that?” he exclaims when he spots I am using shorthand. “You have shorthand for numbers too? That’s fascinating!”

Asked what a government would need to do to replicate the success of an organisation like KIPP in England, he answers: “Three Fs, and people. Funding, facilities, freedom. Then you need a systematic approach to how you find great people - principals and teachers.”

It sounds neat. But apart from autonomy - which is a given in English schools, compared to those in the US - it is really a statement of the blindingly obvious. Of course schools need money, buildings and teachers to succeed.

A lot of what KIPP has done is breathtakingly simple. Mr Levin, for example, sums up a key factor in two words: “You need more time. Not just for the kids who struggle; you need more time for everybody. They go in 7.30(am)-5(pm), (do) two hours of homework, come to school on Saturdays and go to school for a month in summer - more time.”

But KIPP’s triumph has not been about easy formulas. In his US bestseller Work Hard. Be Nice, Washington Post journalist Jay Mathews relates how Mr Levin and Mr Feinberg succeeded through passion, grit and sheer bloody- mindedness, often stumbling across solutions on the way.

Harriett Ball, a colleague at Mr Levin’s first school in Houston, showed them how important it was to make learning attractive for pupils, teaching multiplication tables through catchy, streetwise chants, a technique they dubbed “rolling the numbers”.

Mr Levin sees that kind of approach as vital. “We have to compete today with all of the other influences in a kid’s life - mass media, TV, movies, sports, music,” he explains. “So schools have to understand that you have to be relevant. You have to make school cool; there is just no other way round it.”

It is a lesson he passes on to other KIPP teachers. But KIPP’s structure means there is no prescribed way of doing things. It does not operate like a chain in the way they are usually understood, rolling out a series of identical franchises.

KIPP selects its principals carefully - only 4 per cent of applicants are successful. They receive a year’s training and then have to build their own schools from scratch - finding premises, hiring staff, establishing a culture, going through the same challenges as Mr Levin and Mr Feinberg faced.

They are supported by KIPP, and a menu of two or three proven curriculum approaches is being developed for them.

But Mr Levin stresses: “If they wanted to try something totally new they would still have the freedom to do that so long as it is tied to results.”

Some believe that KIPP could be simply making poverty more palatable while leaving the really hard cases to conventional state schools. They cite evidence suggesting the programme attracts the more able and motivated pupils from poor communities and that test scores are inflated because the toughest pupils drop out.

Parents and kids have got to choose the school for the most part,” Mr Levin says. “This doesn’t mean that you are creaming kids. We have kids across the entire bell curve of academics (ability) as well as motivation.”

But he immediately seems to contradict himself: “If you are going to sign up you have at least got to want to do the hours. You can’t have some kids go 7.30 to 5 and some kids go 9 to 3.”

So what can be done for children who are not motivated enough to come in early?

Hmmm… we really have not met many, especially as we become more established and more successful. People want to belong to something great.”

But what about those whose parents don’t buy into the idea?

It goes back to that point about reaching to the heart. When you do home visits, give out cellphone numbers, when you are accessible for people, it is easy to build relationships. People want to believe.”

KIPP achieves so much with the disadvantaged pupils it does attract that many would forgive Mr Levin for admitting there were some families beyond his help. But he won’t.

So many schools have problems with their parents,” he says. “But you have got to ask what is the school offering that really is going to engage the families? And when you offer a bunch of things that parents want - they want their kids to learn, be safe and enjoy school, and they want to be treated with respect. When those things happen, parents are supportive.

In 15 years and thousands and thousands of families, every single parent I have ever met wants what’s best for their kid. There are families you have to work harder to build relationships with. And that’s what great schools do. They don’t accept the first response.”

So there are no unreachable families?

There is a long pause. “There are no unreachable families.””

So there are no excuses and no where for anyone to hide. Every school can and should achieve brilliant results and everyone of us needs to raise our game and search for ways to achieve brilliant results... whatever it takes!