Friday, 1 October 2010


Debbie Hawkins, Community Co-ordinator at Cookridge Primary School sent me this bit of brilliant news...

"Dear Chris, Jo Speak, teacher and International Co-ordinator at Cookridge Primary School, Leeds has won the Link2learn International Co-ordinator of the Year. The award is to celebrate excellence and innovation in international schools partnerships. It is organised by the British Council and supported by HSBC Global Education Trust. Mrs Speak, since arriving at Cookridge Primary school some 3 years ago, has worked tirelessly to create strong links with schools in South Africa, Nigeria, Mexico, Paraguay and Spain with staff members throughout the school exchanging visits with the link schools. Cookridge Primary School has been awarded £2,500 and Mrs Speak will use the award to now invite children from Cookridge's partner schools to join in a conference on global issues. Thank you, Debbie."

Jo Speak is a brilliant colleague who worked as part of the International Relations Team in Leeds City Council before she joined Cookridge Primary School. Her passion, enthusiasm, commitment and hard work shines through everything she does and I am delighted that she has received this fantastic award which is well-deserved.

Thursday, 30 September 2010


I moved on to visit St Theresa's Catholic Primary School...

John Hutchinson, the headteacher and his strong senior leadership team are driving school improvement and achieving some impressive results particularly with their boys. It was great to talk to John whose energy, expertise and experience is making a real difference at St Theresa's. It was also good to see the transformation of the school chapel  which is now a wonderful centre for spiritual development for the school and its community. While John was teaching, I was given a guided tour of the school by Francesca and Ciaran, two of John's wonderful Year 6 students, who were confident, articulate and both fantastic adverts for the school.

It was great to meet some of John's talented team and to see Debbie Kelleher again, one of the school teaching assistants, who reached the regional finals for the National Teaching Awards. There are some exciting initiatives in place which are having a real impact on the children's learning. The creative curriculum work in Year 3 with Creative Partnerships is making a real difference as is the work with Education Leeds colleagues on enterprise. The early years is great with another fantastic 'Magical Garden' which enhances the outside play available for the youngest children. The school serves an interesting and challenging community and is also doing great work with inclusion and provision for children with autism.

This is another good school with outstanding features led by a talented headteacher whose passion, energy and commitment is achieving great things.


I started the day at Fieldhead Carr Primary School...

It was great to visit this amazing little school again and to see the real progress the school is making on its journey to outstanding. OFSTED recently said that this is a good school with outstanding features and Nik Edensor is an inspirational young headteacher whose passion, drive, determination, commitment and hard work working with a brilliant team is achieving some extraordinary results. The school is developing and building on outstanding practice in the early years, the creative curriculum, the Children's University and working with the National College delivering NPQH programmes. The learning environment is fantastic and Nik's commitment to his team is evident in the distributed leadership, coaching strategies and professional development programmes which are all driving ownership, engagement, commitment and a culture of excellence.

As someone who is always learning, I always ask myself after visiting schools like Fieldhead Carr Primary School, what is it that makes this little school such a brilliant learning place? The answers...

  • Nik's intelligent, focused and passionate leadership;
  • an inclusive learning culture within a highly focused and consistent system;
  • a great teaching and learning team;
  • clear values and beliefs driving all the work of the school;
  • a focus on excellence, high standards and positive behaviour;
  • outstanding teaching;
  • a positive, attractive and stimulating learning environment;
  • high expectations and hard work!
This is a brilliant school with a great team led by an inspirational headteacher. Nik Edensor and his learning team are doing an incredible job and have built something really amazing at  Fieldhead Carr Primary School .

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


I moved on again to the West Park Centre...

I had been invited to the Official Opening of Ferdinand Koci's wonderful Art Exhibition. Ferdinand Koci is a Roma from Albania who has exhibited his work all over Europe. He won the Beaux Artes Competition in France and has a growing international reputation. His art conveys great stories and is rooted in his Roma heritage with powerful portrayal of the issues facing the Roma communities across Europe. The art work is loaned from Ferdinand's own private collection and shows off his talent and amazing ability to tell stories through these fascinating and beautiful pictures.

This free exhibition is at the West Park Centre until Christmas and schools have a unique opportunity to visit the exhibition with groups of children. The Gypsy Roma Traveller Achievement Service have also produced a fantastic Information Pack which is free for teachers bringing children to the exhibition. To arrange a visit and pick up a pack you can contact Helen Crossley at the West Park Centre on 01132748050 or Further information about the work of the Gypsy Roma Traveller Achievement Service, Ferdinand Koci and the exhibition is available at


I moved on to Benton Park School...

I was met by David Foley, the headteacher, whose enthusiasm and commitment has transformed the leadership and the culture at the school over the last couple of years. I had been invited to the school because Benton Park was holding a Careers Fair over two days and had attracted 48 providers from the universities and colleges to the armed forces; from Morrisons to a local hairdressing salon. This ambitious Careers Fair will provide information, advice and guidance about jobs and the world of work to 950 students from Year 9 to Year 13 and their parents. 

This was a great initiative and the scale of the approach was impressive. I was delighted to visit Benton Park School again and see first hand what David and his team have achieved, their plans for the future and the improving outcomes at A2 and GCSE level.


I started the day early having breakfast with nine of our new headteacher colleagues...

These new headteachers are an amazing group of colleagues and we talked about the brilliant provision we have built here in Leeds over the last nine and a half years and how their schools can continue to maintain the focus on standards with so much changing locally and nationally and the challenges with safeguarding, child protection, multi-agency working and extended services and so much expected of schools. The new Children's Services arrangements will help develop the team around the school supporting the team around the family and the child to ensure that every child arrives at school ready to learn. We all agreed that as new headteachers they must continue to focus on outstanding teaching and learning and nurture passion, enthusiasm, determination, persistence and patience within their workforce.

We also recognised that they are part of a great learning team here in Leeds with access to a brilliant network of outstanding practice. We agreed that in the early stages of headship a mentor, coach and school improvement partner were vitally important and that it was important to be able to phone a friend when help is needed. We talked about the importance of developing confident, self-critical and reflective practitioners in our schools while working positively with colleagues from Social Care, Health, the police and the voluntary sector to support families and build healthier and more sustainable communities through our community hubs; the primary schools and Children's Centres.

We have achieved great things over the last nine years but we also talked about the many challenges we still face with persistent absence, challenging behaviour, mental health problems, alcohol abuse, obesity, sexual health, poverty, worklessness and disfunctional families.  These colleagues have a passionate commitment to their children, and understand that schools must be outstanding learning places with the WOW factor and where children are exposed to rigorous, pacey and brilliant teaching to ensure that as far as possible they all became literate, numerate and had the necessary social and emotional skills to succeed.

It was a brilliant start to the day with some great colleagues.  We need to do more of this; to talk more, to share more, to network more and to celebrate more. We all recognise the challenges that lie ahead and we need to be more creative and more collaborative and more collegiate as part of Team Leeds.  Remember that the best way to predict the future is to invent it for yourself.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


This afternoon I visited Hugh Gaitskell Primary School...

I tend to visit the school every year and the last time I visited Hugh Gaitskell Primary School was for the official opening of their brilliant new garden and playground last year. Margaret and her team have made more progress, since that visit, opening a new community room, office, staff room, teaching areas and a primary age inclusion unit building on the excellent work they do with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Walking around the school building you realise that the staff team work really hard to create an exciting and stimulating learning environment for the children particularly in the early years.

I had been invited to talk to the governing body about the challenges they face with their building. We agreed, in the light of limited additional resources being available, that we should develop a planned and systematic approach, building on what has already been achieved, to address the remaining issues over time using the school's own devolved capital.

Margaret and her colleagues are doing some amazing things at the school balancing wonderful care, guidance and support, a fantastic learning culture and high quality early years provision which will continue to secure better standards and improve learning outcomes.


Monday, 27 September 2010


This afternoon I visited Primrose Lane Primary School...

I last visited the school two years ago and this time I was going to see Catherine Holmes, the new headteacher, who had started at the school at Easter. Catherine is a talented colleague who brings successful experience of headship from Hertfordshire and it was great to be able to meet her and see first hand what an intelligent and capable headteacher we have at Primrose Lane Primary School. Catherine talked to me about her early experiences here in Leeds, what has gone well and what we could do better. She also outlined her hopes and what she wants to achieve at the school starting from some strong and successful foundations. She then gave me a whistle stop tour of the school where I met some of her colleagues and some of her wonderful children.

This is a good school with enormous potential which I am sure will become a great school under Catherine's focused, passionate and committed leadership.


You know I like to read...

We've all come to accept that boys can't focus in the classroom or multi-task and like to play rough and tumble. We've all come to accept that girls can't be bothered with physical activity and are obsessed with relationships and what they look like. But what is it about boys and girls that explains the enormous differences in their achievements throughout the education system? In her book, 'Pink brain, Blue brain' Lise Eliot attempts to challenge those preconceptions and explains what we can do to change things. Based on a study of the research and her work in the new field of plasticity, Eliot argues that small childrens brains are adaptable and that small differences at birth become exaggerated over time, as parents, carers, peers, teachers and the society we live in reinforces these stereotypes. Children also appear to make things worse for themselves by constantly sticking to those “sporty” or “dolly” activities. We need to encourage children to experiment and explore and set up situations where we can develop boys and girls abilitities and aptitudes particularly in the early years. We can also get parents to help by helping them know how and when to get involved. Drawing on the latest scientific thinking at every stage Lise Eliot highlights the real differences between boys and girls. Boys are certainly better at some kinds of spatial reasoning than girls but girls are not naturally more empathetic than boys.

By appreciating these differences and working on them we can help our children reach their potential and release the magic and perhaps we can begin to close the achievement gap between our boys and our girls.


Last week was another great week spent with some great colleagues...

I had lunch with Dina Martin, headteacher at Firs Hill Community Primary School in Sheffield. I visited Westerton Primary School where James Reid, the headteacher, and his team are doing great things. I visited Morley Newlands Primary School where Adrian Stygall, the headteacher, and his colleagues have transformed the school over the last few years. And I visited Morley Victoria Primary School, yet another outstanding Leeds school, and was welcomed by Julie Hardaker, the deputy headteacher, who showed me some of their magic. It was brilliant to visit these great schools again and to meet Dina. I also attended the Children's Services Awards for Excellence at the Banqueting Suite at the Civic Hall where we celebrated the work of colleagues and teams who have made a real difference for children, young people and their families over the last year. It was wonderful to see so many colleagues being recognised for going the extra mile and making a real difference where it matters.

Dina, James, Adrian, Richard, Julie and the colleagues at the Excellence Awards all provide that something special that there is so much of here in Leeds: passion; commitment; determination; and hard work. Importantly, they also provide strong and dynamic leadership; leadership that drives a culture of real excellence and a commitment to real improvement. They also have that magic ingredient that makes them such extraordinary people; a relentless and uncompromising belief in children, young people and their families.

And talking of magic on Friday, 1 October, it will be six months until the Education Leeds contract formally ends and we are integrated into the new children's services arrangements. These next six months will provide us with an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary work we do in making a difference and improving the lives of our children and young people. Each month, we will recognise and acknowledge the achievements of a different group of colleagues who all contribute to the learning landscape we have built here in Leeds, and this first month will focus on our brilliant, talented, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues here at Education Leeds. I hope you will all join me on Friday 22 October when we will be hosting a ‘A night for extra-ordinary Education Leeds colleagues’, joining the annual Spirit Awards with Long Service Awards for Education Leeds colleagues, at the Leeds Civic Hall banqueting suite from 5.30pm to 9pm. I would love to see all of you there – it will be a great opportunity to celebrate 10 years of Education Leeds, and to congratulate our Spirit Award winners and another group of colleagues who have worked in education in Leeds for 25 years. Please keep an eye on InfoBase where the communications team will be posting information about this year's nominees, and for more information on our six months of celebrating 10 extra-ordinary years.

It's time to celebrate the magic!


Sunday, 26 September 2010

People constantly tell me that exercise is the best way to lose weight and I am increasingly worried about predictions that 50 per cent of our population will be overweight or obese by 2030...

Everything I have read recently suggests that exercise as a means of losing weight has been exaggerated and that putting the emphasis on exercise means that we are unlikely to tackle obesity. I know that exercise releases endorphins, reduces depression, and has a major impact on heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, and dementia and it is obvious that we live longer and healthier when we exercise. The truth, I am told, is that other than stopping smoking, there is nothing you can do for yourself that is better than exercise but is there? Isn't it true that we are what we eat!

Please let me know what you think we can and should do about this epidemic!
I know some of you have noticed that I have lost weight and are concerned about my health. Don't worry, I am getting fit for my next challenge. As part of this programme I also joined a gym and the calorie counter on the machines is simply scary...

It's difficult to believe that:
  • 15 minutes lifting weights equals the 100 calories in one small cappuccino;
  • 75 minutes of stretching equals the 220 calories in a small mars bar;
  • 15 minutes on the stairclimber equals the 129 calories in a can of coke;
  • 30 minutes running on the treadmill at 10kmph equals the 400 calories in one blueberry muffin;
  • 50 minutes on indoor rower equals the 450 calories in a large slice of cheesecake;
  • 19 minutes on elliptical trainer equals the 95 calories in a medium size banana;
  • 30 minutes of aerobics equals the 163 calories in a small pack of raisins;
  • 10 minutes on the exercise bike equals the 55 calories in a low-fat fruit yoghurt.
Scary stuff really but it's true that we are what we eat!