Saturday, 6 January 2007

Another weekend... I don't know about you but over the Christmas and New Year holidays I manage to get to read and it's fantastic. This break, I read a few books to unwind and a few to help me refocus and face another year in Leeds. I re-read 'Carpe Jugulum' by Terry Pratchett which is a really funny read... Carpe Diem with a bite! I love the Discworld novels and I am desperately waiting for the next one which is late as Terry usually writes one every year and I get it for Christmas, I did read 'Wintersmith' one of his children's books featuring Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men which was published last year but it isn't the same. I also read the new John Le Carre novel 'The Mission Song' which was good. It's a Le Carre with a difference... which I struggled with initially... the unusual emphasis on the spiiritual and the passionate is a new slant and reflects I suppose the new world we live in. I am grateful to some colleagues because have recently discovered Ian Rankin and I managed to read Ian's new book 'The Naming of the Dead'. It was a really compelling read which I found hard to put down until I got to the end, I suppose the great thing with coming to Ian Rankin's books late it certainly gives you plenty to read. I also can't remember who suggested I should read 'Blink' but thank you. It's a book by Malcolm Gladwell who also wrote 'The Tipping Point' which is another fascinating book for those of us in the change business. Blink explores that strange thing where you 'know' something but you don't really know why... gut instinct, the feeling in the pit of your stomach, snap judgement... call it what you will he argues that we must refine these skills and use them to ensure that the way we think will never be the same again. I also started and I am re-reading the best work book I read last year... 'a whole new mind: How to thrive in the new conceptual age' by Daniel H. Pink. It is an essential read for anyone who is concerned about the future... it is a truly mindchanging guide to living, working, thriving and surviving in a world where 'abundance, asia and automation' are changing our lives for ever. It highlights the six essential skills we need to develop in each other, in our colleagues and in our children... design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. It provides an original and compelling analysis of how we can re-imagine our workplaces, our schools and ourselves in this topsy-turvy crazy chaotic world. I'll lend you my copy if you want and I know that once you've read it you'll want to buy it and give it to your friends, your colleagues and those you love and care about.
Let me know what you have been reading. Which books did you really enjoy over Christmas and the New Year? What is simply a great read? Let's start a bookclub and share the very best books we have read. If anyone wants to borrow any of the books mentioned here let me know. We must all continue to read, to research, to learn and to share and communicate.

Friday, 5 January 2007

Schools are amazing places.... I went to Carr Manor High School today to meet Martin Wainwright from the Guardian newspaper. Martin is writing an article for the Guardian on PfI schools and we wanted to take Martin to an example of PfI at its best. Martin was shown around the school by a group of students and Simon Flowers, the headteacher. The students told Martin that it's an amazing building and it's true. Our partners from Investors in the Community (IiC) have worked with us to create something incredible for the community. And to dispel the myths about PfI, the school is open seven days a week ...on Saturday it's a Music Centre and Sunday it's a church! IiC are working with us creatively and imaginatively to look at regeneration and community engagement and involvement. Carr Manor High School is an example of real partnership working to create synergy and achieve a step-change in outcomes for young people and their families. How come it works so well? Perhaps it's all about leadership, relationships, trust and partnership. Perhaps it's all about focus, rigour, passion and commitment. Perhaps it's all about special people who are driven to do the very best for a wonderful group of young people. What is very evident is that Simon and his team supported by IiC and their partners and colleagues from Education Leeds are doing a fantastic job and have created a brilliant learning place which is a model for the future.
Schools are amazing places... Last night I went to Morley High School to their Prize-giving and Presentation Evening. It was a wonderful evening and showed everyone there why the school is such a successful place… an outstanding place. Why? Simple... leadership, passion, commitment and rigour. Morley High School has had it’s best year ever. And it wasn’t simply the school’s best ever results, their highest ever levels of attendance and their very low levels of exclusions. And it wasn’t simply their achievements in the arts and sport. Morley High School became one of only around 30 organisations nationally to achieve Investors in People Champion Status… there are only four schools in the United Kingdom to have achieved this status. Morley High School had an OfSTED inspection which identified two outstanding aspects of a very special school… the innovative and very powerful curriculum and the remarkable leadership provided by John Townsley. Terry Elliott, the school’s Chair of Governors, said during the ceremony that he hoped I would be proud of what I saw… I am Terry, deeply proud of what has been achieved at Morley High School… it is an amazing place where outstanding professionals work with outstanding young people to achieve brilliant outcomes. We need to learn from what has been achieved at Morley High School. What are the characteristics of their success? What makes a school a brilliant learning place?

Thursday, 4 January 2007

It is funny how humbling it is to meet with a group of parents who are struggling to cope with their child with special needs. Struggling all day every day... and then we tell them that we can't find anywhere for their child in any of our schools here in Leeds. Today, I spent an hour listening to Tommy's parents describing how he hadn't been in school and that he had been constantly excluded. They recognised how difficult it was for people to cope with Tommy's behaviour and yet they cope with it all the time. They recognised the problems and understood what was best for Tommy but asked why it had taken so long for us to find somewhere that could meet his needs. They were clearly at their wits end and their care and concern for Tommy shone out through the tears and the anger and the frustration. It's easy amongst the 110,000 children and young people we care for in our schools to miss the Tommy's, to ignore the early signs and for the problems to build and grow until we have to act but by then it is often too late. I would like to know how we develop our beautifully simple systems so that we intervene early enough and strongly enough to help Tommy and his parents? What sort of provision do we need to develop to meet all the other little Tommy's needs? How do we re-invent and re-imagine the schools of today to ensure that they better meet Tommy's needs? Should our schools be smaller, more family based, more child friendly, more like home? How do we train and support our school based colleagues to better deal with Tommy.

This is hugely important issue and I would really like to know if anyone, anywhere has cracked this one!
P.S. I've changed Tommy's real name to maintain confidentiality but there are loads of Tommy's out there... you probably know one.
I spent the first part of the day with our new parent advisers at Weetwood Hall. Wendy Winterburn, Rebecca Trumble, Gill Dawson and her colleagues were running part of the training programme for these new colleagues. Wendy had asked me to open the event and it was wonderful to meet and talk to a group of colleagues whose work is going to help us transform outcomes for children and young people across Leeds. These are the people who can really make a difference because the learning thing is so much more complicated than people seem to think. We believe that learners need to be happy, healthy and safe if they are going to be successful. Expectations critically limit our potential… especially those of our families and our peers but also of our teachers and other people we hold in high regard. We must work really hard to change the way our children and young people see themselves, how their parents and carers see them and how their teachers and others see them. Unless we do this we will never enable our children and young people to realise their enormous potential. I had a letter today from Lord Adonis replying to the one I sent him. Interestingly, Lord Adonis asks how I can argue that expectations are high in our schools if results are still so low. How can I argue that schools in Leeds are good, improving and inclusive if we are so far behind national averages. It’s the same argument I have heard many times before… If all schools aren’t achieving great outcomes something must be wrong with the schools says the number crunchers and the information junkies. It’s obvious, the teachers must be lazy, sloppy, careless or useless! It’s clear that people can’t be working hard enough. It’s beyond a doubt that these schools aren’t working the right sort of magic.However… it isn’t that simple. It can’t be or surely we would have cracked it by now. Those of us who are passionate about standards, outcomes and impact and have spent our lives trying to find the answers would have discovered the answer to life, the universe and everything. There's an arrogance at work: the arrogance that we know exactly what happens when someone learns something, that we can plan for it, that we can describe it, that we can record it - and that if we can't do these things, then the learning doesn't exist. The arrogance leads us to concentrate on a particular kind of work - noses-to-the-grindstone treadmill kind of work, work that is observable, recordable and well-nigh constant. Surprisingly perhaps… we don’t yet know how to solve all the educational and social problems we face. Surely we know by now that real change is about guided incremental change is the key… we cannot bull-doze it… it takes time and must be organic!Chris

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

2 January 2007

This is going to be another interesting year… a year full of opportunities for those who believe they can make a difference. It is important that we all understand that organisational leadership begins with personal leadership. You can’t be great at what you do unless you feel great about yourself. You can’t be the source of positivity and support that I need you to be unless you are positive and optimistic about yourself and the future. You must enjoy yourself while you chase success… you must look after yourself… you must read good books and be inspired. You must continue to learn and continue to improve and develop your talents, your abilities and your skills.

We must all remember some of the key messages so that we nurture the magic, develop the creative edge, foster imagination and keep all our colleagues happy, healthy, safe and successful… whatever it takes.

In case you’ve forgotten the key messages…
¨ Focus and work hard but also remember to regularly take a break;
¨ Read lots and learn from everything you do;
¨ Celebrate other people’s achievements and always say thank you;
¨ Share your experiences, your learning and your successes;
¨ Reduce the paper and clean up the clutter;
¨ Be positive and don’t dwell on the negatives;
¨ Never lie about anything important.

And when the going gets tough:
¨ Smile, laugh at life and search for ways to have fun;
¨ Breathe deeply, stretch and exercise regularly;
¨ Get enough sleep and always count your blessings.

Happy New Year
1 January 2007

One of my new year resolutions was that I would try to blog every day. I hope that the blog will give me a way to connect with colleagues in Education Leeds and schools and others. I need you to help me understand the issues you are facing, the pressures and the problems and your achievements and successes. We need to establish greater ownership of our vision and values and how we can continue to make a real difference for children and young people, their families and communities. We need to learn from the best of our practice here in Leeds… we need to learn what works and what doesn’t… we need to explore the research and dispel the myths that say our young people can’t be successful.

If we are serious about dispelling the myths we must acknowledge the incredible power first impressions play in our lives and take active steps to manage and control these impressions. I recently read a great book called ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell who also wrote another wonderful book called ‘The Tipping Point’. Gladwell argues that we can know something without knowing why. He explores the idea that a snap judgement can be far more effective than a cautious decision. However, he argues that as our first impressions are determined by our experiences and our environment we must train ourselves to change our first impressions by changing the experiences that shape these impressions…. we must dispel the myths!

It’s wonderful to know that talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues are making a real difference across the city. However it has always been hard to connect with such a pool of talent and I hope that the blog will provide us with some of the answers. Critically, we need to be totally honest about what works and what doesn’t work, about what we are doing and what we are not doing. What stops us from getting almost every child in a primary school to level 4 at the end of Year 6? Does anyone out there actually believe it is possible given the resources and the support? What are the things we would need to do to guarantee success? What stops us getting almost every young person in a secondary school level 2 qualifications at the end of year 11? Does anyone out there actually believe it is possible given the resources and the support? What are the things we would need to do to guarantee success?

Only by really understanding, what the limiting factors are, can we target resources and use everything we have available to us to really make a difference.