Saturday, 27 January 2007

It's funny but a session with a group of governors makes you realise what an enormously talented and powerful force they are... with a complex range of talents and abilities. Our challenge is how we support and develop the role of the governing bodies across Leeds to drive standards and outcomes, to challenge and support talented headteachers, to develop distributed leadership and to build a flexible, creative and passionately engaged workforce that can respond to the challenges we face. The strategic leadership role of the governing body of a school is a challenging and complex one... especially in a new Children's Services world where we are trying to connect together all the pieces of the complex jigsaw puzzle that makes for a brilliant learning place where every child can be happy, healthy, safe and successful.
Saturday morning and I am heading back to Leeds to talk to LEA governors...

This has been an interesting, stimulating and incredibly challenging week which really made me think about what it takes to build brilliant... brilliant learners, brilliant teams and brilliant learning places.
I have been blessed this week with people who have made me really think and places that have really helped me to understand the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle. I am more and more convinced that we already know the answers... we know what makes brilliant.

Friday, 26 January 2007

We had a visit from Lord Adonis today...

Lord Adonis had offered to come to Leeds following a letter I had sent him telling him what a fantastic primary sector we had here in Leeds and inviting him to come to Leeds to see what we are doing to drive up standards. Lord Adonis had been very critical of our schools and the standards we are achieving across the city in a letter he had sent to every local authority after we failed to reach the national targets for English and mathematics in the country's primary schools.

We do have some remarkable schools here in Leeds. Last year 25% of our primary schools inspected by OfSTED were judged to be outstanding compared to a national figure of just 9%. I took Lard Adonis to Carr Manor Primary School where he met Linda Bowles and her team. This is an outstanding school with fantastic leadership and brilliant teaching. We had a whistle-stop tour and a chat about their successes and their challenges the school faces... and it was wonderful!

We moved on to Carr Manor High School where Simon Flowers and his team are changing the learning landscape. The school is one of the 'Five Secondary Schools' PfI scheme and we approached the school by passing the old buildings to be faced with the really magnificent new one... which is stunning. We were met by some of Simon's wonderful young people who are a real credit to the school... confident, articulate and really proud of their school. Another flying visit around the school which again showed that here is a school with strong, dynamic and passionate leadership and a dedicated and highly effective learning team... clearly a school going places.

What did Lord Adonis take away from his visit to Leeds? That here we have a team who understood the local and national agenda and were totally focused and determined to raise standards and improve outcomes for children and young people... whatever it takes. I was very proud not only to have shown him the best of Leeds at Linda and Simon's fantastic schools but to be able to tell him, honestly and openly, that we could have gone to many other schools across Leeds and had the same tremendously powerful experience and seen dedicated, talented, passionate colleagues releasing a very special kind of magic.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

I found this quote and wanted to share it with you...

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty and to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; ... This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
We had a visit today from Anne Weinstock. Anne is Director, Supporting Children and Young People's Group at the DfES. Anne has responsibility for 'Choice and Opportunity' which includes ConneXions, NEET and the Youth Opportunity Card Project, for 'Targeted Support' which includes Substance Abuse, Teenage Pregnancy, At Risk Groups, Anti-social Behaviour and Respect and 'Activities and Engagement' which includes Youth Volunteering, Engaging and Empowering Young People, Youth Matters and Integrated Youth Support.... what a portfolio!

Anne came to the Headingley Study Support Centres to look at how we have developed creative and dynamic partnerships to work with at risk and disadvantaged groups to raise achievement, confidence and self-esteem. She was a real breath of fresh air... laughing and taking part with young people in activities at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club Study Support Centre and talking to and engaging with partners and young people at the Leeds Rhinos Study Support Centre.
"The main characteristics of effective leadership are intelligence, integrity, loyalty, mystique, humour, discipline, courage, self sufficiency and confidence."
James Fisher
I had a session today with Steve Munby, Chief Executive of the National College for School Leadership. Steve had come to Leeds to meet a small group of colleagues and to discuss our leadership challenges and our leadership development programmes. Steve led a really good session which brought together a very talented group of headteachers and Education Leeds colleagues. Steve listened and discussed our concerns and our challenges but focused on our collective opportunities and our potential as a learning leadership team. He explored system leadership in a Children's Services world and the key role coaches and mentors played for all headteachers. We agreed that we should work with the National College for School Leadership to develop a local offer around capacity building and nurturing the headteachers of the future.
Leadership is one of the most important keys to unlocking the potential and the talent in our schools and our communities... distributed leadership enables us to grow that talent and potential and to achieve so much more.
It's funny but I get the feeling that more people are reading this...

I even get stopped in the car park by colleagues telling me that they are reading it and enjoying it. I wonder why I get so few comments... perhaps people are confused about its' purpose? I wanted a way I could connect with a wider group of colleagues and share my experiences, network ideas and learn. I also wanted to find a way of getting raw and honest feedback about the things that are working and the things that are causing people concern. So talk to me and tell me straight... how is it with you and what could we do to build brilliant learning places where everyone is happy, healthy, safe and successful.

The observant fellows from the blogging community will notice that the colours have changed. Barbara is deeply disappointed with the new pink colour scheme. She felt that the original colour scheme reflected me and my shirts, me and my style... did she mean dark, imposing and moody or difficult to read! I changed it because a couple of colleagues told me that they found the white on black hard to read. Please let me know what you think and how I might improve and develop the blog to increase the interactions between those of us who belong to the bloggers association and want to share and learn together.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

I received this in the post from a friend who obviously felt that I needed boost...

"Don't be discouraged by failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek after what is true and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid."
John Keats

I am deeply grateful for the thought.
"We should all be outrageously optimistic and celebrate everything we achieve"... every step of our journey here in Leeds as we build brilliant learning places for all our children and young people.

I visited two of our brilliant learning places today... West Oaks School and Technology College in Boston Spa and Crossley Street Primary School in Wetherby.

My visit to West Oaks was tinged with sadness because it is the first time I have been to the school since Hilary McKewan died there of a heart attack. I still miss Hilary... his energy, passion and ideas, his deep commitment and his belief that no child was a lost cause. I went to the school to talk to Mike Robertshaw about the innovative and imaginative projects and initiatives the school is involved in. West Oaks is a very special place where a talented and highly effective team are releasing a very special kind of magic.

My visit to Crossley street was in response to a letter I received from Ann Lister the Chair of Governors. Ann and Sandra Clynes, the headteacher wanted to talk about their plans for the school and to be reassured that we were still supportive of their overall vision for the school and the community. Crossley Street has really developed over the last few years under Sandra's skilful leadership... with a wonderful new nursery unit and ambitious plans to replace their old temporary classrooms.

We must continue to support and nurture those colleagues who are making a difference and who are changing the world for their children and young people... those colleagues who are pushing the boundaries and inventing a better future.
I heard Oliver James on the radio this morning talking about his new book... it's called 'Affluenza - How to Be Successful and Stay Sane'. In his book Oliver argues that we are suffering from selfish capitalism which causes mental illness by spawning materialism or as he puts it, the affluenza virus. He argues that the reason we have such high and increasing levels of mental illness and unhappiness is that we place too high a value on money, possessions, appearance and fame. His studies in countries across the world prove that people who strongly subscribe to virus values are at greater risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and personality disorder.

It's true that the things that really matter are people, family and relationships.
Yesterday my day ended with a celebration... I attended the Higher Level Teaching Assistants Celebration Evening at Weetwood Hall. Another group of our brilliant, talented, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues have completed the training to become HLTAs. This now brings the total to 244 across Leeds with another two group son the way which should mean that we have 350 HLTAs in place by the start of next year. The really amazing thing is how quickly this transformation of the school workforce has happened and how powerfully these wonderful colleagues are impacting on standards, attendance, behaviour and outcomes in some great schools.

It is also remarkable that these colleagues tend to be juggling home, family and work as well as completing the activities, the training sessions and the portfolio for this qualification. I wonder sometimes at how much colleagues can do but the reality is, of course, that our expectations of each other, and of what we can do, are simply too low. The real truth is that their is actually no such thing as genius, no such thing as talented and gifted... with a little bit of flair and ability, a good helping of teaching, mentoring and support and a lot of hard work we can do almost anything we passionately decide that we want to do.
Simple and no excuses... if you believe you can, you can and if you believe you can't, you can't.
Yesterday the server was down but my day started early with a breakfast meeting with a group of our headteachers from the Gipton and Richmond Hill families of Schools. We talked about the developing new world of Children's Services and the challenges they faced as headteachers and as schools serving these communities. We talked about the challenges these families face and the impact on their children. We talked about young parents, poverty, deprivation, health inequalities... we talked about regeneration, hope, parent support, healthy schools and brilliant teaching and learning. We talked about what we had learned about the challenges and the solutions and the way these issues are approached in Reggio Emilia.

The Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education is a city-run and sponsored system designed for all children from birth through to six years of age. The approach can be viewed as a resource and inspiration to help educators, parents, and children as they work together to further develop their own educational programs. The approach is based upon the following principles:

  • A curriculum that builds on the interests of children.
  • Projects are in-depth studies of concepts, ideas, and interests which arise within the group.
  • The Reggio Emilia approach uses the arts as tools for cognitive, linguistic, and social development.
  • The teacher's role is first and foremost to be that of a learner alongside the children.
  • Documentation and display of children's work in progress is an important tool in the learning process for children, teachers, and parents.
  • Within the Reggio Emilia schools the classroom is considered the "third teacher."

We must continue to look at ways we can improve and develop our practice. Look carefully at what we can learn from brilliantly successful schools in the Gipton and Richmond Hill areas. Look carefully at what we can learn from innovative and creative projects like Reggio Emilia... and continue to do our best to release the magic.


Monday, 22 January 2007

I did have one great thing happen today...

I saw an old colleague... Ruth Baldwin worked with me in Leeds for three years and is now the Executive Director of Children's Services in Oldham. She is an amazing woman and I really miss her direct approach, her energy and her can do attitude. She told me about Oldham's ambitious plans to transform their secondary estate using Building Schools for the Future and Academies. Clearly, this is a woman with a mission and I know that, as always, Ruth will make it happen for young people in Oldham.

Ruth sends her love to those she left behind.
Today was one of those days where you reach the end of the day and you look back and wonder whether it was worth getting up...

The day started with a meeting where hard working and committed colleagues were berated by school colleagues whose needs are not being met and who feel let down by a funding system that we all recognise isn't fair and equitable. We all play by the rules of the game... however crazy they sometimes appear to be... but our aim is to get the best deal we can for children and young people in Leeds. And my colleagues have done brilliantly at this game and we could bring countless colleagues to testify that they have had a great deal over the last five years but for every satisfied customer their are probably two more whose needs are not being met... colleagues in poor buildings with grotty toilets and leaking roofs... colleagues with paper thins walls and damp and smelly floors.

I ended the day with another talented and amazing group of colleagues persuading the School Organisation Committee to close two very small schools and create a replacement school which would be more efficient and effective in terms of standards, outcomes and the use of resources. This was fiercely opposed by a small group of parents and by members of the community who passionately believe that this was a mistake and that their community will suffer if it has its' school taken away. Again we are dealing with individuals whose needs are not being met and who feel let down by the system and by the professionals who they think simply see numbers, outcomes, standards and pound signs.

Now the real question is are we successful for what we have achieved or are we failures for what we haven't yet managed to do. Only time will tell if we have got things right but for some reason today has left a very bitter taste.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

I am in London again... it has been one of those weeks.

Our visit had been planned for ages and we were going to see Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake... it was at Sadler's Wells for six weeks and it finished this weekend. We've seen it twice before but everytime we go it is a revelation... partly because new dancers bring something special to the main parts but largely because it is probably the best piece of dance theatre I have ever seen.... and of course the music is incredible! The production is best known for the little bit at the end of the 'Billy Elliott' film where Billy plays the lead role in the ballet or more commonly for the male swans. It's a funny, moving and incredibly powerful ballet and everytime I see it I simply want to see it again. This time the Prince was fantastic but the whole thing was magic. If you ever get the chance to go, go.