Saturday, 24 February 2007

I get bored easily, so I decided to change the blog. Let me know what you think and what else would make the blog more interesting.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Another week, another opening...

I went to the official opening of the new BBC Media Centre at Primrose High School. The 'al-2-gether-now' project has been going for five years. It started at Shakespeare Primary School and is a community, family and school project which has grown and developed into something truly amazing thanks to Ashley Peatfield, Jan Spencer and other brilliant colleagues. The Media Centere is the latest element of the journey we have been on with 'al-2-gether-now' and will provide high quality support to young people, families and the community... and it's fantastic!

The highlight of the event was meeting some really inspiring young people. ls7 Results performed for the people who attended the Media Centre opening. They are a Leeds based arts group who are young, talented and doing brilliant work. You can contact them at they are not to be missed!

If you want to find out more about 'al-2-gether' now visit the BBC website at

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Another day another breakfast...

The Council Meeting yesterday had really got to me overnight... I didn't sleep and my mind was going over and over. We are also expecting bad news with another group of OfSTED inspections. However my day started with breakfast at Parklands Girls High School. Coffee and toast and a little bit of magic is all I needed to get me going again... brilliant!

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

I had a meeting with Professor Paul Gately...

Paul is Carnegie Professor of Exercise and Obesity at the Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education at Leeds Metropolitan University and has been working with us to look at levels of obese and overweight children in Leeds schools. We are starting to look at the correlation between children who are overweight or obese and their levels of self-esteem,their mental health and their attainment.

Anyone who has read the Unicef report into the well-being of children in 21 industrialised countries should be worrried about our children. The report provides an overview of the state of childhood in the most economically advanced nations of the world. In total, 40 indicators of child well-being – from relative poverty and child safety, to educational achievement to drug abuse – are brought together to present a picture of the lives of children. Unsurprisingly, the United Kingdom and the United States find themselves at the bottom. You can read the report at

This is a hugely important aspect of our work and Leeds has a fantastic record of work in this area through the Leeds Healthy Schools programme and Paul's work at Carnegie.
Watch this space...

"Through the 'Building Schools for the Future' programme we intend to build schools nationwide. Over time we shall see the entire secondary school building stock upgraded and refurbished in the greatest school renewal programme in British history. Nothing gives me greater pride as Prime Minister than this investment in the future - an investment in each individual young person and their future"
Tony Blair, Prime Minister, 12th February 2004

I had lunch today with Tim Pearson the Chief Executive of RM who are our ICT strategic partners within the Leeds BSF programme...

It was great to be able to talk to Tim about our vision for learning here in Leeds and the key role we believe that ICT will play. We need to understand that another of the keys to transformational outcomes at 16 is anywhere, anytime, anyplace learning that powerfully connects with our digital learners. RM is going to be a brilliant BSF partner! It's important that we all recognise that BSF isn't just about buildings - ICT naturally forms a fundamental part of the BSF investment. The prospects of a new generation of schools, taking advantage of the creativity, innovation, motivation, and management characteristics of fully integrated ICT systems, is going to help us change the world for our learners here in Leeds.

P.S. You can find out more about RM at their website at
I visited another wonderful school today...

I went to Beeston primary School where Bobbie Syrett and her colleagues are doing brilliant things. The visit started with pancakes... they don't go in for things in a small way at Beeston primary of Bobbie's colleagues was cooking around 400 pancakes... and mine was great! The school is an oasis of the arts, nurturing talent and imagination and releasing a very special Beeston magic. I met Grace, an amazing young woman, who Bobbie tells me is simply one of many fantastic young people at Beeston Primary School. Grace had written to me about Smartboards... asking why they didn't have a Smartboard in every classroom... she was articulate, polite, bright and incredibly talented. As we moved on round the school, some of Bobbie's learning team also asked why the school still had so many poor temporary classrooms and Bobbie asked why they still had outside toilets. The answers of course are that we simply don't spend enough on education in this country... it isn't a high enough priority... but there must be a way!

What is really amazing about Beeston Primary School is the team Bobbie has put together. One talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful colleague I met has come from classroom assistant via a Foundation Degree to become a teacher... juggling work, family and the course on the way. Quite simply brilliant but that's Beeston Primary School and Bobbie Syrett for you!
I went to a fantastic school today...

I started my day early at Castleton Primary School. I arrived at the school at 7.45 to find the place buzzing and a brilliant team getting ready for breakfast at what must be the biggest breakfast club in Leeds. It's sponsored by Gregg's who are brilliant and in the summer it has up to 130 children! Today it had about 80 but what struck me was how calm, civilised and organised it was... just imagine doing breakfast for 80!

The school is led by Judith Norfolk and it is an amazing place... Judith showed me round and I met her talented team and her wonderful children. The learning environment is wonderful, the pace and purpose is great and the children are fantastic. The thing about Castleton Primary School is that they are doing everything... Wake and Shake, the arts, fantastic ICT, Healthy Schools, nurture groups, transition work with Wortley and West Leeds, parenting work and so much more... and there is a Children's Centre on the way. They are also achieving brilliant outcomes!

The little things that make brilliant were evident wherever you looked at Castleton Primary School...
  • strong and passionate distributed leadership;
  • clear, shared vision, values and beliefs driving the work of the school;
  • confident, creative and passionate use of appropriate strategies and approaches to raise standards;
  • high shared expectations of children and the whole learning team;
  • strong, dynamic and wonderful relationships;
  • inspiring teaching within a nurturing culture;
  • individual tracking and focused interventions;
  • high parental engagement and involvement.

So what did I take away from my visit today... this is an outstanding little school with talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues releasing a very special Castleton magic.


P.S. You can visit the Castleton Primary School website at they also have a brilliant blog at

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
Carl Sandburg

I went to London today with Rosemary Archer and Cllr Richard Harker to meet Lord Andrew Adonis. We were with about a dozen other authorities who had been invited to the meeting to discuss primary standards. The invitation followed the letter I had written to Lord Adonis after his letter criticising primary schools nationally and in Leeds. I think quite rightly the DfES were wanting to explore with us how we could achieve year on year improvements in primary outcomes.

I think we all accept that overall standards and outcomes are unacceptably low. It's true locally, regionally and nationally and too many children and young people are simply not making the progress we might expect. I was asked to contribute to the session from a Leeds perspective and I asked the group to look at the characteristics of our outstanding schools... and remember we have a huge number of outstanding primary schools here in Leeds. I suggested that these elements are the keys to outstanding schools:

  • strong and experienced leadership;
  • clear, shared vision, values and beliefs driving the work of the school;
  • confident, creative and passionate use of appropriate strategies and approaches to raise standards;
  • high shared expectations of children and the whole learning team;
  • strong, dynamic and open relationships;
  • inspiring teaching within a coaching culture;
  • individual tracking and focused interventions;
  • high parental engagement and involvement.

We all know that if we are to have inspiring teaching, building passionate learning in brilliant learning places we must move away from a command and control approach to develop personalisation, ownership, engagement, coaching and trust for the learning teams in our schools. We must get our brilliant headteachers and our brilliant classroom practitioners working alongside other colleagues to build capacity and to develop leadership. We must replace the current outdated governance model with a more professional and powerful one which must drive strategic planning and drive up standards. We must also work with our families to develop high self-esteem and belief in themselves and their children. We must also listen to our young people and get them to help us shape and focus the offer and to engage them as passionate learners.

We have to understand and believe that intelligence is hugely and richly diverse and that everyone is intelligent and it is simply our job as educators to find it! We have to develop three things in our children, our young people, our families, our communities and our workforce:

  • creativity
  • capability
  • confidence

We also need to develop real partnerships around the standards agenda and get everyone to understand that this is a community enterprise. As Dirk would say we must focus on developing a more vivid, more personal, more engaging, more stimulating offer for all our children and young people and to do that we must all share the passion.

We must invent pathways to learning... pathways to excellence for everyone.


I read another great book over half-term...

My colleague Dee Reid gave me a fantastic book to read before half-term. It's called 'Strategy Bites Back' by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel and the bit on the back of front cover says it all...

"Strategy can be awfully boring. The consultants can be straighter than their charts, the planners more predictable than their processes. Everybody is so serious. If that gets us better strategies, fine. But it doesn't; we get worse ones - predictable, generic,dull. Strategy doesn't only have to position; it has to inspire. So an uninspiring strategy is really no strategy at all."
One section in the book describes how to destroy a rich culture in five easy steps...
1. Manage the bottom line... and forget the real business;
2. Make a plan for everything... and get rid of creativity and innovation;
3. Move people around... and avoid relationships developing;
4. Always be objective... and forget it's a people business;
5. Do everything in five easy steps!

It goes on... "The most interesting and most successful companies we know are not boring. They have novel, creative, inspiring, sometimes even playful strategies. If we bring a little imagination back into the making of strategy, our strategies can take us to a different place. It's time for strategy to bite back."

I have always wanted to work in places that inspire me, with people who inspire me and make me think... like Dee. This brilliant book finishes with this gem...

"Creating strategy is judgemental designing, intuitive visioning and energent learning; it requires personal thinking and social intereacting, cooperative as well as conflictive; it can include analysing before and programming after as well as imagining during. Providing any answer short of this would be doing you a disservice because when it comes to strategy there are no easy answers. Except of course to make sure you understand deeply what you are strategising about, that you act engagingly, responsively, and responsibly and that you have the courage to see with your own eyes, think with your own brain and act with your own heart."

We need to build great strategies within a culture that develops imagination, creativity and innovation. We need to lead by example, to challenge the rubbish and the blockers and the people who tell us that we can't. We must stand up against the things that drive out ideas, that discourage individuals from taking risks and that stop colleagues from reaching their potential and changing their world for the better. We must all stand up...
Travelling on a train isn't good for me...

Trouble is whenever I get the chance to think I realise that, while everyone is working hard and getting a lot of things right, a good chunk of what we do with our young people is irrelevant, redundant and a waste of time... it lacks challenge, inspiration and fails to engage young people as passionate learners. Is it then surprising that so many of our young people are disengaged from learning and disaffected with school... that around 4000 of our secondary age students don't attend school everyday and around 5000 reach the end of their schooling with no qualifications at all! Perhaps it is because so much of what we do, particularly in our secondary schools, is focused on the past, on looking backwards at an age where we adults understood what was required to get a job rather than looking forwards and seeing what skills and abilities our young people need in this new conceptual age. We must work together with businesses and communities to cut though this nonsense and put in place brilliant learning, in brilliant learning places, at the heart of brilliant and vibrant learning communities.

We must all contribute to this debate.
The real problem with breaks and holidays...

I don't know about you but whenever I have a break, I simply work through all the things I need to do, things I should be doing and things I haven't done. I create a huge list of things to do, things I have forgotten, things that have gone on the pending pile and have slipped to the bottom and things that are simply too difficult to deal with. This half-term has also given me a chance to sort things out and get back a sense of balance and order in my life.

I now need to survive until the next time I get some breathing space...