Thursday, 2 September 2010

“Human capital and education are the cornerstones upon which
hinge the social, economic and cultural well-being of our society”

At the start of the academic year it is becoming increasingly obvious that things are going to get a lot more interesting around here...

We need to work harder to build brilliant and maintain our legacy here in Leeds. We need to:
  1. share and focus on the big picture and put aside other agendas;
  2. share the reality and always be honest with each other;
  3. share everything and constantly listen to feedback from our customers and partners;
  4. share the workload and support others who are feeling the strain;
  5. share every success and every failure.

This is more than just a series of goals or the Education Leeds vision - it's about our values and our culture and helping colleagues to understand where they fit into the bigger picture of the new Children's Services arrangements. As always we must be prepared to confront the harsh realities when things go wrong and give and receive honest feedback but we need open, clear, two-way communication and active listening to continue to build teamwork across the company and across Children's Services. If we get this right I believe that things will happen spontaneously; colleagues will understand where the pressures are, what the challenges are and how to manage the workload. They will then collaborate to get jobs done by building new creative and powerful teams, dynamic partnerships and strong and meaningful relationships focused on providing great services and great support to young people, their families and schools.

If we can do this properly and create a genuine 'one team' culture, everyone winsand learns and most importantly everyone improves and develops together.


My colleague Til Wright who is our Head of Service for Safeguarding here at Education Leeds sent me this...

"Hi Chris, You probably already have this info but if you haven’t thought you would like to know that from September 09 – to August 10 July of all the schools inspected in Leeds:

  • 76.5% of Leeds school are good or outstanding in the last year for Safeguarding;
  • 19.5 % outstanding;
  • 57% good;
  • 23.5% satisfactory;
  • 2.5% unsatisfactory ( but now satisfactory at last Ofsted monitoring visit)

This is a good outcome however we will raise the bar for next year to at least 80%. Thanks, Til."

This is fantastic news but I know how hard Til and colleagues have worked on this with our schools over the last year. The bar as always isn't high enough and is actually fixed at 100%!


My colleague Andrew Hodkinson who is principal at the North East SILC West Oaks sent me this after reading the blog...

"Dear Chris, Welcome back and thanks for your focused message today which really struck a chord. You are right and as schools across Leeds start the new term we are all, I am sure focusing on the future and ensuring that our children make expected progress but also have fun doing so. Whilst reflection is good sometimes we certainly like to look forward at our School and we will embrace change. We will meet the challenges head on but we will continue to always put our children first. We do know what works at West Oaks and have been busy over the Summer; we have recently re-designated as a Specialist SEN School for Communication and Interaction to further our work in the NE locality and in our school community with our ASC pupils. Also through our Applied Learning specialism we have developed and acquired a local shop to ensure our community has an ICT hub and our 16+ students have a vocational centre for work related learning in the local village that complements our Outdoor Learning Zone. Through our Leading Edge specialism, partnership and AIP work we have developed a KS3 SWIFT programme which will support the 7 NE High Schools with a time limited intervention programme for a number of pupils. It would be good to catch up this term. Best wishes, Andrew."

We are blessed here in Leeds to have places like the North East SILC West Oaks which is a brilliant learning place which releases a very special magic on a daily basis. The great thing about Andrew and his talented colleagues is the focus they put on innovation, creativity and the journey they are constantly on to improve and develop what they do for some really special children.
"There is more in us than we know.
If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives,
we will be unwilling to settle for less."
Kurt Hain (founder, Outward Bound)
I am reviewing our year for the Education Leeds Board meeting next week and at the end of nine great years this will be my last review as Education Leeds is consigned to history. We have had another really great year and I'll share the review once it's finished. In Education Leeds, we have created a unique, award-winning organisation and together with colleagues in schools we have created an educational landscape which has achieved great things and every internal, external and impartial assessment and inspection carried out recently, including the latest OFSTED Inspection of Safeguarding and Looked-after Children, has recognised our success, the relationships we have built and the outcomes we have achieved for children and young people.

Over the last ten years we have achieved so much; we have transformed the learning landscape and the learning environment here in Leeds and achieved some incredible outcomes for our children and young people and their families and communities. Together, we have released the talent, magic and potential in so many of our children and young people, in our colleagues and in our schools… but we can never be complacent because, as always, there is much more to do!

We must work even closer together because we now face a powerful combination of elements that will change the shape of everything we do whether we like it or not. We have a new chief executive of the council, a new director of children’s services and the new children’s services directorate based approach to children’s services which will replace Education Leeds in April 2011. The new arrangements must build on the best of what we have created over the last ten years and our collective challenge now is to continue the work we have been doing to ensure that every child in Leeds is happier, healthier, safer, even more successful and free from the effects of poverty… whatever it takes!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

On the day when Tony Blair has published his memoirs and the first trickle of new Academies has been launched into the learning landscape I wonder what the answer really is to the challenges we face...

Why is some of our education system so fragile, so prone to failure in so many key areas, so limited in its effectiveness to reach some of the most disadvantaged and so poorly performing when compared to the best in Europe and the best in the world. What is it about our teachers, our colleagues, our schools and our authorities that means that we lag so far behind other countries?

I don't believe that colleagues elsewhere in the world are no cleverer, no more skilful or talented and no more effective than our colleagues. I have visited Helsinki and Stockholm and explored the KIPP model in New York and interestingly those systems and places are just as prone to failure. Young people elsewhere appear to be very much the same as our young people. Parents and carers want the same for their children the world over. Local authorities everywhere have teams of incredibly talented and experienced colleagues who have already proved themselves in schools and classrooms supporting th weakest schools and sharing their expertise and experience.

We all know that we are the most inspected, assessed, moderated and tested education system in the world so that can't be the answer and we all know that you don't improve the pig by continually weighing it. The Finns believe that Government should establish a clear sense of what needs to be achieved for their children and provides the resources to train and develop the schools workforce. Then the Finnish Government gets out of the way to allow innovative and creative local solutions to develop.

I have been to some incredible learning places over the last few years both here in Leeds and in Stockholm and Helsinki and wherever colleagues are releasing the magic they are confident, trusted, talented, empowered and effective. Every week here in Leeds I see brilliant colleagues working in schools and classrooms supported locally by focused and efficient teams releasing the magic and delivering world class outcomes.

Interestingly I know what it takes to build brilliant and it's alive and well here in Leeds.
  • leadership really matters;
  • enthusiasm is contagious;
  • small is beautiful;
  • relationships are key;
  • passion is critically important;
  • individual coaching counts;
  • persistence and determination go a long way; and
  • you tend to get what you expect.

This job we do is too important for any of us to be ordinary. We must all strive. each and every day to be extrordinary, to be outstanding, to be brilliant... whatever it takes!


Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I received this wonderful e-mail this morning about provision at Parklands Primary School...

"Hello. I would just like to talk to you about Parklands Primary School and my experience regarding its outstanding provision and its dedicated staff who I will forever be grateful. My son has global developmental delay and epilepsy. He cannot communicate and due to this has developed some challenging behaviours. Ascot Hill closed down and he moved on to Parklands Primary School. Initially, when he started the School I was concerned as my Son appeared to drop in some of his development (completely natural when a child moves from one School to another). I wrote to the Headmistress and complained. She brought me in and discussed my son's progress and acknowledged my concerns explained to me why she thought there might be this perception. She was welcoming of my input. She told me she was committed to working in partnership. She gave what I said value even though what she said was completely correct. This was the only time I ever had a bad word about the School and this is how they accepted my concerns. I don't think as parents we will ever be fortunate enough to have a School so committed to our Son's progress than Parklands. They valued him completely. We knew he was a challenge yet they never had enough good things to say about him. They had such high expectations of my son and he flourished as a result. The extremely good practice at School made it difficult for us not to follow suit. We were so surprised at how well behaved our Son was at School. He sat quietly at assembly and played with the other children. The School were so confident about his skills they requested that his helmet be taken off by writing to the Consultant on our behalf. You might not recognise how important this was. You see if my son hurt himself they had to consider liability. Yet my Son's teachers , other staff and the management staff felt his progression and independence was more important than than these issues. They had such confidence in him. They had magic at that School. My son had a succession of 16 support workers none of them able to replicate the School's behaviour programme, which had my son behaving well even in the most challenging environments. I didn't know this then but now I know the reason my son was so well mannered at School; they 'VALUED' him. In all his idiosyncrasies and difference they Valued him. They spent time understanding him and this reflected in his behaviour towards them. They always looked out for him. My son would visit a residential Centre they took notes on his behaviour and recognised how upset he was there and they said it 'broke their heart' to see him soo sad. If it hadn't been for their keen sense of my Son's feelings I would have no idea. My Son was never left behind for trips or any other activity due to his disability. He undertook everything all the other Children did not matter how much effort the staff had to undertake to offer that extra support he would need. This has never happened before or since. Parklands told us one day they were going to remove his pads because they thought he was ready to use the toilet. I couldn't believe it! Where they sure? This spearheaded us to follow suit. It was sheer hard work but the School persevered and insisted no pads at School. You don't know for a disabled child with such developmental delay what an empowering step removing nappies is?? The School would have to deal with accidents and deal with all sorts of other difficult situations yet they took it on. I cannot tell you how important this was. The School and staff were soo positive. Dawn, Barbara and the Head teacher and the other staff didn't think all this work was above their job role. They loved his quirks and wanted to know all about his culture and religion so they could share it with all the other children and celebrate him. I cannot tell you how such a positive experience with a School in regards to my disabled Son had on me. They worked in partnership with me valuing our relationship and our relationship with our Son. They felt it important for us to work together to achieve the best outcomes for my son. When I visited the School all the children knew my Son and spoke positively about him. This is a inner city School with hardly any Asian children there, let alone a disabled Asian child. It is the staff that teach such respect and the children follow. I have never written a Compliment before. I am a hard woman to please. However, it would be an injustice if this School did not get the recognition of excellence it deserves and it is all down to the incredible staff. I have now the experience of many Schools to compare and can safely say out of them all Parklands Primary School with its Inclusive Unit was outstanding and nothing will compare to it. They allowed my son to flourish. They valued him and did not see his disability as a setback. They worked with him so that his disability could be accommodated and he could benefit in all the activities mainstream children enjoyed. He was the cheeky sweet boy not the boy with a disability, challenging behaviours and epilepsy. They were Inclusion. They were Equality. They demonstrated this in their work and ethos not to tick the right boxes. I WANT TO GIVE A GIANT THANK YOU TO THE SCHOOL."

People are quick to criticise and we often hear the complaints and the grumbles about our schools so it is wonderful to hear some of the compliments, some of the success stories which we need to share and celebrate ans shout from the rooftops. Parklands Primary School is a great school releasing a very special magic with a brilliant headteacher and a fantastic team who are making a real difference for children and families and the community they serve so wonderfully well. They are at the front line of Children's Services here in Leeds and are simply one of so many brilliant learning places here in Leeds ensuring that our children and young people and their families are happy, healthy, safe and increasingly successful... whatever it takes!
My colleague Pat Toner, Director of Organisational Improvement here at Education Leeds sent me this bit of good sense this morning...

"Colleagues, I offer this from recent NHS material on leading and managing radical change. The first and most fundamental change for everyone involved (throughout the whole workforce) is to start thinking in terms of creating a 'new' organisation, even though it's migrating from an existing one. The focus of leaders needs to be on creating and sustaining commitment and trust, as this will take the organisation through the current challenges towards a new environment. In addition, we ought to consider the implementation of a set of management codes designed to promote commitment and trust and linking this with performance and productivity.Whilst this scenario involves the complete organisation, the same principles can be applied by individual line managers faced with making change within their own area of control.

Other suggestions include:

  • Help the organisation to be clear about its purpose;
  • Identify the beliefs and values that the new organisation wishes to put into practice, and this will become the cultural foundations within which managers and staff will be expected to behave;
  • Identify the architecture that will help promote the values and beliefs (let's hope they include commitment, trust and engagement),
  • Look at the 'rules' of how the organisation is meant to work (ensure the 'rules' promote commitment and trust),
  • Identify the levels of skill needed to implement the 'rules' and embark on training programmes.

I hope this is helpful, Pat"

When faced with the scale and complexity of the changes we are facing in local government it is good to be reminded that culture, values, beliefs, commitment and trust must drive the change you want to see in the world!


Monday, 30 August 2010

People constantly ask me what we have achieved over the last nine and a half years years...

What difference have we really made? In case you've forgotten in the simplest possible terms we have improved outcomes for young people in our secondary schools:
  • from 39.5% to 77.5% getting 5 good GCSEs;
  • from 27.5% to 51.5% getting 5 good GCSes including English and maths;
  • from 86.5% to 94.5% getting 5 GCSEs;
  • from 6.6% to 1.3% getting nothing.

In simple numbers that means an extra 3300 young people getting 5 good GCSEs every year and a reduction from 550 to 100 young people getting nothing at the end of their statutory education.



It doesn’t really matter what approach we take, honesty, respect and discipline are required to ensure success in everything we do...

This is a team game and we’ve all seen colleagues, new and old, who simply try too hard thinking they have all the answers from the outset rather than carefully listening and building trust, respect and understanding. All new relationships require time to develop and we need to allow everyone time to grow into an effective team member and team player. After all nothing can be learned through talking. Asking questions and listening should represent 80% of our interactions with colleagues. Respect is always earned over time and by example, it can never be dictated. We need to continue to lead by example, to get rid of the fear and to work hard to continue to build brilliant. Building brilliant is all about creativity, imagination and talent. It is all about experiments, pilots and trying things out to see if they work. Above all we must:
  • keep calm;
  • be positive and enthusiastic;
  • engage and involve everyone;
  • move all our energy and effort to the front line;
  • experiment and try things out;
  • make things up as we go along;
  • get some things wrong;
  • get some things right;
  • cry a little; and
  • laugh a lot.

Whatever it takes we must all continue to develop, create and build BRILLIANT!



"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

Calvin Coolidge

I have been doing this for a long time and, after yet another Summer, I am more and more convinced that our continued success depends on how brave you are prepared to be in an increasingly interesting world...

I know that I say this every year, but these next few months are going to be critical as we approach the new set of opportunities and challenges with the new children's services arrangements; more DfE initiatives; even more focus on standards and safeguarding; and with more academies rolling across the learning landscape: a learning landscape where money is going to be increasingly tight; and this Autumn's spending review likely to bring even more change and challenge.

These last ten years here in Leeds have taught me that to be really successful in a big city takes strength, resilience, intelligence and understanding which; when supported by a toolkit containing visualizations, affirmations, self-talk; and driven by persistence, determination and hard work; releases magic. Looking back over these ten years I realise how different I am and the simple things I have learned here in Leeds:

  • Learn to listen.
  • Read, check out and share your success stories.
  • Passion, patience, and persistence are the keys to success.
  • Failure, mistakes and setbacks are how you learn.
  • Develop "Ok, so what do we do now?" thinking.
  • Spend your time and energy looking for answers and constantly solving problems.
  • Do something totally different and change routines regularly.
  • Focus on improving your fitness, personal health and wellbeing.
  • Work with brilliant people and avoid the moaners.
  • Find and be part of a strong community of like-minded people.
  • Focus relentlessly on outcomes and results.

Belonging to the new children's services and to the learning team here in Leeds is an exciting and dynamic opportunity to build on what we have achieved over the last ten years. I’ll continue to try to get to as many schools, centres, team meetings and talk to as many of you as I can to listen to your views and concerns and to get your advice, help and support for the next stage in the journey.

Keep the faith!