Saturday, 16 October 2010


On Friday moorning I visited Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School  where Gaby Nieland, the headteacher, and her colleagues are doing great things...

It was wonderful to see what Gabi and her team have done since my last visit to this little school and to hear about the plans for the refurbishment of the front of the school which starts after Christmas. It was great to walk around the school and meet some of Gabi's colleagues and some of her wonderful children. As someone with strong Welsh blood flowing in my veins and a passion for the Welsh traditions of rugby and song, it was also fantastic to learn that Sacred Heart is the only school in Leeds where children are learning Welsh!


On Thursday evening I attended the John Smeaton Community College Awards Evening...

I had been asked by my colleagues John Daulby and Marilyn Steele, headteacher and deputy headteacher at this fantastic success story, to present the awards to some of their wonderful young people. It was a real privilege to be part of this awards ceremony and to listen to their fantastic senior choir. I have been blessed to be able to work here in Leeds and to be able to play a small part in the 'John Smeaton Story' which is one of the most incredible success stories here in this wonderful city. John and Marilyn's passion, commitment and belief and the determination and hard work of the teaching and learning team has transformed provision and outcomes for these young people and the community the school serves so well.

This was an evening I will never forget because, at the end of the evening, the choir sang especially for me supporting one of their fantastically talented sixth form students who sang 'I did it my way' and, like most things at John Smeaton Community College, it was simply brilliant!


I visited St Urban's Catholic Primary School where Jane Cavadino and her team are doing a great job...

This is a wonderful little school, sitting in the shadow of Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School, where Jane and her team are releasing a wonderful magic working with some great children. This is a happy, caring and successful little school with an experienced and highly effective headteacher and a great teaching and learning team. The school is driven by passion, commitment and belief which shapes all aspects of provision!

Thursday, 14 October 2010


I visited Shire Oak CE Primary School...

It was encouraging to visit the school again and see what Jane Devane, the headteacher and her colleagues are doing on what is a simply extra-ordinary school site. I was delighted to be showed around the school and the grounds by Courtney and Lewys, two of Jane's wonderful Year 6 children, who were simply brilliant ambassadors and adverts for the school.They showed me the classrooms, the art area, the learning mentor's room, the early years provision, the playgrounds and the gardens they are developing. Courtney and Lewys were also particularly keen to tell me about the art work they are doing to support the 'Leeds, City of Sanctuary' Project.

A City of Sanctuary is a place of safety and welcome for people whose lives are in danger in their own countries. The City of Sanctuary movement began in Sheffield, the UK’s first official ‘City of Sanctuary’ — a city that takes pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety. Since then, 14 other City of Sanctuary initiatives in towns and cities from Glasgow to Swansea.
Through creating a national network of Cities of Sanctuary, the project aims to demonstrate the desire of people of goodwill throughout the country for a more just and humane approach to people seeking sanctuary.

My visit, and my conversations with Jane, Courtney and Lewys, showed me that this is a school with enormous potential which, under Jane's focused and effective leadership, will continue to develop as a great learning place to serve this diverse community. If you want to find out more about the City of Sanctuary initiative you can visit their website at


Dirk Gilleard and I started the day really early having breakfast with a group of headteacher colleagues who are chairs of their Families of Schools groups...

These are an amazing group of colleagues and we talked about the future children's services arrangements, increasing numbers, special needs and behaviour provision, extended services, and how schools could maintain their focus on standards with so many intiatives and so much constant change.

We all agreed that the key is to maintain a focus on quality and to nurture passion, enthusiasm, determination, persistence and patience while being able to phone a friend when help was needed. We talked about the importance of developing confident, self-critical and reflective practitioners who understood the learning process and were working positively and closely with colleagues from Social Care, Health and the voluntary sector to support families and build healthier and more sustainable communities through community hubs; the primary schools.

We talked about the many challenges we all face but what was deeply encouraging was that, alongside their passionate commitment to their children, there was a total focus on ensuring that their children were 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 and we need to do more of this; to talk more, to share more, to network more and to celebrate more. We talked about the challenges that lie ahead and the need to be more creative and more collaborative and to stop the merry go round of meetings, bureaucracy and things that made no difference to children and families and focus on those we know do.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


I ended the day at the Newly Qualified Secondary Teachers Induction and Welcome Event at The Village Hotel in Headingley...

My colleagues from our Secondary Advisory Team, and from our Human Resources Team, had worked really hard to set up this day for the 70 talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful teachers who have joined our secondary schools and SILCs this year. It was inspiring to be able to talk to so many young colleagues starting their learning journey here in Leeds as members of a simply wonderful secondary and special school workforce. I talked about the critical importance of the work we do. I talked about the WOW factor and how every school had to continue to strive to be outstanding. The difference between being in a classroom with a great teacher and a classroom with an OK teacher is enormous in terms of achievement and attainment. So everyone has to be a learner and develop their craft and their practice so that we are constantly learning from each other and learning from the best.

Standing talking to these wonderful colleagues reminds me of being in a school assembly and looking at the talent, the potential and the magic and again you wonder what we can't achieve together here in Leeds. The future is certainly bright for secondary education in Leeds if these colleagues are anything to go by!


We had the October Education Leeds Board meeting this morning...

Tom Riordan, Leeds City Council's new Chief Executive, attended for the first part of the meeting. Tom was unable to attend the Annual General Meeting of the company in September and wanted to come to this meeting to thank Education Leeds Board and our team for the outstanding work we have done this year and over the last nine and a half years. Tom stressed the importance of building on what Education Leeds has achieved; our unique culture, our focus on standards and outcomes, our performance management systems and the way we have managed our resources. It was great to have this confirmation of what we have achieved here in Leeds and the recognition from Tom that the future children's services arrangements and the council will take the best of what the company has achieved into the future.

It's important to remember that our greatest resource is the brilliant, talented, gorgeous and wonderful colleagues who make up the extraordinary team here at Education Leeds. Our culture, our values and our approach to coaching, performance management and professional development has released real magic and unleashed simply enormous potential in this team. Thanks, from Tom and the Education Leeds Board, to everyone who has played a part in our continuing story over the last year and to all those colleagues and friends who have been part of this wonderful adventure; this passionate enterprise which aims to build brilliant... whatever it takes!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


You may have seen the article in the Yorkshire Evening Post and the headline 'Education Leeds chief executive quits'...

The article, with that great picture of me, correctly goes on to say that:

"Education Leeds chief executive Chris Edwards will leave his post at the end of the year. His contract was due to end on March 31 as Education Leeds merges into a new Children's Services department. Education Leeds is a not-for-profit company set up in response to a damning Ofsted report on the council's education department. Mr Edwards told the YEP: "I thought it was important we should move on in terms of the new arrangements, and I have got other things to do. I can't say what they are at the moment. I am going through a series of options, which are a mix of business and pleasure. I have spent nine years in Leeds and, before that, five years in York in helping young people achieve their potential. I am basically a teacher at heart and will continue to work with children and young people."

Mr Edwards has commuted from York as he did not wish to upset his three children's education. He said: "My biggest satisfaction is the results we have achieved in Leeds with 3,300 more children each year getting five GCSEs at grades A to C." Persistent absence in secondary schools is a key government measure and in the last three years alone Leeds has seen a decrease of 22 per cent. During Mr Edwards's tenure, nearly £500m has been secured from central government. Since 2006, some £260m of Building Schools for The Future money has been invested in secondary schools. Education Leeds was also listed this year in The Times top 75 'Best Companies to work for in the Public Sector' category.

Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, said: "I wish to thank Chris for his hard work and dedication to improving learning across the city. Over the last nine years, there has been a significant improvement in educational achievement."

Sally Boulton, head teacher at Rothwell Haigh Road Infant School and chairman of Leeds Head Teachers' Forum, said: "Chris has worked tirelessly to encourage head teachers and their staff to explore creatively how learning can be made real, exciting and lasting."

I'll be around for the next nine and a bit weeks to say goodbye to all those friends and colleagues who have made this job such an extra-ordinary experience. Big cities are simply wonderful places full of amazing people, creativity, innovation, imagination and the WOW factor. I can honestly say that I have never had a single dull day during, what will be at 31 December, 500 weeks in this wonderfully rich, diverse and brilliant city.


I attended the Primary Headteachers Seminar at the Banqueting Suite at Elland Road today...

My colleague Chris Halsall, who heads up our brilliant primary school improvement team, had invited me to this last opportunity to talk to the primary headteachers as a group about our achievements and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. I talked about the keys to brilliant: people, leadership, teamwork, attitude, trust, determination, commitment, partnership, ownership and engagement. Together, we have created something quite extra-ordinary over the last ten years which has transformed learning and our learning places and as we face the 'perfect storm' we must simply roll our sleeves up and continue to release the magic. The magic and potential in our colleagues who stand every day on the front line and in our children, our young people and their families. And don't let anyone tell you that we can't do it because in countless pockets of magic across the city we are!

Mel Ainscow, Professor of Education and Co-director for Equity in Education at Manchester University, who is the Government's Chief Adviser for the Greater Manchester Challenge had also talked to colleagues about the work he is doing with self-improving schools. My colleague Paul Brennan, director for School improvement, also talked about the new ways of working we are exploring as part of the new Children's Services arrangements and our developing thinking around school improvement. Primary schools lie at the heart of the work we are doing with children and families and we must continue to encourage and support our schools to work together and share and network their best practice.

I am deeply grateful to these colleagues who have enriched my life over the last ten years here in Leeds. It was wonderful to spend some time with 120 headteachers who are doing incredible work at primary schools across the city. My only question and challenge is where were the other 100 headteachers?


It has been a real privilege working here with some outstanding schools to serve children and families in Leeds...

We have transformed outcomes for so many of our children over the last nine and a half great years and we have created a unique culture and sense of social justice which means that children are at the heart of our work… every child really does matter and we must work even harder to reach those who need us most. Every school must be good, improving and inclusive places where every child is happy, healthy, safe and successful… whatever it takes! We must all work to ensure that the very special children we are all passionate about continue to have the best provision and are enabled to reach their potential within the Leeds family of schools. We must all work even harder for you to ensure that every learning place has that culture, ethos and WOW factor so evident in so much of our primary practice, our SILCs and our secondary schools. We must grasp every opportunity to do better and ‘whatever it takes’ should be etched on every headteachers and teachers wall!

“People and organizations, if they do change, change themselves."

“People and organizations, if they do change, change themselves. At best, we can hold their individual/collective hands, and whisper words of wisdom and encouragement, which will never be heard until the exact accidental moment when they are ready to hear them for their own sweet reasons!”
Tom Peters


"The last 20 years have seen lots of new school types - and they have made no difference"...

I suspect many colleagues will have missed Ron Glatter's insight in last week's TES but it makes really interesting reading about what we need to do to build  brilliant and ensure that every young person attends a great school. In case you missed it:

"The apparent reluctance of schools to accept Education Secretary Michael Gove's invitation to convert to academy status may be due to a growing realisation that structural change can bring more costs than benefits. Along with other parts of the public sector, education has experienced almost a quarter of a century of continual restructuring, what the political scientist Christopher Pollitt called "redisorganisation". This appeals to politicians because they think they will be able to demonstrate a quick fix - that the structural buttons they have pressed will rapidly transform results. There is no convincing evidence for this belief. When I recently reviewed studies of the effects of the varieties of new school formats of the past 20 years, notably grant-maintained and specialist ones, it became clear that the status of the school didn't in itself contribute to any improvements. Any gains were the result of outside factors such as differences in intake or extra funding.

A typical finding was that from the five-year evaluation of the academies programme by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the last government: "There is insufficient evidence to make a judgment about the academies as a model for school improvement." Nor does increasing competition between schools reliably lead to higher standards, according to a recent review of international research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. But there are huge costs to these changes that are generally not taken into account. For example, making the school system very complex for parents to understand disadvantages many and produces more social division. The holy grail of these policies is to give schools more independence. But how beneficial is this? Anthony Seldon, the Master of Wellington College, has said there are three factors that mainly account for the stronger academic performance of the top private schools: a far higher ratio of subject specialists; much smaller sizes of classes - around half the size of those in state schools; and higher parental expectations. None of these is to do with their degree of independence, nor with some mystical ethos that could be transferred. So expecting state schools to mimic the private school set-up without bestowing similar advantages on them won't bring equivalent success.

In practice, the extra autonomy is never given to every state school, which would make the system unmanageable. It's given differentially, so some get more powers over admissions, the curriculum and buildings, together with extra funding, while others remain as they are. The dangers with the conferment of this kind of privileged status are obvious: academic and social divisions and false hierarchies are likely to multiply. Some categories of school, currently academies in particular, become political "favourites" and their success has to be engineered. International research points up the risks of persisting with such an approach. Studies by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that the most successful countries, both in terms of overall performance and the relative performance of disadvantaged students, have secondary education systems that are unified not divided. Sweden, so often cited now in discussion about schools policy, has been making strenuous efforts, not least in a very recent Education Act, to bring all its schools, whether state or independent, into a common administrative and regulatory framework.

A number of lessons emerge. We should be very sceptical about the predicted benefits of structural changes, especially those designed to put some types of publicly funded school, such as academies, on a radically different footing from others. The National Audit Office has warned that the planned expansion of academies carries significant risks. The costs of such changes, including the non-financial ones such as disruption, distraction and public confusion, should be fully factored in. A mature democracy should provide for the genuine assent of stakeholders to be sought and obtained. The heavy vote against the academies policy at the recent Lib Dem conference in Liverpool tells its own story about the policy's legitimacy. Most importantly, rather than structural change whose educational value has not been demonstrated, attention should focus on less headline grabbing and more productive tasks, such as enhancing teacher quality and school leadership. The initial response to Gove's blandishments suggests these lessons have not been lost on the educational community."

Ron Glatter is emeritus professor of educational administration and management at the Open University.

This is a really thought provoking piece and if we are serious about all our children and if it's true that there are no quick fixes then the solutions to the problems we all face are to think team and to build team. It would be great to think that there was a magic bullet which could ensure the success of every young person and mean that every school becomes a brilliant learning place overnight.

Actually I do know what makes brilliant and that is partly what the blog has been about for the last four years. Imagine what would happen if we could get everyone engaged, committed and passionate about learning, the craft of the classroom and to focus on sharing our best practice and making it consistent.  Imagine what would happen if we created a unified, united and combined approach so that every child and every young person whatever their background goes to a great school where they have the opportunities and the support to achieve their potential. We would simply have a world class learning system here in Leeds.

What I do know, after 36 years in this business, is that it isn't rocket science and we can all do it!
I hope that over the years I have told you what a great job you are doing and the real difference you are making for children, young people and their families. We are blessed here in Leeds to have so many great teams; in our schools, in Education Leeds and across the Council...

As you know I spend a lot of time in schools and with colleagues looking at what we are doing and learning from the best. I also read a lot and the research suggests that great teams have the following characteristics:

1. passionate, committed and visionary leaders; 
2. clear and shared vision, values and sense of purpose;
3. recognition and understanding of everyone's strengths and weaknesses;
4. deep knowledge and real understanding of the issues the team faces;
5. total belief in and commitment to each other and to the team;
6. pride in and respect for each others work and achievements;
7. resilience in the face of difficulties and setbacks;
8. a relentless and uncompromising focus on outcomes;
9. determination, commitment and the ability to work hard.

Over the last ten years I have visited so many great learning places here, across the country and in Stockholm, Riga, Helsinki and Brno and it seems to me that all these centres of excellence have the following in common:
1. emotionally intelligent leaders; 
2. a clear shared vision as a learning organisation;
3. a 'can do' attitude which permeates the team;
4. learning teams that are hopeful,positive and optimistic;
5. learning teams that nurture innovation, creativity and are constantly curious;
6. learning teams that are focused but see the bigger picture;
7. learning teams that recognise, celebrate and develop talent;
8. learning teams that enjoy what they are doing, laugh a lot and have fun;
9. learning teams that are passionate, committed and energetic.

How does your team match up?

Monday, 11 October 2010


"In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

Eric Hoffer

It has been a great week with visits to some extraordinary schools and a session with the future of teaching and learning here in Leeds...
I visited Lawns Park Primary School. It was great to visit this little school and talk to Rebecca Ford, the school's talented headteacher, about the approach the school has developed using Guy Claxton's work which is based on the principle that all students can develop their learning power and achieve. I attended Farnley Park Maths and Computing College where young people from Farnley Park, Lawns Park Primary School and the West SILC carried out the sod-turning ceremony to mark the start of this fantastic £23 million building project. I visited Rawdon St Peter's Church of England Primary School for the official opening of their new community room and extended services building. Caroline Sibson, the headteacher of this great little school, and the team have transformed provision at Rawdon St Peter's Church of England Primary School and the new provision is brilliant. I attended the newly qualified primary teachers induction and welcome event for over 150 talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful teachers who have joined our primary schools and SILCs this year. I briefly visited the South SILC Broomfield to see John Fryer, the new principal, who I had met over breakfast earlier this term, to talk about how we further develop the SILC estate and improve the learning landscape particularly for the very special group of children who attend the SILCs. I visited Westbrook Lane Primary School where Joan Kay, headteacher, and her talented team are doing great things and releasing a very special magic; and finally I visited Valley View Primary School where Sarah Griggs, the headteacher, and her team have transformed the school and built something extra-ordinary.

I always ask myself after visiting schools what is it that makes a school a brilliant learning place and what can we learn from what talented colleagues are doing in schools across this wonderful city. The answers aren't rocket science. You need outstanding, focused and passionate leadership with clear values, beliefs and behaviours driving all aspects of the work of the school. You need an inclusive learning culture within highly focused, consistent and beautiful systems. You need a great teaching and learning team with a focus on excellence, high standards and positive behaviour. You need an uncompromising and relentless focus on outstanding teaching and learning within an attractive and stimulating learning environment. And most of all, everyone has to have high expectations and be prepared to work hard!

We are not asking much!


I moved on to open the Global Curriculum Project International Study Visit at the Carriageworks...

Adam Ranson, from the Leeds based Development Education Centre, had invited me to open the Global Curriculum Project International Study Visit at the Carriageworks on Monday 11 October. It was wonderful to be able to talk to the teachers involved about this brilliant initiative, which is being led by the Development Education Centre, and brings together a group of thirty teachers from Austria, Benin, Brazil and the Czech Republic to discuss with teachers from Leeds strategies for engaging young people in discussions about sustainability, fair trade, climate change, cultural diversity and social justice. The three year professional development project will support primary and secondary schools in embedding the global dimension into their curriculum and help schools actively engage young people in global development issues to help them become creative thinkers, reflective learners and responsible citizens of 'One World'.

You can find out more about this innovative project at


My colleague Pat Toner and I started the day meeting colleagues from the NAHT...

I generally meet with NAHT colleagues every half term and today's meeting with John Beckett and Pauline Potter was to catch up on the new and developing Children's Services arrangements and importantly for these colleagues the arrangements for the leadership of schools and learning after I leave at Christmas and the provision of services to schools after Easter next year. the most important issue facing everyone is how we continue to build and develop 'Team Leeds'. Working with schools and headteachers and governing bodies, we have created a unique and powerful culture and ethos. This is underpinned by strong, dynamic and honest relationships which have driven real excellence and consistently challenged underperformance. The future is going to be determined by our collective commitment to make this work in a world where there are less resources and where the learning landscape is changing daily. The challenge for us all is to ensure that whatever we do is making a difference and that everything we do is outstanding.

I will miss these colleagues and their support and challenge which has been a consistent factor of the changing landscape here in our great city. We have shared a passion and commitment to children and their families which provides a constant reference point whatever comes our way and together we have achieved great things for Leeds.