Friday, 3 December 2010


I attended the Steps Celebration at Weetwood Hall this morning...

This was another wonderful celebration of some amazing colleagues and some wonderful parents and carers. STEPS changes lives and the stories we have heard from these talented individuals make this programme one of the most important things we do and I am deeply grateful to my colleagues Chris Bennett and Val Cain who have worked so hard to deliver these programmes across Leeds over the last six years. It was great that Neil Straker also found the time to come and celebrate some incredible people's achievements. Neil has attended everyone of the STEPS Celebrations and is a great friend to Leeds. We all listened to two incredible stories this morning; Paul Hudson's story and Anna Travers' story and everyone there was simply inspired by these two ordinary, yet extra-ordinary, people who had changed their lives after attending the STEPS programme. It was also wonderful that Lou Tice, the founder of The Pacific Institute, had recorded a message for us earlier this week celebrating our achievements together here in Leeds and thanking me for everything I have done to make STEPS such a success. He told us that we had become an international centre of excellence that demonstrated the real power and impact of STEPS.

At the end of the morning my colleagues presented me with red wine and chocolate to thank me for bringing STEPS to Leeds and championing this incredible programme over the last ten years. I was also given The Pacific Institute's 'Keith Jackson' Award to keep. The award has been presented every year in memory of our dear friend and colleague and Neil Straker announced that from next year there will be a new award called The Pacific Institute's 'Chris Edwards' Award. It was a real surprise and a great honour. I was also deeply touched by the gift I received from my colleague Paul Hudson who gave me the first guitar he had made after he attended a STEPS course, which had clearly changed his life.

This morning provided even more evidence about the effectiveness of the STEPS programme and we must ensure that it continues here in Leeds. We must continue to work with and support the 300 facilitators we have trained and the 4000 plus colleagues, parents and carers who have been through the programme and whose lives have been touched by this brilliant programme. We must all continue to be powerful ambassadors and advocates for a programme that changes lives, saves lives and makes such an incredible difference where it really matters.


Colleagues attended the fifth Local Government Yorkshire and Humber 'Making a Difference' Awards last week....

The awards celebrate the achievements of local authorities across the region and recognise the hard work and commitment of teams and individuals across councils, police, fire service and national park authorities. This year there was only one nomination from Leeds and it is brilliant that this was a partnership between the Council's International Relations team and the Gypsy Roma Traveller Achievment Service within Education Leeds! My colleague Claire Lockwood, the Manager of the Gypsy Roma Traveller Achievement Service sent me this bit of good news.

"Hi Chris, Just to let you know that GRTAS together with International Relation in Leeds won making a difference award for outstanding Achievement in International Working last week. This is the work we did with Brno last year and the embroidery exhibition coming to Leeds. Cheers, Claire."

Congratulations and well done to these great colleagues. This is wonderful news and builds on the success of our Visually Impaired team last year. The GRTAS has pioneered and led some incredible work, locally, regionally and nationally over the last ten years under Peter Saunders determined leadership. The International Relations team has also been doing some brilliant work and part of the legacy we are leaving is the thriving partnerships which schools across the city have established with colleagues in countries across the world.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


The DfE have increased expectations of all of us and have continued to raise the bar...

The White Paper sets us all more challenges and asks us to account for what we are doing around failing schools and disadvantaged groups. OfSTED have also rasied the bar with Christine Gilbert's Annual Report establishing good as the new baseline for everything we do. Increasing numbers of schools find themselves below the new floor targets and in a category... more notices to improve and more schools in special measures. 'The Importance of Teaching' White Paper restates the role of local authorities as the champion and advocate for the child and their parents and carers and as the commissioner of services with outtstanding schools at the heart of school improvement, system leadership and innovation and change. It also ratchetes up the game with more Academies and Free Schools at the heart of a new and exciting learning landscape.

We also face a series of challenges because of three aspects of the rapidly changing world we all inhabit... abundance, automation and Asia requires us to look carefully at the skills we all need in this new conceptual age. Dan Pink in his book 'A Whole New Mind' suggests that we need to focus on the following six key skills... design, story, empathy, symphony and play. We also need to focus on the golden threads and together build a cooperative and collaborative critical mass of understanding and teamwork here in Leeds. And we need to be clear about what makes brilliant...
  • shared vision, values and beliefs;
  • strong, passionate leadership;
  • a culture of high expectations, celebration of achievement and high self-esteem;
  • inspiring teaching in brilliant learning environments;
  • assessment for learning and the powerful use of data and information;
  • a strong outcomes focus to deliver happy, healthy, safe and successful;
  • a coaching and mentoring culture; and last but not least
  • intelligent accountability.
We must also learn to listen... to parents and carers, to communities and to faith groups, to businesses and to our colleagues in further and higher education... but most importantly we must learn to listen to our children and young people.


I haven't managed to get in again today but it wasn't the snow that stopped me...

I was eventually ejected from Merrion House yesterday afternoon at 4.00 and after having coffee at Costa with my colleagues Wendy Winterburn and Carolyn Eyre I set off to dig my car out of the car park at Belgrave House. That was the mistake I made! My car was covered by about ten centimetres of dry powdery snow and as I was clearing it off I damaged my back again. It was relatively easy to get home but I had a terrible night and I am struggling this morning to get moving. It's a catch twenty two problem because to stop the pain and the ache I need to move and stretch which if I am not careful can just make it worse.

I am again sorry to those colleagues who were expecting me today... I will try again tomorrow for the STEPS Celebration.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


I was interviewed this afternoon by Andrew Edwards on BBC Radio Leeds Drive Time about the snow and school closures...

We are once again being criticised for shutting schools but as I woke up very early this morning I heard that phrase again... "if your journey is not essential the advice is to stay indoors".  I suppose it simply reminds us that we are an essential service for so many children and young people and their parents and carers. I recognise that this morning the weather has challenged everyone of us as we struggled in through blizzard conditions along icy and treacherous roads to provide a vital service to the children and young people of Leeds. I was in by 7.30 having dug the car out and managed to escape from the village where I live.

Faced with conflicting information and advice from the Met Office, our headteachers have to balance health and safety concerns with the needs of all our children and young people, and their families, and make difficult decisions when considering whether to keep their schools open. I know headteachers will once again have made that difficult assessment this morning about whether to stay open and I am grateful to everyone for their efforts today to keep providing a service to children and families wherever possible. It has been a very difficult day for everyone but around 100 of our schools did manage to stay open and enjoy the snow. We know that access to school is important to all our children and young people but especially to our vulnerable groups, including more than 30,000 who rely on our schools for a hot meal, over 20,000 who come from homes with inadequate heating, and upwards of 25,000 from one parent/carer families where there is enormous pressure on the parent/carer to get to work. I know that for some colleagues this simply hasn't been possible today and tomorrow looks cold and snowy so it isn't going to get any better for a while. I suppose we should be reassured that the weather people are saying that this only happens once in thirty years... but didn't we have something very similar last year and the year before?

Howver much criticism we get, these decisions must be taken by headteachers who have the best knowledge and information about their school and is vital we do all we can to support our headteachers in these very difficult circumstances. What we have learnt is that we need clear strategies, no matter how infrequently they may arise, and I hope that every school will set up a "snow plan" we can ensure we are fully prepared for the future, and that all our children and young people continue to be happy, healthy, successful and above all else, safe, at school. 


My colleague Cath Hindmarch, headteacher at Parklands Primary School sent me this e-mail...

"Morning Chris! I wonder what is on your list for a snowy and icy morning? Sensible shoes?? No-sensible boots. Red wine-too dodgey for slippy pavements. On mine is the great team I work with and some chocolate about half 10. We've had a very challenging week but Team Parklands does its stuff. 2 people need special mention-our marvellous and fab Christine who has done open up and lock up in the absence of a caretaker since October and many times before that over the last 3 years. She stayed in school all day yesterday so that there was access for workmen. The other person is her daughter Chloe. Chloe left us last Summer to go to the DYCA. She took a call from me very early on Monday morning and told me that her mum had already set off for work to open up. Without prompting, Chloe offered to go out into the snow and walk up to school to pass my message on. She did this and saved the day. When I listen to people moaning about young people, I always feel quite angry. We all know the most fantastic young people and they really do deserve more credit. Have a good day! Cath."

It's funny, I know what I won't miss after Christmas but, I will miss people like Cath and her brilliant team at Parklands Primary School.  They and an army of colleagues in outstanding schools across Leeds constantly remind me why I stayed here for the last ten years and why I am here today sitting at the top of Merrion House watching the snow falling on the city. Our children and young people are blessed to have people like Cath and her colleagues to care for them and to help them be happy, healthy, safe and increasingly successful... whatever it takes! Chris

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


My colleague Jancis Andrew who heads up our Attendance Strategy Team sent me this bit of good news...

"Dear Chris, Only seven of our high schools have not reduced their number of PA pupils. In the whole of the city there were 632 fewer young people who were persistently absent in Half Term 1 this year when compared to last year. Many schools go on to improve their performance across the year and we only need 73 more young people to stop being PA to achieve the 5% reduction as a city and achieve the goal we have been working towards! This would be BRILLIANT news for Leeds!  This is a really positive start to the year! Thanks. Regards, Jancis."
We all know the consequences of poor attendance and it is great to see all the hard work paying off with another 632 young people being better engaged in learning. Congratulations to all the schools and to Jancis and her team. More to do, but a great start to the year.


I spent the afternoon with five hundred children, parents, teachers and dance coaches at the Town Hall where we all celebrated RJC 'Dance Heats Project 9'...

This is the ninth year that this wonderful project has run and this afternoon was a brilliant celebration of the work and the achievements of the children and teachers who have participated in the project over the last three months. Over 500 young people from sixteen schools in the Elmet Partnership of Schools have taken part in what is a unique and exciting dance project with the fabulous team from RJC Dance. The schools involved were Shadwell and Bramham Primary Schools, Scholes Primary School, Collingham Lady Elizabeth Hastings CE Primary School, St Mary's CE Primary School, Thorpe Arch Primary School, St John's School for the Deaf, Thorner CE Primary School, Bardsey Primary School, Deighton Gates Primary School, Barwick-in-Elmet CE Primary School, Wigton Moor Primary School, Harewood CE Primary School, Crossley Street Primary School, St Edward's Catholic Primary School and St Joseph's Catholic Primary School. The fabulous RJC 'Dance Heat Project 9' tutors were De-Napoli Clarke, Helen Wilson, Stacy Wraith and Amy Manancourt and they helped the schools deliver some great performances... and the audience made so much noise that they nearly lifted the Town Hall roof off!

It was great to see Cllr Adam Ogilvie at the event. Adam holds the portfolio for leisure on the Council's Executive Board and is a great supporter of the arts. I hope we can ensure that projects like this continue to inspire young dancers and that 'Dance Heats Project 10' is an even bigger and even better celebration of dance in Leeds.


I made it in today to meet with a small group of secondary headteachers who had made it to their regular meeting at Weetwood Hall...

It was great to sit and listen to these talented colleagues as they discussed the Schools White Paper; 'The Importance of Teaching' and it's implications for teaching and learning. The White Paper signals a radical reform agenda with an ambition to be world-class. It covers teaching and leadership, behaviour, curriculum, assessment and qualifications, the new school system, accountability, school improvement and school funding. A Schools Bill is expected shortly but most of the reforms will be introduced progressively between now and 2014.

We discussed the implications for Leeds schools as they face the perfect storm with Education Leeds disappearing, the new Children's Services arrangements coming into place, huge reductions in funding for public services nationally and locally, organisations disappearing regionally and nationally and this very radical schools agenda. Whatever anyone says this is the time for the optimists amongst us to stand up and be counted. There is an opportunity to shape the future; to be brave, creative and to lead the way. What we have achieved together over the last few years is a strong set of partnerships where collaboration, co-operation and teamwork has achieved extra-ordinary results. Our challenge now, and the opportunity for those who are able to see it, is to THINK TEAM and build TEAM LEEDS on the strong foundations we have laid. Only then will we really be able to claim that Leeds is a truly world class city with a truly world class education and schools system for all its young people.

Monday, 29 November 2010


Well the weather outside is certainly frightful and from looking at the weather forecasts there is more cold weather and snow on the way...

Sadly the snow didn't stop me getting in today but I have damaged my back again. I have had a disc problem for a long time but it hasn't been a problem recently. Once I get started it's generally OK but if I sit still or lie down I get stuck and it's almost impossible to move in the morning. Sorry to those schools who were expecting me today. I will try to get in tomorrow if I can move!


Only three weeks left now and last week flew by because I was so busy...

I started the week at the Education Leeds leadership forum. This will be the last occasion where I spend time with this group of colleagues who were looking at the developing structure within the new children's services arrangements. I visited Carr Manor High School again. It was great to sit and talk to Simon Flowers, the school's inspirational headteacher, about the journey they have been on from potential closure in split site and unloved accommodation to an oversubscribed, increasingly successful and innovative school occupying a fantastic PFI building which was opened by Tony Blair. I had breakfast with headteacher colleagues from the Pudsey and the West families of schools at Pudsey Grangefield School. These headteachers are great colleagues doing some amazing work with children and families. I visited Swallow Hill Community College. I hadn't visited the school for over a year and it was great to see Gill Knutsson, acting headteacher, again. I was impressed by the calm and very purposeful atmosphere around the school and the building which is bright, light and a wonderful environment for learning. I visited St Bartholomew's Church of England Primary School again. Pauline Gavin and her team don't do things by halves at St Barts. It is a creative and inspiring place working at the heart of its community to release the magic and the WOW factor. I visited Castleton Primary School where Judith Norfolk and her team are doing something wonderful at this little oasis of brilliant primary practice tucked away at the heart of West Leeds. I attended 'Celebrating 10 Years of Success'; the Leeds Mentoring annual awards ceremony at the Civic Hall. This year there have once again been over 4000 mentoring partnerships here in Leeds and the evening provided us with another wonderful opportunity to listen to young people's stories of success encouraged and supported by brilliant mentors. I visited the South Leeds Academy again to see my colleague Colin Bell. I am particularly grateful to Colin and his colleagues at the South Leeds Academy who have achieved something quite remarkable over the last five years. I attended the awards evening at Corpus Christ Catholic College. It was a real honour to be asked by Mike Woods, headteacher at this highly successful school, to be part of this very special evening where George Mudie MP presented the awards. Sadly there was a clash and I missed the Peace Poetry Celebration at the Civic Hall, but it is great to see that the Peace Poetry competition continues to excite schools and produce some wonderful poetry. I went on BBC Radio Leeds to talk about the report produced by Barnardos on the consequences of exclusions. It was great to be able to talk about the impressive track record we have here in Leeds with reducing exclusions and more importantly wherever possible finding alternatives to exclusion. I visited Temple Moor High School Science College again. It was wonderful to see the brilliant new building again and to walk around the school with Martin Fleetwood, the headteacher, who has a wonderful rapport and relationship with his students. I visited Roundhay St John's Church of England Primary School which is a wonderful little school where Barbara Custance, acting headteacher, Libby Harrison, acting deputy headteacher, and their colleagues are clearly doing great things. I finished the week at Woodkirk High Specialist Science School. My colleague Jonathan White, headteacher at Woodkirk High Specialist Science School, had invited me to present the certificates and awards at their awards ceremony. It was wonderful to be part of this very special evening and to present the certificates and awards to some fantastic young people.

Wherever I go colleagues are talking about the future and how we can shape it. We need to remember that what we have achieved together in Education Leeds, in secondary schools like Carr Manor, Swallow Hill, South Leeds Academy, Corpus Christi, Temple Moor and Woodkirk and in primary schools like St Bartholomew's, Castleton and Roundhay St John's is critically about people, teamwork, attitude and ownership and engagement. We also know that whatever comes our way success depends on passion, commitment, determination and sheer hard work... which are the keys to releasing the magic in all our colleagues and all our children and young people.

Sunday, 28 November 2010


I finished the day on Friday at Woodkirk High Specialist Science School...

My colleague Jonathan White, Headteacher at Woodkirk High Specialist Science School, had invited me to present the certificates and awards at their Awards Ceremony. It was a real honour to be asked by Jonathan to be part of this very special evening and to present the certificates and awards to some fantastic young people. Dennis Fisher introduced the evening for the fourteenth time as chair of governors which is an incredible achievement. We also had wonderful performances by the Upper School Choir who sang 'Happy Ending', 'Flying Home' and 'We are the Champions'. 

The school achieved some extraordinary GCSE results this year; their best ever GCSE results placing the school amongst the most successful and highest achieving comprehensive schools in Leeds. The school is a Science College and the specialism has clearly made a huge impact alongside the work they have been doing in sport, music and the arts and their community. The Class of 2010 were very clearly everything you could want from a group of young people... talented, gorgeous, brilliant and wonderful and it was great to share this very special evening with the team at Woodkirk.