Sunday, 19 December 2010


"Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."
John Maxwell

People constantly tell me that things are impossible. They tell me that you can't get every child to read by the time they are seven or eight. That every child can’t be a brilliant little learner by the time they leave primary school. That you can't get every young person the equivalent of 5 good GCSEs including English and maths by the time they are sixteen. That every school can't be a great school. That you can't create great teams with the current people.

However, we all know that success doesn't come in can'ts it comes in cans. We know that in schools, in classrooms, in staffrooms, in organisations and even in Councils great things are happening. You simply need to change the culture and get people to believe; to believe in themselves and to believe in children and young people and colleagues. The next person who tells you it's impossible with these children, these young people, these families or these colleagues, tell them that if you believe anything is possible and that achieving the impossible is nothing! Then contact me and I'll help you find and release the magic.

Saturday, 18 December 2010


This has now become my working blog where I will record my adventures, my stories and share what I have learned so that we can continue to share, network and learn together...

In Wolverhampton, North Yorkshire, York and for the last ten years in Leeds I have been working with some extraordinary colleagues releasing the magic in schools, in local authorities and in private companies.  I know how to do this and I know colleagues who can help wherever you are on the journey. I have worked with organisations large and small for the last twenty years and whether you want to look in your classroom, your staffroom, your school, your authority, your company or your organisation I can help you to go from ordinary to extraordinary.  

Nothing is impossible and if you think I could help you on your journey, I would welcome discussing any opportunities that there might be to work with you. I would love to use my experience of leadership development, cultural change and organisational development to help you release the magic... wherever you are and whatever it takes!

Keep the faith! 


I have now left Education Leeds...

Education Leeds is winding up over the next three months and everyone keeps asking about the legacy the company will leave in Leeds. It's important that people understand that our success in Leeds wasn't about Education Leeds, the stars, the quotes and the messages; it was about cultural change  and organisational development that switched on, empowered and engaged thousands of talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful human beings who believed in the power to change and have changed forever to become extraordinary people and releasing real magic across the city of Leeds.

Over the last ten years I have made so many friends and I promised I will keep in touch with them all. If you are a friend or if you just need my help you can e-mail me at or just leave me a message on this,my new, blog

Nothing is impossible... keep the faith.
Hope to see you soon!

Sunday, 12 December 2010


With the publication of the latest PISA research, the Schools White Paper and the changes that are happening to educational systems across the world, everyone seems engaged in a superficial and somewhat futile attempt to chase the answers to what makes brilliant, and to simply ignore the reality that educational policy and planning need to undergo significant change as we prepare for a new conceptual age ...

School systems internationally are wrestling with how we can educate for the new order; the new globalised economies, the creative and intellectual demands of new institutions and cultures, complex multilingual and multi-ethnic cultures and religions, and a more critical, informed and cosmopolitan population. Getting rid of beaureacracy, developing school-based accountability, encouraging the market, freeing up the curriculum and the powerful use of new technologies will help to address these problems but without fundamental consideration of teaching and learning and classroom practice we are stuck on our journey to outstanding.


The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has just published its 2009 results...

"One section of the hugely important report looks at how the issues of autonomy, evaluation, governance and choice interact in providing a framework in which schools are given the incentives and the capacity to improve. The PISA analysis for 2009 finds that:
• In countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.
• Within countries where schools are held to account for their results through posting achievement data publicly, schools that enjoy greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to do better than those with less autonomy. However, in countries where there are no such accountability arrangements, the reverse is true.
• Countries that create a more competitive environment in which many schools compete for students do not systematically produce better results.
• Within many countries, schools that compete more for students tend to have higher performance, but this is often accounted for by the higher socio-economic status of students in these schools. Parents with a higher socioeconomic status are more likely to take academic performance into consideration when choosing schools.
• In countries that use standards-based external examinations, students tend to do better overall, but there is no clear relationship between performance and the use of standardised tests or the public posting of results at the
school level. However, performance differences between schools with students of different social backgrounds are, on average, lower in countries that use standardised tests."

We should all read this important report and use it to continue to learn and develop wht we re doing to build a world class education and learning system for all our children and young people.

Monday, 6 December 2010


"School systems that have successfully ignited reforms and sustained their momentum have all relied on at least one of three events to get them started: they have either taken advantage of a political or economic crisis or commissioned a high-profile report critical of the system's performance, or have  appointed a new, energetic or strategic leader. The role of new leadership is a common and particularly important pattern in igniting school system reforms, occurring in all of the improving systems we have studied. The evidence suggests that leaders that are successful in directing  system's improvement journey are characterised by taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by their being new to the role, in following a common 'playbooks' of practices, and in their longevity, having a much lengthier tenure than is the norm."
McKinsey 'How the world's most improved school systems keep getting better'.


"For a system's improvement journey to be sustained over the long term, the improvements have to be integrated into the very fabric of the system pedagogy. We have identified three ways that improving systems do this: by establishing collaborative practices, by developing a mediating layer between the schools and the centre, and by architecting tomorrow's leadership. Each of these aspects of sustaining improvement is an interconnected and integral part of the system pedagogy."
McKinsey 'How the world's most improved school systems keep getting better'.

The McKinsey report clearly identifies the need for cooperative and collaborative practice to drive system improvement. This approach to professional development within a powerful learning community needs a supportive. disciplined and focused mediating team to network, support and drive system development and to develop system leadership.


"To begin with, our knowledge grows in spots. The spots may be large or small but the knowledge never grows all over: some old knowledge always remains what it was. Your knowledge of pragmatism, let us suppose, is growing now. Later its growth may involve considerable modification of opinions which you previously held to be true. But such modifications are apt to be gradual."
William James


It has been an extraordinary week for all the wrong reasons as the weather buried us in snow and ice, schools closed and traffic around the city ground to a halt...

I still managed 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' which signals a radical reform agenda with an ambition to be world-class. I also spent an 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. And finally I spent a morning at the STEPS celebration at Weetwood Hall. It 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.

Colleagues also attended the fifth Local Government Yorkshire and Humber 'Making a Difference' awards last week. These 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 achievement service within Education Leeds  - and they won!

After a tough week, where I wrestled with a bad back, snow and ice, I was interviewed 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 week I heard that phrase again and again... "if your journey is not essential the advice is to stay indoors". I am encouraged by the uproar about school closures because it reminds us that schools, at the heart of what we do, are an essential service for so many children and young people and their parents and carers. While the weather has challenged everyone of us this week, as we struggled in through blizzard conditions along icy and treacherous roads, we should always remember that we provide a vital and essential service to the children and young people of Leeds.

Sunday, 5 December 2010


McKinsey have just published a really interesting report 'How the World’s Most

Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better'...

The report looked at twenty school systems from around the world: Armenia, Aspire (a US charter school system), Boston (Massachusetts), Chile, England, Ghana, Hong Kong, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Long Beach (California), Madhya Pradesh (India), Minas Gerais (Brazil), Ontario (Canada), Poland, Saxony (Germany), Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, and Western Cape (South Africa). They are all improving but have markedly different levels of performance, and the report examines how each has achieved significant, sustained, and widespread gains in student outcomes, as measured by international and national assessments.

"Almost every country has undertaken some form of school system reform during the past two decades, but very few have succeeded in improving their systems from poor to fair to good to great to excellent. This report looks closely at 20 school systems from different parts of the world, and from an array of starting points, that have registered significant, sustained, and widespread student outcome gains, and examines why what they have done has succeeded where so many others failed. In undertaking this research, we have sought to understand which elements are specific to the individual system and whichare of broader or universal relevance. We believe that what we have discovered will help other systems and educationalleaders to replicate this success."

Mona Mourshed, Chinezi Chijioke and Michael Barber

The report identifies the elements that are required for school systems as they move from poor to fair to good to great to excellent performance. The findings were as follows:

"A system can make significant gains from wherever it starts – and these gains can be achieved in six years or less.

There is too little focus on ‘process’ in the debate today. Improving system performance ultimately comes down to improving the learning experience of students in their classrooms.

Each particular stage of the school system improvement journey is associated with a unique set of interventions. The research suggests all improving systems implement similar sets of interventions to move from one particular performance level to the next, irrespective of culture, geography, politics, or history.

A system’s context might not determine what needs to be done, but it does determine how it is done. Though each performance stage is associated with a common set of interventions, there is substantial variation in how a system implements these interventions with regard to their sequence, timing, and roll-out – there is little or no evidence of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to reform implementation.

Six interventions occur equally at every performance stage for all systems. The research suggests that six interventions are common to all performance stages across the entire improvement journey: building the instructional skills of teachers and management skills of principals, assessing students, improving data systems, facilitating improvement through the introduction of policy documents and education laws, revising standards and curriculum, and ensuring an appropriate reward and remuneration structure for teachers and principals.

Systems further along the journey sustain improvement by balancing school autonomy with consistent teaching practice. While the study shows that systems in poor and fair performance achieve improvement through a center that increases and scripts instructional practice for schools and teachers, such an approach does not work for systems in ‘good’ performance onwards.

Leaders take advantage of changed circumstances to ignite reforms. Across all the systems studied, one or more of three circumstances produced the conditions that triggered reform: a socio-economic crisis; a high profile, critical report of system performance; or a change in leadership.

Leadership continuity is essential. Leadership is essential not only in sparking reform but in sustaining it. Two things stand out about the leaders of improving systems. Firstly, their longevity: the median tenure of the new strategic leaders is six years and that of the new political leaders is seven years."

This is a hugely important report which everyone interested in schools and learning should carefully read. This is doubly important as we face the latest changes and challenges outlined in the White Paper. If you want to read the report you can visit the McKinsey website at


Saturday, 4 December 2010


I have been reading 'Could do better:Using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England' and it makes depressing reading...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
This report draws on examples to support an unhelpful and corrosive approach which is that the work that we have been doing here in Leeds and nationally over the last ten years hasn't achieved the necessary transformation in outcomes, that the curriculum is broken and the whole system needs to be fixed. The report fails to understand that we are at a stage in the development of teaching and learning because of the work we have been doing over the last ten years and a lot of that work has been outstandingly successful here in Leeds.  Ten years ago, no-one would have believed the transformation in outcomes we have achieved and our shared success has been driven by a dynamic and creative process that has taken the best of National Strategies programmes and the best practice from across the city, the region and the country to drive continuous improvement so that every school in Leeds becomes a great school.

And we haven't ignored international models because our relationship with Stockholm and Helsinki has been part of that learning journey. Interestingly, the report looks at the Finnish model where, like us, ten years ago there was little to celebrate in terms of international comparisons. What is important with any analysis of the Finnish system is their steady progress during the past three decades has been built on some important foundations: increased educational attainment and literacy within the adult population, widespread equity and fairness in terms of learning outcomes and the performance of schools and a culture which values and celebrates education and learning, within a system where private education simply doesn't exist.

And perhaps more significantly and unlike many other education systems, tests and external standards have not been part of Finnish education policies. Improvements in learning and student outcomes have been achieved through policies based on equity, flexibility, creativity, teacher professionalism, and mutual trust and respect. The conclusion we should draw is that educational success in Finland, and here in Leeds, has been built upon ideas that place an emphasis on teaching and learning, encouraging schools to work cooperatively and collaboratively, creating powerful learning environments and developing educational content and coaching and mentoring approaches that best help young people reach their personalised goals.

What we have achieved has been a learning journey and the trajectory of improvement has been impressive. We can't simply dismiss what we've learnt over the last ten years and like in Finland we must continue to riforously and relentlessly focus on teaching, learning and creativity rather than simply concentrating on passing tests and exams... and we must never lose sight of the values that have underpinned what we have achieved; equity, flexibility, creativity, trust and respect.

Friday, 3 December 2010


I am more and more convinced that one of the keys to tackling the inequalities we face in this country is to help people unlock their potential; to think better of themselves and to become better partners, better workers and better parents and carers...

We know how to do this, by the way, through programmes like The Pacific Institute's STEPS programme. Interestingly, the STEPS programme isn't a parenting programme. It's a programme that changes people; unlocking passion and potential and releasing the magic in a way that has to be seen to be believed. And I have seen it time and time again through my work in Leeds with colleagues and with some parents and carers living the most challenging lives. These ordinary people have become extra-ordinary and I would be happy to share these stories and help you unlock your passion and potential and release your magic.

Just give me a call!