Sunday, 30 January 2011

Richard Stiff

Our ex-colleague,Richard Stiff has been appointed as chief executive of angus council in Scotland and will take over when current chief executive, David Sawers, retires in February after five years in post...

Richard is currently deputy chief executive at North Lincolnshire Council and joins the authority as it enters the most challenging period in its short history, with Angus facing a quest for £9 million of budget savings in the coming year and the prospect of a 500-strong workforce reduction by 2014. It's great to see individuals who were part of theEducation Leeds story moving on to bigger and better things. Richard joins a huge number of ex-colleagues who have taken the Education Leeds culture,values and will now be releasing the magic in Scotland.

Friday, 28 January 2011

RSA Academy

The RSA Academy in Tipton opened in September 2008 and is the first school to be designed entirely around the principles of Opening Minds. They moved into their new £35 million building in September 2010...

The RSA Academy aims to play a major role in the economic and social regeneration of the local area by providing young people with opportunities for educational achievement and the acquisition of real world skills. The Academy Trust and governing body are chaired by Sir Mike Tomlinson, ex OFSTED Chief Inspector of Schools. The Academy has three schools which focus on languages and communication, the arts, humanities and sport and science, maths and technology. It has a specialism in Citizenship and Health, runs extended opening hours and works with the local community in order to provide a suitable range of additional facilities for use by them in the evenings and at weekends.


Opening Minds!

The RSA sponsors the RSA Academy which is a hugely impressive place which uses a curriculum based on Opening Minds...

RSA Opening Minds initiative promotes innovative and integrated ways of thinking about education and the curriculum. Teachers design and develop a curriculum for their own schools based round the development of five key competences:

   1. Citizenship
   2. Learning
   3. Managing information
   4. Relating to people
   5. Managing situations

A competence based approach enables students not just to acquire subject knowledge but to understand, use and apply it within the context of their wider learning and life. It also offers students a more holistic and coherent way of learning which allows them to make connections and apply knowledge across different subject areas.

Opening Minds was developed by and is supported by the RSA and is now being used in over 200 schools across the country. You can find out more by visiting their website at

Seeking Excellence!

I was at the RSA Academy in Tipton in the West Midlands today...

I was attending The Pacific Institute's "Seeking Excellence"; Organisational Culture Securing Success conference. The conference was aimed at principals and headteachers at Academies and Training Schools across the country. It was based at the RSA Academy because they are using Investment in Excellence, The Pacific Institute's flagship programme, to embed cultural change with every member of the staff team going through the four day programme. The day had inputs from Michael Gernon, Neil Straker, Martin Vaughan and I. 

Michael Gernon is the inspirational principal of the RSA Academy who talked about how he has secured success at the academy through a constructive culture and through working with The Pacific Institute. Neil Straker, who leads The Pacific Institute in the UK, talked about The Pacific Institute's programmes and the importance of the work on leadership, culture and performance. Martin Vaughan talked about the five businesses he has led where he has used The Pacific Institute's programmes to drive cultural change and improved performance. I talked about the story of and the successes of Education Leeds and the brilliant work colleagues have done with parents using the STEPS programme.

It was certainly an interesting day and the RSA Academy is a simply outstanding learning place and worth another visit when the students are on site.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Practice makes perfect!

I am in the West Midlands tomorrow at a conference at the RSA Academy...

I am doing a session in the afternoon at the conference; '"Seeking Excellence" Organisational Culture Securing Success' which is for principals and headteachers from academies and training schools across the country. It's going to be a brilliant day and I'll let you know how it goes and what the RSA Academy is like tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Catching Up!

I stayed in Leeds after the STEPS session to meet a few colleagues and catch up...

It was great to see my colleagues Rachel, Wendy, Richard and Jackie at Costa Coffee in the Merrion Centre. These four colleagues capture between them all the things that made Education Leeds such a successful organisation and such a great place to work. Rachel, Wendy, Richard and Jackie sum up the values, attitudes and beliefs that made me love being in Leeds and it was a privilege working with them. They are passionate, intelligent, creative, articulate, action focused and powerfully connected to young people. Talking to them I understood once again why The Sunday Times decided that Education Leeds had become one of the best places to work in the public sector in 2010 having been simply one to watch in 2009!


This morning, I attended a STEPS taster session at The Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Community Centre on Stonegate Road...

"The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything;
they just make the most of everything that comes their way."

The session was facilitated by my talented colleagues Shelly Savino and Sarah Wilcock who work for the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board which is based at the Community Centre.

Shelly and Sarah led a wonderful three hour taster session which included watching the new STEPS DVD which is a fantastic advert for the programme. My colleagues Chris Bennett and Val Cain, who lead the STEPS programme for Education Leeds, were also there and it was great to catch up and talk about how we can secure these vitally important programmes for the future

The STEPS programme must be the largest parenting and effectiveness initiative in the city and the team has now trained around 400 facilitators and reached around 4000 parents and carers. We know that STEPS changes lives, saves lives and makes an incredible difference because we have all seen the results and Shelly and Sarah showed us how effective the talented facilitators we have here in Leeds are. They are part of the foundations on which we can build to ensure that the programme continues to reach the parts other interventions simply don't touch. If you want to find out more about STEPS please let me know.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

I am in Leeds again!

I have been asked by my colleagues in The Pacific Institute to visit a STEPS event tomorrow in North Leeds...

I'll tell you about it tomorrow but being in Leeds will give me the opportunity to see friends and colleagues during the afternoon at Costa Coffee. I should be there from 2.00 until 4.00. Hope to see some of you during the afternoon. I am over again next Wednesday 2nd February and again the following Monday 7th February and 8th February for anyone who can't make it tomorrow.

Physics is simply magic!

I started my teaching career as a physics teacher and I am still passionate about the subject and how it is taught... 


Physics is the branch of science concerned with the properties of matter and energy and the relationships between them. It is based on mathematics and traditionally includes mechanics, optics, electricity and magnetism, acoustics, and heat. Modern physics, based on quantum theory, includes atomic, nuclear, particle, and solid-state studies. It can also embrace applications such as geophysics and meteorology. Physics is no harder than any other subject on the curriculum but we have been persuaded that subjects like mathematics and physics are harder to learn about, harder to teach and harder when it came to tests and examinations. It's all nonsense of course and in the hands of  a great teacher like Richard Feynman physics is simply magic. Our job as educators is to make the subject come alive and to inspire young people to love the subject and want to become physicists, mathematicians and engineers.

What can we learn from the Manchester Challenge?

'Schools learning together' was the name of a project that started in York and the ideas have been further developed in Manchester and Leeds...

"The knowledge and skills were here in local schools in abundance," says Professor Mel Ainscow  "But they weren't sufficiently moving around. The challenge was especially with 'hard-to-reach' urban pupils. That's where the difference had to be made."

This month's publication of the 2010 GCSE's shows an increase of 6% on average scores in 2009, and 11% since the Manchester City Challenge began in 2007. In Leeds the figures are even more impressive! Mel Ainscow's diagnosis is that we must encourage schools by "moving knowledge around" – creating "families of schools"; not families in the traditional, feeder/pyramid sense but schools from Oldham to Wigan grouped together in comparable groups. Mel Ainscow says: "We were looking at schools whose intake, size and other features had much in common, and seeing how one was doing well and another not. We were looking for the good things, naturally, and through this system, they were clear. It was a game-changer." The next step was what Ainscow calls "carefully brokered" school partnerships; collaborative, co-operative partnerships where schools share their best practice and strengths. Nothing new in the world!

The School I'd Like!

It doesn't seem ten years since the Guardian produced that wonderful publication...

Ten years ago the Guardian ran a  called 'the school I'd like'. Primary children and secondary students were asked to design the school of their dreams. They got over 15000 responses which makes it one of the largest informal surveys of children's attitudes towards schooling ever conducted in this country. The result was The Children's Manifesto of 2001 which was a wonderful collection of dreams and a challenge to all of us to build brilliant!

Now the Guardian is doing it again and want to ask young people some questions... 
  • Is your school just as you'd like it to be? 
  • Or are there things you would change? 
  • Is the building right? 
  • Should you sit exams? 
  • Are you allowed to express yourself? 
  • Are your lessons interesting? 
They want to listen to all young people's comments and hope schools and parents and carers and young people themselves will email them to school.i', giving the child's full name, age, year, school, and a contact phone number. The deadline is 18 February. 

The Guardian will publish some of the comments and use all of them to inform and guide the new manifesto. Some young people who send in the most imaginative and exciting ideas will be asked to join the Guardian's special Children's Manifesto panel, helping to sift through the submissions to turn them into the new manifesto.


The BBC are doing some interesting things about happiness reflecting on the fact that we are less happy now than we were and getting even more unhappy... 

"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. 

If you love what you are doing, you will be successful." 
Albert Schweitzer

Psychologists have apparently now come up with a formula for happiness:
'Pleasure + engagement + meaning = happiness'.

Happiness appears to be connected to relationships, contentment, security and money, health, transcendence and fulfilment. One key ingredient to happiness is social relationships, and another key ingredient appears to be having important goals that derive from things like children and family that are important to us, and to make progress toward those goals. Perhaps that why colleagues working in the Education Leeds team were so happy and engaged especially as is important to feel a sense of belonging to something larger than oneself.  Three exercises have been proved to produce lasting reductions in depression and lasting increases in happiness. You can try the three that work which were "three blessings" - writing down three things that went well today and why; "the gratitude visit" - writing a gratitude testimonial and delivering it personally; and "using your signature strength in a new way" - taking the signature strength test and using your highest strength in a new way.  

Despite everything research suggests that we are no happier now than we were 50 years ago. In his book 'Authentic Happiness' Martin Seligman argues that happiness is not the result of good genes or good luck and that we can teach people to be happy by cultivating and using many of the strengths and traits colleagues possess including kindness, originality, humour, optimism and generosity. By identifying the very best in ourselves Seligman argues that we can improve the world around us and achieve new and sustainable levels of commitment, contentment and meaning.

Lord Richard Layard, Director of the Well-being Programme in the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, argues that the key to success is to give higher priority to promoting better human relationships. He believes that the revolution to build character should be a major aim in every school with expert teachers of PSHE for whom that is their full-time mission and passion. Richard argues that PSHE is an extraordinarily difficult subject to teach but that we increasingly know what works and what does not. PSHE teaching must be based increasingly on evidence based research about what changes children and young people and what does not!

I have always been interested in happiness and I am more and more convinced that the seven things we all need to do to be happy are:
  • exercise regularly;
  • get mental stimulation;
  • get artistic stimulation;
  • do a good turn every day;
  • do something with a friend;
  • give yourself a treat;
  • celebrate and congratulate yourself.
You can watch The Happiness Formula on BBC Two on Wednesday.

Can I help?

I have some spare time at the moment and as you know I like to be busy...

I am going to be very busy after Easter but does any one want me to run a session for them, their staff or cluster or group over the next few weeks. I'd be happy to discuss how I might help especially if you are a follower of the blog!

Every Child Counts!

We must also continue to work to ensure that every child can count by the time they are seven...

I know again some people tell me that it's impossible and as you know I hate that word. Anyone who has seen the impact of the National Strategies Every Child Counts programme knows that it is possible and when you consider what it costs us coping with the consequences of failing to teach children to count, failing to use and develop these programmes is stupidity on a grand scale.

Every Child a Reader!

We must continue to work to ensure that every child can read by the time they are seven...

I know again some people tell me that it's impossible and as you know I hate that word. Anyone who has seen the impact of the National Strategies Every Child A Reader programme knows that it is possible and when you consider what it costs us coping with the consequences of failing to teach children to read, failing to use and develop these programmes is stupidity on a grand scale.

Monday, 24 January 2011

What is it about schools in Finland?

Students in Finland spend fewer hours in school and do less homework than their peers in most OECD countries...

Children start their nine-year compulsory education at seven and almost all six-year-olds attend free preschool. Finland’s current system doesn't separate students early on into academic or vocational education. The Government sets out the national curriculum, but local schools and teachers are free to determine the best way of delivering it, right down to the choice of textbooks and teaching and learning methods. Teachers also create their own ways to measure student progress, and learning-oriented assessment is an integral part of daily school life. School and teacher autonomy are seen as the factors that positively affect the high quality performance of schools and the entire education system. The National Matriculation Examination, a battery of four to seven subject tests, is taken at the end of upper-secondary school, and most graduates continue on for another three years of general or vocational education, and either path can lead to university-level studies.

What is it about schools in Finland?

Finland is one the world’s most literate nations in the world with the narrowest gap between those who score the highest and lowest on achievement tests...

Discipline, focus and hard work!

Michael Gove is of course right about the importance of discipline,focus, hard work and creating a culture of excellence... 

He's wrong however to root this in a curriculum that belongs to the 1800's not the 21st century. We need to see learning as three distinct and critical stages: the early years from birth to seven, the middle years from seven to fourteen and the pathway years from fourteen to nineteen and we need to very clearly describe what these phases of education and learning are expected to achieve. We need particularly to focus on the basics in the early years so that we improve parenting, develop aspiration and ensure that every child reads, can counts and becomes a brilliant little learner before they enter the middle years. In the middle years we need to inspire young people to see themselves as powerful learners who can achieve and be successful. In the pathway years we need to develop pathways for our young learners that lead to academic and vocational success and the world of work.

Interestingly, today the outgoing boss of the Confederation of British Industry has said that the Government has "failed to articulate in big picture terms its vision of what the UK economy might become under its stewardship," and what is becoming increasingly obvious is that they are also failing to clearly articulate a compelling, authentic and modern vision for our schools and the curriculum they should teach.

What to do!

What do you need to do?
  • Love what you do!
  • Enjoy the action!
  • Finish what you start!
  • Thrive on the pressure!
  • Learn constantly!
  • Have fun!
Please let me know if you need any help with any of this.


So what is the right attitude all about:
  • be passionate!
  • be enthusiastic!
  • be inspired!
  • be curious!
  • be responsible!
  • be smart!
  • be intelligent!
Please let me know if you need any help with any of this.

It's too hard!

People constantly tell me that things are too hard, too difficult, too complicated and that only very special, very talented and very clever people can do these things...

It's funny that people think physics is hard, that mathematics is hard, that brilliant is hard; excuses, excuses, excuses. Everything I have read and seen and learn't over the last ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty five years working in four very local authorities across the country has taught me that nothing is hard if it is taught properly, that nothing is impossible; that all things are possible if you believe. You can deliver brilliant physics or brilliant mathematics or brilliant outcomes wherever you are, all you need is the right attitude and the right toolkit.

A Curriculum for a Conceptual Age!

Every child needs to be taught what it takes to succeed but there is a profound gap between what most young people learn in school and what they need to become brilliant learners...

Surely, any revision of the National Curriculum must focus on the essential skills that our children need to succeed and reach their potential.  We 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, play and meaning and our schools must re-imagine their classroom environments and their teaching and learning strategies accordingly.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Patience and Perseverence

I wonder sometimes why so many people are so pessimistic, so negative and so miserable and just see difficulties and obstacles preventing them from being successful...

"Patience and perseverence have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish."

Throughout my life I have helped people discover themselves and understand the enormous potential we all have to be extraordinary. Sadly a lot of people still don't believe that they have the magic so how can we release it in the children and young people they are working with. Every organisation, school, team, colleague, child and young person has a unique and wonderful set of talents and our task is to rewire, re-imagine and release the potential and the magic. The toolkit is available to anyone who is prepared to listen and learn. Let me know if you've mislaid your copy!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Whose curriculum is it anyway?

I must admit having read Michael Gove's speech I am confused...

"The principal goal of education... should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things... men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers."

There seems to me to be a huge contradiction between the freedom and empowerment for headteachers and schools and the command and control mentality of the new curriculum which will be imposed on schools. Michael Gove appears to be obsessed with facts but argues powerfully that his radical approach would slim down the curriculum from an 'over-prescriptive' approach leaving the schools free to decide how to impart the required body of knowledge. His new curriculum would contain English, mathematics, science, PE, religious education, history, geography, modern foreign language, music, art and citizenship. If you read Dan Pink's fantastic book 'A Whole New Mind' he argues much more powerfully that we are entering not a knowledge age but a conceptual age where Asia, abundance and automation are radically changing the learning landscape. In this new world the key skills will be team work, design, storytelling, empathy, play and meaning. Ken Robinson argues in his work and in his amazing talks that we must get away from a learning world and nurture talent, creativity and imagination and share and network the things that work and stop doing the things that don't! 

Michael Gove argues that an academic education is the best preparation for the opportunities created by the knowledge based industries of the future and would argue that we must say what we would teach our children and young people. If you read the new McKinsey Report, analyse the new PISA data and listen to people like Ken Robinson it is increasingly obvious that, while we have achieved great things over the last ten years, we are not doing enough to ignite and inspire our children to become brilliant little learners. However, the challenge isn't what we put in the curriculum but how we create passionate and compassionate learning places which inspire young people to learn. Those of us who have seen it happen and know how to do it need to work together to share ideas and strategies and to continue to think team and to build co-operative, collaborative approaches that inspire young people to really understand what they are capable of, to dispel the nonsense about genius and to help them reach their extraordinary potential. 

No one can doubt that we have transformed the learning landscape through the powerful use of a collaborative school improvement approach and through using brilliant National Strategies programmes like Every Child a Reader, Every Child Counts and the Intensifying Support Programme. But most importantly what we created was a culture of excellence built on passion, persistence, self-belief and determined, focused and deliberate practice and hard work.  Throughout my life people have told me that things are impossible and more recently told me that we can't get every child to read by the time they are seven or eight; that we can't get every child can’t be a brilliant little learner by the time they leave primary school; that we can't get every young person the equivalent of 5 good GCSEs including English and maths by the time they are sixteen. I simply don't accept any of this and believe that every school can be a great school and that we can create great teams doing the extraordinary with the current people. Success doesn't come in can'ts it comes in cans. We simply need to change the culture and get people to believe; to believe in themselves and to believe in our children and young people and our 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!
Keep the faith.
The people who I love and care about keep asking me if I am OK...

"When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

My life is brilliant and I am currently setting my own goals for 2011 which include being happier, healthier, safer and more successful than I have ever been. And after ten years in Leeds I know how to do it and I want to help other people learn the technique, the tricks and develop their own toolkits to help people continue to build brilliant schools, teams and organisations. People are starting to know that I am available for work and I am getting some really interesting things to do and requests for help. I am also planning to do some voluntary work and I am going to join a choir if I can find the time! If you want me to do anything for you please let me know; whatever it is!
I see Michael Gove has announced a fundamental review of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools...

The DfE website says that "the review will be led by the Department for Education, supported by an Advisory Committee and Expert Panel made up of top teachers, academics, and business representatives.
The review will:
  • replace the current substandard curriculum with one based on the best school systems in the world and provide a world-class resource for teachers and children
  • consider what subjects should be compulsory at what age
  • consider what children should be taught in the main subjects at what age.
The new National Curriculum will begin to be taught in maintained schools from September 2013. In order to allow schools time to manage the transition to the new curriculum effectively, the new Programmes of Study for English, mathematics, science, and physical education will be introduced from 2013, with Programmes of Study for other subjects coming into force the following year. The review will also advise on how the new curriculum should be phased in for each key stage."

In his speech today Michael Gove said "we have sunk in international league tables and the National Curriculum is substandard. Meanwhile the pace of economic and technological change is accelerating and our children are being left behind. The previous curriculum failed to prepare us for the future. We must change course. Our review will examine the best school systems in the world and give us a world-class curriculum that will help teachers, parents and children know what children should learn at what age."

Whoever is advising Michael Gove about what makes for brilliant learning clearly hasn't read or understood either the latest PISA research or the new McKinsey Report. So here we go again as another group of the great and the good decide what we should teach and what children and young people should learn. After all that's where the current 'substandard' curriculum came from and that's what we have been wrestling with ever since.

I am confused because I thought we were going to see more freedom and flexibility given to schools and teachers to develop teaching and learning that meets the needs of their students. Of course, no one in their right mind wouldn't want to learn from the best international practice and use the best approaches to achieve world class outcomes but you create great physicists and mathematicians by changing the culture in our schools which makes out that these subjects are hard and that most of us simply aren't clever enough to understand physics and maths. As a physics teacher and science educator I know that we must work hard to make these subjects interesting, stimulating and engaging and most importantly we must improve the quality of teaching and learning. However, the real challenge we face isn't a curriculum challenge it's a cultural one; it isn't rocket science and we don't need to go to Finland or Korea or Shanghai to discover the truth; schools simply need to become great places for young people to study and learn and succeed and we have the damn tool kits if anyone needs help with this!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Passionate about the Arts!

The arts are a central part of the human experience and young people cannot participate or understand our history without engaging in the arts... 

My experiences in York and Leeds, and working with some brilliant colleagues, musicians and artists, have shown me that the arts provide languages for shaping and expressing our understandings and can engage diverse learners and provide them with opportunities to share what they know. They help develop capacities and attitudes central to learning and to life and helps develop imagination and empathy.  To work in the arts, young people are required to think critically, pose problems and make decisions, things that lie at the heart of all learning. Students who participate regularly in the arts develop self-confidence, self-discipline and self-esteem and come to understand what it means to achieve high standards and to work as part of a team.   And of course the arts bring us joy and bring joy to learning and make schools happier and more vibrant and exciting places. What would our lives be like without music and the arts?

Sadly, for those of us who are passionate about the arts, research by the Federation of Music Services has revealed that on in six of music services receiving local authority subsidies are likely to have their funding stopped and around half of all music services supported by local authorities are facing cuts of between 10% to 50%; with the rest still waiting for the results of their local authority’s budget review. 

We all know that local authorities are facing huge financial challenges and choices but everyone who cares about music and the arts should urge them to hold back and rethink their plans until we know the results of the Henley Review. Our children and young people are too precious to lose the arts from the curriculum and deep learning is too important to lose the arts  from our schools.
I am really encouraged that so many colleagues are visiting my new blog...

More than 50 colleagues visit every day although I am not sure who you are since there are only seven registered followers. Thanks to everyone who is still staying in touch and finding the time to visit the blog.
Keep the faith!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Early Intervention: Next Steps

"Socially and emotionally capable people are more productive, better educated, tax-paying citizens helping our nation to compete in the global economy, and make fewer demands on public expenditure”   Graham Allen MP and report author
Did you see the report Early Intervention: Next Steps, published today by Graham Allen MP...

The report examines the impact of the current programme of assessments for pre-school children. The rationale is simple: many of the costly and damaging social problems in society are created because we are not giving children the right type of support in their earliest years, when they should achieve their most rapid development. If we do not provide that help early enough, then it is often too late. The report looks at brain development in the first years of life, and suggests why these years may be so predictive of future outcomes. A key finding is that babies are born with 25 per cent of their brains developed, and there is then a rapid period of development so that by the age of 3 their brains are 80 per cent developed. In that period, neglect, the wrong type of parenting and other adverse experiences can have a profound effect on how children are emotionally ‘wired’. This will deeply influence their future responses to events and their ability to empathise with other people. This is not to say that development stops at age 3 – far from it; but the research indicates that we need to intervene early to make sure that our children get the best possible start in life. You can download the report at the DfE website.

Great Organisations

I had a great day yesterday with colleagues in Leeds and it made me remember what an extraordinary group of people worked for Education Leeds...

"Great organisations have people on the right bus all sat in the right seat. When this is achieved anything is possible."

I was, as a result, inspired today and I managed to get really organised and I also read through the huge pile of letters, cards and e-mails colleagues sent me when I left Education Leeds at the end of last term. I must have received about 500 bits of thank you, we'll miss you and you have been inspirational and reading them through reduced me to tears. I would like to write to everyone who was kind enough to send me something however I am really sorry but there is no way I can reply to all these wonderful letters and cards. I do want to say thank you to everyone who took the time and the trouble to send me something. I will treasure these items for the rest of my life but to be honest I can't really believe some of the things people have said... and if it's true that I am so talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful why is it that the only time people say things like this is when I leave. The important thing is that WE changed the learning landscape in Leeds and WE achieved some outstanding results and outcomes for our children and young people... and actually that is all that really really mattered! 

Sorry, but this is a team game and individuals don't change things. So whatever you do think team and collaborate and cooperate with people who share your passions.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Dirk and David

I was also able to catch up with my two closest colleagues, Dirk Gilleard and David Dickinson, who I was pleased to see are still gallantly flying the flag and staying true to the Education Leeds coaching philosophy...

"We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, 
is not an act but a habit."

We caught up at the end of the day over coffee at Caffe Nero, which does really great Italian coffee. Dirk and David are such great team players and it was wonderful to just listen to their stories; about how things are going, how the new term had started, how the publication of the GCSE results had gone, how the handover went at this year's North of England Education Conference in Blackpool, how the Education Leeds Board meeting had gone and how this week's headteacher breakfast had gone with the headteachers from the Elmet Family of Schools. It was also good to hear how my friends and colleagues were coping with the changes they are facing and how the new arrangements are being developed. I need to make sure that I do this on a regular basis; to keep in touch and to maintain contact with the team.


I managed to catch up with one of my closest colleagues this afternoon but more by luck than judgement...

"Life is gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more."

I was sitting In Costa Coffee in the Merrion Centre thinking about everyone and about to send Wendy Winterburn a message when she sent me one to say that we should catch up over a coffee sometime... spooky stuff if you ask me! Hoping that Wendy was in the offices above I sent her a message that I was in Costa and she joined me for a chat to catch up which was wonderful. We talked about Christmas, families and the start of the new term and the opportunities that lie ahead for talented and highly effective colleagues like Wendy.

It was as always great to talk and listen and share with Wendy who it has been a privilege and an opportunity to work with and who has set us all such an example in the way she works; her passion, commitment and determination to make a difference for children, young people and their families shines through everything she does and she is simply brilliant.

Costa Coffee Today!

I was in Leeds today and it was very strange visiting Costa Coffee again and seeing some friends and colleagues...

These are difficult times as the public sector wrestles with the budget challenges and Leeds manages the transfer of the education function from Education Leeds back to the Council. It was however encouraging to see how positive colleagues were about the future and the opportunities that lie ahead for the talented colleagues who have been part of the Education Leeds experiment.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Costa Coffee Today!

I am in Leeds on Tuesday 18th January for a meeting...

I will be over earlier and I plan to be at Costa Coffee at 2.30. It would be great to see colleagues and catch up with some old friends. So if you can make it I'll see you there!

Martin Luther King Day!

Today has been a public holiday in the United States...

Martin Luther King Day is held on the third Monday of January. It celebrates the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr., the most influential American civil rights leader, whose leadership, passion and commitment changed America and the rest of the world. And on such a special day we all need to have a dream where every child regardless of their  background, their nationality, their culture, their faith or their religion is given the opportunity to go to a great school and to become a brilliant learner... whatever it takes!

Blue Monday!

So how did you cope with Blue Monday...

Research suggests that today was most depressing day of the year!  Thankfully it's over but for some reason today, the third Monday in the New Year, is the most miserable day of the year, triggered apparently by bad weather, money worries and failed resolutions. I know it's dark and miserable, the traffic is horrendous, people drive so badly and we all get so cross with each other... and perhaps it was a depressing start to the week!

However, these are some of the things you can do to lift your mood:
Give to your favourite charity
Love your family and friends
Drink coffee
Stretch and exercise
Eat dark chocolate
Give flowers
Write a blog!

I am in Leeds on Tuesday afternoon so if you are anywhere near Costa Coffee at 2.30 I'll be there.
It would be great to catch up and see who is reading the blog!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

I went to see another new film on Saturday evening...

The film starring Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Jim Sturgess tells the story of The Long Walk. It is the story of a Polish officer's imprisonment in the Soviet gulag in 1940, his escape and then a trek of 4,000 miles from Siberia to India, surviving terrible weather and unimaginable problems along the way. The photography is wonderful although the film was a bit long and the story and the acting didn't really have enough depth or passion to hold my attention.

Friday, 14 January 2011


I am feeling great today and to be honest life is brilliant although I do miss my colleagues back in Leeds...

Sadly, I haven't managed to get to the gym since the beginning of December when I damaged my back. However, yesterday evening I started exercising again and it's true that it simply releases endorphins. We all know that the traditional benefits of exercise have been to improve and maintain physical fitness, as well as helping to prevent diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes but I find that exercise is also great for improving my mood. Dirk always used to tell me that exercise decreases your stress hormones such as cortisol and increases your endorphins which are the body’s natural feel good chemicals. As well endorphins, exercise also releases adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine and these chemicals work together to make you feel good even if you only exercise for a short period of time! I am reliably informed that just ten minutes of moderate exercise is enough to improve your mood, your energy levels and also stop you feeling depressed and lethargic.  Sadly, I am told that we should do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day.

Strange places gyms and I constantly ask myself why so many people who are overweight or obese are there... you want to tell them that it isn't working!   In the latest Health Survey of England they predict that almost a quarter of the population will be obese this year. If current obesity growth rates continue experts believe that some 60 percent of men, 50 percent of women and 25 percent of children in Britain could be obese by 2050. I was reading on the National Audit Office (NAO) website that one million less obese people in the country would mean 15,000 less people with coronary heart disease, 34,000 less people developing type 2 diabetes, and 99,000 less people with high blood pressure.  Trouble is of course it isn't what you do in terms of exercise that matters most it's simply what you eat! We all need to follow a healthy, balanced, low fat diet and get plenty of exercise and while education is obviously key it is also important for parents and carers and teachers to set the right example to their children - as early as possible in their lives.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Talent Code

I read another great book over the last few days and, while it didn't tell me anything new, it was another reminder that greatness isn't born, it's grown...

"I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men do not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work."
                                                                                                                      Charles Darwin

The 'Talent Code', by Daniel Coyle, covers similar ground to 'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell, 'Bounce' by Matthew Syed and 'Talent is Overrated' by Geoff Colvin. It draws on research to show that ability isn't something wea re born with but something that we can create, grow and nurture. This is great news for educators and a wake up call for parents and carers, schools, colleges, universities and governments because it shows again that we can build brilliant everywhere if we have the right toolkit, the right attitudes and the right people. Daniel Coyle talks about 'deep practice', 'ignition' and 'master coaching' as his three keys. Deep practice is about goal setting; chunking up tasks, repetition and learning to feel and is at the heart of the work we have been doing with The Pacific Institute in STEPS and is deeply ingrained in the best National Strategies programmes, like Every Child a Reader. Ignition is about passionate engagement, ownership and belief; lighting the touchpaper in learners and watching the fireworks. Master coaching lies at the heart of great learning and through the work pioneered by my colleague and friend Dirk Gilleard shaped the Education Leeds over the last ten years. The interesting thing is that brilliant learning requires all three and Daniel Coyle draws on example after example to show that we can build world class and not just in some places but consistently across the whole learning landscape. If you want to know how just call me!

Everyone who cares about learning and releasing the magic should read this book!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

GCSE Results!

I was delighted for my secondary colleagues in Leeds to see the GCSE results in the papers and on the BBC and DfE websites today...

It is great to know that Leeds continues to be one of the most improving cities in the country and that many of its secondary schools saw fantastic improvements in their 5A*-C including English and maths results compared to last year; including City of Leeds School, 32 per cent (12 per cent in 2009); Rodillian School, 48 per cent (33 per cent in 2009); Priesthorpe School, 56 per cent (43 per cent in 2009); Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School, 64 per cent (51 per cent 2009); Farnley Park High School, 45 per cent (33 per cent); and Allerton High School, 62 per cent (51 per cent in 2009). The great thing is the sheer number of schools that have transformed their outcomes, unless of course we look at the English Bacc! Congratulations to:= colleagues at Allerton Grange High School, Boston Spa School, Brigshaw High School, Carr Manor High School, Crawshaw School, David Young Community Academy, Horsforth School, Lawnswood High School, Mount St Mary's Catholic High School, Primrose High School, Ralph Thoresby High School, Roundhay School, Royd's School, Wetherby High School and Woodkirk High School who all raised their game again this year. These results also build on the results from some outstandingly successful schools; St Mary’s Catholic High School achieved 84 per cent 5A*-C including English and maths and 92 per cent 5A*-C; Garforth Academy achieved 74 per cent 5A*-C including English and maths and 91 per cent 5A*-C; Abbey Grange CE High School achieved 72 per cent 5A*-C including English and maths and 81 per cent 5A*-C; while Guiseley School Technology College achieved 72 per cent 5A*-C including English and maths and 85 per cent 5A*-C.

These are our last scores on the doors as the education team in Leeds and highlight once more the significant improvements in GCSE results since Education Leeds was created 10 years ago. I am personally deeply proud of colleagues in these schools and Education Leeds and the fact that in 2001 only 39.5 per cent of young people achieved 5A*-C GCSE’s whereas this year the figure is 76.5 per cent while the figure for 5A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, increased from 27.5 per cent to 50.6 per cent... now that's what I call brilliant!

Continue to light that fire!

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
W. B. Yeats                             

If you read the new McKinsey Report, analyse the new PISA data and listen to people like Ken Robinson it is increasingly obvious that, while we have achieved great things over the last ten years, we are not doing enough to ignite and inspire our children to become brilliant little learners...

The challenge is how we do it and how we create passionate and compassionate learning places. Those of us who have seen it happen and know how to do it need to work together to share ideas and strategies and to continue to think team and to build co-operative, collaborative approaches that inspire young people to really understand what they are capable of, to dispel the nonsense about genius and to help them reach their extraordinary potential. No one can doubt that we have transformed the learning landscape through the powerful use of a collaborative school improvement approach and through using brilliant National Strategies programmes like Every Child a Reader, Every Child Counts and the Intensifying Support Programme. But most importantly what we created was a culture of excellence built on passion, persistence, self-belief and determined, focused and deliberate practice and hard work.  Throughout my life people have told me that things are impossible and more recently told me that we can't get every child to read by the time they are seven or eight; that we can't get every child can’t be a brilliant little learner by the time they leave primary school; that we can't get every young person the equivalent of 5 good GCSEs including English and maths by the time they are sixteen. I simply don't accept any of this and believe that every school can be a great school and that we can create great teams doing the extraordinary with the current people. Success doesn't come in can'ts it comes in cans. We simply need to change the culture and get people to believe; to believe in themselves and to believe in our children and young people and our 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!

Thank you by the way to those colleagues who have now joined as followers and friends. I have now had over 1000 hits on the blog over the last month and again over 40 today. If you regularly visit the blog please sign up to let me know you are there and want to continue to be part of a team who are passionate about learning, compassionate towards others and understand the importance of learning and coaching as well as teaching.
Keep the faith.

Real Friends!

I spent the evening in Leeds having dinner with some friends...

Friendship, real friendship, is forged through passionate enterprise; through the blood, sweat and tears, through the hard work, through the adventures and through the mistakes and failures. True friends stand together through the good times, and the bad times, to achieve their goals whatever it takes and to  really make a difference.

I am blessed to have worked in Leeds over the last ten years and doubly blessed to have made so many great friends.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Jo Nesbø!

I am really grateful to Katy, the colleague, who introduced me to Jo Nesbø's books...

I loved Stig Larsson's Millenium trilogy and I started with 'The Snowman' which is the fifth Harry Hole novel. I have now read ' The Redbreast', 'Nemesis', and 'The Devil's Star' and I am working my way through 'The Redeemer'. These are great crime novels which are hard to put down and which always surprise me. I think Jo Nesbø is probably my favourite thriller writer and I am looking forward to reading some of his other work... I've just pre-ordered his latest translation, 'The Leopard', which continues the story from 'The Snowman'.

Jo Nesbø was born in 1960 in Oslo and graduated from the Norwegian School of Economics with a degree in economics. Nesbø worked as a freelance journalist and a stockbroker before his bestselling crime series, featuring Detective Harry Hole, became so successful. After the success of 'The Redbreast', his first novel, Nesbø devoted his time to writing and to his other passion: music. 

Happy to lend my copies of the books to anyone who wants to read them.


It's funny that I am getting a lot of hits on this new blog but few of you have logged in as followers...

interestingly, I had over 700 hits on the blog over the last month and over 40 today but very few of you are joining up as followers so I know that you are there on a regular basis. If you regularly visit the blog please sign up to let me know you are there.
Keep the faith.
I saw 'The King's Speech' yesterday evening...

The film is about George VI, also known as Bertie, who reluctantly takes the throne of England when his brother, Edward, abdicates in 1936. The unprepared king turns to a radical speech therapist, Lionel Logue, to help overcome his nervous stutter and, as the result of a turbulent relationship, the two establish a friendship. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush play Bertie and Lionel with Helena Bonham-Carter playing Queen Elizabeth. It's a really good film with great acting and some wonderful music.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

"People are always blaming their circumstances for where they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in the world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can't find them, make them."

Those of us who understand what it takes to build brilliant provision must continue to challenge the assumptions that extraordinary classrooms, schools, offices or companies are the province of a limited number of highly qualified and gifted individuals with rare gifts and talents. We can create extraordinary learning places and the stories from the last ten yesrs working in Leeds provide the key ingredients for success. It isn't about structures, processes or control or more autonomy. Reading the McKinsey report makes you realise that the keys to success are simple: people, passion, relationships, partnerships, compassion, ownership, engagement, empowerment and trust. Leadership is also vital but not the quick fix nonsense because real change and deep learning always take time. If you are struggling with this and need help give me a call.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Extraordinary Times!

I have been thinking about my colleagues who are still working as part of the team at Education Leeds and I found these two quotes by Anthony Robbins...

Remember, "Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity and responsibility to give something back by becoming more."

Remember, "You are now at a crossroads. This is your opportunity to make the most important decision you will ever make. Forget your past. Who are you now? Who have you decided you really are now? Don't think about who you have been. Who are you now? Who have you decided to become? Make this decision consciously. Make it carefully. Make it powerfully."

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing you have the power, the potential and the opportunity to do something extraordinary. So what are you waiting for?
Keep the faith.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now." 

Having carefully read the new McKinsey Report and the new PISA research, I realise more and more that we need to continue to commit to the vision, values, behaviours and beliefs that have shaped everything that happened in Leeds over the last ten years and in York for the five years before that. We know how to build brilliant learning places and we also know that great learning isn't about more autonomy, Academies and Free Schools but about people, passion, performance and releasing potential. 

Whether we work in Alberta or Helsinki or Stockholm or Singapore or Leeds or York we need every school to be a great school; a passionate and compassionate learning place working at the heart of its community to release the magic. We need to maintain the relationships and partnerships and develop a collaborative and co-operative team who will continue to share and learn together. Let me know if you want to join!


I spent the morning at the Queen's Hotel in Leeds...

"Whether they burst with excitement or simmer quietly, when you are in the presence of enthusiastic people, you feel happier and more excited about your life, perhaps you even feel inspired."

It was strange going back to Leeds this morning, not as Chief Executive of Education Leeds but simply, to see my colleague Neil Straker, who heads up The Pacific Institute here in the UK. Neil and I were talking about opportunities for me to work with The Pacific Institute to continue releasing the magic with young people, parents and carers and learning institutions.

It was a great meeting Neil and, the more I meet brilliant colleagues, the more I realise that there are opportunities for talented people everywhere despite the doom and gloom, the VAT increase and the weather. We simply need to help people to change their attitude and work to create passionate and compassionate organisations.
So watch this space!
Keep the faith!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


I am sitting in Caffe Nero in the centre of Sheffield...

"To create something exceptional your mindset must be relentlessly focused on the smallest detail."

It isn't a city that I know well and the architecture is certainly impressive, although most of the area around the station appears to belong to the university. I am here to meet colleagues to talk about opportunities to continue releasing the magic. There are opportunities everywhere despite the doom and gloom, the VAT increase and the weather. We simply need to change our outlook. We need to create passionate and compassionate organisations. We simply need to change the culture: the way we do things around here!
So watch this space!
Keep the faith!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Alberta's Education System

I hope you managed to read the article in the Education Guardian today by Rhonda Evans about the education system in Alberta in Canada...
Rhonda had spent two weeks in Alberta talking to school leaders and discovered that Albertan school leaders are proud of their state education system. "Instead of seeking to further weaken and dismantle local authorities, Alberta's education system is based on the belief that local school boards – the equivalent of LEAs – rather than private enterprise are best placed to respond to local needs. Though the curriculum and exam system are the same throughout the province, enabling province-wide comparisons of student and teacher achievement, Albertans believe that the needs of each school are best addressed within each district." She goes on to say that "Alberta's success story began about 30 years ago, when then-fashionable free market advocates within the provincial government encouraged private and charter schools to set up. As in the US, there is no federal control of education in Canada; each province is responsible for its own education system. For the one third of children who live in rural areas, there is only their local school, much like in the UK. But within the urban areas of Edmonton and Calgary, there was pressure from the private sector, and politicians were offering to fund both private and state schools out of the public pot. Edmonton Public School Board introduced specialist programmes or options catering for every conceivable interest: sports, faith, language, certain trades, the international baccalaureate, you name it, they offered it. Alberta doesn't stream or set children until they reach 16; Edmonton principals get together once a month to share ideas and plan strategy. They form links with other school leaders in their own part of the city, and principals from what they term "have" schools support principals from "have not" schools. At local level, the superintendent influences the culture and priorities of the district, and this crucial role is filled by only the best and brightest of former principals. Aspiring deputy and assistant heads are brought into the district office to work as assistant superintendents, so they can gain a district-wide perspective. Superintendents attend their own training college."
This model sounds a lot like what we had established in Leeds over the last ten years; a collaborative, co-operative approach driven by passion and compassion. You should read Rhonda's article and you can also watch her film about her experiences in Canada at

A Perfect Day!

It has been a very strange day not going in to Leeds at the start of yet another year...

I woke early to find the whole world had gone white again with a couple of centimetres of fresh snow falling over night. Importantly, I didn't have to worry about which schools had been affected by the snow and, more importantly, I didn't find myself on the way to Leeds before I remembered that I don't work there any more.

Monday, 3 January 2011


Recent research on the subject found that on average, each working person in the UK attends about two meetings every week, about eight meetings every month, and about 100 every year…

Some of my colleagues would argue that meetings are vital for the business in a huge number of ways; establishing relationships, creating partnerships, saving time, motivating staff and developing new ideas. But I would argue that we have gone too far with the number of face-to-face meetings we all attend. People keep asking me what I will miss about the day to day of work and I know that one thing I won't miss is the meetings. As we all know, meetings don't get things done and they are at the heart of the most ineffective organisations. Anyone who is interested in organisational effectiveness, and who isn't at the moment, should be on a tireless campaign to abolish meetings whenever and wherever possible. If the public sector abolished it's meetings culture, it would revolutionise the way it works and create more effective and more efficient services for it's customers.I have argued for years that meetings stop people from doing their jobs and if you cut out the meetings, you could probably also cut out huge swathes of your middle management. You can always find out which are the worst parts of any organisation; it will quite simply be the ones where the meetings culture is greatest. Just look around to see if I am right!

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

I expect that like me you will have been reading over Christmas and the New Year...

Among the numerous books I've read was Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. I know that creating a passionate and compassionate enterprise is at the heart of any organisations success so for me this was more essential reading.

The twelve steps are:
  • Learn about compassion;
  • Look at your own world;
  • Compassion for yourself;
  • Empathy;
  • Mindfulness;
  • Action;
  • How little we know;
  • How we should speak to one another;
  • Concern for everybody;
  • Knowledge;
  • Recognition;
  • Love your enemies.
Karen Armstrong is an academic and scholar who has written about faith and religion and here looks at why compassion is vitally important in our society and our organisations!

Passion and compassion!

We need to create organisations and enterprises that are at the same time both passionate and compassionate... 

I know many colleagues still struggle to understand what I mean by passionate and compassionate but the dictionary definition of passion is a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or  desire for anything or the object of such a fondness or desire. The dictionary definition of compassion is a deep awareness, sympathy and understanding of the suffering of others and importantly wanting to do something about it. Wherever we learn, play or work we need to build both passion and compassion into the culture and the fabric of everything we do if we want to release the extraordinary potential that exists within our children, our colleagues, our families and friends.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

What makes you Happy?

What is it they say that makes you happy...

I was reading in The Sunday Times that Dr Mark Porter thinks that happy is more important than healthy; but only just. He suggests that the keys to happiness are: sex, coffee, exercise, sleep, diet, omega-3 fish oils, statins, aspirin, sunlight, social interactions and fun and laughter. 

Nothing there I haven't been telling you all for years! Of course my list included red wine, dark chocolate, children and the arts.

Gauguin, 'Maker of Myth'!

I went to the Gauguin 'Maker of Myth' exhibition at Tate Modern this afternoon...

It was a wonderful collection of Gauguin's work which I have loved almost all my life. The exhibition brings together works from Paris, Martinique, Brittany,Tahiti and the Marquesas.