Saturday, 30 April 2011


Our culture, our beliefs, attitudes, and values, determines our choices, our decisions, and our effectiveness.

Friday, 29 April 2011


So many people tell me that they find it hard to manage the stress and the pressure and ask how I manage to stay so cheerful, so positive and so enthusiastic. It's easy if you know how and if you have the right attitude and the right tools and strategies to manage the XXXX...
The tools are...

Every School a Great School!

I am a learner and I have visited Stockholm and Helsinki looking for the magic ingredient that ensures that every school is a great school...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Children's University!

I met my colleague and friend Ger Graus today at the Eccles Centre in York...

It was great to see Ger, who is Chief Executive of the Children's University. This national scheme is a fantastic initiative operating in around 60 locations across the country and providing a framework for validated and quality assured activities for 7 to 14 year olds. The real success of the Children's University is the added value these activities can give to some of our children and young people and the difference these things can make to the outcomes they achieve.

The Good News is Everyone Can Do It!

“There is a brilliant child locked inside every student”
Marva Collins

How do we build brilliant learning, in brilliant learning places to serve brilliant learning communities?
What is the trick to releasing the magic and unlocking the potential of each and every child, of each and every colleague and of every family and every community to be their brilliant best?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Command and Control Doesn't Work!

We all know that command and control doesn't work and we all need to wake up to the fact that what really, really matters is how we engage and enthuse children and young people as powerful learners with enormous potential...

You are talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful!

"If I were absolutely certain about all things, I would spend my life in anxious misery,
fearful of losing my way. But since everything and anything are always possible, 
the miraculous is always nearby and wonders shall never, ever cease."
Robert Fulghum

People constantly tell me what they can't do but as Robert Fulgham reminds us 'everything and anything are always possible'!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Find the Way!

The learning landscape is changing beyond recognition and we have to create the future structures to sit around our brilliant learning places and help them continue to learn, network and share to release the magic.

Goals and Targets!

We all know that setting goals and personal targets is a vital tool for everyone because it gives us our long-term vision as well as helping with our short-term motivation. By setting clearly defined goals and targets we are able to measure and constantly and consistently celebrate our achievements and our successes and focus on the areas where we are not achieving great outcomes...

Monday, 25 April 2011

Act or React?

"There are only two ways
to approach life:
as victim or as gallant fighter.
You must decide if you want 
to act or react."
Merle Shain

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Do Something About It!

"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
Albert Einstein

The challenge we all face is about action or is it inaction. We spend too much time talking about the things that are wrong and what we need to do to put them right. We create strategies, plans, structures and resources. We inspect, monitor, measure, check and audit. My challenge is why don't we simply put all this activity into action and do something about underachievement by rolling up our sleeves, targeting vulnerable and hard to reach groups using the things that work.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Nine Secrets of Contentment!

Did you see the article in today's Times where they set out the nine secrets of contentment?

Interesting stuff which gives us nothing new but it's good to get the reassurance that we are on the right track...

  • Have a social life;
  • Be altruistic;
  • Have something to believe in;
  • Have goals and ambitions;
  • Have enough money;
  • Listen to music;
  • Plan a holiday;
  • Get an engrossing hobby.

Just proves that we've been on the right track!

Our Culture!

Our beliefs, attitudes, and values determine our choices, our decisions, and our effectiveness...

We know that beliefs, attitudes and values are the best predictors of individual behavior and that these things influence our perceptions, our judgements, and our behaviours. Research also indicates that beliefs, attitudes and values are powerful and highly resistant to change. Culture is ‘the way we do things round here’ and it is really important that we regularly check out what it is we all believe should be the beliefs, values and attitudes driving our work and shaping our behaviours.
  • What really, really matters to you. 
  • What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
  • What motivates or inspires you? 
  • What inhibits or demotivates you?

Friday, 22 April 2011

Incredible Learning!

Why is our education system so poorly performing when compared to the best in Europe let alone the best in the world. My visits to Helsinki, Stockholm and Singapore suggest that colleagues elsewhere are no cleverer, no more skilful or talented than our colleagues.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Sign on the Door!

Throughout my working life things I have lived with constant and relentless change. Things have never stayed the same and I have been blessed to be living in a world where creativity, innovation and change have been constant factors.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

How are you feeling!

Unsurprisingly perhaps, YouGov research suggests that there has been a downturn in happiness since last year...

Their questions ask people how positively or negatively they feel about specific aspects of their lives. The picture looks slightly less rosy compared with last year, with a significant downturn across several areas...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Power of Team!

The real challenge we all face is how do we bring our collective energies and efforts to bear on the task of improving learning and outcomes for all our young people?

Monday, 18 April 2011

Doing Amazing Things!

We are doing amazing things but to continue to achieve real excellence we need to understand the world in which we now operate...

Just do it!

I was watching the London Marathon yesterday and it made me think as I listened to some of the runners telling their personal stories that anything is possible...

The people who have made a difference in your life!

I am sitting on another train to Nottingham this morning and I saw this on the web and wanted to share it with you...

"Take this quiz:

Sunday, 17 April 2011


"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, gift, or skill. It will make or break a company...a church...a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes."
Charles Swindoll

It's not how clever, intelligent or special you are that counts!

Don't tell people how clever they are, how intelligent they are, how special they are... or you'll encourage them to avoid difficulties and challenges...

Instead tell them how hard they've worked... recognise their efforts and achievements against their goals... talk about and celebrate their hard work, practice, persistence and determination... and you'll help them see themselves as learners!

Develop New Models, Build Brilliant Learning Places, Build Beautiful Systems, Use Technology and Celebrate Excellence!

A recent Hay Group study found that nearly 60% of people were seriously considering leaving or actively looking for new jobs. Worse still, a further 35% said they were only holding off because there weren't any jobs to go to! That doesn't leave many of us inspired and passionate about what we do! So how do we cope in such uncertain times?  

I have spoken to lots of colleagues and these are some of the suggestions we have come up with...

Think Team!

We all know, that it is the quality of the teaching team that makes for brilliant learning...

Research has shown that there is a fourfold difference between the most effective and least effective classrooms and that ensuring greater consistency is one of our greatest challenge. Teachers and classroom assistants must be the best learners in their classroom because children pick up 'learning' by example as much as anything else. 

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Small is Beautiful!

Nearly ten per cent of secondary schools in England have over 1,500 students and a small number have over 2,000 and secondary schools appear to be getting larger. The Government is encouraging popular schools to expand and to find ways of federating and connecting with schools facing greater challenges...

As an alternative, I have become increasingly interested in small schools because, the more I look at the current organisational structures in our large comprehensive schools, I don't think they work and need to be rethought, re-imagined and restructured to create smaller and more powerful learning communities.

Friday, 15 April 2011

There’s no failure in life when you try, only learning!

"Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I'll never understand why so many people settle for the mediocre, the achievable without a struggle, or just what is expected.

Stay Focussed in the Perfect Storm!

Colleagues I have spent time with this week are facing a combination of challenges that threaten to overwhelm them and threaten the progress we have achieved together over the last ten years... 

We all know that we face huge budget cuts, capital funding disappearing and an increasing difficulty attracting and retaining talented colleagues in a landscape that is increasingly negative and destructive. However, we must stay positive and look more creatively at these challenges. These challenges are really opportunities for talented colleagues and the future of our public services critically depends on how we respond. More than ever we need to develop and support brilliant leadership, encourage social enterprise, enable and empower communities, champion responsibilities alongside rights and look to develop civic companies enabling local authorities to champion and commission rather than provide services.

It is important that we rise to these challenges and continue our relentless and uncompromising focus on the thing that really matter; securing world class outcomes for all our children and young people ... whatever it takes!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Set your goals!

We all know that setting goals and personal targets is a vital tool for anyone who wants to achieve anything. It gives us our long-term vision as well as helping with our Motivation an focus in the short-term...

Clearly defined goals and targets help us measure and constantly and consistently celebrate our our achievements and make us focus on the areas where we are not achieving great outcomes.

A Happy Life!

"Remember this - that very little is needed to make a happy life."
Marcus Aurelius

In every school I know, colleagues are working so hard to release the magic! They are trying out new approaches, testing assumptions, experimenting with new ideas, looking carefully at data and outcomes and constantly searching for the magic ingredient that can help us make even more of a difference to the lives of our children and young people, particularly those who are hardest to teach and hardest to reach.

A Great School for Everyone!

I have been arguing for ever that we must create great schools at the heart of every community so that everyone can have what people have told me is simply a dream; great outcomes for every child and young person...

I really believe that it is possible to create a GREAT SCHOOL FOR EVERYONE!


"To watch the corn grow, and the blossoms set; 
to draw breath over ploughshare or spade; 
to read, to think, to love, to hope, to pray - 
these are the things that make people happy."
John Ruskin

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Action for Happiness!

The new 'Action for Happiness' website was launched yesterday...
Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier society.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The secret to success!

I found this wonderful piece of writing by Hanns-Oskar Porr about believing in yourself and the critical importance of self-confidence...

"What do you think is the secret to accomplishing something really great? And what is the basis behind success? Sure, there are many factors, like having the right skills or knowing the right people. But all these mean nothing if one other special element is not in place--which on the road to success must come before all else.

Outstanding Secondary Schools!

I recently re-read the OFSTED publication "Twelve outstanding secondary schools: Excelling against the odds" again...

There are some outstanding secondary schools across the country and in Leeds; schools like Carr Manor, Cockburn, Roundhay, John Smeaton, Morley High and David Young.

GREAT PEOPLE: Simon Flowers! GREAT SCHOOLS: Carr Manor High School!

I had coffee with my colleague and friend Simon Flowers today...

Simon is currently heading up the education transformation work within Leeds Children's Services on secondment from his post as headteacher at Carr Manor High School.

The Seven Characteristics of Great Leaders!

I found another great article on the Edutopia blog by Maurice Elias...

I am always talking about the characteristics of great leadership and it is interesting to hear Maurice Elias take on the subject. Maurice Elias is Director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers and this is a truncated version of his brilliant article...

"How can we determine not only who is a competent leader, but a good leader?

GREAT SCHOOLS: Queensway Primary School!

Another of my favourite schools is Queensway Primary School...

When I worked in Leeds and I was feeling down I used to pop in to see Gail Palmer-Smeaton and her wonderful team for a quick cup of coffee.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Join the Movement to Transform Learning

There is a great guest post on the Edutopia blog by George Lucas, filmmaker and founder of The George Lucas Educational Foundation...

"I didn't enjoy school very much. Occasionally, I had a teacher who would inspire me.

GREAT SCHOOLS: Bankside Primary School!

Another of my favourite schools is Bankside Primary School where Sarah Rutty, the energetic and charismatic headteacher, Cllr Roger Harrington, chair of governors and their talented colleagues are doing some amazing work in this really wonderful example of primary education at its brilliant best. A unique school that serves a vibrant, interesting and exciting part of central Leeds.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Teaching is not Rocket Science!

"Teaching is not rocket science. 
It is, in fact, far more complex and demanding work than rocket science."
Richard Elmore

I discovered the Greg Whitby's 'bluyonder' blog by accident but it is another real gem. Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools and leads a system of approximately 80 Catholic schools serving greater Western Sydney. He has 30 years combined experience in schooling and senior system leadership. He is a regular speaker at national and international conferences, focusing on the development of a new model of schooling for today’s world: de-privatising teacher practice, personalising student learning and ICT as enablers to facilitate deep learning.


I have visited West Oaks SILC many times over the years...
This brilliant special school provides high quality learning experiences for all its' children and young people and also supports mainstream school partners to promote the education of children with learning difficulties in mainstream settings. 

This faith can move mountains!

"There is nothing in life so difficult that it cannot be overcome. 
This faith can move mountains. It can change people. It can change the world."
Norman Vincent Peale

Harlow Carr!

I spent the morning at Harlow Carr...

The Royal Horticultural Society's Botanical Gardens opened in 1950.

Happiness, Justice and Meaning!

"What humans want is not just happiness. They want justice, they want meaning." Martin Seligman

There was an interesting article in the news today about Martin Seligman's work on 'positive psychology' and David Cameron's 'Happiness Index'. I remember this initiative starting and this was on the blog in May 2007!

Despite everything research suggests that we are no happier now than we were 50 years ago.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Festival of Education!

The Sunday Times Festival of Education takes place at Wellington College on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th June...

GREAT SCHOOLS: Horsforth School!

With so many brilliant primary schools on my list of outstanding learning places I mustn't forget the great secondary schools I have worked with over the last ten years, like Horforth School...

Steve Jex is headteacher at Horsforth School and under Steve's intelligent and determined leadership, over the last ten years, the school has developed as one of the most successful secondary schools in Leeds.

GREAT SCHOOLS: Methley Primary School

Another school on my list of great schools is Methley Primary School...

I have visited this wonderful primary school many times and it has been a privilege to spent time with Tracy Dell, the schools' inspirational headteacher.

GREAT SCHOOLS: Carr Manor Primary School!

Another school that I have fond memories of is Carr Manor Primary School...

This is a wonderful school where Linda Bowles, the headteacher, and her colleagues do an amazing job.

Friday, 8 April 2011

GREAT SCHOOLS: Beecroft Primary School!

I have been thinking about another one of my favourite schools...

Beecroft Primary is an amazing primary school and under June Turner's powerful leadership it has developed into a real centre of primary excellence.

Thoughts to teach by!

I found this wonderful piece of common sense on the Teacher's Hub...

"Here are four ways to make your relationships more tangible in your classrooms...
  1. Understand that trust has to be earned.
  2. Be honest
  3. Be reliable
  4. Make your classroom a place where mistakes can be made."
You can read the rest by visiting the Teacher's Hub at

Engaging Places, Engaging Children!

I met up with Jan Spencer at York St John University this afternoon...

Jan and I worked together in Leeds where she worked with the study support/extended services team in Inner East Leeds developing the 'All Together Now' Project and the first ever school based BBC Media Centre at Primrose High School.

Bigger Trees Near Warter!

I met up with Richard Harker again this morning and we went to the York Art Gallery to see the Hockney exhibition...

The exhibition features the wonderful David Hockney painting 'Bigger Trees Near Warter' which is on loan from Tate.

The Seven Wonders of the World!

You know I love stories and I found this one this evening as I roamed across the internet looking for answers...

"Junior high school students in Chicago were studying the Seven Wonders of the World.

Shakespeare Schools Festival!

A colleague sent me some information about the Shakespeare Schools Festival, which is a brilliant initiative...

The Shakespeare Schools Festival is apparently the largest youth drama festival in the UK and since 2000, 4,248 schools have become Shakespeare Schools.

Brilliant Primary Schools!

“The only constant is change.” Heraclitus

I attended the Primary Headteacher Consultation Group in Nottingham today. Primary schools lie at the heart of the work we are doing with children and families and it was really rewarding to be able to spend some time with a group of headteachers who are clearly leading some great primary schools in this wonderful city.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Whatever it takes!

The new world schools and learning are entering requires passionate commitment, energy and new ideas...

We must continue to encourage and support schools, whether they are community schools, Academies or Free Schools, to work and learn together and to share and network their best practice and their outstanding features.

Building Brilliant Learning Places!

I have been building brilliant learning, in brilliant learning places, all my professional life...

These are the things I've learned...

Share the Magic!


Do you know a school that is simply brilliant! Let me know about the things that make it successful, so that I can share the magic on the blog! Don't be shy about it. Shout about it!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Reading Matters!

I was in Leeds today meeting Joan Jacobs, the Chair, and Neil Bennett, the new Chief Executive, of Reading Matters which is a registered charity and not for profit social enterprise based in Bradford...

Reading Matters offers a range of accredited literacy support programmes that can be tailored to suit school requirements.

Waste in Schools Education Project!

It was great to hear about an environmental education project working in schools in Nottingham...

Over 55 primary schools across the city are taking part in the Waste in Schools Education project.

Southwark Primary School is apparently the latest to successfully complete the programme.


Attitude is such a powerful determinants of how we think, how we act and how we behave...

 "The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do.

Alain de Botton!

"You can only determine people's levels of happiness by investigating their ambitions, not their achievements."
Alain de Botton

This wonderful quote from someone, my friend and colleague, Dirk Gilleard always talks about captures that essential human need to have goals and hopes and dreams driving everything you do. What are your goals, dreams and hopes for the future?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

'Race to Self Destruction: A History Lesson for Education Reformers'

Sir Ken Robinson sent this wonderful piece on testing and education by Yong Zhao, currently Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where he also serves as the director of the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE)...

"I was re-reading Jared Diamond’s brilliant book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, I found his story of how the Easter Islanders’ race to build the most magnificent statues eventually led to their collapse chillingly similar to what is happening to American education...

The hundreds of stone statues on Easter Island have been one of the greatest mysteries on earth.

Learning leadership, intelligent accountability and beautiful systems!

Another interesting and rewarding day in Nottingham talking about learning leadership, intelligent accountability and beautiful systems...

Education is a passionate enterprise built on the interaction between human beings: teachers, students and parents. We know that we can't make anyone learn; learners, teachers, headteachers and schools have to be active in their own learning and unless they come to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and how they might deal with them, they will never make progress.

GREAT SCHOOLS: Little London Community Primary School

I was thinking about great schools again, how we develop ownership, responsibility and empowerment and engage powerfully with the communities we serve and I remembered Little London Community Primary School...

This is another little school that is doing something extraordinary at the heart of the Little London community.

Kind Texting!

1000 Marbles!

I found another story in my night-time searches across cyberspace...

"Let me tell you something, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities." And that's when he began to explain his theory of "a thousand marbles."...

Behaviour and Discipline!

"Raising standards of behaviour in our schools is a key priority for the Coalition Government. Ministers want to restore teachers’ authority in the classroom and are committed to making sure that they have clear and concise guidance to help them feel confident in exercising their authority." DfE

I was feeling depressed after reading the latest missive from the DfE and discovered the Boston Pilot Schools Network whose principles seem to enshrine a different philosophy and approach to learning:

Monday, 4 April 2011

GREAT SCHOOLS: John Smeaton Community College!

I have been reflecting on some great schools as I try to work out what it is that makes any school a great school...

Leadership certainly comes right at the top of any of the lists and a great example of the best leadership I have seen over the years was at John Smeaton Community College in Leeds.

Education Improvement Partnerships!

I learnt about the Education Improvement Partnerships in Nottingham today...

Pat Whitby who leads the coordination of the Education Improvement Partnerships in Nottingham City talked me through their work.

The Greatest Wonder!

"If the Earth were only a few feet in diameter...

...floating a few feet above a field somewhere, people would come from everywhere to marvel at it.

Talented, Brilliant, Gorgeous and Wonderful!

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

GREAT SCHOOLS: Cockburn College of Arts

I have been thinking about some of the great schools in Leeds...

Cockburn College of Arts is one of our real success stories with the best contextual value added in the city, the region and possibly the country.

The results have gone from 9% achieving 5A*-C grades at GCSE to an sastonishing 70%. It is a fantastic example of what is possible with the right leadership, teaching and learning team and an unshakeable belief in what our young people can achieve.

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

I have been quoting this for the last twenty years since I discovered Robert Fulgham's wonderful book. It always seems to capture something about how to live and how to be in an increasingly complex and cluttered world...

"All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.

Things Science Says Will Make You Happy!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Two Days!

I found this as I was searching through the internet looking for answers...

"There are two days in every week about which we should not worry, two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

GOOD's 10 Stress Busters!

Let’s be honest nobody likes a moaner. However tough life is it's better to start each new day with a smile.I was sent this by my friends at the GOOD site. I know there is nothing here that you haven't heard before but here are GOOD's 10 stress busters for you to try...

"The Summer Day"

Someone asked me where the one wild and precious life quote came from. It's from this wonderful poem by Mary Oliver...

Friday, 1 April 2011

I would pick more daisies!

These are interesting times for so many colleagues and friends leaving local authority teams after spending their lives serving young people, families and communities... 

I was reminded of the late Nadine Stair of Louisville, Kentucky, who was 85 years old when she was asked what she would do if she had her life to live over again. "I'd make more mistakes next time," she said.

Bucklesham Primary School

My colleague sent me this short case study about young people being involved in appointing their new headteacher...

"Bucklesham School is in a transition phase as it looks to recruit a new Headteacher. Should the children be involved or is it none of their business? Do they have the emotional capacity to make a worthwhile contribution or is this tokenism?

300th Post!

This is the 300th entry on the 'Releasing the Magic' Blog which started as I left Education Leeds in December...

It followed 2677 entries on the 'Interesting Times' blog which chronicled the last six years of my life as Chief Executive of Education Leeds. So nearly 3000 posts and I was with the team as we turned the lights off yesterday!

GREAT SCHOOLS: Quarry Mount Primary School!

I have been thinking about 'every school a great school', Michael Gove's comments which suggest that schools are somehow dumbing down learning and remembering my last visit to Quarry Mount Primary School...

I have been to Quarry Mount Primary School many times over the years and I love the place...

One Round Tuit!

This is a Round Tuit...