Monday, 19 May 2014


I have spent the last twenty years of my professional life working in York, Leeds, Nottingham, Guernsey and Sheffield trying to ensure that every school is a great school! And the answer is simple, you have to develop learning leadership, beautiful systems and intelligent accountability.
We are constantly criticised in the media, by politicians, by businessmen and by parents and carers who rightly are concerned about underperformance and underachievement at all levels in the education system. I know, of course, that there is still much to be done before we can claim that the school system in York or Leeds or Nottingham or Guernsey or Sheffield or anywhere else is totally and systematically transformed. Personally, I have been constantly frustrated by the progress we've made and I have also been frustrated by the lack of leadership in almost every aspect of life in this country which against a background of initiatives, systems, targets and inspection has undermined trust, constrained creativity and initiative and limited great teaching and learning. We must stay positive and recognise that, even the skeptics would have to admit that, we made great progress over the last fifteen years, and with every challenge, every mishap and the many mistakes we've made, we’ve learned such a lot about the journey that schools need to make to become brilliant learning places.

A question colleagues and friends constantly ask me is why after a life, teaching and learning and leading, why am I still doing this and why is this still important to me? Like most of the teachers I know, my whole working life has been about the search for excellence, about how we can achieve social justice and equity, and about how we can serve and support those who need us most. I am still passionate about teaching and learning and constantly searching for the evidence of what goes on in those great classrooms where great teams release extraordinary magic. I also believe that great schools must lie at the heart of strong, successful and thriving communities particularly those in the cities that I have worked in and love so much. I am totally committed to giving learners, teachers and schools ownership of learning and autonomy from central control and the constant stream of initiatives they have faced throughout my career. However, as a scientist by training, I also recognize that wherever you look beautiful systems are important and great things are not done by individuals but by teams and communities of learners working in inclusive and collaborative networks.

So how do we do it? After fifteen years leading it and nearly forty years doing it, I think I know what needs to be done to reach this challenging goal. And, surprise, surprise it's all about learning leadership, beautiful systems and intelligent accountability. We must constantly focus on learning; helping all our children and young people learn how to learn and we must champion assessment for learning and the cultural change programmes we know work. We must focus on developing learning and teaching strategies that engage and challenge every child and every student, creating an entitlement curriculum for a conceptual age and championing the teaching and learning programmes we know work. WE must also understand that the evidence suggests that master coaching, deliberate practice, structured feedback and sheer hard work are key elements in any child or learners success. We must develop learning networks, learning schools and learning communities where we share, network, champion and support the continuing professional development of all our colleagues. We must build strong and dynamic partnerships beyond the school with parents and carers and other stakeholders and partners and championing the efficacy and self-esteem programmes we know that work. We must also develop more intelligent accountability systems with a better balance between internal and external assessment and between formative and summative assessment, making OFSTED focus once again focus on the things that really matter... learning, learning, learning!

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