Thursday, 9 October 2014


It's funny how quickly we have got into another academic year and an important one with an election looming. Another year where we face an onslaught from our friends at OFSTED who are visiting our 'satisfactory schools' and ratcheting up the bar and rightly focusing on leadership, teaching, data, outcomes and progress. But having experienced the damage and chaos OFSTED also brings at times like this I often ask myself why do we do this and what are we trying to achieve together and I am constantly reminded that we should...
"Devote yourself to loving others,
devote yourself to your community around you,
and devote yourself to creating something 
that gives you purpose and meaning."
Morrie Schwarz
What is our vision for our children and young people and how do we continue to build brilliant learning, in brilliant learning places to serve brilliant learning communities? What does the perfect school system look like  and what would be it's defining features? How would what we build be better than what we have at the moment? What are the building blocks to releasing the magic in every school 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? What is already in place that we can build on and learn from? How do we move from where we are to where we want to be; what are the actions we need to take and the milestones along the way? How do we ensure that what we build is robust and self-sustaining, come what may?

I understand the DfE and OFSTED's impatience with local authorities, failing schools and the endemic problems we face, but I have my doubts about anyone who suggests that there is a single approach to the challenges we face. It is also simplistic and cruel to use the current OFSTED approach to grade and assess schools... there are extraordinarily talented colleagues working in every school I know. We know the key to school improvement is to focus on and improve the quality of teaching and learning. All the research points to the fact that teacher  and classroom quality and the way headteachers, and senior leaders develop and support it, is the key to success. We need to focus on how we improve teacher quality and the evidence suggests that big improvements are possible provided we really focus vigorously on the things that make a difference. We must also remember that there is a strong relationship between well-being and child poverty and between well-being and inequality. All the research suggests that poverty and parenting both make a huge difference and that the eradication of child poverty is a great cause which must remain a high priority.

This isn't intended to be an excuse because, DfE and OFSTED are right, satisfactory will never be good enough and we must constantly strive for answers to the endemic underachievement and low expectations that have dogged our steps for so long. We need to build world class schools with world class standards in every community. We need to do that by creating structures and mechanisms where we can share, network and learn together, drawing and focusing on what works and on the brilliant practice to make that common place. So we need partnership, collaboration and a new approach to professional development built on strong and effective learning communities and underpinned by data and insight and intelligence.

I have worked for nearly forty years trying to answer these challenges and those of us who have spent our lives at the front line know the real answers lie where they have always been...
  • strong, disciplined, focused and passionate leadership;
  • clear, shared vision, values and beliefs;
  • talented, energetic, enthusiastic and creative teaching teams;
  • empowered, trusted and disciplined colleagues;
  • brilliant teaching supported by strong assessment for learning;
  • a focus on the things that make a difference, and stopping doing things that don't!
  • stimulating, exciting and engaging curriculum pathways;
  • powerful, stimulating and interesting learning environments;
  • high self-esteem and high expectations of everyone;
  • intelligent accountability, data and tracking supporting learning;
  • strong, dynamic and meaningful coaching relationships;
  • a focus on feedback, learning to learn and collaboration;
  • high engagement and involvement of young people;
  • positive engagement and involvement of parents and carers;
  • beautiful systems supporting and reinforcing the culture.
We need to be determined, persistent and focused as we build the learning landscape of the future. Even if it is hard and importantly we must do whatever it takes! In many places we have built some of the foundations for the future. Our challenge now is what do we build?

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