Tuesday, 14 October 2014


I spent many years of my professional life working in York and Leeds to try to ensure that every school in those two wonderful cities was a great school, every classroom was a great classroom and every teacher was a great teacher, often sadly against a background of negativity, criticism and indifference. 

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 Sheffield or any of our great cities 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 constrained individual creativity and initiative and limited great teaching and learning. However, even the skeptics would have to admit that we made great progress in York and amazing things happened in Leeds and, with every challenge, every mishap and the many mistakes we made, we learned such a lot about the journey that schools need to make to become brilliant learning places and in both cities we changed the culture, transformed outcomes and achieved great things, learning as we went. 

A question colleagues and friends constantly ask me is why after my extraordinary life, teaching and learning and leading, why is this still important to me? My whole working life has been about the search for excellence, how we can achieve social justice and equity and how we can serve and support those who need us most. I am still passionate about teaching and learning and constantly searching for what goes on in those great classrooms where great teams release an extraordinary magic. I 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 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 now know what needs to be done to reach this ambitious and challenging goal. We must 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 teaching; developing learning and teaching strategies to 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 that work. We must also further 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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