I stopped at a petrol station on my way from Farnborough to Arnold Hill and bought some pasta with feta and tomato sauce. I ate it whilst listening to the Budget announcement by the Chancellor (unfortunately some of the sauce ended up on my tie - annoying, but another story).
The statement covered many bits of the way we live from electric cars to off shore tax and funding for nurses. I realised that I've followed announcements like this for several decades now. The focus used to be on how much would be added to the price of a pint of beer. It seems much broader now. But all of them are united by an attempt by a government to move the country forward. Is there a vision? Usually the decisions are brought about by practical issues they need to address in the short term but I think, perhaps generously, that most Chancellors have a view of what the world should be like.
In schools we plan every year and we aim to move closer to the promised land. Is there a vision? Well, there should be. I walked around Rushcliffe today and was struck by the fact that what we talked about 7 years ago with the staff, governors, senior leaders, pupils and parents has been achieved in lots of ways. Purposeful classrooms, well behaved children, refreshed buildings and systems that work. It wasn't always like it is now. Having a vision, then planning and then implementing the plans has worked. And it will work at Arnold Hill and Farnborough. Things take time. Each of our academies improves every year. We must remember that.
And now I'd better get my tie cleaned.
The story of our trust
In 2014 Rushcliffe was judged to be "outstanding" and we started to work with Farnborough School when it was put into special measures. In 2015 we formed the Trent Academies Group. The Farnborough Academy emerged from Farnborough School - same pupils, same building. In Jan 2016 Arnold Hill joined the trust when it was judged to be inadequate and to have serious weaknesses.
So much has happened since then. Each academy is better than it was. Rushcliffe has earned World Class status, Arnold Hill has moved from "serious weaknesses" to "requires improvement" and will hopefully be "good" soon. Farnborough hadn't been inspected as an academy. In September a team spent two days at the academy and after almost two months of deliberation has now produced a report. It's available on the Farnborough website http://www.thefarnboroughacademy.co.uk and will be public from Monday 20th November.
The report notes improvements that have taken place since January 2015. They don't make any reference to the preceding 9 months when we introduced a new school day, data systems that worked, a new senior team and lots of new teachers, a new behaviour management programme, a new attendance monitoring system and re-introduced trips and visits. As far as OFSTED is concerned this was activity under the banner of the Farnborough School not the academy. Seems a shame but rules are rules I suppose.
The improvements refer to better teaching, a safe and orderly environment, committed leadership, good links with employers and better care for vulnerable pupils. However they were concerned by the attendance - it dipped last year after 3 years of improvement, behaviour - specifically the number of exclusions and the GCSE results. In the end it's hard to avoid the view that the GCSE results and the associated Progress 8 figure were the biggest factors in influencing the OFSTED judgement.
Our response started some weeks ago. I'm there more of the time to support Ben and the team. They are an excellent group and I would trust them to lead any school. Steve Lewis has a high profile role in English and Maths, working closely with Gareth Summers and Vanessa Roper, and a former HMI has already visited to make sure we are on the right track.
There's so much going well at Farnborough. Good people working hard and caring. The GCSE results will improve, exclusions will come down and attendance will improve. Nobody said it would be easy - but it'll be worth it.
What the Americans said
Our trust is getting something of a reputation for working positively with employers. We do have a strategic objective which says we will "Develop the most employable young people in the country".
Our reputation was further enhanced this week when we were visited by Scott, Starr and Ellie from Nashville in the USA. They were interested in the work taking place at Farnborough and were very impressed by the programme that's in place.
They were met by the Head Boy and Head Girl who explained what their hopes and aspirations for the future are and how the academy is helping them to get to their dream. Theoretical physics anyone? Students confidently showed the visitors around the academy and they commented upon the calm, purposeful working atmosphere.
In a special conference they heard directly from students about how work experience at British Gypsum had led to a dramatic change in motivation, how being part of the East Midlands Airport group had opened eyes to a range of possible jobs and how working on events organisation with Blue Monday had developed new levels of confidence.
Our visitors from the USA spoke so warmly about what they had experienced. We expect the link with them to get stronger over the next year. Mr. Chaloner has already ordered a new cowboy hat.
Last week I spent some time in the Yorkshire Dales. What a lovely part of the world. We stayed in village just outside Settle and ate in a pub/ restaurant that was well off the beaten track. The place was run by 2 men in their 30's from the North East who had been working for a pub chain for the last 7 years. Their previous job had seen them taking responsibility for the closure of pubs. Not a very positive way to spend time. Despite evidence that it was hard to make a living in the pub trade they had taken charge of the place we visited and seemed to be doing well. The locals spoke warmly of them and they seemed to be attracting a lot of passing trade. I admired them. They'd taken a risk and it seems to be paying off.
I also travelled on the Settle to Carlisle railway whilst I was in the area. 200 years ago it was decided that a line needed to be built through the mountains to connect some key places. The terrain looks intimidating and it must have looked even more daunting in the 1800's. And yet people took a risk and the line is still functioning. They have my respect.
The world moves on because people are prepared to take risks. Some big, some small. So long as decisions are carefully thought through I admire the risk takers. And everywhere you look you can see examples of people initiating change. Sometimes it won't work but without taking a chance nothing would ever improve.
I'll go back to the Dales. I hope the pub isn't closed!
Young people can do remarkable things
Did anyone hear Mhairi Black speak in the House of Commons this week? If you didn't please check her out. She was elected as an MP in 2015 and represents the SNP. She is 23. Her performance in the House was amazing. She had Tory MPs shouting across the floor at her but kept going regardless, pointing out the weaknesses of their government and its policies. Resilience - that was it come live. Confidence - coming out of her ears. And she's a product of a state school.
Made me again realise that when we ask young pupils to do a serious thing they so often do it so very well. There may be errors along the way but that's normal. If the mistakes keep getting repeated then we worry but I hope our trust is prepared to encourage young people - staff and students to take on serious challenges.
In the classroom we should be looking at projects that really stretch youngsters. They are capable of so much. Often more than we realise. I'm going to follow Mhairi Black's career with interest. In fact I'd back her to be PM from tomorrow!
Enjoy half term. Hope it stops raining.
A weekend of the Arts
Last Friday I saw Stewart Lee at the Royal Concert Hall. Not everyone will like him. I do and have seen him seven times at various venues. He's not just a comedian, he's an artist. Clever, creative and controversial. It was great way to spend a Friday evening. An artist who made me laugh and think - and frown in puzzlement.
On Saturday I went to see "Much Ado About Nothing" at The Globe in London. The theatre is quite a place to visit. The central bit only costs £5 per ticket I believe but it's standing only and if it rains you get wet. It threw it down with rain. I was in a covered balcony seat. The play itself is a bit trivial, more "chick flick" than Macbeth or Hamlet. But it was enjoyable none the less. Afterwards I found out that two of the lead roles were played by two people who went to De Lisle School in Loughborough and it once again ignited my belief that Drama and the Arts matter enormously in an education system. They should be nurtured and encouraged as they allow the development of traits that might otherwise lie dormant.
So to Music, Drama, Art and Dance teachers at Arnold Hill, Farnborough and Rushcliffe I say "You matter. Let's encourage the talent in our academies". And if anyone has spotted the new Stewart Lee in one of our academies please let me know - but don't ask me to teach him.