Each of our three academies is different. Some trusts decide to impose a template -"it works at one place so it'll work everywhere". We don't. There are some aspects which we insist upon. Quiet, orderly assemblies - usually led by senior staff. That's not negotiable. There also has to be a behaviour management system which focuses upon sanctions and rewards. However we (and by we I mean the "Trent Academies Group") recognise that each school has its own history and personality. To ignore that creates huge problems and we haven't followed that route. This makes it trickier perhaps because if there is a weakness at one school and a leader from another is asked to move across for a while they have to spend time learning how the place operates. There won't be dramatic differences but there will be some. I'm delighted that some colleagues have moved from one place to another and made a big difference.
Take Dave Salter. English teacher at Rushcliffe for 10 years and moved to Farnborough. Doing a great job. Respected by the staff and pupils. Leon Jackson is leading Science at Arnold Hill having been Head of Science at Rushcliffe for a few years. He's immersed himself in Arnold Hill life and is making a big impact. Ben Chaloner, Alison Hallam and Richard White were highly respected members of the Rushcliffe staff and now work with Clare Watson in leading Farnborough with energy and imagination. They've been joined by Simon Ward for the rest of the year - and last year he spent two terms at Arnold Hill. And then Maria Collins and Vanessa Roper travel between sites on school improvement missions. Marian Beaumont, Saeed Latif, Angela Brown, Robin Harrison and Lee Roberts travel between sites ensuring HR, ICT, Finance, Site and Catering matters are under control.
So there is a lot of activity taking place and those with responsibilities across the sites have to adapt to new conditions and new people. Like me they don't expect sympathy but it's helpful if others are aware of the challenges faced. It's important that all 400 employees realise that the Board is totally committed to the objective of helping all pupils in the trust (4000 of them) achieve their potential and that will increasingly mean people will be asked to work across sites. Not only does it help children it also develops staff, broadens expertise and helps career development. But no one said it would be easy. Interestingly I was talking to someone from a major company with sites across the country and he was telling me about the importance of leaders seeing a problem at one site as a problem that faced them all. It's not only educational trusts that realise the power of the group in changing destinies.
I went to a Grammar School. We didn't have many great lessons. It was a plod through a curriculum that taught me things I've rarely needed. O levels and A levels in the bag I moved on into life. I was able to remember a lot of things and I suppose that helped as I moved into the world of work. Regular readers will be aware of my cynicism as to what the "powers that be" decide is worth learning. It was, therefore, with some amazement that I listened to the new boss of OFSTED Amanda Spielman at last week's ASCL conference. The HMCI made a big deal of an education not being just about a set of examination results. I repeat - not just about a set of examination results. Hallelujah.
Now, I don't think this means that examination results suddenly don't matter. Of course they do. Good GCSE and A level results are a passport to a range of new opportunities. To do badly in examinations can be restrictive. But it's not the end of the world. And similarly if a school doesn't get sensational GCSE results there seems to be a new understanding that it's not necessarily a bad school. Those of us who have been immersed in all sorts of schools throughout our careers are fully aware that there are great teachers across the system. Great teachers who pupils will remember for ever. Teachers who make lessons interesting, who care about those in the class, who don't just follow systems, who think creatively about how to engage young people, who enjoy their job.
I've observed hundreds of lessons. Most are effective, some are disappointing and ineffective. A few are brilliant. I've seen children arriving in a lesson to be told they need to hide under desks because there's an air raid about to happen, food being prepared and cooked to high quality restaurant specs, role playing a debate in Stalin's government, hot seating a South African racist before Mandala's release, maths competitions, short story writing, recreation of a French breakfast experience and a film made by a teacher about the Peasant's revolt in which he plays the lead role. Memorable. And great.
Under Sir Michael Wilshaw there was a move towards the idea of OFSTED not having a set way of teaching. This seems to be continuing on Amanda Spielman's watch. When a school is under OFSTED scrutiny it's hard to let go of past expectations but the more great lessons there are the better. If you think you are about to teach one please let me know. I'd love to watch!
However whilst great lessons are wonderful so are the regular good lessons which combine to ensure thoughtful planning, combined with sensible behaviour management and helpful feedback give pupils a positive experience. Don't stop doing that - just consider if you might do something a bit different now and again. OFSTED won't beat you up - and I'll be delighted. Welcome Amanda Spielman.
We were delighted to welcome the Leicester Tigers on Thursday. They spent a day with us. Four of their coaching team travelled up the A46 to put 100 of our most capable and enthusiastic rugby players through their paces. I was around for the first hour and chatted to Juan who was leading the event. He was brought up in Argentina, trained and played rugby in the USA, worked in New Zealand and then Cumbria - and now resides in Leicestershire. He's certainly seen the world. The Tigers brought an air of professionalism with them and the students responded really well. There really is a lot of rugby playing talent - girls and boys - at the three academies and I was so pleased that they were able to develop their skills further with the help of experts. I know Mr. Gove’s had enough of experts but I still think they are useful.
I’m a big fan of football but it was healthy to see another sport making an impact on the lives of our young people. We make a big deal of the slogan “Everyone will be given the chance to shine brightly”. Well they were and they did. Thanks to Mr. Smith and the other staff for their commitment . Nothing happens without enthusiasm.
The Trust INSET Day
Pulling together 400 members of staff is always a gamble. Some find it quite exciting, others - a few it seems - find it a drag. This year's event at Arnold Hill seems to have gone down well according to the evaluation document. I'm expecting copies to appear on staffroom walls over the next couple of days. In summary, most people seemed to have found the activities either "great" or "good". A tiny number found them "poor". It is fascinating how there can be the full range of reactions to the same events. Keen to hear ideas from those who ticked the "poor" box. Please advise as to what could be done to make them meet your needs.
The "Dave and Chris Show" seems to have engaged teachers. General agreement that - like it or not - remembering things has returned to the forefront of the system. We ignore it at our peril. There were some great ideas shared and it was good to interact with other teams. Perhaps the afternoon session could have been more structured.
The John Dabrowski input was well received. Interesting story - and quite a few people seemed to have found it inspiring. He's a nice guy. I'm glad he went down well. Marian's session in the afternoon seems to have been helpful. Drawing elephants has stuck in the minds of many. Who'd have thought it?
Most encouraged by 51 capable people staying behind for the "Women in leadership" hour. I introduced it - and found myself in a minority for a change. Interesting experience. It will be good to build on what emerged from the discussions. And then the session about Behaviour Management for TA's was seen as helpful too.
Catching a bus wasn't popular - but then trying to find somewhere to park would have been even less popular. The food was appreciated - upgrade and all. The lunchtime queues didn't go down well. If you got in quickly then you wouldn't know that some were waiting outside for 30 mins and more. I was one of them and it was irritating but made far more bearable by chatting to some people who I don't see often. You see there's always a positive!
All in all the evaluations suggest the INSET day was enjoyed by the vast majority. Thanks for engaging. We'll learn from your comments. And we will keep moving closer to a positive shared culture.
Westminster Employment Forum
Yesterday I travelled to London to speak at an event organised by the WEF. The conference was about employability and careers advice. I was invited on the strength of a couple of articles I wrote last year about whether or not the curriculum was preparing young people for the world of work as effectively as it might. Are we teaching the things that will help create the workforce that the country needs? I know some people feel that it is not an area to explore. The government say the current curriculum is the right one and the qualifications earned will directly influence the way schools are judged. Who are we to challenge it?
It's a point of view but not one I agree with. I see Michael Gove has again said that one of his changes was ill judged. This time it's UTCs. If people in my position stay silent then we are culpable in encouraging a strategies which alienate a huge percentage of the population. I want children to do as well as possible in examinations - of course I do. But making them harder and then making those who fail repeat over and over again is not the way forward. We need to appreciate that the world needs a wide range of talents and the current curriculum does not gave a high enough status to some skills which should be nurtured.
Last week I re-watched "Kes". It was made in the 60's and focuses upon a 15 year old lad who was having a horrible time at school in Sheffield. School wasn't for him. However when he was dealing with the training of a kestrel he showed patience, imagination and resilience. One teacher was interested. The rest of the world wasn't.
Someone will read this and say "So he wants to create a world of kestrel trainers does he?". I'm really not. But I do want to see everyone getting something from their 11 compulsory years of education.
Chief Executive Officer
An evening at the National Space Centre
Last night Angela Brown, Geoff Bail and myself represented the Trust at an event about Governance and Risk Management. It doesn’t sound like gripping stuff for a Thursday night does it? However it was held at the National Space Centre in Leicester. For 15 years I lived within a mile of it and never visited. Sinful. Some interesting stuff in there.
Particularly liked this piece of art.
It’s called “A Night in the Opera in the Year 2000” and was painted in 1882 by a chap called Albert (forgotten his surname). Quite an imagination. Fair to say the sky isn’t quite so congested but the lower levels are much worse. I wonder how he’d have painted education in the year 2017. Suspect he wouldn’t have seen multi academy trusts coming nor electronic registers but he would have expected a continued emphasis upon English, Science and Maths. He would probably have anticipated the importance of physical activity, study of the humanities, designing things and creating things. He might be puzzled as to why learning a language was considered important given Britain still had an Empire. Suspect Albert would expect employers to have more of a say in what was taught as well. Could he have guessed there’d be so many computers in schools?
I know I’m rambling but the picture did what I think art should do. It made me think. I was left with a feeling that Albert was remarkable and that it would be great if politicians took a longer term view of what would be great for society instead of thinking about what happens in the next 5 years.