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.
Many people won't know about the termly senior leader events that are held. They run from 4.30-7.00pm at one of the three academies. This week we held one at Arnold Hill. There were 24 Heads, Deputies and Assistant Heads present to focus upon raising achievement (First TAG strategic objective).
I made the point that up and down the country about 30% of young people fail to hit the benchmark of what the government considers to be a "good education". Across our trust we have broadly similar level of failure if we look at those who achieve the EBAC or 5 higher grades including English and Maths. That's a lot of people who don’t "make the grade". Of course a good education includes many other elements but they aren't as easily measured and we will continue to be judged on the things that a number can be attached to.
I then shared what I had found out on my study visit to Nashville. Central to this was the role of employers in helping find solutions which might engage children more fully and prepare them better for the world of work (Third TAG strategic objective). This has been crucial to the improvements in Nashville over the last 10 years.
Caroline Tomlinson updated everyone about the employability projects that had taken place across the trust in the last year. 27 of them. Each was intended to energise aspects of the curriculum that might appear a little dry by linking to challenge set by a real employer. There were some good signs but further commitment is needed if this is really going to illustrate how what is learnt in schools has any relevance to life beyond. The work will go on this year with the added dimension of an increased emphasis upon team work. Employers constantly mention how important being able to work in teams is. Let's emphasise it in lessons was the message.
Emily Dalton and Ella Strawbridge concluded the event by explaining how Arnold Hill's involvement in PIXL had made a difference. There are hundreds of opportunities and resources available and at least some of the Arnold Hill improvements have been driven by access to them.
So two and a half hours that opened eyes to different techniques to engage perhaps unwilling young minds. I have spent my career trying to help young people fulfil their potential. Hopefully we can l do this as Leaders United (Second TAG strategic objective).
Let's talk about you
The staff performance management process - some call it appraisal - is underway. Over the next month everyone should have an interview with a line manager in which last year's objectives are reviewed. It's a great opportunity to discuss how the year went and to share successes. Line managers will be expected to look carefully at the objectives and to offer constructive criticism if required but they should also give you the chance to talk about what went well. There aren't too many opportunities in a year that allow us to be centre stage as individuals. This is one and I hope you find the experience helpful. If there is something that you would like to do please flag it up.
And line managers.... please ensure there is a healthy dialogue about the development of the person you are reviewing. It shouldn't be a chore for anyone. We have so many capable people who are eager to develop further and to contribute. The performance management system should recognise this. Later in the year we'll put out a "survey monkey" to see how it's all gone.