Thursday, 31 December 2009

Babysitting or education?

A post in another forum where I am active raised the very delicate subject of the role of school/education for those very few pupils who are multiply disabled - PMLD/physical/sensory in the same individual.

Examination of the extremes sometimes throws light on the less extreme and so my challemge is to discover the most useful role for schools for this small number of pupils. These people will never be able to participate in society in anything like the same way as the rest of us; they may end up spending the rest of their (often all too short) lives in residential care with 24 hour support.

So do we just babysit, and if not how can schools make the most effective contribution to these people's futures?

Friday, 18 December 2009

Working for the Local Authority - or not?

We have the chance to bid for a significant chunk of work (6 figures) being offered for tender by our LA. It's right up our street as it involves training an external workforce in much the same ways as we train our own staff. So far, so good.

But the topic rasies some interesting govrnance topics that I continue to explore.

The work is similar to but not delivered to school staff and so probably outside the scope of a School Company. We cannot sensibly enter a legal contract with the LA as we are formally part of the same legal entity and so will need to persuade them to handle it a different way.
How do we ringfence the risks associated with the contract so that it does not jeopardies school finances?
As the work is strongly related to what we do but not directed at school pupils, can we legally do the work as a school anyway?
What governance arrangements woudl need to be in place?

Lots of interesting questions - especially when you consider that the work could be considered as of our community cohesion or extended services offering.

Were we a 'private' school we would not even be havng to ask these questions. Perhaps there need to be better/easier arrangements to let community schools operate in the way we would like.

Friday, 11 December 2009

The roller coaster of change

If you have been following this blog you will know that one of my schools is going to have to move one of its buildings a couple of miles away from its current location. Those few of us that have been involved so far have been up and down the change curve, in depression and delight, in fear and fancifulness - all natural, and almost inevitable, responses to imposed change. Now I know that it is important to 'take control' as much as possible and avoid a feeling of 'being done to'. We had managed to get to this point.

Now the game changes - the proposal is in the public arena for examination by parents, other staff, other governors, etc - each of which is startinjg where we did 3 months ago; each of which has to go through their own process of denial, despair, resistance, depression before starting to see a way forward. Each individual moves at their own pace and our role as leaders is to help the progress along its' way, to be supportive, to acknowledge the pain that people will be going through and to help them move forward constructively.

Too often it is easy to forget the journey that we pathfinders made and to expect everyone else to be up to speed instantly; this is where we can lose people if we do not recognise the need for time to heal the pain of loss before taking a newe direction It is also too easy, especially for those of us brought up in the rational world (engineers, chemists, etc) to fail to recognise the affective issues that come into play. Whilst moving from Site A to Site B might seem like a perfectly sensible and practical thing to do, for many of the people involved if affects them much more deeply than our left-brain thinking might suggest. We need to work with the heart as well as the head and that takes time...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Performance Management - thoughts on targets

If you have not already done it, then the pressure is on to complete your Head's performance management before the end of term. Setting targets is a challenging task for both the reviewers and the Head - for what do we set targets, how tough should they be?

For me this also raises the interesting territory of 'Lead' and 'Lag' indicators - improving teaching and learning (if we can find a way to measure it!) being a Lead indicator that leads to improved outcomes/attainment, a Lag indicator.

Early in ther implementation of targeting sytems we often end up with lag indicators (cohort performance, staff attendance, etc) whereas as they become more sophisticated we can move to the Lead indicators that we believe will eventually produce improved performance. This might be regarded as a shift from management to leadership.

...and how tough? My guidance, and I have facilitated the implementation of PM systems all over the place, has tended to be "deliverable, but only just". They need to be challenging enough for yor Head to have to think differently but not so challenging that they don't even try because they are obviously undeliverable. So improving pupil attendance from 80% to 95% in 1 year is likely to be undelliverable, whereas to 85% could be a real challenge yet achievablke with a following wind.
This in turn leads to consideration of success criteria. If everyone's targets are all delivered, then they were not tough enough. I accept that soemtimes a target might not be delivered; the trick here is to satisfy myself that a serious effort has been made and that unexpected factors intervened to inhibit delivery.

What do you thinnk?

Friday, 4 December 2009

What a result!

This week we have had the (very) nice ladies from Ofsted digging and delving, observing and commenting and all the rest of the stuff they do.
Whilst there has been some understandable stress and not a little digging out and representation of data, it has all been worth it. Despite Ofsted raising the bar since we got a Satisfactory last time, we got a GOOD.

Congratulations to everyone at the school - although the leadership team have worked thier whatsits off over the last couple of days, it is the consistent hard work of everyone in the scchool over the last couple of years that have really made the difference. Well done everyone.

As Chair, I had about 45 minutes with them on day 2. They were especially interested to establish how well we knew our statutory obligations regarding Safeguarding and also Community Cohesion. So now we all know!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Inspired by Sir Ken...

I went to see Sir Ken Robinson speak last night, courtesy of Education Leeds.

Inspirational, funny and with some content as well – truly a rare combination for any ‘motivational speaker’.

Whilst finding much of what he said valuable, I wrote down one quote that struck me as especially significant “Our assumptions influence our perceptions before they drive our conceptions”. In my work, both in and out of schools, I have found this principle hugely helpful when dealing with ‘stuck’ situations – the challenge is the one that Einstein highlighted, namely that the level of thinking that created a problem cannot solve it. In unearthing these assumptions, there is a key role for independent process facilitation by individuals who have no significant investment in the outcome of the challenge they make to their clients. Who is providing this challenge/facilitation as we move education into the 21st Century?

The jobs our children will do are still to be created, the technology they will use will be beyond our current comprehension (how many of us 50-odd year olds could have imagined an i-phone when we were 10 years old?!), the skills they will need an dhow they will use them remain to be understood. We need a 21st Century system that equips pupils for the technological/knowledge-based future not the industrial revolution.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Head or heart?

Our move of site is moving forward - slowly and with some discomfort. As a change management/leadership professional this is an interesting experience to be part of, so I thought I might offer a few observations on how everything is happening rather than what is going on.

Only to be expected for such a significant change as there are (at least) two processes going on in parallel. Firstly the building of a team who will decide on a proposal and then deliver it; secondly the personal transitions from As-Is to To-Be. Let's explore what is likely to be happening...

The team development 'route' is well known (Tuckman, if you really want the source) - Form, Storm, Norm, Perform, Unform. At a meeting last night there was a lot of frustration expressed, people needing to have their say, to understand how the overall process would work... Classic 'storming' behaviour and necessary if the team is to really start to get to grips with the task they face. It's important that everyone involved recognises this and works through it, only then can we start to sort out how to make the team work effectively (norming) and ultimately get on with stuff. As a process observer, the big challenge here is to get participants to realise that these processes happen and take time so that the team needs forming early enough to enable a health process to take place before real decisions have to be made.

The change journey model that I find most helpful is based on the work of Elisabeth Ross-Kubler and has been summarised into six stages - Shock, Denial, Anger/Depression, Resignation, Acceptance, Future Focus.

Shock - WHAT! Nobody has paid attention to our needs!
Denial - SURELY NOT! It can't be as bad as that!
Anger/Depression - GRRRRR!!!! "They" really don't care/understand!
Resignation - OH WELL If that's what they want there is not much I can do about it.
Acceptance - OK If that's how it is going to be, what's the best way forward for me?
Future Focus - Right, so this is what I am going to do now.

So there we were blaming others, wondering what next, trying to find out what 'they' wanted, who would be making the 'real' decisions - classic 'victim' behaviour in the Anger/Depression position. We could continue as Victims or we could start to take positive action to address our concerns (which was what happened and is still happening) thus moving ourselves through the powerless Anger and Depression.

Anyway - what a change to be able to observe this stuff in action and to write about it.

One final thought - what did I use the title "Head or Heart"? Well because any change inevitably involves both head and heart. The (relatively) easy stuff is the cognitive/intellectual reasoning and redesign - 'head work'. The hard bit is to move from intellectual acceptance to affective/emotional understanding - 'heart work'. This latter is often underestimated, especially by those who due to the nature of their work routinely redesign schools and provision and may not understand the emotional issues being faced by those actually working in and with the school. The 'head' people may find moving through the change curve easy and quick, the 'hearts' risk getting trapped in the early stages - and communication between the two camps gets harder and more frustrating. Each party needs to clearly express their current needs and persist in getting them met before it is possible to move forward.

Head or Heart then? Well, both actually.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Communicate, communicate, communicate...

Communicate, communicate, the mantra of all effective change leaders. We know, and have recently experienced, that in the absence of any communication rumours start and circulate. Those rumours may or may not be based on 'truth' and certainly get transmogrified as the Chinese Whisper process affects them.

The message to us governors, as strategic leaders in our schools, is that we need to be proactive about communicating. This matters especially during any period of uncertainty or change. The need goes so far as to issue bulletins (or whatever) explaining that 'nothing has happened or changed'. This latter is counter-intuitive as our tendency is to only communicate when we have something to say.

Finally, when the rumours DO start - avoid scapegoating and witch-hunts. It's almost inevitable that legitimate and often informal discussions 'leak' into the public domain and get turned into rumours. Seeking out and punishing 'the guilty' will just close down communications channels and lead to disaffection in those who we most need to be open.

I have long had a set of principles for communicating during change:

• Those most affected will be the first to hear
• Our people will hear things first from their managers
• We will use multiple channels to communicate with our people
• “One hymn, one hymn sheet”
• We will be as quick to give any bad news as the good
• We will be as open as possible
• Face-to-face will be our preferred route for all major communications
• Wherever possible we will avoid jargon, where not possible we will explain it
• Individuals making decisions will have personal accountability for ensuring that those affected by the decision are communicated with effectively
• We will ensure that there is an unfiltered feedback route from our people to the top team
• There will be regular updates on progress
• We recognise the existence of The Grapevine and will try to be sure that it deals in facts not fiction

Monday, 26 October 2009

An eventful week...

So, we have to move from one of our current sites - and we have to have a new site ready to occupy from the beginning of the next academic year! Quite a challenge, given that we do not yet have a clear and agreed option.

Have spent the last 2 weeks (or so!) in detailed discussions with out LEA and Leadership Team exploring about 20 odd possibilities; briefing staff and governors; writing to parents, letting pupils know (interesting challenge as we are a Special School with a range of relatively low-functioning pupils) and finally waiting for the storm to break, I am very pleased at the lack of response.

For me, the message from all of this is the value and success of letting people know as soon as possible about a situation that will affect them. In this situation the message had to be "We have to move but we don't know where to. We will keep you in touch, listen to and address your concerns." Now that might seem like a non-message but it has been very well received and my faith in people to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity has been reaffirmed. Some will need more support that others through this journey and we have put/are putting in place support mechanisms.

As a change leadership professional (I have to earn a living somehow!) I am often asked about the critical actions during change - my answer always includes "Communicate, communicate, communicate". Even when there is nothing to say, you have to say that there is nothing to say, in order to quell the rumour machine.

So far, so good.

Saturday, 24 October 2009


I spent 90 minutes yesterday with school colleagues being updated on the latest stuff re safeguarding.Very useful although I have offered feedback about the dire 'lesson plan' - if one of our teachers had delivered the lesson they would have done well to get "Unsatisfactory"!

Still I did learn a bit and it was particularly relevant in the light of my recent participation in a Disciplinary hearing in respect of a (now ex-) staff member who had failed to co-operate in the CRB process.To cut a long story short, it has taken an VERY excessive length of time to dismiss an employee who was offered a conditional contract (conditional on satisfactory CRB check). The circumstances were that, for a while, they worked during the processing of their check (always supervised, etc so minimal risk)

BIG question...once ISA gets up and running we will break the law if we employ anyone without ISA Registration, but they still need a CRB so dare we let anyone actually start work with ISA but not CRB? Personally, I woudl not do so but the delays in the CRB process are such that to make such a conditional offer might seriously disrupt staffing arrangements.

We need assurances that applications will be processed much faster in the future than at present, and we need processes that rapidly 'get rid of' actual or potential staff who do not co-operate in new or revised checks. HR are concerned about the employment law implications of being so harsh, I am concerned about safeguarding and would hope that any Tribunal would weigh the risks and find that safeguarding 'trumped' the other issues.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

People who plan the battle, rarely battle the plan

We face a challenging year or more with significant change for pupils, staff, parents and all stakeholders.The challenge in change is not to 'design a solution' or to 'manage the processes', it is to keep the people on board.

I recall making myself slightly(?!) unpopular with a new Managing Director once when they guy spent half an hour expounding what he was going to do to the company and I asked "Well, that all sounds interesting Mr XXX, but I do wonder if you understand that you will get what the 4500 people who work here want and that may not be what you say will happen".

Well sometimes as leaders we have to make difficult decisions (whoever said leadership would be easy had not been there!) and we should not shirk from them. However implementation needs all of our people on board and that is truly what leadership is about - helping the people get to somewhere they might not have thought of going themselves.

There is no room for "mushroom management"; exhortations just tire out the voice; instruction leads, at best, to compliance. Only genuine involvement in the processes of designing (if possible) the end-point and figuring out how to get there leads to commitment.

Schools, and Education Authorities, can sometimes be very bureaucratic organisations, often led by formalities around statutory processes. But just because we have a formal process to go through does not mean that we cannot treat our stakeholders as human individuals with current needs for information, clarity and support. Those of us involved in change and leadership know full well that it is the 'dark' side of organisations that gets things done - the informal networks through which things can be made to happen, or not. We must feed and work this informal side of the organisation well - their power is such that we need them with us not against us.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Principles of Effective Communications

We have a big change facing us (our pupils and staff to be more accurate) and I have been thinking about what principles need to lay behind our communications. I came up with these, based on some work I did a few years ago when I was facilitating a major organisational change. What do you think? Should we add/subtract anything?

• Those most affected will be the first to hear
• Our people will hear things first from their managers
• We will use multiple channels to communicate with our people
• “One hymn, one hymn sheet”
• We will be as quick to give any bad news as the good
• We will be as open as possible
• Face-to-face will be our preferred route for all major communications
• Wherever possible we will avoid jargon, where not possible we will explain it
• Individuals making decisions will have personal accountability for ensuring that those affected by the decision are communicated with effectively
• We will ensure that there is an unfiltered feedback route from our people to the top team
• There will be regular updates on progress
• We recognise the existence of The Grapevine and will try to be sure that it deals in facts not fiction

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

I wish we were not here...

How often have you found yourself somewhere you would rather not be? Not in a geographic sense (although I would generally rather be in the South of France then here!) but in the sense that 'stuff' has happened, or not happened, that leaves your GB in a situation that you think could be better - could have been better - had there been more forethought and/or strategic thinking as the 'stuff' went on without your involvement. Well, that's where we find ourselves at the moment. I won't go into the detail, because I don't think it will help to air the specific detail, but what concenrs me is how we handle the situation from here on in.

We are in a situation where it seems to me that there has been a serious lack of joined-up-thinking, lack of future planning, lack of full consideration of the consequences of a decision that has big effects on us and we are left making the best of a pretty bad situation in a ridiculously short timescale.

Option 1 - create a mega-fuss about lack of involvement etc.
Option 2 - accept that we are where we are and seek the best solution now available
Option 3 - take option 2 and subsequently have a pst-mortem with the intent of learning how to avoid the same thing happening to others.

Creating a mega-fuss (and it could be very mega) would be the first response of many, yet it would only divert attention from the very real urgent need to solve our problem.

Acceptance is necessary yet to simply accept misses the point about learning (and we are operating in a learning environment aren't we?)

So Option 3 seems like the way forward. It causes all sorts of emotional hassle because as others find out what a mess we are in their emotional response kicks in and needs handling, and that itself diverts attention. We need to find ways of handling the emotional response in such a way that it energises our search for a solution rather than creates barriers - we need to recognise that as individuals we have different degrees of tolerance for cock-ups and differently strong reactions; those who react strongly need especial help to deal with their response so that they can move on. Classic Elisabeth Kubler-Ross territory.

How often, I wonder, have I (or you) failed to deal with, or harness, the emotional issues arising from change in a constructive way - they are inevitable, we cannot and should not deny them, yet how many of our organisations are equipped to cater for this eventuality?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Reducing time on admin at meetings

First meeting of the year coming up - admin, admin, admin...

We have some very significant issues on our agenda yet we still have to do all the stuff about appointing committees, Code of Conduct etc. Think I am going to establish whether or not we need to do all this every year or if we can just do it once and change when necessary.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

SEN Provision

The recent action from Brain Lamb and the DCSF prompted me to think about the proposition that most parents would like their child educated in their local school provided that the school really could/did provide for their 'whole person needs'.

For me, the touchstone is :

"Every child having their needs met through their local high performing school"

Several challenges there, so it's an aspirational statement that cannot be universally delivered at the moment (maybe even never, but that should not stop us striving for it). So let's dissassemble the statement:

"Every child" - OK, there will always be a small number of children whose needs are so 'large' that a mainstream school could not reasonably be expected to provide. However the onus should be on the school to demonstrate that the individual pupil themselves or the rest of the pupils will be totally unreasonably disadvantaged by having our challenging pupil on roll - and this is not primarily about ££ as the resources available for such pupils are huge and the cost of alternative provision or hospital provision could be released to facilitate adaptation of facilities and staff capabilities.

"...having their needs met..." - the five outcomes of ECM, not just academic! If meeting those needs involves adaptations then let's make sure we make them. Those schools who think that their role in life is to prepare pupils for passing exams need a big wake-up call. We need rigorous accountability frameworks to make sure that all of the needs of our children are delivered with equal effectiveness. Let's face it, some of our brightest pupils are equally disadvantaged by their lack of social skills as our less-able ones are by their lack of academic skills! I personally came through a highly academic route, going to university a year early only to find myself totally unprepared for the new environment.

"through their local ... school" - not necessarily 'at' their local school but where possible that local school should have the pupil on roll and either bring in or send the pupil out to appropriate providers where the local school cannot (N.B. not 'will not' - which is a separate debate) meet them. This could be third party provision, on-site 'resourced provision', whatever...

"Local high performing school" - yes, we should aim for every school to be Outstanding in all respects. This is about personalisation, not ramming kids through a sausage machine - a vocational route suits little Johnny, an academic route Suzy, Henry 'simply' needs to be helped interact with the world...

"Local ... school" - The idea that we bus pupils, some of the already most disadvantaged pupils, for an hour or more at each end of the day is ridiculous in this day and age. not only that, but the cost is horrendous - something like £7m pa in my authority! I suspect that we could do much better with that money than spend it on buses, taxis etc.

And now the 'undiscussable' - the can't do/won't do debate. As we ask around the system it becomes very clear that the focus on academic results has led some schools to a 'won't do' approach. Capabilities/Skills can be trained, but if the ethos of the school is not truly inclusive then children who are less/disabled in any way will be discriminated against. This is not about schools, it is about staff. A school is an abstract entity that does not discriminate, it is the staff who work in/for the school, led by the Head, who discriminate - perhaps unwittingly. Let's aim for every school to have some form of 'Inclusion Chartermark' as a signal that even though they may not have reached the destination of full inclusion, they recognise the need and have started on the journey. How do we get this debate into the open?

Leadership - and if you are reading this then you are a leader - is (amongst other things!) about clearly articulating a vision, understanding the gaps and helping people fill those gaps to get to the vision. Openness and honest/committed dialogue are critical and in we can take people, even the doubters, with us if we show that we have a great Vision and are totally committed to delivery in a way that meets the needs of the most important players - the pupils. It is too easy to avoid or sideline the doubters, yet they are only doubting because they cannot see how our Vision meets their needs; we have to value this resistance and learn from it, not sideline it. We all know that a convert is often the best advocate.

Friday, 11 September 2009

"Wicked Issues"

In his own blog Chris Edwards lists the "Wicked Issues" facing him this coming year.

Well here are mine...

Bigger Picture

BSF – or some other mechanism to get our estates up to scratch

LILS – let’s get on with it!

Governance – what will the government have to say when (if) they finally publish Jim Knight’s review

Governance - making the many forums to which governors are invited more than just talking shops

‘My’ schools’ picture

Ofsted – due this term

Farnley Park – where will the kids go when work starts on the main school?

Specialist status – what do we go for?

Advanced Skills Teachers – surely they ought to be all over the SILCs?

Governance – helping all governors to make a positive contribution

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Reflections on Ripples

Some of you may know that I make a living (just!) as a coach/practitioner in organisational change. In that role I often use metaphor as a way of helping people explore change. Well, us governors have more than our fair share of change to deal with and I thought you might like to read my latest musing:

Market day in Tonneins - busy busy, hot hot, dusty dusty; lots of French (and a few English) locals, the usual North Africans, tourists, migrant workers for the plum/corn/sunflower harvests. The ‘ethnics’ all at one end with their brightly patterned and coloured clothing, their spices; the locals sifting through market stalls filling with fleeces and other autumn and winter clothing, picking the sweetest and juiciest tomatoes, melons, the first of the season’s prunes and the last of the haricots verts, jaunes et noirs.

It was an unprepossessing little fountain near the riverside ; no more than a piece of local rock about 6ft wide with a hole drilled through it and six 12” jets of water spurting from the top, splashing on the rock and into the pool around the rock. Still it offered a coolish resting place and the gentle tinkle of water on water. I sat on the surround for a brief rest, the fountain to my back. Drifting into some heat induced trance, I noticed the occasional wet spot appearing and disappearing in front of me, several metres away from the fountain. It’s not raining, no local child with a water pistol, they can’t be travelling so far from the little fountain – what’s going on?

Sherlock Holmes kicked into action – yes they were coming from the fountain after all, very occasional little splashes hitting the rock at just the right angle to reflect them out across the pool so far away as to seem improbable. The pool, and the ripples of the water splashes, had my attention...

As I watched, entranced by the ripples, I noticed that sometimes the surface was relatively calm, at others turbulent with the interactions of several ripples; sometimes small splashes, at others large blobs of water would disturb a great part of the pool - ever changing and always something happening, my attention gripped by the circles of light and dark as the ripples shed their shadows on the pool bottom. Always light after dark, the shadows fading as the ripple spread out across the pool, intersecting ripples throwing up sun-bright spots and night-dark shades.

I am sat focussing on the ripples and their shadows before my eyes, only just now noticing the contents of the pool – what was in the pool, on the bottom, floating on the surface, coming into eyeshot. Bunches of grapes, last night’s coke can, single leaves and leaves formed into mats solid enough to resist the charms of the water splashes, tiny tiny fish, gnarled rocks and smooth pebbles.

Suddenly a tsunami! Now the local boys had started playing in my pool, all the time they had been creeping up and now they struck coming from outside my viewpoint to change the whole pattern of my little ripples.

Well, I could sit here and philosophise or I could actually go get my pen and paper and record these thoughts – so I do so.

Coming back to the fountain I can see nothing, the glare of the sun on the ripples totally bleaches out everything. But as I walk around the pool to my starting place, the glare reduces as the angle of the sun changes until I can finally see all the original detail. It was worth coming back. I sit, I think, I write, I remember that 30 metres away from this mesmeric little pool, perhaps 3 metres across, flows the mighty Garonne River as wide as a bus and as deep as a house; strong enough to sweep away this little piece of rock without even blinking an eye. I notice again the hundreds of people going about their daily business all around whilst I muse on ripples and their metaphorical relationship to organisational change. I move on – if I stay I get damp or sunburned and neither of those is in your writer’s plan...

If you want to know my 'interpretation' or how I related these musings to change, do get in touch - leave a Comment or email me at

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Do we make any difference?

I have recently been elected to the Governors' Forum and as part of that volunteered to be part of a group with some form of oversight onto LEA purchasing; I may try to get onto the Schools Forum; I already attend 'Wedge' meetings (for governors from schools in a defined geographical area of the city) as well as my two governing bodies and a reference group on revamping special needs education in the city...

A bit more than many I suspect yet I still occasionally wonder if we really make any difference!

How much different would schools be if we had some city-wide or wedge-wide strategic governance with HTs and senior staff doing the implementation? (Large scale Federation might be one way to look at it.)
What difference do these various reference groups (for that is what most of them are as they have few executive or decision-making powers) make in the real world?

Are we just feeding our egos and taking up lots of time and cost for the LEA that might be better spent on the kids?

Discuss freely....please....

Friday, 7 August 2009

Help improve the chances for children with Special Educational Needs

Once again the Leeds NW SILC has the opportunity to win support for a project designed to improve their school’s environment. The Sun are working with Dulux to make a difference to the community – their ‘Paint for Change’ project gives us the chance to have the main hall at Penny Field repainted. All we need is lots of votes – yours counts, so please go to: click on Yorkshire to read a little about our project and then vote for us

(you might even win £1000 yourself, what more incentive can there be?) Do it now.

The Painting for Change project will benefit the pupils at the NW SILC, Penny Field Specialist site by creating an improved learning environment that will extend opportunities for disabled and/or multi-sensory impaired children and young people to experience their world through their senses and improve the quality of life in school as well as pleasure and self-esteem.

All the pupils have statements of special educational needs. All are either disabled and/or multi-sensory impaired. All are considered to be ‘vulnerable’.

In its present state the hall is drab and shabby and the walls are unpainted grey breeze blocks. The hall is the focal point of the school and needs to be visually stimulating to support our pupils to enjoy this multi-purpose area e.g. social and dining experiences, therapeutic activities, music, creative arts and school performances.

The Paint for Change Initiative would make a massive difference towards improving the learning environment for our pupils. The NW SILC is an all age, generic special school providing education for pupils aged 2-19 with a wide range of special needs including; moderate; severe; profound and multiple learning difficulties; emotional and behavioural difficulties; physical and or sensory impairment; specific medical conditions such as epilepsy; and autism. We work with other agencies and services e.g. health, social services.

Vote for us now – it only takes a minute of your time and will help these disadvantaged kids for a lifetime

It seems that you can vote with each individual email address you have!

Thank you – now get your friends and colleagues to vote too, why not ‘Forward’ this info to all your contacts?

Friday, 17 July 2009

End of year praise

Having been to two Leavers' Assemblies today, I find myself humbled by what I have seen and heard. We help educate some of the most challenged pupils in Leeds and it has been an education and deeply moving to see and hear about their achievements.

Ranging from one lad who has never missed a day's school in his life, to another who represented the school at a whole range of sports, to others who have achieved academic success that might not have been thought possible, others who have learned social skills that come naturally to most of us, and so on... Some are going on to college, some will stay on into our sixth form and all will remember the time they spent with us, as I will remember the time I spent with them today. What a pleasure to be with pupils who have not lost the innocence of childhood, who find pleasure in the simplest things and who reward you with their recognition.

I cannot praise these pupils too highly, nor indeed the staff who cope with the huge range of needs with a smile and patience and forbearance that goes beyond expectation. Every one of them deserves a relaxing break and to come back refreshed and keen to make a difference to the lives not only of our pupils but of their families and friends.

Thank you to everyone I have seen and spoken to today - I feel truly humbled by your abilities.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The challenge of all-age, multiple site governance

At one of 'my' schools, we have just been reviewing our effectiveness as a GB - we run an all-age (3 to 19) special school on several sites including some mainstream partnerships. The discussion got to a point where we started to explore the governance issues associated with this unusual beast.

Stereotypically, primary GBs are much more involved/active than secondaries who tend to be more 'directorial'/strategic. Most schools only operate from one site that they 'own' (although federations challenge this model).

So the question we are to explore is

How can we be effective governors in an all-age special school meeting a range of learning needs in a variety of educational settings?

I feel sure that there are some specific challenges in this arena and wonder what you out there might be able to add to our deliberations?

Monday, 6 July 2009

Policy or Practice?

Well, finally back in action after a belated honeymoon in Italy and I have been trawling the posts in one of my other favourite forums, UKGovernors. This one took my attention, relating to the importance of Policy and/or Practice. The specific content is of less relevance to this post than the principle of whether we should be concentrating on Policy or Practice.

If the school does what it should with regard to race, the existence of a written policy is of minimal importance. A challenge would surely only come if your practice was bad.

I agree and yet we come across too many "ticky box" administrators/auditors of one sort or another - I used to have a running 'discussion' with the regulators of my former industry who seemed more interested in the process than the outcomes (even threatened us with enforcement action once because we did not follow the procedure even though had we done so the outcome would have been worse for our customers!).

There seems to be a common development route with regulators (of which I have considerable experience - honestly!) who start with the paperwork (Are you following the rules? Have you got the right Policies?), move on to implementation (What procedures do you have? Prove to me that you follow your policy), before finally landing on outcomes (How do your customers/stakeholders feel they have been treated?).

The point of this little piece is to ask you to check where on this spectrum your regulator/auditor has reached. If they are still in the ticky box phase then you need to tick the boxes, if they have progressed then you need to do something else. Personally, I am interested in outcomes and all the paperwork is incidental. however I recognise that sometimes we need to make sure the paper is there.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Ofsted's revised regime

This morning, Ofsted has been all over the media speaking about the revised inspection regime.

Now I am not a union-basher (I actually used to be a Branch Secretary!) but the following bugged me:

But the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, John Dunford, said there was "considerable anxiety" among members about the new inspection framework.
He said: "I am extremely concerned that Ofsted is again raising the bar and making it harder to get good and outstanding grades.
"It's like telling athletes running a four-minute mile that they need to do a mile and a quarter in the same time."

Duh! Isn't that what athletes actually do - try to run faster next time!

In business we realise that you are not progressing if you are standing still - standards need to improve constantly. What is so wrong about the same philosophy applying in education! Or perhaps we should go back to slates, the cane and Victorian educational values?

I see the improved regime as exactly that - an improved (yet probably not perfect) regime. If the teaching union(s) were more prepared to accept that the world changes, that some teachers are actually below par and that our children deserve ever-improving standards of education then I might be more willing to listen to their views. Meanwhile, please get out of our way while those of us who are working for a better future , rather than a comfortable past, get on with delivering it.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Ofsted are (probably) coming...

It is three years in October since we got a Satisfactory ( and reviewing the paperwork it was probably verging on Good)so we reckon that a visit is likely in the Autumn term. So what, if anything, need we be doing in preparation?

The purist answer - to which I fundamentally subscribe - is that if the school is doing its' job effectively then Ofsted should be able to drop in at any time (unannounced inspections) and find the school working well.

The realist/pragmatist's answer is that whilst we want to keep the pressures and stresses on staff to a minimum (it's a tough enough job anyway!), we want to make the best impression possible and that comes from preparation not passivity (Proper Preparation Prevents P*** Poor Performance!).

So I and the governing body are going to be working with the leadership team to insulate the majority of the staff from any hassle as well as making sure that our ducks actually are lined up. This is where the fun starts...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Governor expenses

Ever a thorny subject, this one has raised itself in my consciousness again, stimulated by an article by Janette Owen in the Grauniad.

Some schools find it hard enough anyway to recruit governors from a wide range of stakeholders, some governors who are in place find it hard to attend meetings due to child (or other) care needs (and, of course they do not have to be a Parent Governor to have this challenge!) and some governors (Chairs especially) have significant expenses – if I take mileage alone, I could legitimately have claimed ca £500 last year.

I suggest that there ought to be a much stronger presumption that governors will claim as appropriate. This might be encouraged by expenses being paid by the LEA from a ring-fenced and adequate budget, which while we are at it ought to include all costs for governor training as well.

To continue to accept that such a critical strategic role should be undertaken by those prepared to pay for the privilege is both unreasonable and unsustainable.

Friday, 15 May 2009

FGB on track!

Great meeting last night. Strategic, challenging, supportive, decisions and sharing of useful stuff - we even discussed "How have we improved the chances for our pupils tonight?"

It's fantastic to come home from a governors' meeting feeling that you have helped make a difference and that everyone else there shares that feeling. How great to be able to 'work' with such a committed and knowledgeable group of volunteers - we really CAN change the world!

It looks like our Inclusive Learning Strategy might be back on track - "how can we help?" is the constant question that we now need in mind.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

I have been quiet for far too long on this blog and am still wondering why. However, I came across the following in my colleague Chris Edwards' blog today and found it inspirational:

Bringing out the best in people – in your family, at your school and at your work – is largely determined by the language we use about them and by how much we encourage individual creativity and responsibility... If we want to bring out the best in the people we live with and work with we need to trust them, empower them, engage them, encourage them and celebrate everything they do well. Everywhere we look at the moment ‘the language of blame’ governs relationships, making someone ‘wrong’ and bringing out the worst in people who become frustrated, demoralised, anxious or bolshy. The language of blame is used to dominate and control and we all know that the outcome is to encourage people to simply become mediocre. Watch any ‘soap’, read any newspaper, listen to any journalist interviewing any politician, and you cannot fail to see how widespread and corrosive this approach is. Education Leeds is based on a positive and constructive culture; an approach that values and recognises colleagues as the talented, brilliant, gorgeous and wonderful individuals they are. When I think about the way I act and the way I manage and lead, I ask myself how would I treat a child who was engaging in a task, doing a job or managing a team? How would I help them manage their own self-talk and build their self-esteem to develop their self-efficacy? Surely, then that's the way we should treat our colleagues to build a brilliant school, a brilliant team and a brilliant Education Leeds.

I happen to be aware that some people 'question' Chris' constant enthusiasm and his favourite word "brilliant"; but why? Would you rather be thought and spoken of as being brilliant or rubbish? Do you aspire to brilliance or mediocrity? Language is MUCH more important than we sometimes think. There is some research backing up a bit of my work that suggests that every criticism needs to be counterbalanced by at least 12 congratulations - but why bother with the criticism anyway?

How can you (and I) translate this for our school/workplace/home?

Thursday, 26 March 2009

School staff and investigations

Some of the most difficult tasks facing governors are to pass 'judgement' on staff disciplinary matters and to review longer term or permanent exclusions.

I have had a few experiences recently which required teachers to present 'a case' to either a Staff or Pupil Disciplinary Committee. I was disappointed to find that some of the evidence and investigation was of relatively poor quality. I have a background in investigating offences so am familiar with criminal procedure and standards of evidence - although I recognise that we are dealing with the civil standard of proof in these cases - and would not have found much of the investigation or evidence up to standard in my old profession.

It did actually raise the question of the appropriateness of teachers as investigators - not a role for which they are trained or necessarily willing. What must it be like to have to investigate the behaviour of a working colleague? What must it be like to have to conduct an investigation with legal consequences (e.g. one that might lead to dismissal) when untrained?

There is surely a better way - how about each LEA creating a team of independent individuals who are trained in investigation techniques, who would take over investigation of the most serious staff cases (i.e. gross misconduct) and who could advise proactively on e.g. permanent exclusions?


Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Now that the snow and ice has gone..

...seems to be a good time to reflect and learn.

Many schools closed, many managed to stay open and some managed both! Congratulations are due to the many staff and pupils who made it in to school, sometimes in the most challenging circumstances.

My immediate reflections take me to several issues:
  1. Did our transport providers always make the best decisions in the light of the information they, and we, had at the time. In particular, how does it happen that we were unable to contact them until 'too late' to truly consider the situation and make joint decisions?
  2. To what extent did over-zealous H&S concerns get in the way of opening our schools?
  3. How effective are our processes for letting parents and pupils know of the daily decision in such circumstances?
  4. How come schools who struggle to open only to find that significant numbers of pupils cannot get there (for whatever or whoever's reasons) find their 'Unauthorised Absence' figures adversely affected?
  5. What's the situation regarding staff who did not make it - do they now 'owe' us one or more days' work?

I am sure that there are other questions that deserve exploration - what do you think?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

An outsider's frustrations...

As a governor, who has vast experience of and expertise in leading and managing organisations, I find myself often amazed by some practices in the education sector and subsequently frustrated by the slow speed of change. It's a microcosm of the whole public sector and as en ex-employee of a privatised utility I know that things can change and will change. My experience is that the pace of change is largely dependent on the will and expertise of the change leaders.

Meanwhile, it is too easy to see and comment on only the problems.

I hereby commit myself to noticing and praising the great stuff that goes on most of the time. (Whilst also pressing for change where it is needed!)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Schools closed for snow...

Once again some of the most challenging kids in Leeds lose a day's worth of education because their schools are closed. OK, not all schools are closed, but enough are to worry me. That some managed to open despite the challenges of the weather is surely a lesson to the others who found it too much of a challenge.

I govern in 2 Special Schools where many (most?) pupils are dependant on transport from the City Council - who have proved themselves unable to respond to the challenge today. OK the forecast was bad and there might have been a reasonable presumption of closure if there really had been the 30-45cm predicted. But that did not happen and it seems that there was insufficient time this morning to change the decision - our transport people are apparently only available from 0730 onwards! Now special circumstances require special measures and I would have hoped (dare I say "expected") that contingency plans would have been in place for either worse or better weather than expected.

Now I try not to be cynical, but it does sometimes appear easier to stay at home and plead bad weather than get off your **** and go out of your way to help some of the most disadvantaged kids in the area. Please everyone, let's do better next time.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Holding your Head to account

As the current round of HT performance management is over (or should be!), I have been pondering on the criteria for giving HT's a pay rise. The guidance is quite clear that such a rise is dependant on HT having delivered 'sustained high quality of performance' (often quoted as Sustained Outstanding Performance SOP, so that's the phrase I shall use), yet I hear of many HTs around the country being given automatic pay rises by their governors without having delivered SOP.

For me, sustained outstanding performance goes beyond both business as usual and PM - I expect them to deliver more than was asked and can be expected over the whole year. Having moved away from the automatic progression that has plagued the public sector for so long, we now need to recognise that increases in remuneration are properly awarded for delivering more than the day job and for developing one's capability more than might be expected each year. The pay rise will then be a recognition of this contribution and development rather than just occupying a post and delivering the minimum required.

Any governor who agrees to a rise in circumstances other than where SOP has been delivered is corrupting the system and weakening the position of those of us who operate within the guidelines that took so long and so much effort to thrash out at national level. Had they wished for a automatic rise, or one linked purely to PM then STPD/RIG could have said so - they chose a more difficult hurdle so what good do so many govs think they are doing by reducing the height of the hurdle? Would they let pupils get an A* for just delivering the basics?

How do your PM governors deal with this - are the submissive or are they holding your HT to account as rigorously as the HT should be holding their pupils to account?

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The Lamb Enquiry

I consider myself to be better informed than many governors and yet the Lamb Enquiry (principally into SEN and parental confidence?) seems to have slipped past my mind without leaving a mark.

It seems to me that this is an important piece of work - parents of children with SEN tend to be more concerned about and interested in their child's provision and progress and it is critically important they they can have confidence not only in what is happening now but also what plans exist for the future.

Most recently his brief has been extended by Ed Balls to include

an investigation to tackle poor information to parents of children with special educational needs, the failure of some Local Authorities to comply with their SEN duties and lack of transparency in the SEN system".

I know that this is a system/process that exercises the minds of many parents, not least because of potential confliocts of interest where the LA is the assessor, funder and deliverer.

I will be following his progress rather more carefully than so far...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Holocaust Memorial Day

Thanks to Chris Edwards for reminding me...

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day...

A day when we remember where racism, intolerance and a lack of respect and understanding leads and the need for us all to be constantly vigilant. We must continue to build respect, tolerance and understanding and to celebrate difference. We must help our young people learn from the past and that we can stand up to hatred and create a safer, better future for us all.

Why not visit the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website and light a candle to support those who are standing up to hatred across the world. The website is at

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Standards for School Leadership

As both a school governor and someone who has a professional practice leading and helping others become better leaders, on Friday I went along to one of the consultation events in respect of the new Standards for School Leadership. I was both thrilled and disappointed and found the event, and the statements made by some participants, interesting on several accounts:

  1. Only about 20 people turned up, of whom most were either academics or held roles 'administering' schools (LEA staff); only 3 were practising Heads. What might this say about the standards - that they are of so little interest/relevance to practising Heads that they decided that they could find better things to do with their precious time? That actually being in school leading is a more useful activity that considering the leadership navel? Disappointing yet not really surprising...
  2. There were 2 governors there (well, 2 who declared themselves) and we were both almost incensed that the word "governor" only appeared once in the document and even then not in the 'intended audiences' part. What the **** is governance about of not helping shape the ethos, values, vision etc of the school - leadership in other words. This is, IMHO, a serious shortfall that risks further weakening the role of governors in the eyes of HTs and other 'education professionals'. BTW, how disappointing to hear one of the Heads say "governance has not changed since Victorian times" and the other that leadership and vision was not the role of the governors!
  3. There seemed to be a lot of linguistic confusion about Leaders, Leadership and the difference between Leading and Managing. Yes, effective leaders need to be able to manage and, yes, they can distinguish the management of the now/status quo from the challenge of leading people into the future. This distinction between 'doing the best we can with what we have and where we are' is distinctly different from 'figuring out where we need to be and helping everyone get there' - good leaders do both, bad 'people in leadership positions' miss the second.
  4. With the pace and scope of change in the education sector these days, the need for devolved/distributed leadership seems clear to me. It is not just the job of the Head, the cleaners, the dinner ladies, the office staff, TA and Teachers all have a role in leading the pupils, the community and each other. It is a fact that everyone is a role model (good on bad) to someone and surely we want all of our people to model the appropriate values, beliefs and behaviours for our school? What a shame then that many (even perhaps most) of the participants exuded a top-down hierarchical model of leadership in which only individuals with designated leadership roles have to lead - and from one person that did not even include those with TLR! Pupils are moving into a world where they will need to be self-motivated and self-led, they need to see this mindset in action throughout their school life.
  5. "Will these stardards be included in Regulations?" came up several times. AAAAArrrrrggghhhhh! The vast majority of the non-educational world manages to run effectively (OK, a moot point for banks!!) without Regulations saying that 'this is how you need to behave when doing your job and evaluating how well others do their jobs', so what is it about the education mindset that needs to be forced to do things rather than just do them because they are good practice. We had a brief and interesting discussion about how regulation might force compliance whereas recognising the real value of the standards woudl encourage committment. Performance Management in Schools is currently on this journey; business has been actively managing the performance of staff for a very long time yet it takes regulation and national 'guidance' to implement it for Teachers. 'My' schools know the value and are having little or no trouble voluntarily implementing it for all staff. Of course if PM is implemented on a 'I have to do this to you...' basis can we expect anything other than grudging compliance? The same goes for these leadership standards.
  6. As for the content of the standards, I was rather impressed. A good broad approach to identifying leader behaviours that can be applied appropriately (we spoke of depth and breadth) throughout a school. The concept of five strands of leading (Strategy, People, T&L, Organisation and Community) is an interesting and potentially useful chunking enabling different parts of the standards to be distributed to different individuals who have specific accountability for that part of leading leadership in the school.

I was generally encouraged, whilst being slightly disappointed at some of the attitudes and beliefs that manifested themselves. Take a look at the documents yourself and PLEASE make the time to comment - after all Governance is leadership.

Trusting your Head

I read in other forums about the hassle (to be polite) that some governors have with their HTs either passively or actively witholding information that governors need, or believe that they need, to effectively exercise their role.

Yes, there will always be bad or ill-informed apples, so what a pleasure I have to work with 2 Principals at the other end of that spectrum. Both recognise that governors have a valuable role and contribution and that whilst, on occasions, their 'demands' may be challenging and their opinions 'interesting' they all have ther right thing at the centre of their beliefs - that we must do the best we can for and by our pupils.

The mechanisms through which we hold schools to account are many, yet we need to be careful to avoid tying up our schools with a plethora of rules, regulations and paperwork designed to catch the very few bad apples - Haringey probably shows that even these cannot be guaranteed to work.

It does of course raise the issue of how governors can go about satisfying themselves that all is well as described. Yes, we need to work on the basis of 'trust everyone untilt they are shown to be untrustworthy', yet that leaves us with the dilemma of how to find out the truth before our school goes into Special Measures. Any ideas?

Monday, 19 January 2009


Isn't it great to have something to celebrate (apart from, at my age, being awake in the morning that is!)?

Two key members of staff with whom I am involved at 'my' two schools have just got unqualified passes on their NPQH. This is far from a straightforward journey and involves significant committment by anyone signing up for the qualification - which, just in case you did not know, all newly appointed headteachers appointed after April MUST have.

So my heartiest congratulations go to Michelle Wilman and Jane Reed.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

On becoming a new chair...

Well, I have been CofG for about 5 weeks now, during which time we have, inter alia, appointed a new Principal (congratulations Michelle), heard about how we might or might not get a rebuild as part of the advancement of the BSF spend and heard not enough about the strategy for refreshing inclusive education in Leeds.

I am remonded of the advice generally given to new CEOs to spend their first 100 days 'just listening' and that is mostly what I am doing - going round talking with all sorts of people who might give an insight into the good and bad of the school (not much of the latter has shown up so far - thankfully), where we can offer best in class services to others and where we need to do better.

We have gone 2.5 years without good old Ofsted visiting us so I guess they are at least approaching the horizon. Not that that should be of any concern; in the old days when we got 6 weeks' notice staff would get stressed for 6 weeks running round getting lesson plans up to date, filling in student reports and doing all sorts of stuff that (surely) they should have been doing anyway. If nothing else the curent regime reduces the duration of the stress and implicitly 'requires' staff to do the right thing all the time and not just for the weeks before Ms Gilbert's little helpers arrive. What I would however like to see is more proactive support/advice from the Inspectors - waalking in, spending two days to decide that you are only satisfactory (or worse) and then ****ing off is just not good enough these days.

Anyway, back to this question of the future of inclusive education in Leeds - LILS as it has been known. All has been quiet for a few months now and when there is an information vacuum people tend to start filling it with their own beliefes, often wrong, about what's going on, why 'they' are not communicating with us and how badly affected we are going to be. My short term agenda is to get the information flowing again - my professional practice is in the arena of change leadership and management and I just know that communications is critical to successful implementation. Even when there is nothing to say, it is important to say that there is nothing to say, otherwise the rumour mill starts working as above...
The most destabilising time during any period of change is not knowoing what is going to happen - even bad news gives the participant something to work with whereas no news leaves a void. So let's make those difficult decisions and get on with implementing. All that planning achieves is a plan (which, by the way, is always wrong), only action achieves any change.