Author Archives: @carter6D

Tough Times do not last for ever-Tough teams do

Last weekend I was teaching the MBA in Executive Educational Management that I lead for the National College of Education and the University of Buckingham. The group is a diverse mix of MAT CEO, diocesan leaders of education, senior leaders in local authority and leaders of teaching school alliances. What became apparent as the weekend developed was the range of challenges and issues that were starting to circulate. Five days later, it feels like those challenges have exploded on to a new level and I wanted to share some reflections of how stunning our cadre of school and trust leaders have been.


Over the past ten days, social media has been a vibrant communication channel between leaders across the length and breadth of the country. The messages colleagues have put out have been inspiring, humbling and at times upsetting. I have been a school leader since 1995 and can remember as a head and CEO having to manage difficult moments in school such as 9/11 or the death of a staff member or pupil, but nothing I reflect on is as challenging as the scale of what we are facing at the moment.


Yet our leaders are stepping up! They are providing the compassion, guidance and support that their communities need and rely upon. They are sharing their strategies and ideas on-line and are behaving as true system leaders. As I sat to write this at 8 30am this morning, I see that Sir Steve Lancashire has made available on twitter all of the key planning documents that Reach 2 have developed for anyone who wants help to access. If you read my earlier blog about civic leadership this is it in action.


In normal times, and who knows if the future will be about a “new normal”, leaders were preoccupied with accountability and monitoring. The past week has been about food vouchers, vulnerable staff and families and a blurring of the lines between life at home as a parent and partner and life as a professional. Collaboration is alive and well and perhaps when this period has passed, we will see a new model of leadership that cares a bit less about accountability and testing and a bit more about community sustainability and regeneration.


Last evening, I sent a direct message on twitter to seven trust and school leaders who I regard as friends. Some are former colleagues and some I have met on my travels. I also care about them and wanted to check in with them to see how they are coping personally as they shoulder this responsibility at this moment in time. Here are some of the things they shared with me. If this is not leadership at its very best, then show me what is!


“Thanks David. It has been quite a day. I was in ASDA at 6am this morning and was about to buy each of my senior team a bunch of daffodils to thank them for being so great. However, I saw an 18-pack toilet roll so bought them one roll of loo paper each. It really is laugh or weep time.”


“I have a very small team of inexperienced heads in the trust and they are getting a real baptism of fire but stepping up to the plate with courage and optimism. It is a bizarre mix of the apocalyptic and the mundane.”


“Really appreciate you checking in. We have taken the decision to close on Friday for two weeks but will be open for key worker children. I will be telling staff tomorrow morning as I want them to understand that we are thinking of them. I feel better for taking the decision already. We have our shopping vouchers in envelopes ready to send and learning materials sorted for a month.”


“Had an events company in our area tonight agree to come every day we remain open and set up a gazebo and put on “proper” meals for £3 per head. Their business is collapsing so hopefully they survive and the kids get a decent meal.”


“The final piece in our jigsaw puzzle tonight is to have asked staff to volunteer for a two-hour slot to work with vulnerable children. Was overwhelmed but not surprised, by the response. Had to send home 3 pregnant staff and another who has had cancer treatment as they refused to isolate as they wanted to help. My job is to protect my staff and almost take the decision out of their hands as they care so much-and put themselves at risk.”


“We have decided to make BACS payments to FSM families as many live quite a distance from school and rural public transport could grind to a halt. They can then use their local shops.”


“We are sending funds direct to families as well. They can buy more with cash than vouchers and feed their families efficiently. These groups know how to make their money stretch and we should do what we can to make it easier for them. It might cause problems with financial audit down the line but I really don’t care!”


“8 out of 9 schools in the trust are still going to be open tomorrow but it really is a day at a time. Currently working out the logistics of providing meals from one school kitchen for all communities as the schools are so close.”


“Lots of our families do not understand how to use NHS 111 and need support with translating. Many parents have said they cannot afford to self-isolate and I am scared that this will tear apart our community, with poverty and overcrowding rife. Heads have been bloody amazing.”


So, there is it! A two-hour snapshot from last evening of what every leader across the country is dealing with. When you take on a leadership position in the education sector, and probably most public sectors, there is no cockpit manual to turn to when something on this scale happens. Your cockpit manual is you! Your values, your beliefs and your sensitivity chip linked firmly to your professional ability to assess risk, formulate a plan and get a team around you to implement it.


In this “worst of times” period we may look back in the future and say it was the watershed moment in the history of school leadership where the true value of our profession was recognised and noted for ever.


Sir David Carter

How Accountability helps us to unleash talent and creativity to make a great education system

It will not have escaped attention that the debate about accountability and the intended and unintended consequences of the impact it has on our education system has been lively and challenging over the past month or so.


At the outset I want to state that I have no doubt that any system funded by the taxpayer has to be scrutinised by a regulatory body. Working in a country like England, where leaders enjoy more autonomy than many of their peers around the world, an accountability system has to be in place to ensure that autonomous decisions are made in the best interests of children and the communities that schools serve.


Earlier today, I read the blog by Steve Munby on returning to first principles to deepen this debate and it reminded me of a session I ran with school leaders earlier this year. In the session, I made the point that there are three tests of whether accountability is truly making a positive contribution to improving the lives of young people.


The first test is whether a regulatory framework enables talent and creativity to be unleashed, or whether it stifles it, and in turn seeks to determine the approach schools take in order to create the appearance of success in the eyes of the regulator. I often hear school leaders state that they are accountable to OFSTED. This is wrong. Decisions taken to satisfy the regulator in order to appear to achieve more green ticks than red crosses is short term and misses the whole point about what a great education actually is. (Becky Allen’s recent thoughts on what makes a great education and how hard it is to determine the answer through a single performance grade is brilliant on this.)


This is why the role of governance is so critical to this debate. The best boards challenge and support the decision that leaders take and hold them to account for it. To create the illusion that the role of governance is benign in this respect is missing the point on a grand scale. The true accountability in the system is between leaders and their governors and trustees and cannot be under-estimated.


If we believe that accountability is inherently important across our system, then how does it unleash talent and creativity? It does so because the regulatory framework should create the parameters in which leaders and teachers make great decisions about how outcomes for children are improved. This is partly about values and behaviours as well as the decisions about the quality of what trusts and schools plan and then deliver. If I paraphrase for a moment, the inspectorate should be focused upon this challenge for the school where the leaders say “this is what we do and why we do it, come and tell us how well you think we achieve our goals and vision.” And by the way, help us to codify what we do so that others might learn from us.


If we position the role of regulation in this way, then leaders have the space and capacity to work out the best approaches for the children that they educate, and in this “sweet spot” is the moment where quality can be achieved and more importantly, observed by others. If the plan is delivering great outcomes for children, is delivered by a well resourced and well developed staff, and it is affordable and sustainable, this becomes a great conversation and not a defensive one.


The second test for me is built around the concept of unintended consequence. If a simple summary of our assessment system says that for 30% of the schools in the country to improve, 30% have to fail, then every year a third of our leaders are looking to see whether their roles are safe and secure. Elsewhere I have written about school improvement taking time, yet the sickening fear and anxiety of a job being under threat as a set of KS2, KS4 or post 16 results being published in the year before an inspection is going to take place, does nothing to build medium to long term strategy. This is not a get out of jail free card. My point is that the right strategy sometimes becomes embedded before the outcomes improve and in the hinterland between the two is where the anxiety and optimism is evident.


Now we know that OFSTED does not hire or fire people. The outcomes of inspection however do sometimes create the platform for this debate at board and leadership level. It is here we need governors to be brave and hold their nerve. If the strategy is working, and the lag between the plan being embedded and the outcomes catching up is still work in progress, back the leaders and their teams and let them know that they have the time to finish the job. Too many leaders become dis-illusioned and leave their roles before the task in hand is done and the reality is that we have to make the leadership of schools feel enjoyable, successful and more importantly, do-able, if the middle leaders of today are going to become the school and trust leaders of tomorrow.


The third test is connected to how we sustain our education system for the next ten to twenty years. Accountability is one of the solutions and not a barrier to be overcome. Leaders have three resources at their disposal that operate across sectors, phases and contexts. These three resources are money, time and the workforce. Re-designing a curriculum is not a quick fix. It is not a cheap option either and it is not deliverable as a change pathway in a year. The decision last week by OFSTED to give schools another year to think about this is welcome, but it is still not the right way to look at it.


Of the three resources I just mentioned, let me take each one in turn.


Finance is largely out of the control of leaders in terms of the quantum that a school receives. I do agree with the view that we should take a fresh look at how we resource our schools and how we make our own models of education affordable. I think it is also true to say, that there are very few schools that I have visited in the last two years who have not worked hard to find the efficiencies that will make for a more sustainable model. Cutting the cost of the curriculum is important and benchmarking against other schools in similar contexts is helpful, but there is a point at which a school has to be a safe place to teach and learn and we are at the point in many cases where the financial strategy has done as much as it can.


I spoke about time, and believe firmly that leaders have a role in determining how they want staff to allocate their time. We can dress this up in the workload debate, but fundamentally it is about how we enable teachers to be in the best position possible to teach as well as they can. Thinking about the role of curriculum design and when this work takes place, how we assess that curriculum and how we teach it and how affordable it is, are the heart and soul of leadership decision making. They are also the right questions for an inspector to ask. I have never met a leader who is unwilling to be accountable for these decisions, but if the model becomes so complex because the impression of the sector is that the regulator has a model it believes in more than that of the school, then we have a problem.


Finally, our greatest resource is the one that we are in danger of losing. The talent that makes up our staff teams. Teachers, leaders and support staff working with and accountable to a strong and values driven governing body. The classroom is a place of innovation incubation on a daily basis. Teachers try out new ideas and new ways to help children understand and make progress. If accountability does not recognise  the creativity of pedagogical practice, then the risk is that we revert to the closest version of what will be acceptable. The school six months away from an inspection starts to drive the innovation through the lens of the regulatory model whilst the school six months after the inspection, assuming it went well, drives innovation around learning. A blunt and probably limited comparison but I do not have to think too long to think of examples I have seen in the last year of both.


So, there we are. On the horns of a dilemma. A dilemma that the system and OFSTED both recognise. We have a new government that will support the work of OFSTED and was bold and powerful in backing it during the election campaign. But we are in danger of creating a void between those that teach and lead and those that inspect. It does not have to be that way and that is why I welcome the debate about how we make the inspection model better for parents, children, communities and schools. If not now, then when?

The First 100 Days of a New Headship

The First 100 Days of Headship (updated August 2019)




Taking on the challenge of a new school for the first, second or third time is exciting but tough. You only have one go at making those first impressions and the “finding out” stage is vital if you want to implement change quickly. The landscape is littered with leaders who made the wrong changes too soon, whilst the level 5 leader (Jim Collins-Good to Great) knows that you need to build the cultural capital with colleagues so that they develop trust and confidence in the leader and their vision. This paper looks at an outline structure for the new school leader, and how they might go about understanding the first 100 days of headship in their new school. Remember, there will be plenty of things that come at you in your first year that will need your time. By planning these activities, you will make sure that you do not ignore or miss out on building the culture of your school.


Where do you need to be at the end of the 100 days? What are the critical questions? The outline plan below will get you to the answers to these 10 key statements.


  1. Draft 1 of a Strategic Improvement plan should be ready to write and contain very few surprises as you will have engaged people in the thinking over the 100 days
  2. You should know how to add value to your student outcomes as a result of working out where the “low hanging fruit” of improved performance exists
  3. You should be able to segment your staff into these categories
    1. Change agents and leaders-your future implementers and creators
    2. Sound, Solid, Successful practitioners-challenge is to add the 5% to make them category 1 colleagues
    3. Resistant lip servants-the “sounds great boss” as long as it doesn’t need me to engage
    4. Blockers and Mavericks-only one way to work and that’s my way and we’ve seen a few of you off in the past
  4. What curriculum changes are needed for next academic year?
  5. How well do the behaviour and reward systems work?
  6. How good is teaching and learning and how good are the results that the school gets? (2 different questions)
  7. What do the stakeholders think of the school?
  8. What is it like to be a vulnerable child attending your school?
  9. What is it like to be a new teacher working with your team?
  10. What are the indicators of success that you have agreed with your governing board for the first three years and are they taking responsibility to help you to get there?


The Real Challenges to Uncover-key questions


  • Are there pockets of Low Expectations in terms of student behaviour and performance?
  • Student Labelling-are some children categorised by their level of dis-advantage than their potential?
  • How strong and well aligned are the leaders in the school with your ethos and expectations?
  • Inconsistency-is it habit forming?
  • Quality of teaching
  • Budget-Fact or Fiction?


Personal Diary


This is hard to maintain and will probably be the thing that gets left off your list but if you can, discipline yourself to do it. I am a huge fan of Simon Sinek and his golden circles-the WHY, HOW and WHAT of change. Get to know his work and apply it to your reflections. There is value in the rigour of reflection and consideration of how things went. It does not have to be a literary masterpiece, just use WWW (What Went Well) and EBI (Even Better If) to look at what worked and what needs more attention. Remembering back to what you did, how you felt, what mistakes you made will make you a better head as well as an excellent coach in the future of new heads.


The 100 Day Plan-This is really an illustration of what needs to be in your plan, and you need to think about where you are going to build the time to do this work. If you believe that building the cultural capital through developing relationships is the prime goal in the 100 days, you need to plan for this, and this list should help. (Week numbers simply refer to the weeks of the academic year from September 1 to February half term)


Your Leadership Team

  1. Need to do 1 to 1 session asap to establish work practices and role and responsibilities and how you use the staff segmentation exercise and apply it to your team
  2. Need a blue skies day early in the process-Friday evening into Saturday morning-ask them for their vision for the school rather than you tell them yours at this stage-Blue Skies 1-You are in Listening mode here
  3. Do a vision session in week 16 (Around December of early January) as you formulate your thinking ahead of the end of the 100 days-Blue Skies 2-The leadership team are in Listening mode now



  1. Meet every person on payroll-do 1 per day for 15 mins-this avoids the pressure on your diary that comes from everyone wanting to book a time with you. If you tell everyone when their time is, they will relax and know they have a slot to meet you
  2. Staff Questionnaire to inform vision in week 21-keep it simple. 10 questions to explore if there is a gap between what you want to do and the cultural capacity of the school to deliver it
  3. Staff Meetings to do feedback sessions on what you are seeing-make this a positive input so that staff walk a few inches taller as they leave the meeting. You can deal with the things that are not so good in different ways
  4. Open Door Surgeries-Weekly open-door sessions where staff can make appointments to come and meet and share issues they want to discuss. If the door is open, they will make it brief and to the point and if you make each session 10 mins max you can cover a lot of ground without getting bogged down in the detail



  1. Shape and Structure-What does it look like and how far is it away from your expectations
  2. Where is the balance between knowledge, skills, pedagogy etc It is likely that you have become a head because you have a deep-seated belief about the importance of the curriculum. Unless you were the deputy who developed it, there is a strong chance that this will need more work but before you make change, understand where it works now and where the best thinkers and teachers are located.
  3. By day 100 you should have identified your curriculum and learning lead practitioners who might be made up of people who are new teachers and very experienced ones. This was my favourite bit of the plan!



  1. You need to gather work samples from children across the school. The key is to get the children to talk you through their work and not just look at the books in isolation in a leadership meeting. Children will tell you if this is their best work or not and what they understood by doing it.
  2. Who and where are your vulnerable students? Who teaches them? Can you assign your leadership team and yourself as mentors to the ones you are most concerned about?
  3. By day 100 there should be a plan in place for making learning more successful for the most vulnerable children in the school


Quality of Teaching -start in week 3

  1. Hard as it may be, I believe passionately that heads should still teach even if it is no more than a couple of hours per week. I taught music and business studies for the 11 years before I became a MAT CEO
  2. You might want to start by observing your leadership team and making sure everyone knows you are doing that. This is the leadership by example part of the 100 days!
  3. Publish to staff your lesson visit protocols-don’t create the impression these are accountability visits! Your aim on your visit should be to cover the foci I have suggested in “Learning Walks” below-this is information gathering and taking the temperature of your school. This will be the source of the “buzz” as to why you were right to want to lead this school!
  4. Do cover lessons-1 per week to get a sense of how well cover is planned and delivered and get an insight into displays and student attitudes when their class teacher is away


Middle Leaders-engine room of improvement although their role and value is far more than this

  1. Meet in small groups-3 max-and look at their developmental journey-what gets them to where they are now and where do they want to get to next
  2. Encourage them to blog, read research, visit other schools, take assemblies, lead CPD, become a teacher governor at another school-get them to be the most rounded version of themselves they can be-this investment and interest in this group never fails!
  3. Developmental session-their vision for their departments-present in pairs to each other-they can only do this if they observe the practice in the different departments
  4. How do they build teams? How do they model what you have done with them with their teams?


Parents-Not really No7 on the list!

  1. You need to think about the communication strategy that will support the way you engage parents and there is no single way to do this, but these ideas might help
  1. Parent Surgeries by year group –involve SMT and governors-try to cover all of the year group in the first 100 days. Get someone to make a note of the questions that were raised and then send a summary out to parents so that even those that could not attend get to know the context
  2. Principal’s newsletters-fortnightly across the first 100 days-these need to be digitally communicated via twitter or facebook and then stored in a parents’ section on the website
  • Parent Voice Group-cross section to get parent views in more detail-I did this in the 101-200 days as I knew what changes I wanted to make and tested them in these fora
  1. Parents and Student Questionnaire to inform vision in week 21-similar to the staff survey at the same time
  2. You may decide this is not for you but….phone randomly 10 parents per week to get an unsolicited sense of how they feel about the school
  3. Send every child a birthday card! One of the things that former students still remind me on twitter even today that they liked. Sunday afternoon job to handwrite “happy birthday from Mr C” and then get them sent out on Monday. I don’t think I ever had more than 40 to do in one go. My regret is that I didn’t do if for staff as well which I would now!



  1. Top priority-talk to the chair in the first few weeks about how he/she is going to measure your success. It cannot just be about the result and the next OFSTED inspection. The GB have appointed you so must know what it is they want from you. If Heads fail, then GB fail as well. In a MAT if a Head fails, then the CEO and the board of trustees fail
  2. Need to set up an informal session with each of them, visiting them in their workplace to build relationships but to open up the community dimension-after all they will spend plenty of time in your workplace!
  3. Find out how they want you to present your heads’ report? Length, style, tone, powerpoint or word? Getting this agreed can save you such a lot of time later
  4. Within the first 100 days you need each member of the board to come and participate in a learning walk with you and they then need to feedback at the next GB meeting
  5. Find out what role your leadership team has with the GB. You can possible delegate some of the sub groups to them if that works


The Building-this is yours and you need to do your due diligence on it

  1. Layout and Design-do the walk with the building services team
  2. You might need to commission a condition survey to enable you to plan a repairs and maintenance cycle of work over the next 3 years. I sudden surprise that costs 100K to repair means that potentially some of the planned expenditure you have set aside for learning might not take place
  3. Areas for Improvement-where do children go that you do not want them to go?
  4. Refurbish Reception-first thing that visitors, students and parents see-your chance to make a mark-get pictures of learning all over the reception


Assemblies and Student Voice

  1. Set up a student leadership group-25-30 students from different year groups to get feedback on a range of issues and to pick up themes and areas for development from the student questionnaire
  2. Do 3 sets of assemblies
  1. Week 1-My Standards and Expectations-this is me, this is my family, you are my family, this is what I do when I am not working, and what I expect from you (4 slides!)
  2. Week 4-What I like about this school and what I might want to change(use loads of pictures of things you have seen that impress you-children are captivated by seeing pictures of them and their friends-music, sport, lessons, lunchtime, food, etc)
  • Week 10-How I want to improve this school-what I have decided we need to do differently


Ten Things to get to know in days 1-100-there is more than this but this would be a good start

  1. Budget in the year before you arrived and the budget you have in front of you
  2. How much of your GAG or student income is spent on staff-start getting worried if it exceeds 80%
  3. How large are your reserves? What have they been earmarked for?
  4. Exam Results over the last three years
  5. What impact does PP have?
  6. Attendance of students and staff (investigate the Bradford Factor for staff analysis if you do not already know it-powerful and transparent)
  7. What type of contracts are your support staff on?
  8. How effective is Performance Management?
  9. How many staff are on UPS3 and what additional responsibilities do they undertake in return?
  10. What did the previous head start but not finish?


Community Networks

  1. Meet as many local heads as possible-invite to a breakfast or tea session
  2. If you are a new head in a MAT you must get out to see the other schools in the trust-the MAT should have a plan for how academy leaders meet and work together but just because you are in the same trust does not mean you can ignore the relationship building
  3. If the children in your school come from a primary or move to a secondary outside your MAT go and see the schools that are not part of the trust and build those links
  4. Who are the main employers in the area? Organise a breakfast meeting for local business and industry people
  5. Invite the local residents-use the school postcode-to a session in the school-use music and drama to provide intro performance-get some key messages-your neighbours see the best (and occasionally the worst) of the way that children behave as they leave the school


Self-Evaluation-this is not really a day 1-100 task, but you can set the process up as you build the strategic plan-just three short reminders here from me

  1. Self-Evaluation is a culture not an operational task and is the responsibility of everyone in the school to be self aware and self challenging
  2. Self-Evaluation only works if it is clear to everyone what the goal is you are working towards
  3. Self-Evaluation is a series of questions and conversations not a lonely weekend writing an 80 page document!


Strategic Development Plan

  1. Leave this until Day 101-the purpose of the 100 days is to get a clear picture of the development needs of the school-you do need however to sign post people to the main themes that are emerging
  2. You need a holding plan that focuses upon core principles and some fundamental themes that are the cornerstone of improving the school. My plan usually contained these sections before I shared the main one and was built around these questions
  1. How are we managing behaviour?
  2. How strong is teaching?
  • How reliable is assessment and how do we know?
  1. What use is our data collection to us?
  2. Do middle leaders really improve standards?
  3. Are the governors the catalyst for change or are they passive and neutral?


Learning Walk-this relates very closely to section 5 above

  1. I would set aside 3 hours per week for this and target or focus on different areas of the school, so it is a more detailed look rather than a skim across the surface
  2. This gives purpose to the walkabouts that you must do. This enables you to make the point that this is about learning rather than accountability although clearly you will be making judgements about what you see
  3. Good idea to focus on themes and tell staff and students this is what you are looking for-take a different member of your SMT or middle leaders each time you do it. Take a camera so that you can get images of really good work or students engaged in learning-do not forget to tell parents you are doing this!


For Example:

  • Week 1-How do lessons start?
  • Week 2-Are children engaged in the learning?
  • Week 3-How are students encouraged and praised?
  • Week 4-What is the learning environment like-walls, displays and the tone of the classroom set by the teacher
  • Week 5-How are exercise and text books being used?
  • Week 6-What is being learned and how easy is it to tell?
  • Week 7-Which children sit at the back of the class and why?
  • Week 8-Student Behaviour
  • Week 9-The Quality of Feedback-books and verbally
  • Week 10-Do lessons have good endings
  • (Week 11-20-do it again)


Creating a Timetable over the 100 Days (these are the main building blocks of the process-not everything from the 100 day checklist is here)


Week Activity Checklist On Going
1 Staff 1 to 1 session (SMT)

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Staff Meeting 1

Assembly 1

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
2 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Publish to staff your lesson observation protocols

Head’s newsletter 1

Do site walk with grounds team

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
Week Activity Checklist On Going
3 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Meet with Welfare teams to find out which students are the most vulnerable and arrange a time to talk with them

Start programme of 1 cover lesson and 2 learning walks per week (repeat Week 4-20)

Refurb plans for reception

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
4 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Parent Surgery 1



Meet subject leaders in groups of 3

Blue Skies session 1 with SLT

Head’s Newsletter 2

Assembly 2

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
5 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Parent Surgery 2

Staff Meeting 2

Work Sample with children

Meet subject leaders in groups of 3

Meet Local Heads

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
6 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Meet target students from Week 3 and review progress since meeting

Meet subject leaders in groups of 3

Head’s Newsletter 3

Reception refurb booked for half term

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary



Week Activity Checklist On Going
7 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Work Sample with students

Meet subject leaders in groups of 3

First meeting of Parent Voice Group

Breakfast Meeting for Business and Industry leaders

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
8 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Parent Surgery 2

Meet subject leaders in groups of 3

Head’s Newsletter 4

Parents and Student Questionnaire

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
9 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Staff Meeting 3

Work Sample with students

Meet subject leaders in groups of 3

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
10 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Meet target students from week 3 and 6

Meet subject leaders in groups of 3

Head’s Newsletter 5

Assembly 3

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary



Week Activity Checklist On Going
11 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

Staff Questionnaire

Parent Surgery 3

2 Open Door Surgery for staff

Work Sample with students

Local Residents Concert and getting to know you session

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
12 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Parent Surgery 4

Head’ Newsletter 6

Student Voice Conference-issues from parent/student questionnaire

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
13 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Sessions for staff

Staff Meeting 4

Work Sample with students

Meet target students from week 3, 6 and 10

Meeting 2 of Parent voice group

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
14 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Leadership Seminar with middle leaders developing themes from sessions in weeks 4-9

Head’s Newsletter 7

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
15 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Parent Surgery 5

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary



Week Activity Checklist On Going
16 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Parent Surgery 6

Blue Skies Session 2 with SLT

Head’s Newsletter 7

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
17 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Staff Meeting 5

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
18 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Head’s Newsletter 8

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
19 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary
20 5 staff 1 to 1 sessions

2 Open Door Surgeries for staff

Parent Surgery 6

Head’s Newsletter 9

Themed Learning Walks & Personal Diary



I really hope this has been helpful. Being a head is one of the greatest jobs in the public sector and there is no greater responsibility than changing the lives of children and their communities. You will win! This is why.


  • This is your school and whilst you are accountable you are making the decisions and they will be good ones
  • You have a vision that you believe in and others will find compelling
  • All of the problems have an answer either in your school or in another if you are willing to be collaborative and open in seeking help and guidance
  • You drive and challenge the culture of the organisation-if you hear things you do not like, say so!
  • If you follow this 100-day guide, the rest will be sorted!!








Leading Together-Making Progression from Primary to Secondary better

How good is the progression from Primary school to Secondary school in your setting?

It is that time of year again. This week, year 6 children up and down the country have opened their e mails or letters from their local authority and now know where they will be going next September. Hopefully, the vast majority of parents will be delighted but I suspect across the country a proportion are not. This is another debate for another day but should serve to remind us that until every family has a good and outstanding school on their doorstep we have some distance to travel to becoming world class.

For the Cabot Learning Federation, we look forward for the first time since we created the CLF in 2009, to Bristol Brunel Academy, Bristol Metropolitan Academy, King’s Oak Academy and John Cabot Academy all being oversubscribed in year 7. I think we do the journey from Primary to Secondary well, but there is more we could do. Hence the purpose of this blog!

I stopped calling the journey from primary to secondary, “transition” when our five primary academies joined the Cabot Learning Federation. Progression is a better term as it implied “progress” rather than “transit”. I am more convinced than ever that we have to be better and better at this. In my most recent away day with my Primary Principals, I posed the following questions as the basis for how we might do this differently in the future.

  1. What currently prevents progression from our primary academies to our secondary academies being truly outstanding and better than anyone else who performs this responsibility in our region?
  2. What information should secondary academies make better use of in order to ensure that the learning progression of young people is not deflected in any way?
  3. If there was one strategy that you could introduce that would improve the current model, what would it be?

I went on to say that whilst changing the model that has been in place pretty successfully for the past ten years presented a risk, we needed to be ambitious in our thinking and I outlined some of the areas I was interested in looking at.

  • Is September the best time for year 6 to move to Year 7 or could we do this earlier and before the summer holidays?
  • What would be the challenges and risks be of our Year 6 teachers spending a block of time (1 or 2 days) in the main secondary academy where the majority of the children have moved to, in October, February and June of year 7 to see how well they are doing if I could fund cover or release Year 7 and 8 staff to teach the new year 6 for a day at a time?
  • Should progression to Secondary start in year 5 with longer periods of induction that take place more frequently, with open evenings in year 5 before the summer holidays?
  • How realistic is it that every child attains a level 4 in Reading, Writing and Maths by the end of year 7? Could we create a team of teachers skilled in KS2 and KS3 to support those most likely to miss this target?

The response was exactly what I have come to expect from the Primary Principals in my team. They loved it and we are already planning ways to make the first two bullet points happen later this year. I will be running the same idea past my secondary colleagues in the next two weeks. I await their response with interest but know they will love it as well!!

Another key question that links to progression is the one below.

Question-Do you trust the KS2 SATS scores that year 7 attain before they arrive at your school each September?

I have lost count of the times throughout my career as a headteacher, that I have heard secondary colleagues say this about children in year 7. It is nonsense! Unless we are saying that someone cheated, then the outcomes must be reliable. They are also the outcome of exactly the same tracking, support and interventions that secondary colleagues often use in year 11 when children who are at risk of falling below their target grade earn success and we sees this as a positive! They are also now the students of the secondary school and therefore it is the responsibility of secondary staff to take this starting point and drive progress and attainment from there.

Nevertheless, there are some key strategies that will help colleagues work better together to make more sense of this situation if it exists;

  • Instead of working with KS2 and Primary colleagues before the summer holiday in which the children transfer to secondary, make a point of working for six months as well;
  • Year 6 teachers should continue their relationship with the students in their classes that have moved on. This is hard to do if your secondary school takes from 50 primary schools, but you only need to work with probably three of four year 6 teachers to get the understanding you want. That understanding for me fits around these three questions;
  1. Is the work that the year 7 children are producing of the same standard now as their KS2 SATS score would suggest?
  2. Are the expectations primary colleagues had of the children when they were in year 6 lower or higher than those the secondary teams have of them in year 7 and how do we know that?
  3. Is the work challenging enough for the students given the experience they had in KS2?

On the next available INSET day in the Primary School, plan a programme that looks like this for year 5 and 6 teachers when they visit a local secondary school;

  • Observation of Year 7 lessons
  • A “book-look” of year 7 work
  • Student voice sample with Year 7 students
  • Feedback to the SLT of what the primary staff feel about the learning they have seen

On the next Secondary INSET day, the SLT should identify one teacher from English, Maths, Science and Humanities, accompany them with a member of the leadership team and ask them to spend a day in pairs in four or five primary schools. Plan a programme that looks like this;

  • Observe three lessons in Early Years, Year 3 or 4 and Year 5 or 6
  • Talk to Year 5 and 6 about their learning
  • Do a “book-look” of year 6 work
  • Talk to year 6 students about how they are developed as leaders in their primary schools
  • Talk to the SLT in the Primary about their vision and plans for their school

This ought to be the core purpose of transition and progression from KS2 to KS3!


Leading Together-Academy Groups, Accountability and Expansion

Academy Groups, Accountability and Expansion

In February 2014, there are 558 approved academy sponsors. When the Cabot Learning Federation (CLF) was first created, I think there were perhaps less than 20 at the time. This is huge growth and the refreshing thing about this is that it has come about mainly by more schools becoming accredited sponsors.

TES and Robert Hill-Friday’s interactions!

At the end of last week two separate interactions made me think about the dual questions of accountability and expansion. Firstly, I had a journalist from the TES asking me for an opinion on whether federations and chains should be inspected and then on Friday evening I read Robert Hill’s excellent blog entitled “Quality not quantity is the litmus test for academy chain expansion.”  (

When the CLF became the multi academy trust it is today in 2009, many of my fellow CEO/Executive Principals were competing to see who could get the largest number of schools into their chain the quickest. This approach puzzled me then and it puzzles me now. As we know, the DFE and Lord Nash in particular as the new academies minister has been very clear that size is not what counts and that the best test of a successful chain is the capacity it has to improve the schools it already sponsors before it thinks about any more. I have felt all along that a sign of the growing maturity of the Cabot Learning Federation is to grow at a pace and with a clear rationale for expansion that balances the needs of the children we already educate alongside those we might educate in the future. Indeed, our charitable objectives as a multi academy trust states this aim almost word for word. So what frames the debate about the future of academy chains, federations and groups?

How do you hold an academy chain to account?

For me it is simple. A chain must be held to account because failure could be catastrophic for vast numbers of students and the communities in which they live. However, it looks significantly different to the ways in which we hold single schools to account. For me as CEO, accountability of our federation has two key strands:

External Accountability Structures

  1. The DFE over the past 12-18 months has increased the frequency with which they request data, visit our schools and invite me to talk with senior officials about the performance of the CLF. This has to be the correct approach but it also shows that to coordinate this from Sanctuary Buildings is unsustainable and that the regional and  localised approach that has been envisioned is correct. Nevertheless, the DFE knows more about us, has more insight into how we operate, and understands our challenges better than ever before and this has to be the right strategy for them and us.
  2. 2.      OFSTED have not as yet inspected the CLF but they will and when it happens I will welcome it. I think we have a positive story to tell about how we support our schools. However, in the same way that accountability should work differently for a chain as opposed to a school, so the same applies to an inspection. An inspection of a chain should not be conducted through separate inspections of all of the schools in the family. An initial inspection of the federation that focuses on the capacity is has to support its academies should mean that this basic information does not need to be replicated in every inspection of a school in the group for a period of time. Inspectors having inspected the chain, and when they believe there is a need to follow up with a section 5 inspection in any of the academies, can do so knowing that they can give the individual school the total focus.

Internal Accountability Structures

We have to know how well are schools are performing. The rigour with which I approach accountability now is far greater than when I was Principal at John Cabot CTC and then John Cabot Academy. It has to be, as you are several steps away from the classroom source of the data that you are being provided with. This is my approach and tips for driving accountability in a localised model;

  1. Trawl data for the headline statistics every month. Don’t be persuaded that student data does not change much since you last asked four weeks earlier. It does and it should and if it is not then you need to know why.
  2. Appoint a data manager that works for the central team who can produce what Sir Michael Barber calls “beautiful data”, presented in graphs and tables that are easily understood by a range of stakeholders
  3. Plan reviews of each academy and give the same notice window as OFSTED would. Use senior and middle leaders from across the federation to participate in the reviews. It is both succession planning and leadership development and has the added credibility of being carried out by colleagues facing similar challenges
  4. Structure professional meetings into the calendar around the need for the key leaders in the federation to meet every term.

                                                              i.      Raising Achievement Leaders meet in week 2 to look at the previous month’s data and to share the strategies they are using in their academies

                                                            ii.      Heads of English and Maths network in week 4 to monitor the progress towards the targets for CLF that are focused on every 16 year old we teach rather than academy by academy

                                                          iii.      In week 5 Federation network night (FNN) brings together all secondary and primary subject teachers to look at shared learning, curriculum and pedagogy from KS1 to KS4

                                                          iv.      In week 6 the CLF Vice Principal network meeting meets to deliver the core challenge they have been tasked with which is to understand why we do less well at GCSE with our KS2 level 4C children.

These ideas are not “rocket science”! They are however workable because the schools are close enough for these meetings to take place at 4pm in the afternoon. We would lose so much debate and dialogue if we could not take advantage of the proximity of our schools to one another.

The CLF Central Mock Exam for 742 16 year olds in English and Maths

In December 2013, we added a new strategy to our repertoire. Collecting the data is one thing but being reassured about the accuracy of GCSE current and predicted scores from six different academies is quite another. In December 2013, the CLF Teaching School leaders and the SLE team in English and Maths wrote mock exams that every 16 year old in the federation sat. The exams were marked centrally and then every department and every class teacher received an “examiners report” that identified the strengths and weaknesses of their students that we need to develop and overcome between now and the summer. Proximity again helps this, but the level of trust and engagement that enables such a vital piece of feedback to be shared with all teachers in English and Maths is due to the collaborative culture that you establish when we are in the federation together. This paragraph does not do justice to the fantastic work of the Teaching School team and as I prepare my term 3 data for the DFE submission next week, I have never been more confident that our data is accurate and therefore reliable.

How do you decide when the time is right to bring another school into the group?

This is becoming a key question for academy groups. The question is often framed as relating to the optimum size of chain. I find this impossible to answer but our board of directors have worked with me to create a protocol for making the decision about a new school if and when we are approached. We simply ask the following questions:

  • What will be the benefit for current CLF students and will there potentially be any adverse impact on current students and schools within CLF?
  •  Is the rationale for a new partner based upon any of the following;
    • Link(s) with existing schools (as a feeder or CLF Teaching School Alliance partner)?
    • Geographic proximity to allow staff (and possibly student) exchanges?
    • CLF actively inviting a new partner because of a feature of the new school that the federation needs or is seeking?


Have the following been made explicit?


  • Strengths, capacity and benefits that the new partner offers CLF?
  • The costs of support, especially in years 1 & 2 of the new partner joining CLF?
  • New partner’s needs and the extent to which CLF could meet these?
  • The origins and brokerage of the new partnership
  • The degree to which the new partner recognises the value of collaboration and the federation?
  • The degree to which the new partner demonstrates a readiness to give and receive support?


This is a start and might be useful for colleagues setting out on this journey. Last year, Steven Twigg MP when he was shadow education secretary visited the CLF and asked me what the test should be to ascertain whether a chain was ready to expand. I replied that if the CEO could not name all of the schools and Principals in the group then they were not ready! Whilst this still resonates with me, our protocol might be a little more transparent!



Leading Together-Where next for OFSTED and Inspection?

The OFSTED Experience

The changing face of school improvement and the justified quest for higher standards strengthens the argument that a national inspection service has to transform as well. In June 2013, we had four inspections within the Cabot Learning Federation and all four were challenging as we knew they would be, but we also had intelligent inspection teams who looked at the impact of our strategies and were less concerned about what we did to achieve them. We do not believe in a formulaic approach to teaching across the federation, preferring instead to set clear expectations about the quality of engagement, progress and attainment whilst allowing our Principals to support teachers to develop strategies that produce these outcomes. Therefore it was interesting to open the Sunday Times this morning (January 26 2014) and read this debate being played out on a national scale through printed press and social media.

If the time has come to take a fresh look at the role of an inspection service, let us be careful not to assume that everything is wrong and that it does not work. This is simply not the case. There will always be examples where schools have bruising experiences where “rogue” inspectors are not on message with HMCI and I have heard and read Sir Michael Wilshaw say on more than one occasion that this should not be the case. Wilshaw is also dead right to challenge the notion that the choice should not be between children learning in “serried ranks” on the one hand and being the focus of an experiment into “child centred” learning methodologies on the other. The reality as he says in the Sunday Times interview today is “We want inspectors to test whether children have been given the necessary knowledge and skills to pass the exams in front of them but we also want them to be given the opportunity to think for themselves and work in teams and co-operate with others”. A teaching policy based on the extremes of the argument will do neither.

So what is the model for an Inspection service within a school led model of system wide improvement?

1. Have two judgments not five. Overall Effectiveness which is a judgement on the output of the leadership of the school and Leadership, which is a judgement on the effectiveness of their inputs.
2. Teaching should no longer have a single numerical judgement and should be a reflection of senior and middle leadership performance and assessed within the leadership judgement of the inspection. This will remove the need for the relentless focus on scorecards of what grades people got and shift development towards continuing and sustained improvement for all teachers.
3. Self-evaluation of the leadership team into their own performance and that of the school must continue to be the key planning tool that underpins the justification of any judgement
4. Outcomes in public tests and exams over a three year period should inform the outcome more than it does at the moment. Trends up and down will give an indication into the capacity of the school to sustain improvement and will reduce the “quick fix” mentality in the most challenging schools in order to sustain deep improvement and cultural change. Hold schools to account for results and progression to the next stage of a child’s education but leave the methodologies to the leaders who know the school best. If they fail to deliver the outcomes that they predicted and were responsible for, then the judgment will follow
5. Children progress from primary to secondary to post 16 to University. An inspection framework for 2014 and beyond needs to look far more critically at the progression children make between these critical points and how well progress is maintained and increased.
6. A new Inspection framework should encourage more and more schools to work together in partnerships where leaders take collective responsibility for children beyond their own building. Outstanding schools in particular should take this more seriously as they build the argument to maintain their top judgement.

So where does this leave the TEACHING debate?
We must not forget teaching is an art and a science and cannot be subsumed into a formula. Sir Michael Wilshaw gets this and now the inspection model needs to bring clarity to support his viewpoint.
Too much time has been spent preparing to teach a “typically good” lesson for OFSTED. CPD sessions on “How to get a “good” judgement” are missing the point, because it focuses on what happens in individual lessons instead of taking a collective view across the whole school over a period of time. Instead, the focus of an inspection with regard to teaching should be based on the following key points that bring the whole judgement back to the performance of leaders in the school and their capacity to lead improvement and consistency and the ability of teachers to teach great and inspiring lessons. My framework for judging the impact of leadership on teaching to help shape overall effectiveness would include these questions.
a. How well does the leadership team challenge the capability of its teachers and how well developed and supported are they?
b. How effective is staff training in relation to developing pedagogy?
c. How effective is performance management in ensuring outstanding teaching producing outstanding outcomes?
d. How ambitious are the targets for the children and how are they meeting them?
e. How exciting was the stimulus for learning in the lesson? What exposure was there to great texts, film, sound and music? If the teacher spends 20 minutes describing a fantastic poem by Wilfred Owen are we really going to criticise them for too much teacher talk?
f. How good is the work of the children as seen in their exercise books and folders?
g. What impact does this lesson have on literacy development?
h. What opportunities are there for extended and enriched learning to take place in and beyond the curriculum?
i. How well are other adults deployed? What impact are they having on the learning of the children?

Coming together-staying together-working together-The journey of collaboration

Last night, May 15, I was delighted to have the opportunity to deliver my inaugural lecture as visiting professor of education at the University of the West of England in Bristol. I took as the theme of the talk the following quote by Henry Ford, which was the perfect “hook” for me to describe the journey of the Cabot Learning Federation from 2007 to today and where I believe it needs to go next.

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success-Henry Ford 1863 to 1947

Thank you for that very warm welcome and to the University of the West of England, for the invitation to become a visiting Professor. This is a special occasion for me personally as it is for my family and for the Cabot learning Federation. Collaboration and partnership are two themes that are close to my heart and I have chosen to build the lecture this evening around this quote from Henry Ford.

Ford revolutionized the automotive industry and the way the world moved, but he also came to be known for his unique labour policies. Underpinning his view was the notion of teamwork. By eliminating inequalities among his workers, Ford created an environment in which innovation was encouraged and individual accountability was paramount.  What Ford was looking for was “a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.” He wanted a team that would be inspired to work hard and look for potential ways to improve efficiency and production and not be inhibited with a legacy of obstacle builders. “You will find men who want to be carried on the shoulders of others, who think that the world owes them a living,” said Ford. “They don’t seem to see that we must all lift together and pull together.” Indeed, that was what Ford tried to inspire in his workers – a sense of working and pulling together. It was only in doing so that Ford was able to generate such a hardworking team, who stood proudly behind his rise to the top.

I grew up in Cardiff and was supported by a caring and loving family. My Mum and Dad have been my inspiration and their support and encouragement enabled me to follow my interest in music and sport. A music degree at Royal Holloway College in the University of London preceded what this year will be 29 years of a teaching career that has provided me with opportunity after opportunity. I want the same for my three sons and I want the same for the children of every Mum and Dad who chooses to send their son or daughter to a CLF Academy.

I went to Llanedeyrn HS in September 1971 and was the second cohort of children to join the school after it opened a year earlier. Following the re-organisation of secondary education in Cardiff it was one of the new breed of schools in that it had a comprehensive ability range. A fore-runner perhaps of the academies that have become such a part of my life today.  I borrowed the strap line from their website and whilst I cannot remember if my experience was “all about learning” it is a great statement about their intent for children who attend the school today. It was a great experience. The teacher who left the biggest impression on me was John Wickett who taught music and PE-seriously he did! My report has gathered dust at the bottom of a trunk but it is here for me to share my early experiences with you tonight. What I love about it is the way that it formed a book and every report from year 7 to year 11 is in the same book so the progress, or lack of it, is easy to follow. Sir Michael Willshaw would love it!

When I am working with leaders, I often wonder how much of their leadership style is the product of their upbringing and how much from the experiences they have which form the person they have become. For me, Music and Sport have and always will be key ingredients in my make up. Working in a team or as a member of an orchestra, the hours of practice to perfect a piano solo and memorise it or the resilience to keep going when the requirements of the sport I am playing or the music I am learning are stretching my skills to breaking point are all part of the leader I have become

The Cabot Learning Federation has been my greatest joy and biggest challenge since 2007 and is one that motivates me every day. We have over 5700 children in our academies and over 900 adults earn their living as members of a unique and special team. We have ten academies that are based in Bristol, South Gloucestershire, BANES and North Somerset and an 11th about to open in September less than a mile from this building. We hope to hear any day that our application for a 16-19 academy in our part of the city has been successful. Our teaching school adds authenticity to our work. We could be forgiven for focusing all of our energies on our own academies, but we choose not to as we learn so much more from working with other schools. This keeps our knowledge fresh and I have yet to visit a school anywhere in the world where you cannot take the germ of an idea and make it your own.

You will see as the lecture develops, the quote by Henry Ford will permeate the different sections and hopefully provide a sequential route map through the presentation.

School to school collaboration is not knew. What is different in 2013 is that it is done better than ever before in my experience. When I was headteacher at Cirencester Deer Park School in 1997, we had the opportunity to apply to become a Beacon School. This was a model that was predicated in the view that a good school could do good deeds in a weaker school and that the miracle cure would happen. Everything I have read and know about school collaboration tells me this could not work and of course if didn’t. We shared the occasional INSET day and I think we might have given them some old BBC computers but other than that I can think of very little that improved my school or sadly the schools we partnered with. Through leading edge, the SSAT family of schools and the early models of school trusts we arrive today where we see an array of soft and hard federations, cooperative trusts, and national chains of schools. Whilst the desirability of being part of a 50 strong academy chain can be debated another time, what is clear is that the landscape of school leadership that I inhabited in 1997 looks very different and more exciting today.

Dr Dan Nicholls, the Principal at Bristol Brunel has introduced the CLF leadership team to Simon Sinek. What I love about Sinek’s thinking, is the simplicity with which he describes the shift from moral core purpose to solutions based activity. His work is a constant reminder to ground our planning in the reasons why we exist before we move to planning How we will implement a solution and certainly before we decide the detail of what to do

The three golden circles represent the WHY, HOW and WHAT of change leadership and sustained growth. As a profession we have come to value the contribution of the problem solver and in times of challenge they are worth their weight in gold. However, one of the defining differences between management and leadership is the flow from the outer circle to the inner which characterises the manager who solves the problem and then reflects on the core purpose that may have been in dis-harmony and thus created the initial problem. The leader defaults to the why to understand the context for the solution  before reflecting on how to respond before designing the solution. For me, this is what any collaboration needs to understand. If we don’t know why we are collaborating, and we are not sure how to do it, we end up swapping BBC computers and having joint INSET days as substitutes for taking shared responsibility for the educational journeys of our children

The WHY that underpins the Cabot Learning Federation is simple. By working together, the sum of our parts gives us more capacity, more talent, more creativity and more strategies to give the children in our schools a better chance of success than if the schools work on their own. If we succeed, then we help to re-generate our part of the city. It is no coincidence that our current improvement plan carries the title “Educating a City” as we move into a phase of increasing our capacity to work differently with our post 16 students, their families and our staff. The future employability of our young people, at post 18 and post 21 will be significant and I believe that the alumni of the CLF will help Mayor Ferguson in his desire to make Bristol one of the top European cities in the next 20 years, but only if we create a generation who in their early twenties see education and skills acquisition as a lifelong pursuit. The rapidly changing job market and the need to acquire skills and expertise that we can only imagine at the moment, means that survival in the middle decades of this millennium will be almost impossible for the leaver of education who has no desire or motivation to learn again. Schools, Universities, cities and business leaders need to join together to help us manage the educational equivalent of global warming

Collaborative cultures never stand still. They mature and move at pace whether we like it or not. The first two years of the collaboration that formed the basis of the CLF took place between 2007 and 2009. We were then two schools. John Cabot Academy and Bristol Brunel Academy, became linked on 1 September 2007 when both became academies linked by educational sponsored partnership. It was a difficult time. John Cabot as a CTC had no relationship with Speedwell Technology College, the school that became BBA. The admissions policy of the CTC meant that children were admitted from across the city whilst Speedwell served its local community. The relationship I developed with Armando di Finizio who was appointed to the Principal post at BBA, and who today is in his second CLF Principal role at Hans Price in Weston, was pivotal in breaking down some of the barriers and misconceptions. But it was hard and looking back, I am pleased we took time to build trust and confidence, to enable both academies to learn more about each other and to create the foundation for what we have today.

Henry Ford described the coming together as a beginning and his words were true for us. After two years we formed the hard federation that we are today and were joined by Bristol Metropolitan Academy and we could see that by staying together, now as a triad of schools, we could make progress. Steve Taylor the Principal at BMA often talks about BMA and the CLF being born on the same day, 1 Sept 2009, and he is right. For that reason, the bond between the CLF and BMA will always be a unique and precious one and each new academy that has joined us has brought with them a piece of magic that glues more of the federation together

Between 2009 and 2012 we saw more sharing, more exchanges of ideas and more joint training events than ever before. By last academic year the collaboration gene was viral! I frequently saw colleagues at one academy who I was pretty sure worked somewhere else only to find that they were working with a department for the day, or on one occasion had been appointed to a head of department post that morning. We grew more confident as a team of leaders. The team trusted each other to lead reviews as critical friends. Most significantly we asked Nic Garrick to set up and lead a CLF primary partnership with local schools which enabled our thinking to develop rapidly about learning across the entire age range. It was also the first time that we convened our annual conference in the conference centre at UWE. An event that in July last year saw over 60 workshops planned and delivered by CLF staff for over 850 delegates who attended.

  • If the WHY sets the foundation and core purpose, then it is the HOW that helps us to understand the compelling reason for staying together.
  • The WHY communicates the moral purpose of the journey and why we need to be successful
  • It is the HOW that gives the purpose and unifies our core belief around a set of clear aims. The WHY is applicable and vital in every single school setting around the world-great leaders know why they believe passionately in what they do. It is the HOW and the purpose that is different in a federation and is what excites me about the journey we are on.

I want to say a word at this stage about the role of our sponsors in the CLF collaborative journey. It is important that the CLF does not get seen as belonging to one individual. It is important and right that I take responsibility for leading the federation, but it does not belong to me. It belongs to every parent, child and member of our workforce and our sponsors provide the climate that enables discussion and feedback to inform the decision making process. The relationship with UWE is significant. 35 of our post 16 students have continued their own personal journeys here and the DNA of partnership work that permeates every pore of this institution has a clone in the CLF. Rolls Royce have been sponsors of the CTC before the federation and have been valued and supportive partners of Scientific, Mathematical and Technological learning for over 15 years

 Jim Collins is a brilliant writer on the work that great leaders do. His hedgehog concept outlined in “Good to Great” is particularly apt. The story of the hedgehog and the fox derives from an ancient Greek poem . In it, a cunning and brilliant fox grasps the complexity of the woodlands around him. He sets his mind on eating a hedgehog, and spends hours plotting the perfect attack.

Meanwhile, the hedgehog, described as simplistic and somewhat dowdy, goes about its business unaware. When the fox ambushes, the hedgehog rolls himself into a spiny, impenetrable ball. Undeterred, the fox keeps re-strategizing, but the pattern repeats itself over and over. “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,” the poem famously concludes.

There are three core questions underpinning the hedgehog concept. What is the one big thing that schools and businesses and other organisations know best is the crux of the question.

To illustrate the point I want to use an example from Business. Walgreens is one of the most successful pharmacy chains in the world. They wanted to create the best and most convenient stores in the USA. They cared about their customer’s experience and thought about a strategy that must have seemed to some to be business suicide. Stores on the same side of the street on the same street was certainly unusual but the familiarity if the layout, the ease of access and the certainty that familiar products could be found and bought quickly paved the way for their success.

The model works for the CLF as well. We believe we can be the best federation in the country. We believe to do this we have to help our young people gain extra ordinary success and we care most about giving students a world class education

The notion of world class education was first introduced by Tony Blair in 1997 just after he was elected Prime Minister. Others have used the term but it is worth reflecting for a moment on what this means. Surely it has to be more than the OFSTED definition although a school claiming world class status would have to be outstanding in OFSTED terms in order to be credible. So how about this for a definition of world class schooling:

  • You must help others to be great
  • You should work with Universities across the globe to pioneer next practice
  • Your students should speak fluently two or three languages
  • Your students should have qualifications and knowledge but they should also show that they are team players, leaders, researchers and adaptable
  • Businesses will come to you to set up their innovation hubs and ask you to lead their development with your students
  • The Arts will thrive and be the pulse of your school and students will experience great arts so that they become participants and audiences of the future
  • Alumni will not need to be persuaded to support the next generation of students-they will see it as a lifelong investment for the future

So as I pull the threads of the lecture together how do we build upon the past six years? Bath Community Academy has joined the family and the schools who formed our primary partnership in 2009 under Nic Garrick’s leadership are now members of the federation. As we have grown so has the need for us to understand the journey from nursery to post 16. I want the reception teachers at any of our primary academies to know they were part of the success of the A Level student this summer even though they last taught the 18 year old 14 years ago. I want our post 16 team to recognise the quality of early years teaching and its impact on A Level study. In September we will be accountable for 11 Academies. Our leadership structure needs to grow and we need to put our succession planning training to the test. Our Principals need experience of leading across more than one school. Our Vice Principals need to find out if they are ready to step up. Our Assistant Principals and Middle Leaders need to move into Vice Principal roles. They will, of that I am certain. My role is to help them be the best they can be

So, our relentless drive for more improvement however carries on.

If we are to find the success that Henry Ford described through working together, we need a plan. The core strands of our improvement journey focus on teaching, leadership, progression, support for our children and their families and the quality of the work of our central team who at their best build capacity for the leaders in our academies to focus on the core mission of improvement. We need to build capacity or we slide backwards. We need to change the culture and create the expectation that we can be world class. We need to build resilience and inner strength as the journey will be hazardous like all the best ones are.

For me the key goal is around progression. When we talk about transition rather than progression, we usually mean the move from primary to secondary. It was in one of our recent Primary leadership meetings that we agreed this was no longer an appropriate term as there are we believe at least seven progression points on that journey I just described from reception to University. Each Academy and each Principal needs to lead one of our progression journeys. Who can say if the entry to school is more or less challenging than the entry to work or University? Who can say if the move to secondary education is more or less exciting than the move into post 16. Whatever the answer, over the next ten years the CLF has to be world class at this. If and when it is, then we will have demonstrated collaboration at its best creating the greatest impact.


We need a generation of school leaders who can work across more than one school and who see the potential in taking a collective responsibility for a large number of students, the majority of whom never attend the building that the leader inhabits. I doubt if we will ever lead in a system with no competition. I am not sure that would be a good thing anyway. Competition brings the edge that drives the challenge. However, the recent past has been about individual schools competing with each other. Fine if you are top of the tree-challenging and less motivating if not. We need a leadership culture that recognises the need for the strong to park the wagons in a circle around the school that is troubled and help it. No community is served well by any school being regarded as poor. It does not suggest that the strong schools are that great if they allow this to happen. This is what I mean by system leadership.

In the same way that world class schools help other schools to become world class, so the same is true for world class leaders. Last week, two of my former colleagues were appointed to be Principals in two new University Technical Colleges. Since I became a head in 1997, 15 members of teams I have led have become heads. I am not unique in that-many other great leaders do this and more-but it is part of the legacy of the collaborative leader to develop succession planning for the system and not just their organisation

So where next?  What is the challenge for today and tomorrow?

We have a national crisis in the UK which is encapsulated on this slide. Whilst we all believe that your birth location and neighbourhood should not make a difference to your educational success, the reality is that for many children it does. On almost every indicator on the screen, a child deemed to be dis-advantaged performs below the level of students who are deemed not to be dis-advantaged.

In Primary schools, there is an 18% gap nationally between students who attain level 4, the national expectation at age 11, in English and Maths when you compare dis-advantaged children with the rest

In Secondary schools, the gap between those students gaining 5 A-C grades including English and Maths is 27% when you compare dis-advantaged children with the rest. The gap just appears to be getting bigger and if we do not meet this challenge, then educational poverty map will get bigger and the implications for social and economic well-being are potentially catastrophic for the UK and cities like Bristol. So who owns the problem? We all do but we cannot solve it in a 1000 different silos. We need to work together and this is the challenge for the CLF, school leaders, Universities and the government of the day.

For the CLF we need our schools to be good, then outstanding the world class. We want to be able to describe the journey to success of the 3 year old. We need the parent of the child in 2030 to believe as strongly in the power of learning as those of us in the room tonight do. Only then can we say we have an education system to be proud of and the CLF wants to be a leader of that story

Thank you for allowing me to share our journey with you this evening. I believe in partnership and collaboration. I enjoy being part of a team and I know that working together brings success. My message is that collaboration works best when the group is small and focused, simply organised with a local community engagement.

Thank you for listening