Category Archives: Uncategorized

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




Leading Together to create new models of school day and school year

This week we have heard from the Secretary of State that he believes that the current school year and school day is no longer fit for purpose and that we should be considering making some radical changes to this to improve standards. We hear that countries overseas have been doing this for some time yet there is no research I have read this week that tells me their performance is directly due to more hours of teaching and learning. The quality of the experience should always trump the quantity of the experience but it does not mean this is not a subject of serious debate.

In the Cabot Learning Federation we have been having this discussion for some time now to try and see if there are better models we could develop to give out 6000 students an even better experience.

When I was appointed Principal of John Cabot CTC in 2003-4, the school operated a 5 term year where all terms were 8 weeks irrespective of where the traditional school calendar fell. There were great benefits for learning in this in that the “rhythm” of the learning remained constant throughout the year. My view was that the model created some challenges such as staff being on 2 weeks holiday in the final 2 weeks before exams started! We also had the issue of being out of synch with other local schools which made it challenging for families with children in different school across the primary and CTC age range. Nevertheless it feels like the right time to take a fresh look at this.

Our current national model requires children to be in school for 190 days and staff for 195. There are some national and local variances to this but in the main this seems to be fair overall statement. 190 days for every child has created a system where we still have a significant proportion of young people who are not successful and find it difficult to engage.  There is little evidence from the research I have read that tells me that making the school year 240 days for example will make any difference. This would be heightened I suspect if all that happens is that the same 190 days are taught in the same way with the same curriculum for a further 50 days by teachers even more tired and children even more dis-engaged. I think the clue to this sits with Sir Michael Barber’s view that there is a new learning formula to be thought about where we move the constant and variable axis around.

Our education system keeps time as the constant feature. 190 days with roughly a 25-30 hour week for every child. The outcome is a variable set of standards. If we were to say that time become the variable so that we think about core learning and then extended learning for parts of the day and year, we could be in a better position to say that standards and outcomes can then be fixed. For example, this time of year, every evening, some weekends and certainly in my experience every Easter and May half term break, those children in need of exam support and preparation come into school or stay later and the result is their GCSE performance often goes through the roof. This is not sustainable in the long run but it has been in the CLF one of the key strategies in closing the gap for our most vulnerable students.

So what if we took a fresh look at the year and the way that teacher contracts reflected a new professionalism for their development and personal long term growth. What if the school year never actually ended and that students were required to attend learning sessions for a new minimum period of time, perhaps an additional 10-20-30 days according to need,  which included new types of learning around enrichment, skill enhancement, work placements and internships as well as their core experience. What if teachers were contracted to work a minimum of 195 days but rather than fragment a system with performance related bonuses we simply paid our best teachers and leaders more to spend  more time with children. In return, they can take their holidays within a timing of their choosing that coincides with the plans of their school and the structure created by the leadership team. Perhaps in that way teachers would take a real break rather than taking long weekends at half term. Perhaps children and families would then be able to turn to the school for support all the year round. Perhaps schools will then develop a business model to provide community support, holiday child activities that enable parents to work and become over time self sustaining out of hours educational providers.

Whilst this is radical and not as tightly thought as it will become over the next few months, what I am clear about is the idea that children who get “satisfactory” experiences already will not get anything more from a longer year if it simply stays as more of the same. Learning beyond the classroom at its very best impacts on learning in the classroom and this should be our agenda for debate and not simply more of the same!


Leading Improvement through the Teaching School

In September 2011 we began work as one of the first wave of teaching schools. Initially, like others in the same position as us, we were unsure exactly how this would become embedded in the school improvement work we lead across the CLF and the wider alliance. 18 months later, and I think I understand the potential this vehicle has now to become truly transformational

I think we have an advantage as a federation over the single school that acquires this status. We have 11 schools of our own to work with but we have also engaged another 9 schools who are not in the federation to form the wider alliance. I tend to look at improvement journeys and implimentations plans in three year cycles. Our teaching school journey is no different.

Year 1-2011-12 was about understanding the model and creating the strategy so that we could deliver support and development opportunities to the classroom door

Year 2-2012-13 has been about getting on with it and showing colleagues how the teaching school can create impact-in short, doing all we can to make sure this is not another one of those branded projects that exist in our minds and development plans but never reaches the students. Some quick wins but some significant input to lead improvement for the 2013 outcomes for children

Year 3-2013-14 & beyond will be about the teaching school being the key driver for school improvement so that we can demonstrate, as we probably can now, that as a result of becomign a teaching school we have been able to improve standards across our alliance which after all was the plan!

Colleagues who ask me about becoming a teaching school often ask about the 60K which of course reduces in Y2 and Y3 and in reality what can you do to have an impact for such a modest figure. In some ways, the relative size of the grant is a benefit as it forced us to think about how we treat it as seed money and then grow further income to sustain the model beyond teaching school days if future SOS decide they no longer want it. We invested in a senior leader to lead and implement the vision for 3 days per week and added 20 hours of admin time to manage the logistics and it works for us!

So how have we led improvement as a result of being a teaching school?

Delivery Focus 1-School to School support sits with our team of Specialist leaders in education (SLE). By the end of this year our team will be made up of over 40 members who together work in teams that our alliance partners and the CLF identified as being the most useful to support their learning journey. Our SLE teams therefore are behaviour and attendance, phonics, literacy and numeracy, CPD and NQT development, middle into senior leadership coaches, Post 16 teaching and learning and specific subject SLE time in English, Maths and Science. The key for us has been to focus our energy on the areas that our schools say they need support with rather than go for broke and have SLE in everything.

Our SLE team members have a JD that outlines their core work:

1 Support in key areas for one day per week-this is a substantial period of time (40 days per year) and the CLF pays for this so that backfill can be provided. The income comes from outreach school support that is brokered through my NLE work so that there is a direct benefit to our students of staff working beyond Bristol and the CLF

2 Another group of SLE work for half a day per week to visit our alliance schools and work with subject and team leaders to identify best practice and to agree the shape of up coming training so that we provide the support that our teams say they want. The schools where the SLE are based provide this within non contact time and there is no cost to the teaching school for this

3 The remaining SLE put 5-10 days each into the pot so that we can call on this time (minimum notice for this is 3 weeks) to support school reviews, INSET days, training sessions or support for a team of colleague in difficulties

This work is high profile and very visible and we work hard to support the SLE with training for them, especially in coaching skills, so that their work has impact and they become more confident in their delivery. It is working for us!

Delivery Focus 2-Leadership Development, talent management and succession planning is an equally important priority for us. Even if we had not been awarded a license to deliver the National College Leadership curriculum we would still be doing this work. My vision is that all 900 staff in the CLF, from Principals to grounds and caretaking teams will participate in leadership programmes so that the concept and language of being a leader is embedded across the federation and alliance. The Teaching School provides the delivery mechanism for the leadership programmes, the bulk of which are delivered by me and my team of Principals and senior leaders, the coaching that follows up the training and then the coordination of school to school exchanges and secondments that enables leaders to test themselves in a different context

Delivery Focus 3-Initial Teacher Training is vital to sustain school improvement and to ensure that we have a steady flow of good and outstanding teachers joining the CLF. We have embraced school direct and have been impressed and encouraged by the quality and volume of applications we have received. We recruited 11 in 2012 and have 26 joining us in 2013 so modest figures to begin with as we grow this model. Our partnership with the University of the West of England has been vital to us and a concrete example of HE and Federation working together. Our plan is that our NQT in 2013 and 2014 will provide the backfill for SLE outreach work, so that the cost of an experienced teacher over two days is equal, or almost equal to the full time cost of an NQT. This way any of our schools may be losing one of their strongest teachers for 2 days but gaining a full time replacement to add even more capacity to their Academy

Delivery Focus 4 is built around Research and Development. This focus is not 4th in order of importance but because the previous three foci are supported by it. In my career as a school leader I have not been good at capturing the journey that has led to improvement and we are weaker because of it. We need to remember what we did before we forget, so that we and others can learn from it and replicate change in new contexts in the future. Every SLE is required to write up an action plan for school improvement that they have led so that over the first three years of being a teaching school we should have at our disposal over 100 mini research stories that led to something tangible as an outcome. For me the simpler the better;

  • What was the breakthrough for a year 9 student in shifting attendance from 75% to 90% in year 10?
  • How did you turn the challenging year 8 group around so that Maths became their favourite subject by the end of the year?

The more we share this thinking across our own micro system in the CLF the better we will be in understanding the strategy and context of change

So there we are! Our Teaching school lives and breathes an emerging existence and for us has been the glue that binds a lot of the work we planned and delivered since the CLF formed in 2007. As ever, more than happy to share more detail with anyone embarking on the same journey as us via twitter, e mail or face to face.

Happy Easter


Leading Succession Planning to Develop leaders of Vulnerable Learners

Succession planning and talent management seem to me to be two of the key drivers for sustainable school improvement. In a federation this takes on a new meaning compared to when I was head of one school. What I mean by this is that the need to create teams of outstanding leaders for a wide range of future posts is critical to our long term success and we are fishing in a talent pool 10 times the size of a single school so we ought to be good at this.

Succession Planning is not just about succession. It is also about creating a new  type of leader who has skills and a bank of knowledge that is different and more holistic than I had when I became Head of Cirencester Deer Park school in 1997! There are two new areas of quality in which I believe that future school leaders will need to demonstrate their awareness and that I use to underpin the succession planning work I lead in the Cabot Learning Federation

a) Understand the Core of the Learning Journey-The education continuum from reception to year 13 and beyond is vital for us in the Cabot Learning Federation. We are already blurring the boundaries and the workforce in our Primary Academies contains colleagues with secondary background and we are about to do the same in reverse in secondary. The Principals in the CLF share leadership meetings that are cross phase and if we are going to ensure that our schools become and stay outstanding, then the Principals have to understand the whole journey of the child. We can support this through secondments and staff exchanges that move between the phases and our leadership training needs to set problems and challenges to solve that are only solveable by working from early years to post 16.

b) Leaders who can Impact on the learning of children who have fallen behind-The second area of development that future leaders have to become expert in is the challenge of ensuring that the most vulnerable students catch up by 16. Again, a federation where we educate such children from the age of 4 to 19 gives us a big advantage and in effect takes away many of the excuses that can be pinned on poor or weak transition. The relentless focus on student progress as opposed to raw outcomes makes the need for leaders to understand how we can motivate, engage, enthuse and support our weakest learners more essential than ever. The UNISEF mantra that we should judge our school communities on how well we support our weakest members applies perfectly to this. World class schools in the UK will do this and will show others how best to follow and adopt the DNA of the strategy for their own uses. In the CLF, a team of middle leaders who I was training in one of our succession planning programmes came up with the following list of strategies that they and others needed to ensure took place in their teams every day;

–Lesson Planning should start with addressing the learning needs of vulnerable students and then grow into a whole class lesson plan and not the other way around where we think about our key groups as an after thought
–Teaching needs to be at least good every lesson of every day
–Annotated Seating Plans should show any visitor to our classrooms that we understand the learning progres of every child in the group and where there is no progress we know what we are going to do about it
–Teaching continues when group work is taking place-the teacher does not facilitate learning but carries on teaching the students who have not got to grips with what they have been asked to do
–Marking and Assessment is key and the feedback that the most vulnerable get has to be the best it can be. We should mark their work first before we get tired and jaded by the size of the pile of books in front of us
–Differentiation is critical-don’t give them work that they cannot do but dont make it so easy they see they are being treated as less able as well as vulnerable
–Set the bar even higher-we must be aiming for 4 and 5 levels of progress not 3
–Progress check more regularly and reward smaller levels of improvement
–Display their work more frequently in “best work” folders
-Put photographs of students who have been extraordinary learners on our walls to celebrate success of all types of children
–Middle leaders from across the Academy should “adopt” a KS3 class to become their progress champion so that we dont forget that in the intervention city we live in with KS4 children we remember that Year 7-9 students also need to make progress
School leadership is more challenging than ever before but it is also more exciting than it has ever been in the last 15 years. The gap between rich and poor in UK society appears to be growing wider and the economic challenges our children will face will help to stagnate communities alongside the educational poverty that will exist if another siginficant proportion of our young people leave school with no passion for learning or future development. This is the challenge of the leader who sits down to write an application for headship, departmental leadership of their first teaching post this weekend!!