New terms, new children, new schools – and old chairs!

The first week of the new academic year is always an exciting time, as we welcome new children and staff to our schools and look forward to the implementation of the plans and strategies that we have committed to in order to see further improvement to, and within, our schools.

2018/19 has been particularly special, as it has seen the opening of a brand-new school within the Trust (John Taylor Free School) and the re-location of myself and my team to the new building.  The excitement amongst staff and children at the new school was palpable – and contagious.  Looking smart, behaving impeccably, and embracing exciting opportunities to learn and play together, the children left on Friday tired but exhilarated. I know this scene was replicated across all our schools.

Welcoming new staff, and welcoming back existing ones, is always a pleasure.  Last week, I spent some time with our trainee teachers in the Teaching School Training Centre, and also visited colleagues at five of our schools.  On Monday (10th September), the Trust is hosting an informal get-together for staff new to JTMAT, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know some of our new colleagues a little better.

For this month’s blog, I wanted to share with you one of the messages that I delivered to school staff last week.  I recently read “Thinking for a Change” by John C Maxwell, and one of the analogies he used I felt was particularly resonant at the start of the school year.

Maxwell refers to the “old chair” that we all have in our thinking.  Once it was new, maybe even innovative.  Over the years, it has become more and more comfortable – a fixture and fitting of our lives – as it becomes moulded to our individual shape.  It’s cosy, familiar, and something we’re very fond of.  But to outside eyes, it may look shabby, and appear antiquated. Moreover, it will have lost the support and upholstery that it once had. In short, continuing to enjoy and experience it may be quite bad for us.


The challenge of such “old chairs” is that they can be hard to get rid of – or even think to re-upholster – because of the familiarity and even affection with which we hold them. But the longer we do nothing, the more our posture will suffer.

Working with amazing staff in great schools with excellent outcomes is a privilege and a joy.  But we all need to think about the “old chairs” in our mentalities, ensuring that our hunger for growth, creativity, innovation, and excellence compels us to look with fresh eyes at our practice – and regularly. Even colleagues new to teaching have their “old chairs” – and I certainly have mine.  We all do.  Recognising this reality is the first step towards ensuring we don’t slump into them!

Thanks for reading.



End of Year Report

For this, my final, blog of 2017/18 I would like to do two things: update readers about the progress we’ve made as a Trust this academic year, and share with you my thoughts as we move into the summer break.

This year has seen the Trust grow, both in terms of its breath and its depth. We have seen four primary schools join the Trust this academic year: Rykneld Primary (in November 2017), Shobnall Primary (June 2018), Winshill Village Primary and The Mosley Academy (both July 2018). In addition, we’ve seen the development of John Taylor Free School from a shell of a site at the start of the academic year into an over-subscribed, fully-staffed school with a character and ethos that belies its youthful status.

2018/19 promises further growth – with three local primaries set to join us before the end of the calendar year, and the development of a further free school, this time a primary school with a nursery, at Fradley Park.

But beyond breadth, our Trust grows deeper – as collaborations and networks develop. We’ve seen our safeguarding leads meet regularly, our business managers, our clerks to governing bodies, our SENCOs. I’m privileged to chair our Executive Group of Heads and other senior colleagues, and was so proud to see over 70 governor colleagues attend our annual governance conference only last week.

Our Trust is built on quality, and generosity. In times when resources can be in scarce supply, knowing that there are great teachers, leaders, support and administrative staff, governors and Trust directors, who work hard, work well, and work together – within and across our schools – is hugely rewarding and deeply humbling. As we move into the summer break, I want to thank them all for their support. It is they who move our Trust ever-closer to our vision of providing the absolute best for the children, families and communities we serve.

My final note is to those children. I was stirred during the recent World Cup, amidst all the excitement and enthusiasm, by this image:


The photograph (above) is of Kylian Mbappe, one of the great stars of the cup-winning French team and winner of the award for the best young player of the tournament, aged 14 in his bedroom. As you can see, it is adorned with posters of his idol – Cristiano Ronaldo.

Five years later, Mbappe is a World Cup winner, and the first teenager to score a goal in a World Cup Final since Pele (see below).


Back in his home district of Bondy, just 10km from the Stade de France, but a world away in terms of its levels of disadvantage, Mbappe has donated his World Cup winnings to a charity that develops sporting opportunities for young and disabled people in the area. There is a French mountaineering expression (that I hadn’t heard until recently) of the “premiers de cordee” – the one in front of us who brings us all to the top. This is a role that Mbappe has seen fit to undertake – much to his credit.

It’s a great message to close the year on for our children: First, dreams really can come true for those with the talent, ability to learn, attitude and support. Second, that our responsibility to help others achieve their dreams should come as an unquestionable consequence of the fulfilment of our own. It chimes with our own vision: “We believe in the power of education to improve lives – and the world.”

Have a great summer.

Thank you for reading.



“Getting the best out of everyone.” – JTMAT Governance Conference 2018

As we approach the end of the academic year, I look forward to our annual JTMAT Governance Conference.  This annual event is a great opportunity for many of our colleagues from local governing bodies across all our schools to meet, share, and learn together.  We have benefitted from the generosity of insightful and expert speakers – giving their time freely – on a range of matters as diverse as the strategic direction of the system in the region (from a Regional School Commissioner perspective), through working with a Teaching School to risk management strategies.

This year, our theme is “Getting the best out of everyone.”  We will be hearing from a MAT CEO who has developed workload mitigation strategies for her staff, recognised by the Department for Education.  We’ll be listening to presentations about ensuring Pupil Premium funding is spent effectively to make a difference to children who need additional support to overcome disadvantages, and we’ll be developing our skills of data analysis to ensure that no child, or group of children, is left behind. I’m really looking forward to the day.

You may well have read the Secretary of State’s speech recently about the importance of great governance.  If you missed it, there’s a link to it here:

He drew to a close with the phrase, “Without you, our schools simply wouldn’t run.”  I firmly agree with him.  Within JTMAT, in addition to the annual conference, we try and support good governance through a variety of mechanisms.  We have a governance portal that is a valuable repository for resources, contains links to sources of support, and an excellent way to view agendas, minutes and meeting papers.  We have a Clerk’s Forum in which our clerks can meet and discuss best practice, supporting one another. We have committed to providing governor training via the National Forest Teaching School free of charge for all who want it.

JTMAT Governance Portal

As we’re mid-way through the World Cup, I’ll close with a football analogy. Perhaps governing bodies are like football referees: the best ones don’t interrupt play unnecessarily, know the laws of the game and interpret them wisely and consistently without fear or favour, and seek only the best outcome from others.  Like referees, sometimes the great governors and governing bodies go unnoticed a great deal more than the bad ones!  So, here’s a great big “Thank you!” to our governors, and for the time and expertise they give freely and selflessly.  “Without you, our schools wouldn’t run.”

Thanks for reading.