Full breathing apparatus on? Right Mrs Jones, which tree is Tiddles in?

My latest blog has been prompted by a series of coincidental encounters this week – not involving cats, but information technology in schools.

As a Trust, we’re looking at our over-arching strategic plan for the next three years and, as you may anticipate, technological change and the opportunities and challenges it brings to our work in schools will feature.  We’re looking carefully at what cutting edge organisations are doing using information and communications technologies and trying to ascertain how we develop our infrastructure and approach to dovetail with our teaching and learning philosophy.

We’ve also been looking closely at the Education Endowment Foundation research on meta-cognition and deliberating how we teach children how to learn more effectively, and clearly information technology can have a part to play in this.

Also this week, I saw a school proudly claim in the media that they’re continuing to issue all their many hundreds of students with tablet devices for use in “all their lessons”.

I’m not particularly ‘tech savvy’, but this school’s approach for me carries risk. Not the logistical issues (lost, damaged or stolen tablets, misuse during lessons, upgrades and recharging etc.) as these can arguably be overcome, or at least mitigated – but the educational risks. At a time when funding is tight, I can envisage the strong encouragement of use of such devices – even when they may not be the best resource to deliver the learning objectives the teacher intends.  The effectiveness of such an approach must be demonstrated in what additionality such technology brings: can it result in children knowing more, being able to do more, understanding more and engaging in learning more?  The answer to all these questions is, sometimes, a resounding “yes”. But sometimes it isn’t.

CEO-Blog-May2018-2It’s no more logical to suggest that pupils – of any age or ability – should use a specific piece of technology as a matter of routine than it is to argue that a firefighter should wear all their rescue gear to get to a marooned cat.  Indeed, as with the firefighter’s breathing apparatus, oxygen tank, mask, visor and axe when scaling a tree, inappropriate use of technology is worse than useless – it’s an encumbrance that makes the process of learning more difficult.  Justification that the firefighter equipment has been bought so must be used would, rightly, be viewed as ridiculous. And yet we still witness schools pursue such a strategy when, crucially, the impact on the achievements of their pupils isn’t at all visible.

Of course, there are superb examples of schools where technology is used creatively and intelligently to drive forward learning, engagement, and – topically – metacognition. It is to these schools we should all look when shaping our own future.  My experience of such schools is that their ‘magic bullet’ is not the technology, but the teaching, learning and leadership culture within which it is deployed.

So, within our Strategic Plan we will be giving due consideration to the appropriate use of technologies to help our children learn, but framed within our approach to teaching, learning and leadership.  That’s the way it should be.

Thanks for reading.



“Interim CEO Review”: Four things I’ve learned from five schools in six months

March is typically the time where we undertake interim reviews for teachers in schools, it being at that mid-point in the academic year between our starting point in September and the end of the summer in August. In that context, I wanted to share with you a few of my thoughts now that I’ve been exclusively CEO of John Taylor Multi-Academy Trust, no longer leading a school of my own, for six months. This is, in effect, my own interim review.

It’s a privilege to help create a new learning community: Remember that – every day.

One of the areas in which I try to serve our schools is through taking some of the encumbrances that would otherwise divert them and their leaders from working with children and their families. However, in what is at times a snowstorm of compliance documents, audit schedules and statutory reports, it could be easy to lose sight of the potential power of the collaborations that are evolving to improve provision for and outcomes of our schools’ children. To be at the heart of that is a great privilege, and a great responsibility. Working with colleagues across schools on areas that directly relate to improving the learning experiences of our children is always a highlight for me. On Wednesday we have a session to develop our work with disadvantaged pupils, which I’m looking forward to immensely.

Moving from being a pilot to being air traffic controller isn’t always easy!

As a practising Head, it was more straightforward to work alongside counterparts in other schools in the Trust, as we had shared experiences each day, each term. My role was previously perhaps that of the ‘squadron leader’ who gives some direction to others in the aerobatic display team and flies alongside them. Now, at times, I may feel ‘grounded’ – but I recognise my role is now to assist the fliers through support and encouragement, with the occasional advice about turbulence that may buffet them. I listen as much as I talk, however – recognising and respecting that they’re the ones in the air! I’m reminded of the adage that “leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” Radio silence is very dangerous!


See working directly alongside fewer colleagues as an opportunity to forge deeper relationships.

There is something wonderfully collegiate about school leadership, where one works alongside a diversity of individuals and teams in a clear and compelling undertaking. Stepping away from leading a school of almost two hundred teaching and support staff, fifteen hundred young people and their parents, numerous governors and supportive community groups to a central Trust team and school senior leaders that is far smaller carries with it mixed emotions. In the last few months, I’ve been able to “flip it” and look at the opportunity to work very closely with fewer colleagues as a real blessing – and I’m learning a huge amount about those great people, about leadership and development, and about me.

Finding ways to share our work with colleagues across the wider system is exciting.

In recent weeks, I’ve undertaken Pupil Premium Reviews at primary and secondary schools across the region (from Belper to Walsall), presented to aspiring CEOs at a regional event in Crewe and facilitated a morning workshop for middle leaders from several schools in Birmingham. Not only do these sessions bring revenue and new learning into the Trust, but they are a great opportunity to spread our reputation further afield, and create new collaborative networks. Having greater flexibility in my calendar enables this in a way that six months ago it couldn’t have been possible, or wouldn’t have been appropriate.

I hope you will excuse the arguably self-indulgent nature of the above reflections. My experience is that many of us who move from school leadership to a trust-wide role seek advice and sometimes validation from others who’ve taken a similar role. I know I’ve personally valued enormously the lessons I can learn from the generosity of those prepared to share their journey freely and candidly with me. If reading this helps anyone in any way, that’s great.

Thanks for reading.



Five Levels of Leadership

In my blog for this month, I wanted to share with you concepts from a book that I am currently re-reading.  Given that time at work is often lengthy, and time with family is precious, to devote time to reading is something I consciously have to commit to and, in that context, to “re-read” something is an indication that either (a) I feel I missed something first time around, (b) its contents need re-visiting in the light of the circumstances I am working in at that time or (c) both (a) and (b)!

I first read John Maxwell’s “Five Levels of Leadership” last year as I prepared to make the step away from direct school leadership in my capacity as Principal at John Taylor High School, and become exclusively CEO of John Taylor Multi-Academy Trust.  I’ve read one of his early works “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” and found it a valuable summary and guide, and so became drawn to this book as it seemed to chime with my situation.

Below you can see the five levels:

Maxwell profiles the opportunities, skills sets, and drawbacks of operating on each level, and enables the reader to self- and peer-assess where they reside within the hierarchy.  As I reflected on this personally, there was also an inescapable need to consider the leaders I have worked for and alongside – from the truly inspirational to the utterly positional!

In a survey conducted several years ago, Hay McBer indicated that school leadership was attributable for 81% of a school’s success or otherwise.  With it being of such importance, we all owe it to our schools and their communities to be the best we can be, and encourage others to be the best they can be too.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in charting their own leadership journey – past, present and future – and to all who see leadership, as Maxwell describes it, as “an opportunity to serve, as opposed to turf to be guarded.”

Thanks for reading.