Of Boxing Binmen, Business Leaders and Brilliant Secretaries of State

Today, I attended a really excellent Teaching and Learning event, organised by CIty of Leicester School Improvement Service. Alistair Smith was in fine form with an opening address on expertise. Due to the good offices of my old and dear mate from teacher-training days, Chris Fallon, I was given an opportunity to officially “launch” theProgressive Awards… most apt, as the event was held at the National Space Centre!

I was also really privileged to be part of an expert panel that closed the event.

Estelle Morris, in my opinion, was one of the most respected SoS Education I think we have ever had. Why? Because she had taught! She knew and understood the challenges at the front line. She talked the language of the professional practitioner. She was an inspirational leader; she inspired good followership. Today, she spoke passionately about evidence-based practice… and, most importantly, the desparate need for evidence-based policy-making. Amen!

No less passionate in his views of education was Mike Kapur. He is one of these unstoppable executive dynamos with a social conscience who gives business and enterprise a good name. Not only involved in the leadership of the National Space Centre and the Leicester Sports Partnership Trust, he is also Chair of the CBI Enterprise forum. If his vision to get every business in the UK offering two week internships to school-age young people (note his choice of words…not work experience… internships), it would truly transform Careers Education for the good. I could talk to him about employability skills within the curriculum for hours… and probably will! (-:


And finally, one of Leicester’s homegrown finest, Rendall Munroe, the “Boxing Binman”, ex-British, Commonwealth and European super-bantamweight champion, who challenged for world titles… and still has the hunger to train hard, train harder, and go for glory once more. But a more self-effacing champion you could hardly meet: he is as proud of his work with disadvantaged youngsters in Leicester, and the fact that he only missed one day sick in eight years as a binman, as he is about his successes in the ring. A remarkable man.

A really enjoyable, thought-provoking and affirmative day: when teachers are left to their own devices, learning can lift off! Well done to Leicester City School Improvement Team for putting the event together at such a great venue.

Ken Robinson: How to Escape Education’s Death Valley

Yet again, another 20 minutes of brilliance from a gifted communicator and educator. Every time he talks, I find it inspirational, and it spurs me on to the possibilities of change.


If you haven’t got time to watch the whole clip, here are some jewels about diversity curiosity and creativity:

3′:30″ “human beings are naturally different and diverse… and education systems are based not on diversity but conformity… measured against a narrow set of standards…”

5′:00″ on ADHD “10% of kids being diagnosed. I don’t say there is no such thing. I do not think it is an epidemic…if you sit kids down hour after hour doing low grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they begin to fidget! Children are not suffering for the most part a psychological condition… they are suffering childhood”

6′:00 broad curriculum gives children a chance to prosper…

6′:25 “… if you light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn for themselves…”

7′:30″ “…education is about learning…”

8′:42″ “… the dominant culture in education today is not about ‘learning’, it is about ‘testing’… curiosity has been replaced by a culture of compliance…”

9’50” on creativity in schools …..”instead, we have a culture of standardisation…”

12′ 59″: it is the responsibility of the system to engage the learner…. not the learner’s responsibility to comply to the system

14’30”: system leadership is too much about “command and control“…. it should be about “climate control” (policy makers treating education like an industrial process)

16′ 30″ and finally, on the culture of schools and the excellent “Death Valley” metaphor



ken robinson

Creativity and Science- unleashing the artist in the geek, or the geek in the artist PART 1

I consider myself extremely lucky.

I have managed to combine a career in education with one in the performing arts. I have been a Head of Science and a Director of Music. Seeing education and learning from these two perspectives has really opened my eyes to the power and potential of a balanced and inter-connecting enquiry-based curriculum… compared to the damage that can be done through the current polemic based largely on the acquisition of knowledge into “silos” of academic subject-related content.

My music teaching benefited hugely from my experiences trying to introduce the first NC framework in Science in the eighties. Despite being an unworkable and over-prescriptive behemoth, it really did give me an understanding of the power of a well designed spiral curriculum, with knowledge and skills progressively building on knowledge and skills. Likewise, I tried to introduce as much creativity as I could into my science lessons.

I have always been concerned about problem solving in the school context. Most exercises, aimed at of course passing exams, are “closed” activities… variations on 1+1=2… even up to the highest routine cognitive activities within A-level Maths or Physics.

Real life seldom presents such order and predictability.

Within Music, “composition in context” is a form of open problem solving (for example,  creating a sound track for a silent video clip). This is a great example of 1 (compose soundtrack) + 1 (for a video clip) = anything you want it to be.

So in Science lessons, I did my best to create space for free thinking and creativity.

Two small examples: One day, one of the Year 10 students described how a carrier bag fell apart in the supermarket car park, and the chaos that ensued. This was the cue for two weeks of experiment design, investigation and exploration: “Which supermarket made the toughest carrier bags?” “How do we know?” “How could we test an hypothesis?” “What are the variables?” “How can we control the variables?”

On another occasion, in the period of revision leading up to the Year 11 final exams, we decided to design and create a range of active games to help the kinaesthetic learners in the group. It was absolutely wonderful seeing a group of 16 year olds from a challenging multi-cultural inner-city community, boys and girls, running around doing timed multiple choice science tests by trying to knock down skittles labelled A, B, C, D and E with footballs, hoops and hooks…. magic!

The creative element of both these activities, in a scientific context, involved setting problems without known answers. I had no idea what experiments the learners would come up with, given the limited range of science equipment available in the average school lab. I had no idea what games the Year 11 would come up with. But in devising the games, selecting the questions to revise and agreeing the answers, a lot of learning was happening, albeit obliquely. In devising the experiments, we also encountered and reflected upon materials,  elasticity and forces (although, for health and safety reasons, revolving 1 kg weights above your head on strips of plastic, faster and faster, until the plastic snapped did not get passed the scrutiny commission!).

There are rich rewards open to teachers and learners who work together, across the subject divides, to create new learning opportunities, drawing from their own subject knowledge and experiences, but open to the possibilities presented by other disciplines.

The 21st century is being defined not by the accumulation of knowledge, but by the creation of new knowledge. The geek and the artiste must unite!

A Brilliant Prezi from Andreas Schleicher

Sometimes you have to be patient, even on the internet.

This is a massive presentation, with graphics and embedded video…. lots of them.

So, click on the link, then go and make yourself a cup of tea… because it will take ages to load.

But when it does, you will truly be “scip”-ing 5 years into the future of education! The best bit of CPD I have had for ages!


Why Co-operation Over Competition?

Setting up a new business can be daunting, especially during the bleakness of a recession, a squeeze on public funding, and when entering a pretty crowded market place. For me, the key to the whole process was to be able to articulate clearly the values and principles I stand for, so that potential clients, customers and partners know what they were getting from me, and why.

The “C” in SCiP5 stands for Co-operation and Collaboration. At its most superficial and obvious level, any community needs to work together to achieve agreed goals and targets. For me, however, co-operation goes far deeper than that.

I have been appalled at the damage done by free market “triumphalism” throughout the course of human history. Unrestrained capitalism and “free enterprise” has given us the slave trade, the East India Company (exploiting the wealth of an entire continent for hundreds of years), HSBC (I believe set up originally to launder the money gained from selling opium to the Chinese), an unacceptable societal gap between the richest and the poorest (which continues to grow!), and yet another banking collapse and world recession that appears to be eclipsing the Great Depression of the thirties. The dead hand of communism has done little to rock my boat either!

And yet, a world movement has quietly grown, from humble beginnings in the nineteenth century, that is based on a set of values and principles that work at the micro and macro levels without modification or re-interpretation: at the micro-level, you can live your day-to-day existence comfortably within the parameters; at the macro level, you can turn over a trillion dollar business using exactly the same values set. Welcome to the world of co-operation.

Use the word “co-op”, and you will probably think immediately of supermarkets, chemists and getting buried! But what if I said that there are 1 billion cooperative members world-wide; that, in 2008, the world’s top 300 co-operatives had total revenues of $1.6 trillion; and that co-operative academies and co-operative trust schools have grown in number to over 400, making them the fastest-growing academy “chain” in England?!

I embrace willingly and passionately the values that underpin co-operative working:

  • Self-help
    Encouraging all within an organisation or community to help each other, by working together to gain mutual benefits. Helping people to help themselves.
  • Self-responsibility
    To take responsibility for, and answer to, our actions
  • Democracy
    To give our stakeholders a say in the way we run our school, our community or our business
  • Equality
    Equal rights and benefits according to their contribution
  • Equity
    Being fair and unbiased
  • Solidarity
    Supporting each other and those in other co-operatives.

Consistent with the values of the founders of the Co-operative Movement, I believe in the ethical values of:

  • Openness
  • Honesty
  • Social responsibility
  • Caring for others

I like to be enterprising: but I like moral limits in the market place. I see nothing wrong with making profit, so long as it is ethically sound, it supports fair trading, and that excessive profit doesn’t cause excessive loss to someone (down the production chain) or something (like the planet). And I feel strongly that our global future depends on young people emerging from an education process that prepares them for more enlightened times.

You have to start somewhere… even at 55!