‘Here comes the sun…’

Wow…it’s already June and almost the end of another half term break. Just half a term left until summer holidays and I will have been at BCET for 18 months. It feels like much longer! Before starting this blog, I made a list of all the things that have happened since my last post in January. It’s a long list. Through necessity, I have spent the majority of the last 5 months being based at one of our schools and have supported the other school one day a week on site and the rest of the time, from a distance. Elton Primary is doing just fine. The improvements that have happened since January 2017 are incredible and so are the team there. We’ve transformed the curriculum, assessment, many of the teachers have been new to us and everyone has pulled together to create a more driven, focussed and inclusive ethos. The school has had two successful OFSTED section 8 visits and we are cautiously optimistic about this summer’s data. Here comes the sun……..

Most of my time physically has been spent leading at Radcliffe Primary since January. It’s a very different school to Elton on the whole, serving a statistically more socially deprived context. Prior to last October, I didn’t visit Radcliffe as often as I visited Elton. Elton was (and is) in special measures with a new leadership team and on paper, in greater need of my support. I was there nearly every day and at least 3 times per week. I know the school really well! Radcliffe had a more experienced head and had been on its improvement journey for longer than I had been in post.

Beyond the stats, improvement reports and conversations during the previous 9 months with the then head, I didn’t know Radcliffe as well as I knew Elton. Nor had I needed to. As a CEO or as anyone in an executive capacity, it isn’t possible to know every finer detail of every school in the family and nor should we: we need to trust others to lead. However, necessity has meant that I needed to get to know the school in much more detail, very quickly and the benefit of my role was that I was able to step in quickly to support when it was needed.

I am aware of several MATS nationally where this has happened and it’s one of the arguments for having a CEO who comes from an educational/headship background. We are all working in an extremely pressured and fast-paced environment, the challenges of leadership are huge, there is a national shortage of heads and the resignation period for a head is three or four months! So its not surprising that schools sometimes find themselves suddenly without a leader and in need of a contingency.

My time leading there has been brilliant. Challenging and emotional sometimes, but brilliant and it has been such a valuable experience getting to know the school more thoroughly which I know will benefit our MAT once we start to grow.

Here are just a few of the things that have happened at Radcliffe since January:

-we’ve opened and began to develop a Nurture Unit. Some children in the unit stay there for all of their time in school. Others are re-integrated for certain lessons, this being our overall ultimate aim for them all. Many of our children have huge SEMH needs which simply can’t be met elsewhere because of lack of funding and massive strains on other services. If we don’t do something about this, many of them simply aren’t ready to learn.

-we have refined our approach to supporting positive behaviour which has included the introduction of an SLT ‘on call’ system in order to better support our children and our teachers. We now have a ‘Bat ‘phone’ and a ‘Robin ‘phone’…..and here’s the icon from the SLT WhatsApp group….


-we’ve introduced a mastery approach to the maths curriculum led by two members of staff who are taking part in a three year maths TRG (teacher research group) programme. This has included inviting teachers from several other local schools to come and observe the mastery approach being taught at Radcliffe.

-we’ve introduced George, our therapy dog to school……here’s a link to his stardom in Schools Week!

–we’ve opened a school book shop which is run by our Learning Ambassadors. Thanks to the DFE consultant who gave us the idea! All books donated or bought from charity shops; all sold in school for £1 and swapped free of charge if returned. There is already a very strong culture of reading in the school, so this is just a little bit extra.

-we’ve sent one of the Assistant Heads at Radcliffe to spend her half term in Malawi teaching Computing to young people who don’t even have electricity most of the time. When I say ‘sent’, she did actually want to go! When we return to school next week, she’ll still be there and her Year 6 class will be excitedly awaiting her Skype calls! I agreed to support her request to go on this visit because it’s her passion; it’s brought another global perspective to school for our children and I know she’ll come back invigorated (after a little bit of sleep!) and this will have huge benefits for her and for our organisation. The school also fund-raised to support her trip, meaning the children got to learn about others in the world who have less than they do.

SJ Malawi

At both schools:

-we’ve galvanised and further developed the assessment of foundation subjects through several staff meetings and by giving subject leaders the opportunity to gather evidence about their individual subject which is then informing action plans and next steps

-the leadership teams from both schools visited ResearchEd in Birmingham which has led to a tangible difference in our approach to assessment……and…..

-we’ve thrown away our marking policy! At both schools! Yes you read that correctly, we’ve joined that revolution and we don’t formally mark books any more in our schools. We do give effective, reflective feedback to children and we do TEACH our children by finding out what gaps they have (by testing, talking and observing) and how to move them on, but we don’t waste our time by writing ‘VF’ or highlighting in pink and green. We are building on this next half term with the introduction of reflective learning journals for children. Win win…..supporting staff well-being and improving feedback and therefore learning for children.

-both schools are involved in leading and participating in peer reviews through a project led by the Education Development Trust and our local teaching schools.

Both of our schools have worked very hard in preparing children for end of phase assessments. We’re not embarrassed to say that yes, we have boosted and we did have an Easter revision school for Year 6 children at Radcliffe, which they loved, probably mainly because we gave them pizza and an inflatable to play on!

An Ofsted inspector said to me recently, ‘Ofsted inspections are not all about data, but we’re also not not about data.’ Spot on I’d say. We’re not daft, we know it counts and it counts more for us than for some other schools this year, because Section 5 is on it’s way at both schools within the next 9 months. Obviously, we want our children to succeed and be ready for high school, we want it for them but it’s important for the whole school community too.

In both our schools, we are about to launch our long-awaited new catering provision which is, quite frankly, a revelation. Having sampled the menus, I can honestly say that I didn’t know school food could be this amazingly tasty whilst also being this healthy. It trumps anything I have ever tasted in primary or secondary in 23 years of working in schools. Our kitchen team are going to be working in-house for us with the support of Caterlink. The health benefits to the children (and staff) will be huge and as research suggests that healthier food and body=healthier minds, I am hoping the knock effects in concentration and learning gains will also be evident.


So as I come to the end of my half term break, I am feeling rejuvenated, and positive about our future. Here are some quotes about Radcliffe Primary School from some of the parents in the most recent survey:

I have 2 kids there, one in year 5 and one in reception, its a fantastic school. They love school.

Its amazing. Pulled mine out of ???? school into Radcliffebest decision Ive ever made.

took my daughter out of ?????? school for here and she is so much happier! Such good staff.

Its an excellent school.

my son goes to this school and he loves it100% rate this school.

its brilliant. Provision is excellent.

moved my daughter..to Radcliffe Primary.she has come on leaps and boundsshe had little confidence and very few friends.she has now made a lovely bunch of friends and her confidence has soared.

our daughter is in Reception. It isnt the closest to where we live but it was our first choice.great school and staff.

fantastic school, teachers are extremely approachable and they were excellent with my son who has autism..their breakfast and after school clubs are wonderful.

I have found it to be a brilliant school and I travel about an hour each morning just to get there.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.

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Don’t Stop Believin’

This is a very quick update blog in relation to my last one about our staff training day. At 6am this morning, I decided to update my presentation and key messages……updated version is here: 2nd January 2018 1

The morning was even better than I had hoped and I feel so inspired by the people I am working with as another term/year begins. We discussed three questions:

Where do we want to be in a year’s time?

Why are we here? (why these schools, why this job??)

What influences a child’s character?

I asked staff to deliberately stay away from the ‘Ofsted’ word as I wanted them  to focus on what we need to do for our communities and not what we we need to do for an inspection!

The feedback was so inspiring. Every group wrote down that they are working here to ‘make a difference.’ Staff fed back that they are invested in making sure that our schools remain firmly on the path to improvement.

We ended our morning  by watching a pep talk from Kid President!

So after feeling like 2nd January was way too early to be returning to school, I ended the day feeling excited about starting a new term. Don’t Stop Believin’ people.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T….find out what it means to me……

So this is my first blog post in some months. It’s been an interesting few months for me and our organisation. I have written quite a bit in the past year about Character Education and the importance of teaching children resilience in the face of disaster or even just mild set backs. My own professional life has taken a fair few unexpected twists and turns over my 23 years in teaching-who knew a Music graduate could move from secondary music/drama teacher to primary school headteacher and then CEO of a MAT?? Certainly not me. And just when you think you’ve got things all worked out is when life gives you even more challenges to face! The past few months have been no different and have seen me stepping into areas of my job that I (foolishly!) thought I had left behind.

But I have to say I have loved it. Just before we broke for the holidays, I visited one of the schools in our MAT and someone commented to me that I had a new spring in my step; a new brightness. Perhaps I’ve missed some of the aspects of being a headteacher more than I thought I would.

With a little time to reflect during these holidays, and a presentation to prepare for the staff training day on the 2nd January , I have been researching and thinking more about Character Education and in particular the new curriculum that we introduced into our schools last Easter.

With everything in life, I believe it’s important to reflect and evaluate. Is it working? How do we know? Where and what is the impact? I started with thinking about why we are doing the curriculum in the first place.

Character Education is not new; it’s ancient. And everything we do as teachers is about teaching ‘character’ and preparing children to be functioning, contributing and happy members of our society. Over the decades, Character Education has been ‘added on’ in schools in many different ways. Some examples:

1) Cheerleading: multicoloured posters, banners, and bulletin boards featuring a value or virtue of the month; motivational assemblies.

2) Praise-and-reward approach seeks to make virtue into habit using “positive reinforcement”. Elements include “catching students being good” and praising them or giving them ‘chits’ that can be exchanged for privileges or prizes.

3) Define-and-drill calls on students to memorise a list of values and the definition of each.

4) Forced-formality focuses on strict, uniform compliance with specific rules of conduct, (i.e., walking in lines, arms at one’s sides), or formal forms of address (“yes sir,” “no miss”), or other procedures deemed to promote order or respect of adults.

Nothing wrong in principle with any of these approaches. But consider this:

Dr Marvin Berkowitz (1997) claims that: “Effective character education is not adding a program or set of programs to a school. Rather it is a transformation of the culture and life of the school.”

This is nothing new either. In any organisation, if we want to promote a certain philosophy or set of values, it’s all about culture change. And that starts with people. And that can take time. But if the people are right and the leadership is right (I self-reflect on this all the time) then the culture will follow.

The way that we approach Character Education at BCET is not as an add on. It’s a culture. In our teaching, we focus on inspirational figures from history or fiction and we use their experiences to teach not only character but also the knowledge-based curriculum. So-children learn about Sir Ralph Fiennes and Amelia Earhart. Then to introduce some fun and practical application, we create physical challenges in a PE based environment that requires our pupils to work in teams to solve problems based on the acronym RESPECT: Resilience; Empathy; Self-awareness; Perseverance; Excellence; Collaboration; Teamwork.

But it goes much further than this. We have children in our schools who are facing extremely challenging life situations every day. Poverty. Parents with mental health challenges. Inadequate housing. English as an additional language. Children living in care. Some of our chidren can’t even begin to access the knowledge based curriculum and they can’t participate in whole class sessions at all.

Four weeks ago, in one of our schools, we took a bold decision to open and develop our own Nurture Unit. It’s something I have been thinking of doing for several months now in response to an increasing lack of capacity in local support for ‘special education.’ The decision was finally made after I decided to spend a morning in one of the key stage 2 classes last term. I sat and observed as the class teacher taught her class in two distinct halves. One half (approx. 22 children) worked and learned quickly and ‘on task’; interacting with the teacher when asked and progressing through the planned activities.

The other ‘half’ involved 4 children, each with an assigned adult, working through  individualised programmes of learning, each at their own desk. Two of these children have spent time in a PRU and are being ‘reintegrated’ back into mainstream education. The other two have very specific additional learning needs and can in no way access their age-appropriate curriculum. I watched as two of these children regularly cried out, left the classroom and disrupted the learning of the other children (though the other children remained very focussed!). These disruptions were not ‘bad behaviour’, rather an expression of the deep social and emotional needs of these individuals. Nonetheless, it was still a stressful and challenging environment for all involved and not ideal for anyone in that classroom.

At the end of the lesson, I said to the teacher, ‘I don’t know how you keep coming to work every day.’ The clockwork timing necessary just to get through an hour of the morning was phenomenal. Just one small deviation from the plan was enough to further upset the children with additional needs.

It was clear that they, the teacher and the rest of the class needed something different. The following day I asked the SENco to ring a local PRU to ask for their help to set up our own Nurture Unit.

Fortunately for us, we did already have a good space to start with and two very knowledgeable, well trained members of staff-they just needed to be given the go ahead to do it! After two days of moving furniture around and pinching resources from around the school, they made a start. First day: three pupils spent their day in The Den. They followed a programme that combined learning with such simple activities as sitting at a table together to eat their morning snack. Result: a massive reduction in the number of incidents of crying out or going ‘into crisis’. We haven’t looked back since.

We’ve got more work to do but we have to make it work. And we will make it work.

So Character Education for the children in our Nurture Unit is not necessarily different to what it is for the rest of the mainstream school but it is being delivered in a totally different way that still subscribes to our philosophy.

And I believe that this is the key to Character Education: it needs to be adaptable. We need to hold true to our principles and philosophy but adapt to the needs of our children.  That’s why we need to be a research based organisation so that we can keep responding to the incredibly challenging and complex social needs of our children. That’s why our teachers are so talented and why we need to keep investing in them. That’s why we need morally responsible and accountable leaders.

When I present to the staff next Tuesday I will be mentioning OFSTED because both schools will be inspected under Section 5 next autumn term and we have to be realistic and prepared for this. I don’t dislike OFSTED-I understand how necessary it is. I do think leaders misinterpret what OFSTED want us to do in our schools and this can lead to unnecessary stress and pressure. School improvement is a journey and it never ends. We should always be striving for improvement in the light of reflection about what has gone well and what hasn’t. This approach has always worked for me in my many experiences with OFSTED inspections. This is what I want our leaders and school communities to focus on being during 2018:

  • Well trained (the responsibility for this lies with leaders and with each individual member of staff)
  • Research based (see above)
  • Reflective (you get the idea….!)
  • Honest
  • Consistent
  • Realistic
  • Morally accountable
  • Pragmatic…doing what is right for our unique communities

If we follow these principles, I think we will continue to move in the right direction. And we’ll continue to create a culture of character development for all. Here is my presentation for the training day:

Staff trainng day Jan 2nd 2018





‘The times they are a changin’

This is a quick blog that I’m writing in a service station on my way back from a conference whilst waiting for tea time traffic to pass! There may be spelling mistakes! I wanted to write about all the fantastic improvements that are taking place in one of our schools, Radcliffe PrimaryThe school has been on quite a journey over the past two years and I’ve only been involved with them since January. Even so, I can see so much change and improvement that is going to ultimately impact on life chances for children in the school. It’s exciting stuff!

The changes in both of our schools right now are tangible and it’s so exciting! The pictures above are of the new mirrors installed on the corridors at Radcliffe Primary School this week. This goes hand in hand with their new uniform which launched in September! It’s purple and now includes shirts and ties. I know there is a philosophy out there which says that how you dress doesn’t impact your attitude to learning/working but we don’t agree! The children love their new uniform and now they have mirrors, they can make sure they always look smart! 


They also have a brand new logo which was designed by a pupil and perfectly sums up the school’s philosophy:

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Our new Character Curriculum is now in full swing at both schools across key stage 1 and 2. Here are Year 3 at Radcliffe Primary completing their mission to cross the fast flowing river as part of their learning about Bear Grylls:

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And here are Year 1 trying to escape from the Gruffalo!

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Visiting and spending time with the children at Radcliffe is a joy and the atmosphere throughout the school is one of purposeful learning. The staff team has created this led by their inspirational headteacher. One of the things that is contributing to their improvement is the willingness of staff to continue learning. Tomorrow, the headteacher and one of the AHTs are attending @LeadLearnLancs and we are planning a Trust leadership visit to #readingrocks18! We are all learning constantly in order to keep things fresh for our children and the staff teams we lead. One of our Trust values is to always keep learning, keeping ourselves at the forefront of new and exciting educational research.

Another change at Radcliffe this term (and in fact, both of our schools) has been the introduction of a new behaviour policy. For a few months we had been trying to articulate our approach to behaviour management and then Radcliffe’s head read Paul Dix’s book, ‘When the adults change, everything changes.’ The five pillars of Paul’s behaviour approach are:

  1. Consistent, calm adult behaviour
  2. First attention for best conduct
  3. Relentless routines
  4. Scripting difficult interventions
  5. Restorative follow up

Simple isn’t it?! Radcliffe and Elton primary have now adopted this approach with specific intervention scripts that every adult in the school is using consistently-the key with any behaviour approach of course. Their new behaviour mantra for all children (which is displayed throughout the school) is Ready, Respectful, Safe. When I was at Radcliffe earlier in the week, I walked down the corridor behind two year 1 girls. One of them pointed to the ‘Ready, Respectful, Safe’ poster and turned to the other, saying, ‘I’m ready and respectful today!’ A lovely moment and only me to hear it-I felt very privileged!

The times are a changin’ at this school and I feel so proud to be associated with it and it’s improvement journey. 

Here are Radcliffe Primary’s values champions of the week having their #hotchocFriday with the HT this afternoon. They look like they’re enjoying themselves! 

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‘Born this way…..’

Male makeup

This post is dedicated to my brilliant little sister who is a secondary science teacher. She is much much cleverer than I am and I’m very proud of her. Whereas I went off to university to do a music degree,  spending my days marvelling at music of the post-war avant garde, flouncing around in long dresses with beads in my hair, playing guitar in a rock band and setting Denise Levertov poems to music to be performed by my peers, she went off to study something useful-genetics. She got a first and then did her PHD.

My sis is ten years younger than I am and gave birth to my gorgeous niece in December 2016. My brother in law is also a scientist-I don’t really know what his job is but I know its important and he’s good at it! They talk about science quite a bit and I don’t understand it all-most of it! But-last week, at a family BBQ, they asked if we had watched ‘No More Boys and Girls’. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a fascinating watch. I won’t spoil it for you but here’s a link to a review from the Telegraph: No More Boy and Girls. The basic premise is that we still,  in 2017, encourage children to believe certain things about themselves and their potential, based on their gender. It’s quite a startling watch and it really made me think. It also provoked a lot of family discussion about the way we were all brought up (me, my sis and my middle child brother) and if we were unwittingly encouraged to have gender biased beliefs.

My mum and I strongly argued that I had liked pretty dresses from virtually day 1 (46 years later and I still get very excited about new clothes and high heels!) and flouncy poetry whereas my sister had never been as bothered. Sis made the point that as eldest child, I was mostly influenced by my mum, whereas she had the additional older male role model of my brother who insisted she learn how to defend herself from a young age! (My brother is SUPER strong and knows martial arts!)

The interesting thing for me is that my mum always told us we could do anything we wanted to do in terms of our life’s achievements. She didn’t place any gender bias on it as far as I can remember. But-I know I thought I was rubbish at maths and science and I’m now ashamed to say I was almost proud of this. I even remember announcing that I would ‘get the boys to do my science experiments for me.’ I’m blushing as I write that now. But at the age of 12, in 1983 I thought it was hilarious, and unimportant that I didn’t enjoy science or PE.

I was good at English and Music. I played 5 instruments and all of my extra-curricular time was used playing/singing in bands, orchestras and choirs. I was a little bit famous in school for playing an unusual Chinese instrument called a Yang Qin which my music teacher brought back from his travels. We had an alternative ensemble that played music from all over the world and excitingly, we got to perform at the South Bank one summer amongst many other places. I was a member of Oldham Music Centre at the weekends, playing in the orchestra, the swing band and the early music ensemble. I liked being good at music and English and no-one emphasised the need for me to be as good at anything else once that was established and it was established from the age of 8.

Now, I know I was considered to be quite academic at school. I’m not being big headed-I worked really hard, to the point of obsession sometimes and I had a near photographic memory. But-I didn’t enjoy maths and science, particularly science and I know I thought it was a ‘boy’s subject.’  I don’t know where that attitude came from but as mentioned above, I was embarrassingly dismissive of it.

My sister is ten years younger than I am, as I have said. And she went to a different high school. She started high school as I was finishing my music degree, in 1993. In what I can now recognise as a different era of education. She flourished and achieved more than I ever could academically. And she played the tenor horn as well as being a gifted scientist and mathematician! So did the teachers at her school use different language or have a different attitude to gender bias?! Was it something our mum said without realising? Or was it just the added male influence of my super-brother??

Of course, there could be so many reasons for our different leanings, not least, we were just born as different people with different personalities. As an aside, one of the interesting things is that we both became high school teachers in spite of our very different leanings at school, paths through education, ages and influences!

So what does this all mean for the children in our schools today? Well if this documentary is anything to go by, we still have much to do. It is frightening that one of the psychological tests used with the Year 3 children in this documentary concluded that, ‘Girls defined themselves by looks and underestimated their own intelligence. Boys were overconfident and had trouble expressing emotions except anger.’

Oh dear. I must admit I thought we’d come further than this. But it seems I was wrong. Obviously, this was one class in one school and the children were wonderful as was their teacher even when it was pointed out to him that he was subconsciously calling the girls ‘love’ and the boys ‘mate’.

It’s poignant and ironic that the children in this documentary were born in the year of the Equality Act 2010. Have we done enough to make children believe that it’s acceptable to be anything they want to be, whatever their gender? At BCET, we have included strong female and male role models in our new curriculum but is that enough? Are we all listening closely enough to our language and the messages we are giving children every day in school? This programme has made me think again and more deeply about what we are doing to ensure true equality of opportunity for all of the children in our schools.

In one of our schools, we have just appointed a male member of staff who is a ball room dancer and gymnast. I will be encouraging him to share this with the children in his class and beyond as a starting point. Who knows how many boys might want to give those things a go but think they are ‘just for girls’?! And linked to the issues of gender bias and equality, we have Stonewall training planned for all of the BCET staff this year. Another way of ensuring our language is correct and that we are influencing children without bias or judgement.

Our family discussion didn’t really have a conclusion but what I did learn from my sis and brother-in-law was that there is no difference in female and male brains from a very early age. They have the same potential to be mechanics; doctors; dancers, scientists, engineers and even musicians! Yes, there is a large element of ‘nature’ but we could be doing much more to make it ok and acceptable for all boys to express emotions other than anger, and for all girls to be the best at physical strength tests. If that’s what they want. Without feeling embarrassed.

My 9 month old niece will start high school in 2028 and I wonder where this debate will be by then. I wonder how she’ll develop and what her ‘leanings’ will be given the wide ranging and diverse influences in her life. My sister and her hubby are heavy metal/rock fans and my niece’s favourite song is already ‘Place Your Hands’ by Reef. Great song. But my husband and I are determined to get her into boy bands in order to re-dress the balance. Poor girl.

All I can say is, I hope her teachers don’t underestimate her potential to be anything she wants to be.








‘You were workin’ as a waitress in a cocktail bar……..’

IMG_8343So, this is one of the views I was enjoying a couple of weeks ago, on my idyllic and much-needed trip to Greece. I have to confess that I spent just over a fortnight reading (non-educational) books; jumping in the sea; lying on various beaches; driving a boat; diving off a boat; stand-up paddling and drinking a few cocktails. Apart from a mildly painful encounter with a jellyfish whilst out in open water, it was a wonderful trip and a reminder that whilst I love my work, I also love: ice cream; sunshine; sleeping; the sea; swimming; frappes; cheese; oh and I remembered that my husband is actually really lovely too when we’ve got time to talk to each other!

As I think a lot of people do whilst on holiday, we got into a bit of a daily routine. Part of this was to end up each afternoon, after wherever we’d been that day and before going back to our apartment to change, at a little roof top bar overlooking the harbour. It was here that we met a very upbeat young Greek girl who told us that she was home for the summer, from university where she is studying Biology.  She’s working there in the bar and the restaurant attached. She was incredibly good at her job: extremely personable, extremely efficient and working noticeably harder than all of her fellow young waiters.

We asked her what she wanted to do after university and she replied that she didn’t know yet because there are so many possibilities. Then we asked her why she was working in the bar/restaurant and as well as saying that she needed the money, she said that she thought it would enhance her skills and make her more employable. Wow. As you can imagine, as two people who do quite a bit of interviewing as part of our professions, this impressed us. It’s also what we’re always saying to our 19 year old son and what I always used to say to sixth formers….employers want employees who are enthusiastic, personable and have a strong work ethic. Apart from the obvious vocations, in most roles, you can learn the rest. Being able to demonstrate that you have had vocational experience of any sort is always an advantage in my opinion. It shows that you have those qualities.

Personally, I loved my holiday jobs as a student. I worked every holiday during my 4 years at university. My jobs were: clothes shop assistant; petrol station attendant (night shift); bar worker; cleaner; factory worker. Some of those jobs I enjoyed more than others but I always enjoyed the sense of independence working gave me. And I’m really proud to be able to say that after the age of 15, my parents gave me nothing apart from food and a roof over my head during the holidays. I moved out at age 18 and never went back permanently. After my ‘A’ levels, I travelled (by coach!) from Oldham to Cap-Ferret in the South of France, with my best friend on a ticket that cost us £100 each! We lived on bread and cheese for 6 weeks and slept in a play tent I had nicked from my brother! But boy did we have a fantastic time. I saved up for that ticket and my spending money by teaching guitar lessons in my mum’s front room and by busking in local shopping centres, with my younger brother as a body guard!

By the time I went to uni, my parents were divorced and I qualified for a full grant; all my tuition was paid for and I took all the student loans. By the way, only now my own son is at university do I appreciate how lucky I was and worry a lot about those young people from lower income families who simply can’t afford to go to uni unless they get work as well.

Having said that, university is definitely not for everyone. I am a strong advocate for apprenticeships and I also believe that many young people go to to university because they don’t know what else to do then end up with a degree that is no use to them.

When I worked in Sixth Forms, we spent a lot of time going into other high schools, talking to year 9 and 10 pupils about higher education and trying to convince them to come to our sixth form. But is Year 9 early enough? More and more primary schools are realising that children need to be made aware of their educational possibilities at this much younger age. And-they need to know that university is only one option. The world of work can be an exciting one so how are we opening up this world to our primary age pupils?

As I’ve written about many times before, we are teaching the children in our Trust about character traits through our new Character Curriculum, skilling them up so that they can adapt to change and cope with the myriad of challenges that life will undoubtedly throw at them. But in September, we are going to start to tap into the expertise provided by our sponsor in a much bigger way. Our sponsor is Bury College, one of the largest further and higher educational colleges in the country. They have exceptional facilities and we have access to their support as members of our Trust.

So-we are going to be developing a programme of visits and activities which open up this world to the children in our Trust. We want them and their parents to begin to feel informed about their future choices. But more than this, we want the College to begin to have a much more integrated role within our Trust because it’s something very unique. We already have a number of young people from the college volunteering and completing voc ed placements and apprenticeships in our schools but we want to make their role much more high profile. Another advantage of this is teaching our children the value of a strong work ethic, something that for me, goes way above and beyond any other skill an employee can have. I would much rather have someone on my team who is willing to work hard and listen to (and act upon) constructive feedback, than someone who may be well qualified, but who is unwilling to adapt, work as a team,  and learn new ways of doing things.

So-whilst I get used to the summer rain again, I’m thinking of my lovely Greek holiday and that hard-working lass who is probably waiting tables with a smile right now.  With her work ethic and experience of the world of work,  I suspect she will have the world at her feet whatever she chooses to do with her Biology degree.IMG_8711




















‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine….’

Fact Fiction Post-It Papers Mean Truth Or MythThis blog is all about the myths that I keep hearing about multi-academy trusts!

It still surprises me that there is so much mis-information ‘out there’ about MATs and  what surprises me even more is that often the mis-information has come from people who I’d expect to be better informed. All the information is available if people choose to seek it out.

Here is a selection of the things I have heard just this week:

Myth1: If your school joins a MAT, everyone will have to apply for their own job.

Myth 2: If your school joins a MAT, the headteacher automatically becomes a ‘Head of School.’

Myth 3: If your school joins a MAT, you will no longer be able to work with other schools who are not part of the MAT.

Myth 4: If your school joins a MAT, the existing governing body will no longer have any say in anything.

The truth is that some of these things could be true. Just like any one of these things could be true about a maintained school that undergoes a change in leadership.


Myth 1:

If your school joins a MAT, everyone will have to apply for their own job. 

When a school joins a MAT, a process of TUPE takes place. This means everyone’s contractual conditions must be honoured by the new organisation i.e. the MAT. This doesn’t mean that a year later, the MAT can’t decide to have a restructure or vary a contract which they are perfectly entitled to do if there is a good business case. However, these changes can’t be made as part of the TUPE process and if anything like this were to happen, it should be done with full HR and union consultation.

I don’t personally know of any school where this has happened when they have joined a MAT, ‘forced’ or not. I do know many schools that are not in MATs where redundancies and restructures have taken place. Usually, if this happens in a school, it is because of financial pressures that the school is facing and it is unavoidable. Being, or not being part of a MAT would not make a difference to this situation. On a positive note, being part of a MAT can mean the possibility of more strategic financial planning and a sharing of some goods and services, leading to savings and cost effective solutions.

Myth 2: If your school joins a MAT, the headteacher automatically becomes a ‘Head of School.’

This could only happen if your school joins a MAT where this is the model that has been designed by the leadership of that particular MAT. In my MAT, we don’t have Heads of School. We have Headteachers. We also don’t currently have an Executive Headteacher. My role is as CEO and yes, some my work is school improvement work that you would expect an Exec Head to do. But this changes according to the needs of each school at any one time. The ultimate aim in my MAT is and always will be to hand as much delegated authority back to our schools as possible whilst also providing them with the safety net of knowing we’ve ‘got their backs’ if and when they need it. The safety net that is often no longer provided by local authorities because they just don’t have the capacity to do it anymore. Much of the school improvement work I have done since January has been either at a leadership level or I have been able to broker support for my schools that has sometimes had a cost but usually has resulted in no cost or a saving. This is just because I have a lot of contacts and a lot of experience in improving schools. Much of the improvement work that is now happening has come from collaboration from within our two schools or from working with other schools and individuals from my past experience as a two-time head/School Improvement Partner and 15 years as a high school senior leader. Which leads me nicely on to Myth 3…….

Myth 3: If your school joins a MAT, you will no longer be able to work with other schools who are not part of the MAT

Just nonsense. Why on Earth would anyone want that?? Collaboration is everything. We are doomed in education without it. There are so many fantastic teachers and leaders out there, why would anyone not want to collaborate?? My MAT currently works with a range of partners on everything from curriculum to tracking to moderation to leadership development. We participate in local authority cluster meetings and we work with schools in 4 different local authorities. We connect and network with other leaders locally and nationally.

However, I do know of many maintained schools that do not collaborate. Some of them have enjoyed many years of success in all measures and that’s what has worked for them.  I also know of some MATs that don’t really collaborate beyond their own schools and again, that works for them.

The point is, being part of a MAT is not a pre-requisite for collaboration or not. That’s down to the leadership in your school or MAT. So if you’re thinking of joining one or forming one, ask your potential partners what they think about this.

Myth 4: If your school joins a MAT, the existing governing body will no longer have any say in anything

Being part of a Trust does allow the local governing body to focus much more closely on teaching and learning. In many ways they become like your curriculum committee. However, they may still have a big part to play in agreeing the budget; performance management of the headteacher and input into policies. The big difference is that there is someone on hand advising them about these things. In my MAT that’s me and our clerking service. And ultimately, it’s the Trust Board that is accountable. In my experience, governing bodies vary vastly in their knowledge, understanding and effectiveness and often that is due to a lack of training and understanding about education. When a school falls into an OFSTED category, very often, the first thing to change is the governance.

When I went in to be a head of a special measures school, I worked with an IEB that consisted of an experienced head/NLE; a SIP; an LA lead for special educational needs and the LA lead for data. They were a powerhouse of knowledge and expertise and a big part of why the school improved so quickly because they facilitated all the things that I wanted to do to improve the school: they understood why those things needed to happen.

If a governing body is going to be effective there has to be someone there who has knowledge that can at least match that of the headteacher. When I’ve worked with schools where things have gone wrong it has sometimes been because there has been no-one with enough knowledge and expertise to challenge the headteacher effectively.

Working with governors can be something that headteachers, at worst, find very stressful. I feel and hope that in my role, I can facilitate this relationship for the heads in my MAT. I’m the go-between if you like, between the heads and their local governors sometimes and also between governors and the Trustees.

We have just completed the process of reviewing our scheme of delegation in my MAT and it’s taken quite a while because it’s the first time it’s been properly reviewed since the inception of our MAT. There have been lots of conversations, lots of clarification about what is meant by ‘delegated authority for’ and valuable feedback from local governors that has inputted into the updates. This will now be finalised and published on our MAT website. Anyone wishing to join our MAT can and should read it because it will give them an idea about the way we work. If you look at the Scheme of Delegation of 5 different MATs, you would probably see 5 different ways of doing things.

And that’s the point. There is no one size fits all for joining or forming a MAT. If you’re choosing that route, it has to be what is right for you and your school. Just like when you’re looking for a new job and it’s so important to find out about your new school. What is the headteacher like and what is their leadership style? If you’re going to a maintained school, what’s it like to work for that local authority-because they are all different too. I’ve worked for 4 different LAs in my career and they all have strengths and weaknesses. I know which one would be top of my list to work with but that might differ to someone else based on individual experience and preference.


If you or your school is considering joining a MAT, or forming a MAT with others, there are two words you should remember. Due Diligence. Due diligence doesn’t just mean having a look at the budget and the improvement priorities (though those things are important too!) What is the MAT’s philosophy about learning? How much is delegated to the local governing body and headteachers? What are your non-negotiables and do they match that of the leadership of the MAT? Can you subscribe to their ethos?

Developing a strong identity for a MAT is paramount. Vision and values and ‘the way we do things here’ has to be established just like any organisation or business. If you’re going to be part of that organisation, just make sure it’s the way you want to do things too!

Above all else, find out for yourself. Do a lot of talking and a lot of listening. There are lots of positives about being part of a MAT, not least the support you will get to work closely with other like-minded professionals and as a head, the opportunity to be autonomous but with a safety net of support and guidance that unfortunately, local authorities are finding more and more challenging to provide.

The future is school to school support and collaboration. That’s what we believe in my MAT. It’s part of our vision and values. We know who we are and what we stand for. And we’re proud of ‘the way we do things here.’

If people choose to join us, they’ll have to do things that way too. But we’re not making a secret of that. You can hear all about it on the grapevine.

Or you could even just ask us.
















‘I’m so excited….and I just can’t hide it!’

This week’s blog is all about the exciting developments that are taking place in our MAT. The picture below was taken at our first ever Teachmeet event which took place last Thursday at Radcliffe Primary School (@rpsradcliffe). This picture shows a mixture of staff from Elton Primary (@epselton) and Seymour Road Academy (@seymour_road) receiving a box full of pieces of a puzzle as provided by founder and director of Commando Joe’s (@commandojoes), Mike Hamilton who was our first keynote speaker. Mike gave our attendees a task to do in teams…..


The winners of the task were Grow Your Mindset (@habitgetinto). They demonstrated the quickest team work to solve the task! These ladies are on a mission to spread the word about what a growth mindset really is. This is a central part of everything we are doing in our MAT, on every level with both staff and children.

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This was the agenda for the Teachmeet:


It was a fantastic event filled with enthusiastic teachers sharing all their best ideas-everything a Teachmeet should be. Highlights for me were Sophie Jaques telling us about how she inspires children in her class to read, read, read and Simon Hunt telling us about how he managed to get 10 of his pupils to Brussels and for them to named on a bill related to the hunting of whales, all through the use of Skype in the classroom!! Also-I loved Jodie Lomax’s presentation about what CPD should be. Here is one of her slides:


CPD should be………..

Jodie is a governor at one of our schools but also leads on CPD in her own school (Culcheth High) where she advocates research based learning. We are using Jodie’s expertise to create a more tailored and relevant CPD programme for the staff in our Trust. At her school, they advocate whole staff meetings only when they are necessary. There were lots of nods in the room when she asked us how many of us had sat in whole staff meetings that weren’t necessarily relevant but we had to attend just because it was ‘whole school staff meeting night.’ Also-how lucky are we to have a governor who is skilled enough to present at a Teachmeet event??

All in all, it was a brilliant event and we even raised £50 for the One Love Manchester fund through our raffle. Bring on the next one, we say. Hopefully in November or January…..watch this space.

In other exciting news, our new curriculum has well and truly launched! This is how we launched it with our children….by creating a mystery in assembly. Inside each box is a whole plethora of equipment which our children are going to use to go on ‘missions’ over the next 5 weeks. Our new curriculum uses inspirational characters at its centre and focuses on the development of key character traits.

Our first inspirational person is Ed Stafford and our children are learning all about his amazing journey down the Amazon which took him two and a half years. Each teacher has immersed their classroom so that the children feel that they are in the Amazon! The will learn about how to prepare your body for a big physical challenge; how to prepare to pack for a long journey; what animals they might meet in the Amazon rainforests……everything they learn in every subject (with a couple of exceptions) will come from the inspiration provided by Ed’s story. Some of the learning that has taken place so far has been phenomenal. Here are some examples including a diary,’ your body is as important as your mind,’ and some maths work using symmetry to create the perfect campsite.


Mission diary


Mission Possible!




Mission logs

And then to to it all off, this happened:


Yep-actual Ed Stafford commented on our tweet!! To say I was a little excited about this is an understatement. And so were the children.

To top off an amazing week at BCET, we had two exciting things happening last Friday. Firstly, it was Den Day and Radcliffe Primary entered into the spirit of this full throttle!


The school rased £600 for Save the Children!! Super achievement!!

Our second exciting event on Friday took place at the Manchester Regional Arena-right next door to the Etihad Stadium. Our schools were invited to take part in an annual Schools Sports event which is held in memory of amazing headteacher Guy Hutchence who tragically passed away two years ago. Guy was a prominent headteacher in Manchester and amongst other things, he led the opening of the East Manchester Academy. The event was fantastic-16 schools taking part in some awesome activities.

To top off a great event…..Elton Primary School won the whole thing!!!! Here they are with Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell, who presented them with their trophy.

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Finally, Radcliffe Primary announced the winner of their logo competition for their new uniform last week. They are going to have a very snazzy new PURPLE uniform in September!! This is the winning entry:

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This just about sums up an amazing week at BCET academies. I knew this term was going to be fantastic and so far it has lived up to my expectations! Happy Monday everyone……wonder what this week has in store???


‘I Learned From The Best’…by Jane Dennis

Guest-BlogAt a University open day back in 2004 a lecturer said to me, “It is thought that primary educators need to know a little about a lot. In fact, they need to know a lot about a lot.” This has stuck with me to this day, possibly because she was my first professional role model. This was someone with 40 years experience in the field and she well and truly set a spark alight inside me. Fast forward 13 years and I’m about to embark on my biggest professional challenge yet; headship.

Since being new to the profession 10 years ago there have been leaders who have inspired me in very different ways. Some have shown me a shining example of how things should be done, while others have shown me how not to do it. What I realise looking back is how vital both of these experiences are.

I have been fortunate to work in several schools while working my way up to being a headteacher and this has given me insight into different styles of leadership. Some leaders have shown me how not to do it and as I embark on the exciting adventure of leading my own school, this will always remain at the forefront of my mind. I have experienced first hand how staff morale can fall because of a lack of vision, integrity and passion.

There is one person who, to this day, remains my single biggest influence in education. When we first met I questioned whether the role I had taken on was a huge mistake. I joined a school in Special Measures as Key Stage 2 leader and faced the many associated challenges this brought. In addition to measures it was an inner city school with high deprivation levels and pupils who spoke over 20 different languages. Through this experience I learnt to swim rather than sink mainly down to the expert guidance of an outstanding headteacher.

To say the first few months in role came as a shock would be an understatement. Within the first month we faced: a monitoring visit, staff absence, inexperienced staff, inaccurate assessment data topped off with (I thought during the initial few weeks) a headteacher with unrealistically high expectations. What I realise now is that this individual was the single reason that a failing school began to provide a good quality education in a much needed safe and secure environment.

Undoubtedly without this experience I wouldn’t be half as resilient and thick-skinned as I am today. We ended up working together in another school and I have no doubt in my mind that her unwavering belief in me has given me the confidence to be face my new challenge with excitement. There have been far too many skills I’ve learnt from her to mention individually but one that is the most prevalent is always believing in people. As cheesy as it sounds, this is something that has helped me over and over again. Not just the ability to always believe in people, but to be able to focus on what they CAN do, even if there are 99 things they can’t do. There have been times when my passion has turned into frustration and thinking about the positive elements of an individual has helped to relieve this.

As I prepare for headship in September I will hold close all of the values that I have appreciated in the best leader I have worked with so far. I will always try to: see the best in people, remain passionate, promote risk-taking, deliver a strong vision and most importantly remember the main reason why we are all in the job; the children.


‘A day in the life’….


In three weeks I will be attending a second residential on the Ambition School Leadership programme: Executive Educators. I’m really looking forward to it and feel incredibly fortunate to be able to benefit from time with individuals like me who are also at the beginning of their CEO/MAT journey. I know a couple of people who have already completed the programme in preparation for their transition into the role of CEO. They are headteachers who have worked towards the forming of a MAT which has, in one case, taken three years to achieve. Even though these others have been learning and thinking about the role for much longer than I have, I have by necessity been forced to do the job more quickly than them. They are all moving into the world of CEO by taking their current school along with them.

My role is one of the only ones that I know of that was advertised as a brand new role. I applied for the ‘Executive Director of Education’ role and left behind my Headship of an ‘Outstanding’ school in order to start this new journey. I don’t personally know anyone else who has come into the role in the same way that I have. My MAT is sponsored by a college and currently consists of two primary schools. We understand the necessity to grow and are ambitious to do so. I know that I was recruited partly because of my track record of improving schools and also because I have both extensive secondary and primary school experience. This gives me credibility in both phases.

Five months in, I’m still explaining what it is I actually do to quite a few people! Today I was asked by a local authority HR officer if I work for Bury College. No, in fact, I don’t. Bury College is the Trust sponsor. I work for Bury College Education Trust which is a totally separate entity to Bury College. I was also asked (by the same person) if I was ‘the head of the headteachers.’ Well, the proverbial ‘buck’ does stop with me when it comes to the performance of the schools and I do work very closely with the headteachers. And-God forbid anything were to happen to either of them, I would be the one to step in and lead. However, I am not an Executive Headteacher. Both schools are theirs to run. I know many Exec Heads and they are far more hands on than I am. Interestingly, Ambition School Leadership offer a separate programme for Exec Heads. They make a clear distinction between the roles and it’s an important one to make.

Education consultant, writer and analyst Robert Hill says, “The evolution of the CEO role reflects the reality of the demands involved in overseeing a multi-academy trust – if the CEO role is properly understood.”

He goes on to describe the role of the CEO under these headings:

  • Thinker and strategist
  • Guardian of the flame
  • Instructional leader
  • Leadership developer
  • Orchestrator of partnership depth
  • Quality assurer
  • Business developer
  • Communicator within the MAT
  • Ambassador for the MAT
  • Corporate executive

Here’s the presentation that explains each of these in more detail: Robert_Hill__presentation

He also explains that each of these roles could be called upon to varying degrees at different times. This is certainly what I have found so far. The two schools are quite different and are at different stages of their journey of school improvement. One of the headteachers is more experienced than the other. But- I have to say that I have drawn upon all of these attributes during the last five months. And I’ve realised that whilst I am passionate about education and the way that it can change lives, I also really love being a ‘business developer’ for the MAT’ and a ‘corporate executive.’ I’m extremely  grateful that I’m getting the opportunity to work in ways that would not have been possible to the same extent had I remained in my role as a Headteacher. But I am also drawing upon all the experience of my 23 years in education and that feels great!

This is how I think I’ve used each of these skills in the past five months and how it relates to my previous experience:

  • Thinker and strategist: Wow, where do I start. On starting my role, there was absolutely no collaboration between our two schools. We needed a strategy for this. This is only just starting to come into fruition. We also needed strategy for marketing ourselves in the local area and for letting people know that being in our MAT is a positive thing. And-I’m working on a growth strategy. It goes without saying that in my role as head of two schools, strategic thinking was a large part of what I did. Both the schools I led needed ‘shifting’ culturally and in terms of school improvement. Strategy was also a large part of my role as a Head of Sixth Form at a time when the income from sixth form students formed a large part of the overall school budget.
  • Guardian of the flame: When I joined, the MAT didn’t really know what it was. The Trustees had a strong sense of what they stood for but this hadn’t really been articulated into a vision that everyone was buying into. Most staff, parents and children didn’t even know they were part of a MAT! This is changing, as you can read from my other blog posts. Again, this is something that was essential in my roles as Headteacher and Head of Sixth Form in particular. Whilst it’s important to be an adaptable leader, visionary leadership is often thought to be the most powerful.
  • Instructional leader: One of the schools had a new headteacher in January and so part of my role has been to support her in a new and very challenging role. Every head should have this but it doesn’t often happen in my experience and is thus the ‘very lonely place’ that we often hear about. I think I’ve managed to prevent my headteacher feeling quite so lonely and isolated. And I’ve been able to offer her the benefit of my experience as a head of two schools with a lot of very practical advice that I hope has empowered her.
  • Leadership developer: In addition to my role with a new head, there are many other leaders in the MAT. I’m getting to know them all gradually and making a mental note of the ones I already have pegged as future headteachers and for other leadership roles within our MAT. I want to nurture them, challenge them and encourage them to aim high and stretch themselves. It has always been a passion of mine to develop others. I enjoy ‘seeing the possible’ in people and then watching them grow into their skills and abilities. The success I had as a head that brought a school out of special measures and as a head who took another school to Outstanding could not have been achieved without the strong distributed leadership I built over a period of time. It’s all about having the right people in the right places at the right time.
  • Orchestrator of partnership depth: This is still on-going. In earlier posts I discuss the way that the partnerships within our MAT are growing and deepening. We are also building partnerships with several other schools and with one other MAT in Manchester. I’m also looking at data systems that allow us to see strengths and areas for improvement across the MAT. I first started to work in developing deep partnerships as a Head of Sixth Form when the 14-19 partnerships were introduced. This involved working with other sixth forms and colleges. I also experienced this sort of working when I was a School Effectiveness Officer, working with 20+ schools across North Manchester. As part of that role, I developed a common data collection and analysis system so that schools could ‘tap into’ other schools’ strengths by using the overview I designed.
  • Quality assurer: Everything that a leader does links back to this. All my talk of ’empowering others’ would be worth nothing if I didn’t do this. Everyone needs to experience QA. If done properly, it’s powerful and leads to further growth and improvement. I think I’ve always been a natural quality assurer on account of the fact that I’m so analytical-of everything! Just ask my husband.
  • Business developer: This is the part of the job that many in my role might say is the newest to them. But we are a business. We have an income and we need to spend it shrewdly and to the best advantage of our ‘customers’. This involves taking tough decisions sometimes and having the bigger picture perspective. It has also involved thinking about how we can potentially make money for our MAT by hiring out our facilities amongst other things. Marketing has become a huge part of my job again. I first learned about the business side of education as a Head of Sixth Form when I was responsible for re-designing a brand new sixth form building; ‘selling’ it to potential sixth formers; attending careers fairs; writing and designing a new prospectus and then finding the most cost effective printer to deliver this for us. At the time, I remember thinking what a hard task master my headteacher was for making me do all of this-but now I thank my lucky stars for that experience.
  • Communicator within the MAT: This is a huge part of what I do. With the headteachers; as a conduit to the Trustees from the heads and the LGBs; with our Business Manager; with our HR provider; with the press. My first Trust newsletter will go out at the end of this term. It goes without saying that excellent communication in any leadership role is essential or you won’t get very far. And what I learnt as a head was that nothing you say can be ‘in passing’. A flippant comment will be law by the time you get to the end of the corridor! I also learnt to write key messages down, carefully, clearly and succinctly. And then think about how they could be interpreted by different people. Choose every word carefully. Being a leader in a school is a very political role.
  • Ambassador for the MAT: This has been really important. There haven’t been many MATs in our local area and there is still a lot of suspicion about them. So I have had to be very clear and articulate about our role, our ethos and our plans. I think the message is getting out. As a head of a special measures school this was vitally important in turning around our fortunes, our reputation. As a leader, I’ve learnt that everything you say and do can and will be interpreted by others so choose your words and actions wisely.
  • Corporate executive: Put simply, I’m responsible. For everything. Well, actually the Trustees are but they delegate that responsibility to me on a daily basis. My job is to report to them on everything from the performance of each school to the financial position of the MAT. It’s a huge deal! And I take it very very seriously.

Buck stops

So here I go into the next half term of my adventure. I’m looking forward to so many things but most of all I’m looking forward to working more with so many talented, enthusiastic people who share my vision of collaboration, for the benefit of changing children’s life chances.  It’s going to be a busy one and I can’t wait!