Seizing Success Conference – Day three

Image(Sorry for any grammatical errors but I’m writing this on a phone)

Despite my best efforts and Birmingham’s extensive number of shops, I failed to purchase a pair of trousers. This is unbelievable; it’s not as if I have specialist tastes. I found one pair I liked (it had nice blue turn-ups) but when I picked them up I realised they were in fact a pair of shorts and I didn’t fancy attending our final evening meal with my knees bare. So it was back to the suit trousers.

Anyway, day three signalled the beginning of the end with a talk by Ben Page; Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI. An hour of statistics flew by where we discovered that people’s perceptions of ‘truths’ were influenced more by the media and their age as opposed to statistical fact. Most interesting was how even when gathering opinions to create statistics, the language of questioning was highly important. For example:

You are told that you have a life threatening illness. There is an operation you can have. The Doctor tells you a statistic that may help you make an informed decision: Half the people are told that:

In the last two years, out of all patients that had the operation, 75% of them continued to live for another 5 years.

The other half are told:

In the last two years, out of all patients that had the operation, 25% of them died within the next 5 years.

Despite the ‘Maths’ being identical, more people chose the operation when presented with the 1st statistic.

Very interesting, although those of us that have ever been presented with a Raise Online pack where there are significant amount of BLUE will have a firm understanding of the power of language when reporting statistics (‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ I believe the quote goes).

Next up was Pasi Sahlberg, a school improvement activist from Helsinki who was talking to us about the Finnish model of educational reform. He was a measured and quiet speaker whose messages rang out loud and clear. The talk focussed on the pitfalls of the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) that is sweeping its way across the UK and many other countries; that focusses on Competition, Standardisation, Test Based Accountability and Choice. The ‘Finnish Way’ changes these to Collaboration, Creativity, Trust Based Responsibility and Equity.

One point Pasi Sahlberg made really clear was that Finland didn’t set out its goals to be ‘the number one education system in the world’ but to create an educational system that reflected the needs of its children. Now as it happened, in doing this, they have pretty much got the number one education system in the world BUT by proxy as opposed to target. He also talked about the level of professionalism and talent needed in order to become a teacher. He presented a statistic that Ben Page would have been proud of on the number of student teacher applicants compared to the number of accepted places and graduates. I haven’t got the figures but think of a bar chart with one massively tall bar on the left and a really tiny small one on the right and you get the basic idea. It’s tough to become a teacher in Finland and no fast tracked system would ever cut the mustard.

The highlight was possibly Pasi’s offer to Gove to come and visit Helsinki for three days in order to see the principles and practice of their education system-not to copy but to observe and see how anti-GERM it is. Around the conference hall you couldn’t quite distinguish between the noise of applause and the noise of hands in pockets trying to find enough loose change to pay for the plane ticket. Seriously Mr. Gove, that’s a very kind and generous offer from Pasi, you would be silly not to take him up on it.

Next up was Chris Holmes, a Paralympic swimmer, owner of NINE Olympic gold medals and Director of 2012 Paralympic Integration. This was a truly wonderful, inspiring, moving and at many times hilarious speech. He talked about breaking through the barrier of blindness to fulfil his dreams of becoming an Olympian and the journey of helping to create and broadcast to the world the greatest Olympic and Paralympic games the world has ever seen.

I can’t even try and convey on how many levels Chris’s speech inspired the room. What resonated was the repeated notion of not focusing on what the end result would be: instead focus on the tiny improvement you have to put in place today. Combine that self-determination with a complete trust in the team around you and the end goal will soon be in sight and ready for winning.

Finally we had Jim Lawless who holds the record for the deepest free dive in the UK and also trained to be jockey in one year-despite being too old, too fat and never having ridden a horse before. It was a master class in ‘motivational speaking’ and I don’t mean that as a back handed compliment. He was very funny and made some poignant points on the notion of tackling your inner demon or ‘taming your tiger’ in order to achieve your goals.

My final thought that I took away from Jim’s talk was the idea of your life being a book and only you are holding the pen. (Now at this point, I would normally roll my eyes, vomit and ask for my money back) but to be fair to Jim he put it across very well (well he is paid for this so you would hope so). If your life was a book, it would only have a certain number of pages before it ends, so what are you going to do on each page to make sure that when you reach the end it was all worth it? Again, this mirrors the idea of the little steps that you need to do in order to win big. Plus he did get the whole room standing up, squatting pretending to ride a race horse which is something Charlie Taylor might want to work into his routine next year.

And that was in. Jane Creasy said goodbye, I picked up my packed lunch, went around the exhibition room one more time to see if there were any more free pens, sweets, bags I could take home and off I went.

As my first ever conference I thoroughly enjoyed it and as it went on and I saw more and more and more people talk on a variety of different things, the more clear and focussed the overall lessons became.

And all of that in one pair of trousers!


Seizing Success Conference – Day two

seizing-success-tree(Sorry for any grammatical errors but this is written on a phone)
Well, despite a bad experience with Skype and no spare pair of trousers, I enjoyed my first day of the national college conference so I awoke with a spring in my step and ready for day two.
First up a speech by Pam Warhurst about her propaganda gardens as part of her edible incredible scheme. This was fantastic and inspiring and a testament to how far a simple idea can go, if you let it and if you take other people along the way. There were some great ideas here: if you eat: you’re in, sometimes action is more effective without a three year action plan, give people a real opportunity and they will contribute back a future investment worth ten times more, and people don’t,  it turns out, vandalise food. Talking to another head about starting this food for the community idea in our own schools we found ourselves thinking too far ahead. We had to stop and think about Pam’s key message: start small and let it grow and evolve naturally. I can’t wait to see how my own school propaganda garden starts and ends.
Then it was Charlie Taylor, the new chief executive of the national college, who took to the floor to put across his vision for the national college. To say he delivered a clear and concise mesage would be like saying Skype is a reliable replacement for a state of the art satellite link. He began with an anecdote about an inadequate lesson he did as a young teacher, very funny and we’ve all been there. But then he decided to follow this up with a fairly inadequate speech, now this was either nerves or a post modern attempt to allow us to relive the bad lesson experience from his past, looking back I’m still not sure. He mentioned education being school led, then he said something about sharing good practice, then something about governors, then something about ignoring government. All of this whilst drinking more water than I would have thought was humanly possible. (Seriously, don’t get into a drinking competition with Charlie because you will lose.) Maybe Gove had said to him beforehand “Look, I’m on after you and it may be a tough crowd, so do me a favour and make sure I look good’. I can’t be sure. He seems like a nice guy but if you want to find out what he was trying to get at, I suggest you read the blog put out by the national college afterwards.
A chill came over the room and twitter went into a frenzy as people began saying Gove was in the room and indeed he was, not to give a speech but to take part in a q&a session. A mix of agreed in advance questions and ones straight from the floor. As a politician, Gove is always worth the price of admission. To start with he said that he was accountable to all us head teachers; there was a healthy laugh that spread around the room and at that point he actually winked at us, either to say ‘I know, I don’t believe half the stuff I say either but it keeps me amused’ or to say ‘bring it on bitches’. He delivered a professional politician’s performance: talked a lot but didnt really say anything, responded to questions without ever really answering them and managing at times to come across as a ‘listener’. He only offended the room once or twice: ‘think of the children’ got a fairly angry groan and saying that he ‘doesn’t like to look to the past’ got a big laugh and even he seemed to acknowledge that this was pretty funny.
From the pair of them, the gist seems to be that ‘school led’ improvement translates into…you do it on your own without any authority support. If you do really well you should develop by taking on/over other schools, if you don’t do well, then, well, you’ll be supported/taken over by other schools. Gove wants to listen to us but he seems to lack any emotional intelligence. Yesterday Sir Terry Leahy talked about how leaders should trust their employees;  I cant think of another time  where those in education have felt so untrusted by the people in power: those who are meant to be our leading lights.
Anyway, he didn’t shout at us and it was all in fairly good spirits and humour so I didn’t feel too dejected, plus I knew Mick Waters was on at 2.30pm.
And I’m pleased to say he didn’t disappoint. He was so good. Interesting, bang on the money about the wealth of educational potential that is being wasted by a stifling curriculum. He showed us fabulous examples of how children achieved incredible things and how schools are responsible for helping children achieve their potential and learn about the wider aspects of the world. Highlights included using the news to teach the full curriculum;  Mick saying that if he had his time again he would pretend he couldn’t write; and a video clip of him trying to convince a primary pupil that they are called SATS because you do them sitting down: ‘otherwise they’d be called stands wouldn’t they?’ He also provided a far better analysis of Gove’s speech than I have. He got a huge round of applause and I promptly went and bought his book.
Now, I’m off to buy some trousers.

Seizing Success Conference – Day One

seizing-success-tree(Sorry for any grammatical errors but im writing this on a phone)
I’ve been waiting to come to the National College conference for years – ever since I became a Deputy. So it was with great excitement that I packed my overnight bag and waited for my lift to arrive. We set off and even though my driver had been coming for years, we missed the Motorway twice. Not to worry: we made it…eventually.
First of all we registered and took a stroll around the exhibition hall and then went into the main hall for Jane Creasy, the conference facilitator, to welcome us and introduce the first speaker, Susan Cain. It was an interesting talk on introverts and extraverts, not sure why it was chosen to open the conference but it was interesting all the same. Plus,  and no disrespect to Susan, we were all waiting for the via satellite link speech delivered by Sir  Ken Robinson. Things didn’t go well for Ken,  the satellite failed so we were treated to the wonders of Skype (other video link communication services are available, I hope).
The sound was patchy, the vision and sound out of synch but if you squinted and really concentrated you could just about tell what he was saying. There was an embarrassed tension around the room as it became obvious that Sir Ken wasn’t aware of the technical issues he was battling against, a bit like watching Richard Madeley being unaware that Judy’s boobs had popped out during the tv awards (except less booby, nobody wanted it to stop and we all like Sir Ken).  Then,  just as everything settled down and we got used to it, an echoing feedback began to blast out of the speakers. Even Ken thought this was too much and he made some apologies and went off to sort it out.  I wasn’t sure if he had gone off to switch Skype off and on again or if he had taken a broom to the ceiling to silence some neighbours.  Sadly he never returned and we went and had an early coffee.
Soon we were back for Sir Terry Leahy to learn some tips on how to run a supermarket. We learnt about audacious goals, vision, customer satisfaction and most of all become number one. Again, very interesting, especially when he started to talk about his role in the redevelopment of Liverpool. I think this would have been a more pertinent focus for the whole speech as it incorperated all his themes set against a more complex context of meeting the full range of needs and desires of a city wide community for the good of the community, rather than meet the (in comparison) small needs of a customers shopping trolley for the good of the shareholder’s wallet. Still,  an interesting perspective of corporate leadership and success.
Day one ended and I returned to the hotel to find that I hadn’t packed another pair of trousers, suddenly I remembered that one of Sir Terry Leahy’s targets had been to expand Tescos retail focus to beyond food so I popped out to the local tesco metro…but alas no trousers.