Six months on…

30 years employed full time, then on May 1st 2013 it was all down to me. I was an education consultant and director of my own company.  How would it be?  Well 6 months on and I’m enjoying the new challenge, the variety and dare I say it the responsibility of managing my time.  My respect for PAs now knows no bounds.
Ignoring friends who ask why I am not on a world cruise,  I am getting the hang of this new life.  I can find time to swim (good for the dodgy knee!)  and leave later in the mornings.  Shopping on weekdays is a real liberation.  Saturdays are not now filled with jobs.  There is time.  However,  I am still working and loving it;  balancing voluntary activities,  largely governing boards,  with paid days, necessary to enjoy life’s little  luxuries.
It is true I can’t say no as opportunities that come my way are fascinating and so much part of what interests me still.  So I am busy and still passionate about education.
Parental engagement is still a challenge both for our reception children who need parents to read with them at home and for our KS4 youngsters who need parents to understand the pathways now open to them.    Governance must be good in every school.  This is a real challenge dependent as it is on volunteers in their hundreds.  New structures are emerging.  Federations are here to stay. Support for governors is a priority.  Primary education is critical and I am keen to bang on about that endlessly.  If we ensure a good start for every child then catch up classes will become a thing of the past.  I personally endorse all- through schools so primary and secondary can support each other for a seamless education for our children.  Vocational education is just emerging with strength and opportunity through recognition that practical,  high quality technical skills are needed.  Hence I am committed to my work with the growing number of UTCs.
Children can’t wait nor can I for the next opportunity to work with them and their schools to ensure they have the very best chance in life.

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Posted in Education

Girls and opportunities

Last Friday I went to see ‘Blue Stockings’ at the Globe.  It served as a reminder that we owe much to those first women who committed themselves to scholarship and gave up the accepted life of a wife and mother.  I was shocked however at how recent was this change.  We glimpsed the experience of the first women at Girton College, Cambridge and saw their disappointment and fortitude in the face of male hostility and a failed vote to allow them to graduate.
What shocked me was that it was not until 20 years later,  1948, that women were granted the right to graduate.  Only a lifetime ago, a year before I was born.
Much has changed, thankfully, in my lifetime and women have equal rights now as a matter of course in all things.  However there are still challenges.  We still have perceptions to change and some feel girls need educating separately to give them confidence.  There is talk of glass ceilings and unequal pay.  We debate maternity leave and promotion.
My particular focus of the moment is girls and engineering.  I am working with UTCs and we want more girls to apply.  Girls are as good as boys at engineering, after all every single thing we use in everyday life has to be engineered.  So all power to the elbow of those at WISE and well done Women’s Hour last Tuesday morning for highlighting the issue through the experience of the JCB Academy.  Julie White, CEO of her own concrete cutting company,  is an inspiration.  She deserves  a following of girls and the UK needs them actively engaged in high tech skills too.
Parental engagement in education  has long been a priority for me particularly for our youngest children who need reading practise at home for a good start.  Now I see parents of teenagers who should not have to ask of a UTC as one did only last week: “Can girls apply?” So parents need to be engaged 5-18.
Girls and boys together make great teams,  they have different skills and approaches,  jointly they succeed.

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Seaside towns show the need for UTCs

Once again we have a call to arms on behalf of our seaside towns. See a recent report from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Telegraph 6.8.13.  The disproportionate levels of poverty in terms both of wealth and aspiration in these towns was very clear to me as I visited schools across England during my tenure as Schools Commissioner (2011-2013). Recently HMCI has also called for these areas to receive support from proven school leaders. It is to be hoped this is happening. It worked for the cities, which have seen dramatic improvement through their challenge programmes.

Vulnerable youngsters need job prospects. Our business and industries need skilled technicians and employees. It beggars belief that 41% of adults in Clacton have no qualifications at all.  University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are the newest type of school directly set up to address this need. Providing high quality technical education for 14-18 year olds with businesses and universities integral to the teaching, they can stimulate, enthuse and educate to provide pathways for such youngsters.

This initiative must join together with others. There are no doubt a number of solutions needed concurrently in our seaside towns. What is clear is that waste of talent and failing young people is not an option.

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Letter to the editor: City A.M.

[Re: Open for business: How universities can boost our long-term recovery]

Stephen Caddick is right to call for more active collaboration between business and universities. This is happening already through the University Technical Colleges (UTCs) across the country. These institutions are high quality technical schools for 14 to 19 year olds, bringing some 400 businesses and 40 universities together. To see real benefit we must bridge divides and share expertise, something I have worked for throughout my 30 years in education.

In City A.M.,  6/8/2013

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Letter in Sunday Times, 23/6/13

Re: “Poor white children do worst at school” June 16, 2013, p1 by Sian Griffiths

It is good to see Ofsted highlighting the poor performance of children in coastal areas and most importantly calling for new policies and approaches to close this gap. We can hope that Sir Michael Wilshaw’s intervention will lead to action. The problem was increasingly evident to me during my two years, just ended, as Schools Commissioner visiting 150 schools across England. The solution lies in a focus on primaries, engaging parents and certainly in school to school support, the latter having been so successful in the inner cities. There are green shoots to build upon with both private and state schools taking up the baton including the successful collaboration between Tonbridge School, Folkestone School for Girls and The Marsh Academy. The time has come for the disadvantaged children in rural and coastal areas to take precedence.

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Closing the technical education gap

As Schools Commissioner visiting schools across England for the past 2 years,  my brief was to ‘close the gap’.  As it turns out there are many gaps in education:  the gap in standards achieved by those on free school meals and the rest,  the gap between secondary and primary schools,  the gap between the independent and state sectors,  the gap between academic and vocational education. Continue reading

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Working with volunteers

I have been musing on the fact that schools are dependent on two groups of volunteers to maximise attainment and how schools can work with these people more effectively and show real appreciation. After all one cannot hire and fire governors or parents so it behoves us to collaborate and celebrate. Continue reading

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