One way we use to connect with new people we are working with is to ask each person in the group to ask the single question of the person next to them: who are you? It is a strangely difficult question to answer. My response is that I am a father, husband, son, social entrepreneur, educator and writer. I have three wonderful teenage children, one of whom has just left for University. I like ideas and I like to create new things. I enjoy making connections between things. I am restless and often impatient and have a deeply held desire to make a difference to the world in any way that I can.
I count myself very lucky. I have been part of some extraordinary teams that have achieved a focused goal. In politics there was nothing more exciting than winning power in 1997, after 18 years in Opposition. We were a group of committed, driven people chasing the big prize of being back in government and able to change the country for the better. My time in politics working for Gordon Brown, Donald Dewar and then Tony Blair for 9 years taught me to question, to think, to challenge. I enjoyed the craft of speechwriting. I learnt about political strategy from some great political minds. I enjoyed a role as political strategist, apprentice to the brilliant Philip Gould, who I talked to, most days for hours on end, about the complex intersection of policy, communications, politics, story-telling that in combination made up what we called "the project".
On December 2003 I walked out of Number 10 for the final time and in January 2004 started work as a teaching assistant in a tough inner city comprehensive. My first few months were a mixture of exhilaration - being surrounded by 1000 teachers was surprisingly invigorating and liberating - and humiliation - I had none of the skills necessary to teach some very challenging and disaffected young people. I wrote about the contrast between theory and practice, government and frontline, in my book 1 out of 10. At that time I was still commenting on politics being part of the Newsnight political panel.
I trained as a history teacher, developed my craft at Seven Kings High School before becoming a deputy headteacher at Greenford High School in Southall working with a great headteacher, Mathew Cramer. These were fulfilling, enjoyable years - focusing on teaching and learning and working with a team of skilled teachers in a school built around strong, supportive relationships between staff and pupils.
I was then part of the second powerful team with a single-minded focus. With Ed Fidoe and Oli de Botton, two people who combine a huge capacity for both thought and action, we set up a new school in Stratford, East London in 2012 - School 21. United by a belief in doing education differently, in preparing young people for a complex world, we built a school from scratch and opened it on time in portacabins with our first 150 children. In 2015 we set up a new charity Voice 21, which is working with thousands of teachers and hundreds of schools to develop vital speaking skills, oracy, in young people. School 21 has built a strong philosophy around a more expansive view of education and underpinned it with a view of how schools can become developmental organisations giving teachers genuine space and time to think deeply and collaborate widely.
I am now at the start of a 3rd journey and with Co-Director Liz Robinson, excellent headteachers and trustees, and a growing team, attempting to develop an organisation - Big Education - that can have an even bigger impact on the way we educate young people.
Mario Cuomo, the former governor or New York, was one of my favourite speechmakers. His famous quote that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose was borne out in the experiences I have had. In politics governing proved far harder than winning the election. In education, it is far harder to run a school than set one up. All great projects need both, I think, and in Big Education our goal must be to inspire people with our poetry as well as convince them by our prose.
Political Advisor to Gordon Brown 1993
Political Advisor to Donald Dewar, 1994
Political Strategist and Speechwriter to Tony Blair, 1994-2003
Head of the Strategic Communications Unit, 10 Downing Street, 2001-2003
Teaching Assistant, Islington Green School, 2004
Author of 1 out of 10, From Downing Street Vision to Classroom Reality, 2005
Trainee History Teacher, 2005
History Teacher and Sixth Form Tutor, Seven Kings High School, 2006
Deputy Headteacher, Greenford High School, 2007
Headteacher and Co-Founder, School 21, 2012
Co-Director, Big Education, 2018