I out of 10
In December 2003 I left working at 10 Downing Street and in January 2004 I started work as a teaching assistant at a tough inner city school in Islington. This is the story of that journey, comparing what I had learnt from nearly 10 years in politics to what was happening on the ground in a frontline public service. It was a personal account of the joys and frustrations of politics and also the mixture of exhilaration and humiliation as I tried to learn the necessary skills to cope in a school. I was greeted with "Why have you come to a shit hole like this?" on day one, told by the NUT representative that anyone who had worked for Tony Blair was unwelcome and branded me as a war criminal by association. It tells the story of meeting a disaffected pupil, member of gangland family, who was struggling aged 14 to read and describes the huge inequalities that fuelled my sense of mission within education.
The courage of our convictions
A chapter on what innovation in school might look like including some key questions for people to ask themselves in schools including:
Are young people given serious amounts of time to immerse themselves in a problem or subject disipline?
Are you giving speaking the same level of attention as reading and writing?
Are character development and well-being given prominence within a well planned curriculum?
Do teachers collaborate across subjects and ages to create extraordinary learning for young people?
What is the balance in the school day between head (academic) heart (well-being) and hand (creating ,making doing leading)?
Do children enjoy coming to school?
Do children produce work of value beyond the classroom?
An expansive primary curriculum
Most primary schools in most parts of the country have a curriculum that broadly involves the basics in the morning: phonics, reading, writing, numeracy, then does something more expansive in the afternoon: art, music, drama, PE and either single subjects: history, science, geography or some kind of "creative curriculum' that combines them. My chapter of a book of essays tries to get underneath this a bit and work out how we might get something richer and deeper. How we might develop the learning power, well-being, spoken skills of pupils, while securing the basics and allowing children to be connected to real world problems. With limited time and competing demands this is always difficult and requires us to be even more precise about the purpose and values behind primary education.
Philip Gould and the art of
Philip Gould was the finest political brain of his generation. He understood political strategy and the need for a political project better than anyone. The shambles of the current political situation shows how vital his skills are today. This is an essay I wrote from what I had learnt about politics and the political process. Political strategy is the layering and interplay of values, vision, story-telling, policies, communication, raw politics, building alliances. There is bad political strategy that is too reactive, too media driven, too value free. Good political strategy is the coming together of head and heart in a winning combination. You need to be able to win the intellectual argument as well as the emotional argument.
How I went from political advisor to free school head
This is the story I wrote for the Observer of how we created School 21; the philosophy behind the school, the process of opening the school, and the first few days as we tried to establish the culture.
An interview with the Sunday Times about setting up School 21 and the thinking behind the new school. For some it was surprising that someone with a Labour background was using a Tory piece of legislation. For us it was pragmatic. We wanted to set up a new school in an area of deprivation and this was the only way of doing it.
Success in the 21st Century
An essay for the IPPR think tank summarising trends in education systems and fleshing out what a more expansive education might look like and why it is so needed.
Some of the key elements include:
The curriculum should develop a rich blend of knowledge, skills and attributes
Speaking should be given the same status as reading and writing
Schools should build the character and well-being of students
Assessment should reflect the growth of the whole child
This more expansive curriculum requires a different kind of teacher with a greater repertoire of approaches.
What next for London schools?
An article in the Evening Standard setting out a vision for London schools that builds on the successes of recent years. The time to prioritise innovation has come. The article argues for 3 first steps:
First, real strategic leadership. London needs a schools commissioner with the remit of championing innovation.
Second, we need finance and industry, creative companies and high-tech start ups, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs getting behind innovation in education.
Third, government needs to ensure schools have the funding, space and inspection regime to allow them to innovate.
Anatomy of Learning
An essay for the RSA on how to combine knowledge and creativity in a more interesting and rich curriculum. The essay includes some talking points to encourage debate:
Judge a school not just by exams but by the beautiful work crafted by pupils and how interesting they are in a conversation.
Empowering knowledge is more important than just knowledge of the powerful.
Head, heart and hand must be in balance for a decent education.
We must stop treating teachers like cogs in an exam wheel.
Speaking should be given the same status as reading and writing.
Headteachers should be the Head Teacher. And increasingly they’re not.
There is no trade-off between knowledge and skills; we need powerful learners who develop both.
Creativity in all its forms should be right at the heart of a school.
Contrary to received wisdom, character can be taught; you just have to be clever about it.
If you want to develop school culture, make a drama teacher your first appointment.
It's time for a real revolution in Britain's schools
A special feature I wrote for the Observer outlining a fresh vision for schools - an expansive education where we do away with the perverse incentives that force schools to take too much notice of Ofsted and league tables.