Great schools are working at the heart of some of our most deprived and challenging communities and releasing the magic!

Chris Edwards's picture
We have seen so much success over the years, so much learning about what it takes to build great schools for every child and for every community. The challenge isn't about Academies and Free Schools but about consistency and sharing what works so that every school becomes a great school. And perhaps strangely these stories of success are not the stories of a group of superheroes but the actions of thousands of ordinary people whose combined passion,energy and hard work day in and day out has made that difference. So much hard work resulting in so many powerful messages about what works and importantly what doesn't. This is a cooperative and collaborative activity rooted in learning and coaching and sharing.

Across the country we have developed a toolkit of techniques, tips and strategies which can build brilliant learning in brilliant learning places to achieve extraordinary results. Take Hovingham Primary School in Leeds as an example. This is a simply extraordinary learning place and I had been invited to their Mathletics celebrations. Mathletics is a commercial on-line website which aims to help develop maths learning and motivation. The children are set goals and achieve gold, silver and bronze certificates. Jane Fisher the teacher leading this work told me that the children have never been so keen on doing maths and that she is amazed at how excited and motivated the children were by the scheme. You can find out more about the scheme by visiting the Mathletics website at

Janet Spence, the headteacher, and Jane Fisher, who leads the work on Mathletics, have created an extraordinary culture focused on hard work and positive attitudes. These celebrations brought powerfully alive by the whole school's singing and the positive psychology that surrounds every aspect of their work. Jayne Warburton, the CEO of Mathletics UK had come up from Bristol to award the school with the first Mathletics Center of Excellence award. She said that she had visited school all over the country and she had never seen anything like what she experienced at the school that afternoon. She explained that the school had achieved more than any other Mathletics school in Leeds,Yorkshire, England, Europe and the world!

What an achievement for a primary school serving this rich, diverse and challenging community at the heart of Harehills in Leeds. A school making a real difference but below the floor targets and vulnerable!

If we aren't very careful we may end up driving away the heroes who dedicate their lives to doing the things other people steer clear of. Colleagues working in the toughest contexts deserve our respect and support not our constant criticism. There are no quick fixes and leadership is a long term game built on trust, relationships and hard work. Anyone who believes that a few superheroes can change the world fails to understand the real challenges we face in creating great schools for all our children.

There are so many stories like this and these are the lessons we've learnt:
* we must be driven by a mission with values and beliefs that focused on inclusion and equity,
* we must be optimistic and yet realistic,
* we must constantly search for excellence,
* we must constantly search for talent,
* we must have high expectations of everyone
* we must develop cooperative and collaborative approaches,
* we must develop and support communities of interest,
* we must be open, honest and genuine about successes and failures,
* we must learn from everything we do,
* we must be flexible, responsive and adaptable,
* we must listen to those we work with and those we serve.
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Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/03/2011 - 10:48

There is no need for schools to buy good maths ideas from a commercial outlet. There is plenty of good stuff available free on-line.

Janet, you are probably right that schools don't need to buy good maths ideas, but if they can afford this one I would strongly recommend it.

It is an excellent website into which a lot of investment has obviously gone. It has great interactive activities and encourages achievement in order to attain personal targets as well as help your country. My eldest certainly enjoyed the live quick answer competitions against kids in other countries.

Janet, you mention a commercial outlet specifically; would you have the same objection if it were subscribing to a local authority scheme?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 20/03/2011 - 20:42

My son is loving doing Maths now at his local primary school in Tower Hamlets. He used to hate Maths when he was at his private school -- which we removed him from some years ago -- but now he loves it -- since he's received some great teaching! His Year 6 teacher has found the N-Rich programme is very effective:

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 21/03/2011 - 12:58

Francis has provided a link to a site that provides excellent free maths activities. There is no need to schools to pay any organisation for good quality teaching materials. They can be found easily on the web. Examples include: the BBC:

British Library

British Museum

Children's University of Manchester.

I could go on, but a quick google search will reveal an abundance of good, free educational material.

As for local authorities providing teaching ideas, when I was a teacher LA advisers did this with no cost to the school. This was part of what local authorities did - offer a service for which the school did not have to pay. I've been away from the chalk face for a while but I believe this service is no longer offered. If it still were provided, it would be given as it always was: free.

Yes Janet, you are probably right again. The thousands of schools and individuals who subscribe to the site probably don't understand money anyway, they probably think that they are paying for a superior product and service or some other misguided nonsense.

steve nicholson's picture
Mon, 25/03/2013 - 13:48

I think there is more than enough info to show that for over forty years our infant school teaching methods have been abysmal. I learnt to read in 1958/59 with no
help at home as my parents trusted the system. Poverty, no parental help etc are middle class red herrings. I became a navy signalman at 15 in 1968 and met many from council estates, orphanages and childrens homes just as literate as me. Last year the navy only got about ten recruits as kids literacy today, without home help,
is almost negligible. Academies etc are another red herring, its teaching methods ie. I got 4 hours daily English rote every school day, just like watching tv, effortless for the kids. This rote system was abandoned in the 1960's, delegated to parents, hence now kids with no home help have their problems attributed to 'poverty', I'd be illiterate if I'd gone to school over last 40 years. terrible, terrible.......

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