State of Mind – Mind Up

I have just returned from the park from a lovely weekend walk with new puppy Bramble. (A Scottie – Cairn Terrier Cross who is as cute as the Dickens but more about him on another occasion no doubt.)

As I stood in the muddy park puddles, in my non glamorous brown boots and my equally non glamorous black padded jacket which makes me look like Kenny from South Park,  I found myself listening, just listening to the birds in the trees and contemplating how delightful it is to stop statue-still and breathe. Aaah!

Wednesday 5th January was our first day back at The Spinney and the training day we had organised was with Mind Up from The Goldie Hawn Foundation. The training was amazing. Very informative and stimulating and also great fun! Such a lovely way to start the term. Rachel Bailey was our Mind Up Trainer and we were very fortunate to have also been joined by Julia Organ who is the Uk Director of Education and Training.

Mind Up is a teaching framework of 15 lessons based on 4 pillars through which the children, school colleagues and community learn about Neuroscience, Mindful Awareness, Positive Psychology and Social and Emotional Learning. It is very inspiring to know that the children will be learning about parts of their brain, how they work and how they influence feelings and actions. Learning about the brain is just one of the 4 pillars but one that I know the children will love to learn about and thanks to our research links with the PEDAL Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development & Learning as well as Cambridge Neuroscience The Spinney educators and children are becoming well-versed in the importance of the role of self-regulation in learning.

We are just at the very start of our Mind Up journey and, whilst thanks to a number of pedagogic and curriculum approaches including PHSE, SEAL , Outdoor Learning and SEAS4ALL as well as our whole school ethos that promotes cooperation and harmony we know that we already have a lot in place, we are excited to see what three calming brain breaks throughout the day will do to continue to contribute towards our school ‘s positive climate.


I was fortunate to meet the Mind Up Uk Director Julia at the Ashoka Changemaker Schools Summit in Ireland where we were offered an initial taster session. The Spinney is an Ashoka Changemaker School one of a network of 15 schools in England and one of over 200 in the World. Being part of this network, connecting with Changemakers and schools across the globe inspires us to think broadly about the purpose and meaning of education, and the importance of giving our young people the skills, knowledge, attitudes and attributes to navigate the future.

One of the key ideas which threads through the Mind Up framework is that while it is true that some people may be born with a propensity for happiness, happiness is not innate and it can be taught, it can be learnt and the level of happiness we experience can be a choice!

Daily Acts of Gratitude is one way to increase our happiness quota!  As part of the training Spinney colleagues were invited to stand in a circle, pass around a beautifully painted stone and name something we were grateful for. Responses included family, friends, great colleagues to work with and so on and by the time all 32 of us we had stated what we were thankful for, our instinct was to applaud the positivity of the experience!

Another aspect that resonated greatly is that Mind Up aims to promote the idea of Optimistic Schools. The Spinney has 7 values which underpin the life and work of the school. These are child-centredness, teamwork and community, excellence, learning, improvement, responsibility and optimism.

With all the politicisation and polarisation in the educational landscape I think it is so important that for the sake of the young people and our colleagues we aim to remain resolutely hopeful and optimistic. (#flamingosofhope not lemmings of despair!)

So back to Bramble and me in the park. It may be the effect of climate change that has brought the chaffinches out to sing more loudly from the branches than usual, or it may have been the positive effect of the Mind Up training on Wednesday which caused me to stop, stand and listen mindfully to the birds this morning, whichever it was and I’d like to think it was the latter, it felt good for my soul, positive for my spirit and will hopefully help me to sustain my emotional balance and well-being as one week ends and another one is about to begin.

Have a lovely week everyone.

Thanks to @thatboycanteach for suggesting the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17  One down – 51 to go!


Facing a Perfect Storm

At the start of every Monday morning at The Spinney, we come together for a whole team briefing. We prepare for the visits and visitors, events and activities in the week ahead as well as reflect on the ideas, knowledge and learning of the previous week which we incorporate into our curriculum and pedagogic offer to help us to keep moving forward.


Last Monday, to build on the fabulous training we had with Mind Up, we thought about the worrying trend in children and young people’s mental health and some perturbing statistics!

On 16th January an Institute for Public Policy Research report was published which stated that three children in every class have a clinically diagnosable mental health condition; 90% of headteachers have reported an increase in mental health problems among pupils over the last five years, and over the same period, hospital admissions for self-harm among the under-18s are up 50%.

The report says, “Nowhere is the crisis in children and young people’s mental health felt more acutely than in our secondary schools, which increasingly find themselves on the frontline. This report examines why schools are facing a ‘perfect storm’, and makes the case for putting secondary schools at the heart of early intervention provision for children and young people with emerging, low-level mental health problems.”

The government has promised £1.4bn for mental health services for children and young people up to 2020, and there is a plan for more trained counsellors to be based in schools.


Whilst I have no doubt that many schools will welcome this additional funding I worry that this may not be new money at all, and in fact be re-direct finances that had previously gone to specialists in CAMH.

It seems that schools are increasingly being seen as the panacea for all society’s ills and are continually asked to deliver on all fronts including now mental health!

Schools routinely as part of their curriculum and pastoral offer do all they can to mitigate against bullying, eating disorders, self-harm, drug addiction, stress, but I believe it is unfair to expect schools to do all this alone and promoting good mental well-being should be the responsibility of everyone in the school and wider community .

I also worry about the paradox of this new expectation of our education system. Young people in England are among the most tested in the world, we know that many young people dread the tests, they suffer from performance anxiety, they are concerned about how they will look to their friends and family if they do not secure the predicted grades, they are fearful of how their results will impact on their futures and many young people experience high levels of stress, and in the jurisdictions which this government seems to want to emulate some young people even resort to suicide. Could it be that education rather than being the solution for young people’s mental ill-health is actually part of the problem!

I was interested therefore thanks to a tweet by @beckycarlzon to learn about the campaign More Than A Score UK.


“The chorus of unhappy voices is growing stronger by the day. If we want a truly world class, 21st century education for our children, it’s time the government listened properly both to professionals and to parents.”

More Than a Score is a growing coalition which includes the NUT, BERA, UKLA and CPRT.

Their concerns are that the current assessment system narrows the curriculum, sets unrealistic standards of children, that it does not meet the needs of our children, has a negative impact on children’s self-esteem, well-being and mental health as well as having a negative impact on teacher’s well-being and mental health.

If as the Institute for Public Policy Research report suggests secondary schools are facing a perfect storm, then we really need think carefully about the climate of our classrooms, our schools and our education system. We need to do as much as possible to challenge a paradigm fixated on a narrow view of educational success. We need to consciously and confidently bring happiness and joy into young people’s lives and recognise that if we are the ones that make the weather, that we must bring sunshine rather than rain.


Thanks to @ThatBoyCanTeach for setting the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17




I have been meaning to write a blog for a few weeks (months) now, but you know how it goes – all those ideas swirling around your head and no definitive thread to tug on to unravel all that you’ve been thinking about.

However, I am pleased to say that Lord John Bird has just helped me out with a post on Twitter today. As most of you will know, John is the brilliant founder of The Big Issue, he is a Senior Ashoka Fellow @AshokaUk  and I had the great pleasure of meeting him last year when The Spinney Primary School became an @AshokaCMSchool


The Big Issue shared a video on Twitter of John talking vociferously in the House of Lords about the importance of Libraries, he knows only too well about the impact of illiteracy on young people and the statistics on the number of prisoners currently incarcerated who have poor levels of reading.

Education, teachers and society have a big job to do. I would much rather see Justine Greening talk about Social Justice than Social Mobility.  There is huge injustice in our school system and the current policies seem to be set on making the divide between the haves and the have-nots even greater!

Becoming an Ashoka Changemaker School  has been very rewarding. We have been in this network since October 2015. It has given our school the framework for even broader thinking about the Purpose of Education. This is a topic which keeps everyone busy! I am quite fond of this quote from Sir Ken Robinson on the Aims of Education, which also appears on our school website.

“The aim of education is to enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.”

Sir Ken Robinson

Being an Ashoka Changemaker school connects us with like-minded schools and fellows and there is a richness to being in this network that is infinitely inspiring! Meeting Michael Sani being just one of the wonderful opportunities! Michael started a wonderful initiative called Bite The Ballot which encourages young people to “fight for change that they might not get to see but their children might get to see”. Here’s Michael being name-checked by one of the finest and most elegant Presidents the United States has ever known!

Being an Ashoka Changemaker School helps us to reflect on the skills that young people require not only to be academically successful, and to have a creative and fulfilled life, but also to ensure they are equipped with an entrepreneurial spirit and innovative ways of thinking to help resolve the social, ecological and political challenges we face now and in the future, and the compassion to make the world a better place!

Another inspiring partnership we made last year was with an Erasmus Project Schools as Learning Communities in Europe: Successful Educational Actions for all”. Which you can also find at @SEAS4All_eu SEAS4All is a recent European Commission project to bring the pedagogogies of Learning Communities that have been successful in over 600 schools in Latin American Countries, and which are the positive legacy of Paolo Friere, to schools in Europe. Starting with a couple of pathfinder schools in Naples, Cyprus, and England, Maria Vieites Casado as the European Project Lead is connecting schools with their local communities, the University (in our case Cambridge University Faculty of Education), and Local Governments to introduce 6 effective pedagogic approaches that not only improve instrumental teaching, including SATS Results, but also promote positive pro-social values in their school and the wider school community.

Underpinned by the important and significant research of Professor Ramon Flecha at Barcelona University, SEAS4All sets out 6 educational actions to support inclusion and improve social cohesion. One of these 6 actions is Dialogic Literary Gatherings. Dialogic Literary Gatherings, or as the children call them DLGs, involve the whole class of 30 pupils sitting in a circle with their class teacher discussing extracts of a classic text. The children decide on which classic text they want to read, they prepare for the DLG each week by reading a chapter in advance and selecting a passage that they want to discuss and then the whole group engage in conversation for about 40 minutes, based on their chosen extracts.

The DLG in Year 5 is going particularly well and the children are reading an adapted text of Homer’s The Odyssey. Thanks to careful and thoughtful facilitation by the class teacher the children engage in reasoning, discussion, listening and debate, and the quality of their interactions is very impressive.

Underpinning DLGs are a number of values and skills that are enacted through this educational action, these include Egalitarian Dialogue, Solidarity, Compassion, Humanity, Communication and Critical Thinking.  Thanks to @VisualityBe for this image.

In finding out about Learning Communities, I was fortunate to have spent three days in January studying with Professor Flecha and other educators from Italy, Spain, Cyprus and England. The training included a visit to Montserat School, about an hour’s drive from Barcelona, which is a Learning Community School and which thanks to the inspiring leadership of the Headteacher Nuria, who has worked with her team for 10 years, has ensured that the school despite being in a very socio-economically challenging neighbourhood, is now one of the top performing schools in the Country!

“We can teach children that if they take care of their friends, they can achieve extraordinary things, not just in their own lives but for all humankind.”
Ramon Flecha

Just before half-term I was invited to participate in a European Ashoka Change Maker Summit in Ireland! This three day event spent with 150 other change makers was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. The combination of beautiful mountain scenery, the wonderful companionship of the other participants and the unimaginable kindness and warm welcome of Ashoka Colleagues and our Irish hosts have given me privileged memories to last a life time!

On the second of the three days I had been asked to present a workshop. My workshop which will come as no surprise to those of you who know me, was #OnlyConnect. As part of the workshop, I invited colleagues to engage in a DLG based on the first chapter of The Little Prince. Although I know the book well, I had forgotten how meaningful and evocative the first chapter would be to people working in education. Have a look for yourself to see what I mean. Despite coming from all parts of Europe, the DLG allowed us to illicit a strong sense of community as we brought our own unique experiences, culture and thoughts to create a shared meaning from the text.

Sharing stories, reading books, engaging in egalitarian dialogue, visiting libraries are all fundamental to a good society! Through these activities we develop Solidarity, Compassion, Empathy, Democracy, Communication, Critical thought and debate and we share a dream for a world based on hope not fear!

“We want an education system based on hope not fear, one that appreciates the humanity of human nature.”

Professor Yong Zhao

Schools, Libraries, Theatres, Parks, The Market Place every place where people meet are powerful places to share values and are microcosms of the world we wish for.

With all this in mind, it is important that we do whatever we can to save our libraries, to support schools, and champion the rights of everyone to have access to books and learn to read!

#LibrariesNotPrisons – Thanks John

For more information about SEAS4ALL, please feel free to contact me at The Spinney 






My Teacher Told Me . . . How the story of “MyCambridge” began!

In the summer of 2013  on a very hot mid July day  I went with my daughter  Esme for a visit to The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.  It was the end of the summer   term and end of  the  academic year and  despite  the temptation to  spend the first Saturday of Summer lazing about  we  went off in search of  cultural  edification.  A quick  Google search reminds me that we would have  seen  among many other treasures an exhibition of  Swiss  water-colour  miniatures  as well as   an exhibition  in conjunction with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on  the origins and history of 6,000 years of the afro comb.


I remember our walk into town that day being particularly  irksome  due to the  extraordinarily  hot weather around 39 Celsius.  As we were walking  along King’s Parade and onto Trumpington Street  I noticed a family also going  in the same direction.  There was a Mum  pushing a  buggy with  a  baby  in front, two  young children in descending  order to her right and another older child on her left who looked about the same age as my own daughter who at the time was nine  and in Year 5.   I saw that the parent  was having quite some trouble pushing the buggy through the busy street, avoiding the jumbles of bikes,  managing  the slab stone flagged pavement in the sweltering heat  and understandably she appeared quite flustered. We were not too far away from  them so I  listened in to the conversation as they approached the impressive classical facade of Fitzwilliam Museum.   The conversation went something like this


Mum: There is no way we can get  the buggy up those steps!

Child : There’s a  flat entrance round the side for disabled access and buggies.

Mum:  Well how much is it going to cost for us all to go in there?

Child:  It does not cost a penny, Mum. It’s free.

Mum: Are you sure, are you sure Ben that we can go in there?

Ben:  (Stepping back from Mum and the buggy in exasperation and pointing!) Mum, my teacher told me The Fitzwilliam Museum belongs to me!

That  exchange over two  years ago was a  seminal moment. What if we could get every child in Cambridge to believe that the rich cultural resources and assets that the City and its world-famous Universities had to offer belonged to each and every one of Cambridge’s children? What if young people had such a powerful sense of belonging and identity that they  could confidently declare Cambridge belongs to me?  “It’s My Cambridge.”

Jumping forward to 2016, and thanks to the skill-full “knitting” and connecting of Michael Corley and Steph Hogger of  Festival Bridge  My Cambridge is the name of a nascent Cultural Educational Partnership, one of the 50 that was announced by Darren Henley, Ed Vaizey and Nick Gibb in October last year as part of Arts Council England’s Cultural Challenge.

My Cambridge brings together Cambridge City Council, Cambridge County Council, The Kite Teaching School Alliance and The Cambridge Arts Leaders.

In due course, we hope to have a one-stop shop website for young people so that they know the full extent of the cultural and creative offer in Cambridge. A number of  partners have worked with My Cambridge on various projects for young people, schools and communities including Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination, Cambridgeshire Music Partnership, Cambridge Literary Festival, History Works, Cambridge Junction and Access Arts

Through various initiatives and projects these organisations are promoting the take up of Arts Award as well as sign-posting to the wonderful opportunities within the creative subjects and industries such as art, poetry and graphic design, music, song-writing, performing, creative writing and illustration, television, coding and making, acting, directing and filmmaking.

My Cambridge in partnership with The Kite Teaching School Alliance have appointed 5 Cultural and Arts Leaders for Schools and Academies to support schools with achieving the Arts Mark.

Cambridge is the second fastest growing City in the Country. Over the last few years many world renown industries have joined our Cambridge community. New housing developments are popping up all the time, and the City works pro-actively and positively to make newcomers welcome. As the City grows, providing greater opportunities for commerce, tech and bio-tech industries, it’s right that corporations recognise how they can contribute positively  to the vision of MyCambridge in the way that Raspberry Pi does. We are hoping that a new connection with Form The Future will be just the synergy we are looking for to help us connect with other stakeholders beyond those from arts and cultural sectors.

As more and more partners join: arts organizations, individuals, businesses, industry, education and commerce we will soon be able to convey a compelling connected narrative that Cambridge is a unique and dynamic City full of ideas, imagination and innovation.

This will be the Sea Change we are looking for where every young person has a strong sense of belonging and identity through arts, creativity and culture and believes, as Ben did “Cambridge belongs to me!”

We are not quite there yet, so if you think you can help us, please get in touch. . .

It takes a good City to raise great Citizens!

Cambridge: City of ideas, imagination & innovation

Rachel Snape @RaeSnape is the Headteacher of The Spinney Primary School and a National Leader of Education. The Spinney is the coordinating school of The Kite Teaching School Alliance, Cambridge. Rachel is passionate about the transformative power of arts, culture and creativity in young people’s lives. Rachel is a proud Trustee designate of STEAM Co


Towards a Collaborative System



Every Monday morning at The Spinney we hold a  weekly briefing. It’s for everyone on the team  – teaching assistants, office colleagues,  caterers, site managers, teachers, volunteers.  We  talk about how the weekend went and share our stories, we look at the week ahead, any special events or visitors to welcome  and then I share my headteacher’s  reflections.

I always create a visual to capture what I’ve been thinking and reading about, which is displayed on the interactive whiteboard. Last Monday I was thinking about how we Build Moral Capital to Drive Moral Purpose:

Global Colab

As you will see Michael Fullan features a great deal throughout this blog and I love this quote:

“Collaboration as an end in itself is a waste of time. Groups are powerful, by which I mean they can be powerfully wrong” 

The Case for Learning from Successful Networks

As usual I had spent the weekend learning online, drawing on ideas, tweets and publications.   I find it inspiring to reflect on the global movement towards collaborative learning networks of teachers and I enjoyed reading Michael Fullan and Steven Munby’s publication Inside Out – and Downside Up  which sets out their “strong belief that all schools, 100%, should be involved in focused, productive networks within which leaders, teachers and students challenge, support, innovate and learn from one another in ways that measurably improve outcomes.”

The Spinney is an Ashoka Changemaker School and we offer a local/global creative and connected curriculum. We make links wherever we can in order to learn about effective and sustainable methodologies and pedagogies. Our curriculum is designed to promote a range of skills including imagination, creativity, compassion, innovation and collaboration. I am therefore particularly drawn to Michael Fullan’s description of Deep Learning to “activate students to help humanity to change the world.”

Deep Learning

The Case for thinking like Global Citizens

“Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on deep understanding of diverse values and world views, and with a genuine interest to solve ambiguous and complex real-world problems that impact on human and environmental sustainability.” Michael Fullan

In addition to being a Headteacher I am a National Leader of Education, and as a system leader I sit on the Cambridgeshire School Improvement Board. Again in this amazing era of Global Connectivity I think it is important for us to be efficient and to learn from successful educational strategies across the world.

This recent report Beyond PD – Teachers Professional Learning is another useful resource for system leaders. It is designed as a resource for teachers, leaders and policy makers wanting to improve teacher professional learning in their schools. The report is accompanied by extensive appendices and a Toolkit with resources that high-performing systems and schools have used to develop their professional learning. It highlights how high-performing systems integrate both adult learning and student outcomes within effective professional learning design.

Among the many approaches in the toolkit I was really excited to see that Spirals of Inquiry was also listed. I first learnt about  Spirals of Inquiry at the Whole Education Conference in November (The Spinney is a Whole Education Partner School) where I had the great privilege of meeting Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser. Spirals of Inquiry is a positive mindset for school improvement – “a mental model that is systemic but not simplistic.

The rise of collaborative learning communities in British Columbia has been slow but steady since 2000. The communities are now the main avenue for professional learning in many districts across the province.


“We want every learner to cross the stage with dignity purpose and options.” Spirals of Inquiry

Another publication that is being launched at the RSA tomorrow evening is Creative Public Leadership: How School System Leaders Can Create the Conditions for System-wide Innovation  I am sorry that I will not be able to attend not only because this will be a very inspiring evening but because the fabulous David Whitebread (Director of PEDAL Research Centre on Play in Education, Development and Learning, University of Cambridge) will be on the  panel!  The Spinney is currently involved in a research project on Curiosity as a skills that underpins Science Inquiry.


The Case for Innovation

In their publication Joe Hallgarten, Valerie Hannon, Tom Beresford state “There is a compelling case to create school systems that actively, and explicitly, create the conditions for successful innovations to grow and be taken to scale. The diffusion of existing practice will not be enough to deliver the significant improvements in learning outcomes that society, the economy and learners themselves demand. Too many current improvement strategies are producing diminishing returns.”

As Michael Fullan argued in 2011: “There is a choice and some countries have made it. Replace the juggernaut of wrong drivers with lead drivers that work…. Jettison blatant merit pay, reduce excessive testing, don’t depend on teacher appraisal as a driver, and don’t treat world-class standards as a panacea.”

I found this publication resonated greatly, and I found the term “System Entrepreneur” very useful for what I hope to achieve both in my own school and in education in general.

“System entrepreneurs are responsible for finding the opportunities to leverage innovative ideas for much greater system impact. The skills of the system entrepreneur are quite different from, but complementary to, those of the social entrepreneur. The system entrepreneur plays different roles at different points in the innovation cycle, but all of these roles are geared towards finding opportunities to connect an alternative approach to the resources of the dominant system.”

The Case for Connectivity

My mantra is “Only Connect.” I find it useful when meeting new people, or as a way to combine ideas and to identify new synergies.

I found this model below to be a helpful one and it can be used to reflect on how we will participate in various circumstances, such as work groups or team meetings. On some occasions for example when undertaking training (e.g. Child Protection and Safeguarding training) then I see that my role is to be largely as a Consumer of Information. In contrast when working with colleagues either at School level or at Local Authority level, where there is a shared focus on problem solving, then my responsibility is to be a Catalyst working alongside others to generate new ideas, possibilities and realities.

     The Case for Change 

In 2009 I was fortunate to hear Michael Fullan who came to a conference in Cambridge and talked about The Six Secrets of Change and he even signed a copy of my book. I related to all the 6 secrets and it sustained me well through the initial years of Headship.

The Competencies for Whole System Change

The world of education has moved on a pace since I became a Headteacher 10 years ago and The Spinney is now a National Teaching School and the lead school of  The Kite Teaching School Alliance. The aim of our alliance is to be inclusive, innovative and inspirational.

In their book Leadership, Lyle Kirtman and Michael Fullan describe 7 Key Competencies for Whole System Change.

These Seven Key Competencies for Whole-System Change “delineate the traits, characteristics, values, and behaviors of leaders who can focus on their own improvement, build capacity in others, and focus outwardly on the future trends in education.” A leader equipped to create and sustain systemic change:

  1. Challenges the status quo;
  2. Builds trust through clear communication and expectations;
  3. Creates a commonly owned plan for success;
  4. Focuses on team over self;
  5. Has a high sense of urgency for change and sustainable results in improving student achievement;
  6. Has a commitment to continuous improvement for self and organization; and
  7. Builds external networks and partnerships.

Of all the competencies it is the 7th that particularly resonates.

I think this is a very exciting time to be in education. I am hugely Optimistic about what can be achieved through connections, networks and partnerships. Education is a brilliant journey and we can learn from all the books, blogs and people we meet along the way.

If you are Optimistic about Education despite the challenges for the sake of young people and our colleagues then join us (@MattGovernor, @thatboycanteach @nataliehscott and me @RaeSnape ) and be #OptimisticEd and find us a @OptimisticEd_


The Spinney  is  an Ashoka Changemaker School,  a  Whole Education Partner School  and Cambridge Primary Review Trust School 

I have been a Headteacher for ten years and am a National Leader of Education. The Spinney is the  coordinating school of The Kite TSA, Cambridge – if you would like to be part of this growing Alliance of  positive, creative and innovative schools, please feel free to  get in  contact to find out more.













The Pendulum Swings . . .


Every Monday morning at The Spinney we hold a  weekly briefing. It’s for everyone on the team  – teaching assistants, office colleagues,  caterers, site managers, teachers, volunteers.  We  talk about how the weekend went and share our stories, we look at the week ahead, any special events or visitors to welcome  and then I share my headteacher’s  reflections.

I always create a visual to capture my thoughts which   is displayed on the interactive whiteboard. My thoughts are of many and various  themes that will be familiar to  others working in   school:  marking and feedback, safeguarding, importance of collaboration  and so on.

This weekend I have been thinking about  the growing  awareness of the need to unite  to stop  the    Global Education Reform Movement –  STOP  the  GERM. There are many, many academics and thought leaders around the world far better qualified to  talk about  the 30 years or  124 years of  GERM (depending on who you ask) and some fabulous  books to read such as  the brilliantly titled  Reign of Error, as well as   Flip The System, and  Creative Schools

Pendulum Swings

I quite like the  GERM picture I  found – on the one hand  looking quite cute and benign but in reality  is insidious and nasty.  GERM is characterized by  high stakes standardized testing,  competition  between  schools , the  comodification of education, the  demoralization of children and  teachers  and the fragmentation of communities.

Not good!

As these apposite and popular social media images  depict so clearly,  standardized tests  deliver    conformity   and compliance, stifle creativity and are not suited to the splendid  diversity  of    human beings. But regrettably across too many jurisdictions being good at tests has become synonymous  with being  well-educated.  As Diane Ravitch says,

 star wars education      2b1c53ea0bd3c358c9dc33f392c569fc
 “Sometimes the most brilliant and  intelligent students  do not shine in standardized tests because they do not have standardized minds.

I find it remarkable  how little we have moved on in the use of testing in the final year of Primary Schools in the four decades since  I was at school! After a glorious and peripatetic early childhood  spent in various countries  around the world, I returned to England at the age of 11 to discover a curriculum wholly about prayers and preparing  for the 11+.

We  practiced grammar and comprehension tests  on a daily basis  but the feedback and marking  was lacking.

I could complete “Queen   is  to King  as  Goose is to Gander”,  but I  never did find out  where the Home Counties were (Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis)   or why they seemed to be  more important than the six Staffordshire towns where I lived, and I still have a mental block about the word Simultaneously, does it  mean one after each other or all at the same time?

Geography  consisted  knowing  that there was a lot of sheep farming in  Lancashire and  a host  of  allotments in East Anglia.

When it finally came to the week of the 11+ tests, my Mother asked me if I wanted to do them and I replied that I  did not.  And in spite of that decision   here I am  successful, fulfilled and happy.

I  started teaching 22 years ago  and in that time  have seen the  pendulum in education policy  swinging  to and fro with successive governments  and  secretaries of state for education. It seems as if this perpetual swing is designed to knock children and  teachers off balance every 5 years or so and I find it remarkable how the  Education Paradigm can be so convincingly and resolutely   changed overnight!

I have been a member of the Primary Headteachers’ Reference Group at the DFE  since 2009. I was invited to join  at a fascinating point  when  Parliament was in  Purdue and what was notable as I entered the offices   of Sanctuary House was that in this interim period  the people working there  knew instinctively  how quickly things   would  change. As I walked around I saw the poster frames were empty and the rainbows of Every Child Matters  were in the bins.

And so the pendulum swings.



Ideally, we would take a longer, more holistic  and  more sustaining view of education.  Education  would not be  a “political football”  it would be a unifying  force for good.

In  November UNESCO  launched its publication  Rethinking Education for The Global Good   and if you  haven’t seen   it, and if you are a parent a teacher or a global citizen I would  invite you to read it.  It  is  a “humanist vision of education as an essential common good.”

In the  Foreword  Irina Bokova Director-General of UNESCO says  “There is no more powerful transformative force than education – to promote human rights and dignity, to eradicate poverty and deepen sustainability, to build a better future for all, founded on equal rights and social justice, respect for cultural diversity, and international solidarity and shared responsibility, all of which are fundamental aspects of our common humanity.”

As an Optimistic Educator #OptimisticEd wouldn’t  it  be   wonderful   if our Secretary of State for Education took a longer term view of education instead of the reactionary sticking plaster approach – I’m not saying it’s not important to learn times tables but there are better  ways to evaluate  a     school’s  contribution to its community than its ability to teach times tables by rote or   the proportion  of pupils  with a   propensity  for   memorizing facts.  Schools as communities, not commodities!  

Instead of the constant changes I  would love to see  our   national curriculum and associated policies and practices being more sustainable  for example reflecting the aims and articles of     The United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child

How  different would our schools, curricula and testing regime be if  education   were influenced more profoundly by United Nations articles such as these?

Article 3. The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all actions concerning children. 

Article 31 2. Every child has the right to relax, play and join in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities. 

And how different the experience would be for children, teachers, parents and schools.

Hope Not Fear

However, I believe these are exciting times and as ever I am feeling very #OptimisticEd.  I am grateful to three other #OptimisticEd  colleagues on Twitter @nataliehscott  ,  @MattGovernor   and  @thatboycanteach   who in a moment of synchronicity  in early January inspired me to finally blog and who  in spite  of  the  incessant challenge and change in education  also remain resolutely hopeful and optimistic.

I am also aware of other fabulous networks that are galvanising so that educators   can reclaim our elegant and noble profession including  @WomenEd      @HeadsRoundtable   @WholeEducation  @CPRnet   @FliptheSystemUk   @RSA_IE

By connecting and collaborating and finding a shared purpose I truly believe we can #flipthesystem

What will be  important is to ensure that we all connect!

Connect 1.png

I don’t know if you got the memo, but despite the many many challenges that face us in education, 2016 is the “Year of Hope&Optimism in Education”.


The Spinney  is  an Ashoka Changemaker School,  a  Whole Education Partner School  and  Cambridge Primary Review Trust School 

I have been a Headteacher for ten years and am a National Leader of Education. The Spinney is the  coordinating school of The Kite TSA, Cambridge – if you would like to be part of this growing Alliance of  positive, creative and innovative schools, please feel free to  get in  contact to find out more.



Just before Christmas, the TES “Top Team” visited the Spinney Primary School. There were nine of them including Chief  Education Adviser, Lord   Jim Knight and the divinely  elegant Ann Mroz – TES Editor.

I first met Lord Knight  earlier on in the year as part of the selection process for The Spinney   to be an Ashoka  Changemaker School.

We gave our charming TES visitors  a tour of the school  which included a  visit to The Spinney Wild Wood, a wonderful asset that  supports so much creative and brilliant learning.  The children and Spinney  colleagues  were very impressed that despite  her beautiful footwear, the valiant Editor  braved  the rickety  bridge and  the  mud and joined  the children for their  phonics lesson with the  Phonics Fairy. You can read  Ann’s  recount of her visit to The Spinney here. 

In her editorial Ann  describes me as  an “insanely passionate primary head” and I really  think  she’s nailed it!  And I’m very grateful to her  for my  new nom de plume.  I am  passionate about my job,  I absolutely love it!  I love the variety, the creativity and above all the  marvellous and magical people that I have the privilege  to   work with every day: children, teaching colleagues, parents and the whole community.

Despite the Academy presumption, we are still fiercely a Community School  (for the moment at least) and our  local/global, creative and connected  curriculum reflects the best that our school, City and the World has to offer.  We are a very connected school and purposefully make  links and partnerships to synergise and innovate new opportunities for learning for the children in The Spinney as well as in Cambridgeshire.

In our last  OfSTED  our school was  described as “Forward thinking and outward reaching”  and it is a  description  that  has sustained us to  keep moving forward.  . .


Over  the last few years we have made  many  marvelous connections. #OnlyConnect is my  mantra!  These include  ones with  individuals and organisations  such as PEDAL, Random Acts of Kindness,The Reader ,  Cambridge Literary Festival, (with photo of me in my other disguise as band member of The Misspent Ukes!),  Whole Education  and recently with  a number of partners that has led to the initiation of a Cultural Education  Partnership called MyCambridge.

Forming relationships, collaborating  and innovating  are part of our ancestral instinct and are essential to school, and school to school system success. The connections I have made  through Twitter and  the many fascinating blogs I have read  have contributed significantly to my ongoing professional development.The sign on my office door says  “Head Learner”  and I love the JOY and opportunities  that every new day brings!

Every Day is New!

But I also read various blogs by teachers that  do not share the same  happy experience of school life and I think this   is a terrible shame!  Workload, stress, micro-management, lack of support from school leaders, marking, issues around performance related pay  . . .

This unhappiness is one of the outcomes  of an education system that values high stakes testing over  humanity.

However,  I believe it is the Headteacher’s job to be the Gatekeeper. The DFE’s  ongoing obsession with meta league tables such as PISA  and a  suite of national  tests  has created  a paradigm that  priorities points  and progress over people. However,  since the tests are not likely to disappear any  day soon, (New Year New Madness   – TES  editorial  by  Ann Mroz)  I believe  we need to  find a way to be  #Pragmaticians: train for the test & teach for life. And for the children’s sake and the teachers’ sanity we need to ensure schools are   magical places full of optimism and hope that Teach  Mastery AND Mystery!

Hope Not Fear

I have enjoyed reading Flip The System  by  Jelmer Evers and  Rene  Kneyber , an important book which makes the case for a more humane, more democratic approach to education.   This in conjunction with  the recently published  UNESCO  Rethinking Education  makes responding to the Select Committee’s Purpose and Quality  of Education in England  Inquiry  an imperative  for our professional community of teachers to ensure their views  are heard and to articulate a broader, more hopeful  narrative  of  what schools and  education are really  about.  I hope that colleagues will seize  this opportunity and that  school leaders will prioritise  time in meetings so that the Select Committee hears the authentic voice of  our elegant and noble profession   and that they are not  Too poleaxed by policy to think about pedagogy? Too addled by assessment to think about aims? @CPRnet

Another  report that I would invite  school leaders to read is Creative Public Leadership: How School System Leaders Can Create the Conditions for System-wide Innovation   by Joe Hallgarten, Valerie Hannon and Tom Beresford at the RSA.  It is a splendid read that captures so many pertinent gems all in one place! Marvellous!

Such as,

“Educational system leaders are good at producing development programmes which are frenetic and burdensome to practitioners, incomprehensible and disruptive to both parents and learners but ultimately leave the essentials of the scene completely unaltered.” Graham Leicester


“Innovation can only be fostered and maintained in a school environment that is supportive and collaborative. If there is no culture of innovation and no support to facilitate networks for innovative action, it’s very unlikely that a school would embark on meaningful change. A well-known barrier to systemic innovation is a culture of risk aversion. There are many sectors that are notoriously poor at building into a system rewards for those who take responsible, managed risks. Without this, risking innovation is all too often seen to have very little pay off, both personally, professionally or on a system-level.”

“For education systems to harness the potential of systemic innovation there must be a meaningful push for an equity-focused strategy, placing practitioners at the center of a research and evidence-based profession. We need schools to be intelligent communities that see themselves as part of other communities. If we want schools to possess and teach the capacity to innovate, they will need the capacity to reflect – within their own institution, and with other schools. Whilst systems can be far better at creating the enabling conditions and cultures for innovation, schools need to take ultimate responsibility for their own ethos. Inevitably, this points to a significant leadership challenge.”

Towards the end of the report the authors ask,

How might it be possible for the ‘beautiful exceptions’ to  increasingly see themselves  as partners  with others , as members of a local learning system  and much more deliberate and intentional about building collective capacity/social capital. 

I have recently  become a Fellow of the RSA and I am really excited  at the opportunity to network with others and to see if we can put a stop to the Groundhog Day that perpetuates  the conversation  surrounding  the   Purpose of Education, and the accompanying pernicious  and discouraging   messaging from The DFE that schools are failing.  It is  17 years  since  All Our Futures    and  like Sir Ken Robinson I believe that the recommendations of All Our Futures are still relevant

“If we are to prepare successfully for the twenty-first century we will have to do more than just improve literacy and numeracy skills. We need a broad, flexible and motivating education that recognises the different talents of all children and delivers excellence for everyone.”

“…we cannot rely on a small élite, no matter how highly educated or highly paid. Instead we need the creativity, enterprise and scholarship of all our people. Rt. Hon David Blunkett MP”

In the film Sir Ken Robinson  says that  he is pleased that  recommendations have been taken up by many schools  but that he will be more pleased when the recommendations are taken up by the whole system.  There are  many   amazingly  creative, connected  and innovative Principles  and School Leaders  across the world  doing brilliant  things  in their community. And the  joy of  Twitter  is that there is  the opportunity  to  spot each other  like Meercats  across the  technological  Savannah.


I like to connect  with  those “Beautiful Exceptions”  that make  their schools such  Joyful places both for children and adults alike such as Fulbridge Academy ,  Seabridge Primary School  and  Redfield Educate Together Primary Academy

The RSA’s Creative Public Leadership  document  says that  for there to be the innovation that we need in education, it is schools who ultimately need to take responsibility for  their   own ethos and it is school leaders that will need to  fearlessly  take up the challenge  to  walk the talk, to  lead with  energy, hope and unwarranted optimism    and extend the  vision of what’s possible.


I don’t know if you got the memo, but despite the many many challenges that face us in education, 2016 is apparently the “Year of Hope&Optimism in Education”.


The Spinney  is  the  coordinating school of The Kite TSA, Cambridge – if you would like to be part of this growing Alliance of  positive , creative and innovative schools, please feel free to  get in  contact to find out more.