wyedean School

Aspire Together, Achieve Together

Wyedean is an academic & nurturing global school committed to
World Class C21st learning for all. We aim to turn dreams into futures.

Principal's Blogs April 2018 - July 2018

12 July 2018

“In praise of the place of lazy summers in education”

 “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky is by no means a waste of time”.

John Lubbock

 “I love how summer wraps its arms around you like a warm blanket” Kellie Elmore

 “A life without love is like a year without the summer” Swedish proverb

 It was a bit of shock to answer the Skype call in my study on Monday morning at 9am to see the awesome students of Pinnacle College, Kyalami, Johannesburg, sitting in their coats and scarves. Especially after the weekly meeting of the staff to thank them for last week’s work, briefing them of the events for the new week ahead and mentioning the approach we have to coping with the unprecedented heatwave of the last few weeks in the UK. There are some real memorable moments of this job and getting to talk to the students and colleagues on Monday morning for over an hour about education in South Africa and Britain, diversity in our societies, the World Cup and England’s chances, Welsh v SA rugby, JK Rowling and Wyedean and even to have a lovely rendition of their school song is such a moment in education. I took them on a tour of the campus here at Wyedean courtesy of my mobile in the warm sunshine and asked students and staff here to say hello and answer questions, especially the new Year 12s from other schools for the Sixth Form transition week.  The power of this global learning never diminishes and it is an important part of my role as a British Council ambassador and a Skype Classroom/Microsoft educator to ensure these connecting classrooms and schools around the World happen frequently. However, the coats and scarves in Johannesburg?  Seemed so odd but the geographers here were at least able to talk about the Southern Hemisphere winter and how South Africa can also get cold. Dedicated colleagues like Rose Lean and Principal Naidoo in South Africa are doing tremendous work in bringing the World into their school for the benefit of their community. 

In between the end of term events, finishing off the key things for the academic year like the Principal and Leadership report to full governors, school evaluation of the year and the summer newsletter to parents I am trying to get through my 4 week online administrator/Principal’s IBCP course. I never thought that I was a great student and to misquote Winston Churchill, I prefer to learn rather than be taught.  How true for many of the students I have met as well as the glee when they found out Churchill had never been to university but still became Prime Minister and won the Nobel Prize for literature. On Monday afternoon I took part in a conference call with the group of educators who are also working on the course. I listened to my colleague from an IB school in Texas talk about the racial tensions and gun safety issues they faced in their school in comparison to the UK and as I did, I did take a moment to savour and fully appreciate what an “outward facing global school” really looks like. This was is it! It was also seen in a different and lighter way in the amazing energy the phenomenal students from Kosei Girls’ School Tokyo who spent the week with Wyedean students teaching them origami, calligraphy, traditional dances, songs and just interacted together as global teenagers. In the IBCP conference Skype another colleague from South Korea, originally from Canada, raised some of the wellbeing issues she faces as Dean of Students at her campus because of the stresses and pressures teenagers, parents and society places on them to succeed in Asian cultures like Japan, South Korea, China and Singapore. In Lucy Crehan’s book, “Cleverlands” there are many interesting points made but what never is really addressed for me is the intense mental health pressure and issues around young people and their wellbeing in Asia. More importantly, what is being done to address wellbeing and mental health for young people? My colleague from South Korea said it was a real concern for her to actually get her students into some down time and not to be constantly studying late at night at home and early in the morning at school.

The heatwave currently in Britain makes my daily drive across the old Severn Bridge from Bristol, and the view to the Forest of Dean and South Wales more akin to southern Spain right now with the parched brown and yellow landscape desperate for rain. I “enjoy” the emails, texts and WhatsApp messages from friends and colleagues telling me their school/country broke up for summer “vacation” back at the end of May or June and why are we still in school? To be perfectly honest there is still so much to do and one of the best things we have done to cope with the heatwave in school is to anticipate it and be pragmatic about it. Students have been allowed to wear their PE Kit and shorts from the very start.  If they are too hot and uncomfortable with the heat, still wearing a blazer and tie without access to water how on Earth will they learn? I have taken the same sensible approach with staff who are expected to run the school and teach the students.  There are so many summer term events going on in Wyedean that it is hard to take stock of everything.  For the last few months, I am conscious that the weekly Monday briefing is still half way through when the bell goes for registration as we are still thanking colleagues for their hard work and reading out the week’s events.  This week alone we have a Duke of Edinburgh expedition out, year group reward trips, Year 10 and 12 work experience, Year 11 Sixth Form induction, Year 9 Critical Thinking to the Bosnian Genocide conference at my old school RWBA, Public Speaking finals, Gospel choir events, PE teams are competing in country athletics and Rounders; the list goes on.  Moreover, this is what schools should be doing in this summer term.  The outward facing global school is also a school that believes passionately in the wider and enriching curriculum developing all students holistically and not paying lip service to it with a couple of outdated brochure pictures and references at new parents evening.  Look at our school Twitter to see how rich the education is at Wyedean.  In all of this activity, I know when I speak daily to students in the corridor and yard how much they are enjoying the variety and pace of the term. This is hopefully looking less like a treadmill of grinding education as possible.  Today, my colleague and director of teaching and learning, Julie Smith, presented to the weekly Teaching and Learning briefing on metacognition and self-regulation approaches to help students think and reflect about their learning and to follow more a study by the EEF this year. Julie gave colleagues time to think about these questions:

Which explicit strategies can you teach your students to help them plan, monitor, and evaluate specific aspects of their learning? 

What occurred to me listening to colleagues discuss these questions is just how important the summer term and the summer holidays for students especially, to have the time to reflect on their academic year and to take time to relax, read something or engage in something on a much deeper level without distraction. For students to become metacognitive and self-regulate, they need the balance and time to do exactly this and not an education system some of my global colleagues seem to be describing in the societies they work. The answer?  The summer holiday/vacation! I have a whole heap of articles from various newspapers and journals that stretch back a few years over the same theme about the summer holidays. That they are, in no particular order: too long, Victorian summer farm work culture no longer needed in 2018, students forget what they have been taught and the priceless classic, people who work in education have “all those holidays” – notice it is never accompanied by “and all that pay” and “all those additional hours on a weekend, week nights, half term breaks, etc, that are put in just to get ready to teach during term time and deal with the complex issues around young people and education in 2018”.  However, not to digress dealing with these viewpoints is not the aim of this blog.

I have given an assembly around the theme of the summer break and what makes us happy to the different year groups in the last couple of weeks as I see them formally for the last time before the break. I even managed to retell the “happiness” anecdote to Year 10 around a dinner with President de Gaulle, Prime Minister MacMillan and “Tante” Yvonne in the early 1960s back when Britain was desperate to join the EEC. The assemblies I gave to students amounts to the same advice and that is to use the summer as a rest, to reflect and take time to do something. At Wyedean, we believe strongly in “stretch and challenge learning for all” and on our website, there is a link to reading lists and activities to ensure that as well as taking time out to be lazy, getting up late, spending the day not doing much there is at least something to look at as an alternative.  It is not about young people being addictive to their devices and screen time either for the next 6 weeks.  The link is here:

 Stretch and Challenge 2017-18

Like all things, there is a cost and what society is willing to pay through taxation to build a progressive society for all but I have always been impressed with the American, Canadian and Nordic approach to summer camps/summer schools during the break to structure activities and opportunities for young people and actually to get them outside and a change of scenery. In a week in amongst the “turmoil” where those 12 young lads and their coach were finally rescued from the caves in Thailand; a week that Harolds’ MacMillan & Wilson would have definitely described as “events, dear boy” and “a long time in politics”; there were two things that I read with interest in the context of the investment we place in our future through education and young people. The Public Accounts Committee released their parliamentary report into the cost of academies and MATS in England since 2011 and highlighted some of the worst cases of poor oversight of trusts, wasteful spending and profligacy with little impact on young people and their communities.  A very dear colleague and the eminent professor of education at the University of Gdansk and visiting professor of education at John Hopkins University, Maria Mendel, released her book “Pedagogy of Common Places” which is a long study into an alternative to neo-liberalism and economics in the development of education in countries like the USA and UK to try and get policy makers to focus on a humanising alternative based on sustainable community schools. Maria looks at the impact of the Charter School model in the USA and I was very fortunate to be asked to contribute on education in England and Wales.  In the current binary education system of either/or, Maria’s research looks at communities where schools have improved through a systemic approach linked to learning, raising standards and creating World Class opportunities but it is in the context of developing people and capacity focussed on young people as the main priority being prepared for a globalised society.  Connected to that approach is a move away from the relentless testing for its own sake, and a culture ensuring schools are then anchored in the very communities which they serve. I saw this in evidence at the Wyedean annual Creativity Festival last Friday as a great learning, holistic, whole school, celebratory, community event in the July Friday evening sun.  Listening to the Year 9 group at the festival singing the Red Hot Chili Peppers “By the Way” as my five year old daughter danced along was one of the most relaxing and best moments of the term.  These students are so talented!  We need to encourage and see this side of them more through these opportunities.

Dr Isabelle Moreau, of UCL believes we should contextualise “laziness” in space and time instead of contrasting it with “hard work”. She believes just as we go for slow food, quality over quantity movements, in the summer we should go for slow work and that should extend to our students and colleagues at the end of the academic year to recharge and reflect ready for when the autumn brings a different pace and priority as we start a new academic year.  There are those like Dr Sandi Mann of the University of Central Lancashire who actually believe boredom now and again is actually good for us and plays a vital role in society: “When we are bored we look for neutral stimulation. One way to achieve this is to go inwards and let our minds wander and daydream.  When we are freed from the shackles of conscious restraints, we may see things differently and look at ways of doing things...it can be a catalyst for change and help us cope with information overload”. In Tanith Carey’s book “Taming the Tiger Parent”, she writes as a mother of two, about the concept of a child’s spark and this is something every child has and can get lost in as they are allowed the less formal structured time.  They can only do this, she argues if they have the opportunity to be left to their own devices – that does not mean mobiles or tablets!  Tanith believes that some of the best learning is through being left alone to reflect and enjoy the freedoms to watch a film, go on a bike ride, read a book, meet with friends, listen to music, visit the park or even sit under a tree and watch the world go by.  This is why we will always need the periods of down time in the education calendar, to allow good memoires to form and to have less fear about the future. It is ok to be “lazy” in the summer.

I am looking forward to my own summer break, not necessarily the four days at Euro Disney my wife has booked, which my three daughters, aged 5, 7 and 9 are looking forward to, but seeing Paris and the two weeks in France visiting places we know well seeing family and friends. I am hoping to finish a biography on Charles de Gaulle “The Last Great Frenchman”, Mbappe may have something to say on this, by Charles William. I keep putting this down though and I need to stay away definitely from any leadership theory books for 6 weeks only picking up fiction, history or biography. I’ve got Madeline Albright’s Fasicsm: A Warning” lined up next.  Light reading for the beaches of southern Brittany I know. After Sunday, we will also know if Football is coming home finally to England or will it be a case of “Allez Les Bleus again. Bastille Day this weekend could be a spectacular one for France potentially. For so many, the 2018 World Cup in Russia has been a wonderful global event to be involved with whoever lifts the trophy as World Champions and to echo the wise words and leadership of England coach Gareth Southgate

Our country’s been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity. And I think sport has the power to do that. And football in particular has the power to do that. So for us we can feel the energy and we can feel the support from home and that’s a very special feeling. It’s a privilege for us”.

#GarethSouthgateWould definitely want a well-earned rest, relaxation and reflection for any team or school community or even country that has worked so hard all year and need time out ready for it to all start up again during the autumn.

Have a great and lazy summer,

Rob Ford


2 July 2018

We must harness the power of agency in education to improve social mobility

 “Geography is destiny” Abraham Verghese, physician-author

 “The need for political leadership in this area has never been more pressing. Social mobility is one of the biggest challenges facing our country today. It is not just the poorest in society who are losing out. Whole communities and parts of Britain are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially. The growing sense that we have become an “us and them” society is deeply corrosive of our cohesion as a nation” Rt Hon Alan Milburn, former Chair of the Social Mobility Commission.

Education is the civil rights issue of our generationArne Duncan, former US Secretary of Education. 

My former teacher and mentor, Les Jones, was born just outside Wrexham in North Wales around the time of the dreadful Gresford Colliery disaster of 1934 that took 266 lives of that close-knit mining community including members of his family. A coal miner’s son and the youngest of four he would go onto take his place at the local grammar school, Grove Park, and later to win a scholarship and place at Magdalen College, Oxford. I once asked him what had been the significant factors that had enabled what the experts would now call “intragenerational social mobility”, an individual’s upwardly mobile socio-economic class strata shift hard to achieve even in 2018 but especially in a Depression/World War era, class ridden British society in the mid Twentieth Century. His reply was twofold: Firstly, his family and the strong community stability of his colliery town that provided him with so much support, aspiration and love. It really does take a village! Secondly, the access to education and learning he had growing up. In Wrexham, the great nineteenth century Scottish-American steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie, had built one of his many public libraries across Britain and USA in one of the most significant philanthropic gestures of that era. Akin to the work of the Gates Foundation today. My old teacher benefited completely from this foresight in allowing the masses access to learning and similar to the approach to education of self-taught revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, who Les often said he took the lesson from as he read every book available in Carnegie’s generous gift of that library to the inhabitants of industrial Wrexham. It worked and after university, he never looked back and continued to learn and put back into society through his career as an educator, community leader, artist and a wise holistic teacher to so many students in the UK and around the World over the decades. He is still doing it now in retirement from his rural home in the hills of mid Wales.

The Indo-American sociologist, Anindya Kunda, asked the crucial question of our time in his 2017 TED Talk, “How can disadvantaged students succeed?” and he used his own background growing up in America with an Indian heritage and other stories from his career as an example of how that is possible. He categorically rejects the easy notion that these students from very disadvantaged backgrounds simply had “grit and resilience” and “pulled themselves up by the bootstraps” which often seems the opinion of the privileged and the elites when viewing such cases. Kunda as a sociologist focusses on other factors that influenced their agency, built their capacity and allowed them to navigate the system. A system in America where aspiration and doing better than the previous generation is so ingrained it goes as far back as colonial times and is enshrined in the constitution. Andrew Carnegie was a poor Scottish immigrant arriving in that country hoping for social mobility as much as another later Scottish immigrant in Mary Anne Trump, nee MacLeod or the Slovakian immigrant Melania Knavs arriving in New York in 1996. Kunda in his talk looked at the pathways, support, programmes and social scaffolding that allowed very disadvantaged individuals to become socially mobile. Learning simple skills that most socially mobile people have like having networks, relevant skills and cultural capital through education for example. Kunda puts the important caveat in all of this success and said we should think of people who obtain social mobility as being “exceptional” not the “exception”. By thinking of them as exceptions, we take away society’s responsibility to help people, students, and families in similar circumstances. I am also hoping that the use of and the sneering around “Vicki Pollard” type working class characters has long gone from the stereotypes some sections of the media and professional classes have when they view the working class. 

Anindya Kunda the boost students need to overcome obstacles

When former President Obama’s Secretary for Education, Arne Duncan, made his call to arms in 2010 by declaring that “education was the civil rights issue of our time” using the very powerful analogy of a fundamental societal problem to solve with the first black President sitting in the Oval Office, that clarion call echoed across similar Western societies including a post-industrial Britain. Looking at the issue of increasing greater social mobility opportunities for disadvantaged children, families and communities ranging from coastal towns, former coal mining towns and areas of rural deprivation has occupied governments for a long time and certainly has become a priority in the 21st Century to try to tackle poverty, poor attainment and perceived poor aspirational attitudes. Education is more than the silver bullet here. Education is critical to the success of offering a lasting solution and having a wider resonating legacy throughout these communities. All governments recognise this and it was the cross-party commission on social mobility led by former Labour minister, Alan Milburn, and former Conservative minister, Gillian Shephard, which spent most of this decade looking at solutions to tackle deprivation and how to increase social mobility for some of the poorest communities of the UK. The last two years of British politics has seen a political agenda dominated by one item since the 2016 referendum vote and that is Brexit. As a consequence of this, Alan Milburn resigned from chairing the social mobility commission frustrated by his perceived lack of progress and support from the government. The Commission’s November 2017 report is still relevant and remains one of the most detailed, comprehensive and analytical reports into deprivation, lack of opportunity and poor social mobility in the UK. The report highlighted the “cold spots” in the UK, where there are poor social mobility opportunities and that included the Forest of Dean. For example, many young people in low and low/middle income families will do worse economically than their parents. In some of the “cold spots” less than 10% of young people will go onto Higher Education. It is vitally important for the Forest of Dean that Post 16 centres thrive like the one we have at Wyedean, offering academic and vocational routes and aspirations to our young people and Wyedean is supporting the proposal for a Sixth Form for Dene Magna School in the central/north part of the Forest of Dean. The 2017 report also found UK levels of social mobility for young people were far lower than many other countries. Those from high income and professional backgrounds who have all the structural and cultural capital that social mobility requires still predominantly dominate the top professions and universities.

Connectivity is also a key factor and to echo the writer Verghese, it really is about where we are from. Wrexham or the Forest of Dean or even Appalachia. The 2017 Commission spent a long time highlighting the urban/rural split in term of social mobility and education. Connectivity is the key not only addressing poor transport for remote areas but also in terms of connectivity and digital literacy. I had the pleasure of talking at length earlier this week with Dame Sue John, the Executive Director of Challenge Partners, formerly, known as the London Challenge. London does stand out from the rest of the UK and the next 20 UK cities for being a “hot spot” for social mobility. The London Challenge, and subsequent Challenge Partners of now over 400 English schools, also stands out as one of the most remarkable peer to peer school improvement networks and this has had a knock-on effect on the quality of education being delivered in London and so many other schools like Wyedean. London schools achieving higher than the Kent grammar schools. I spoke to colleagues in Wales this week in Cardiff about school improvement through global learning and lamented the waste of money thrown at an ill thought out imitation of Challenge Partners for Welsh education a few years ago, Challenge Cymru. It took huge amounts of money from already struggling schools in the Valleys, wasted it on educational “gurus” and was eventually brought to an end with no clear impact at all. Another costly failure on trying to improve schools, education and social mobility.

At Wellington College’s annual Festival of Education in June, the Chief Inspector of OfSTED, Amanda Speilman, contributed to the social mobility and education debate with this missive: Many local working-class communities have felt the full brunt of economic dislocation in recent years, and, perhaps as a result, can lack the aspiration and drive seen in many migrant communities. What was encouraging to see across the educational chattering classes on social media and subsequent media responses was a robust debate around social mobility, lack of opportunity, the white working class, deprivation in the UK, aspiration and the perceived higher “drive and aspiration” of migrant communities. Including the purpose of OfSTED being debated in its current form and the negative contribution is has sometimes played in damning so many of these schools. In these very areas OfSTED focusses only on outcomes to make its overall judgement with little regard to socio-economic context as these schools continue to struggle with poor funding, disengagement, deep societal issues and the damning instability of frequent staff turnover of around 70%. Her predecessor, Sir Michael Wilshaw, also waded in. A man many would hold responsible for the aggressive and narrow focus of OFSTED that is linked to harsh punitive accountability climates and a poor imitation of private school cultures being adopted to “raise standards” like the garish blazers, Ebacc drive, mis-understood house systems and binary behaviour systems. All so loved by the short term “hero Heads” finally falling out of fashion when school improvement has always been a collective endeavor. And, of course, the now shrill call for mobiles to be banned in schools. A notion so counterintuitive to the very idea of digital learning and preparing working class kids for their already existing digital world. In these schools this approach fostered by the likes of Wilshaw’s leadership has led to so many good irreplaceable teachers simply leaving the profession because of unrealistic workloads especially in the very areas they are most needed. To be fair to the current chief inspector she did also state; “Schools in white working-class communities have a harder job to do than others”. But since this speech the new professionalism and desire to claim back leadership of education by so many educators and school leaders has seen the power of their agency taking to task these comments and OFSTED’s entire approach to schools in deprived areas already struggling in difficult circumstances. This Tuesday an important piece of research by Toby Greaney and Rob Higham of UCL for Nuffield into the structural impact of changes in England will further add to the power of agency of educators to take on the “perceived wisdom” that presides: The Guardian - Market led education system puts finances before pupils?

Wilshaw’s description of England’s state education system as “mediocre” speaks more about his past leadership of HM Schools inspectorate for his years in charge of standards in education rather than on hard working colleagues and communities battling a rapidly changing globalised society affecting and demanding on their corner of the World.

Dr Zubaida Haque, wrote a 10-point response back to Amanda Speilman in the TES and this is not the first time Dr Haque has taken issue before with Speilman especially over her comments about banning the hijab in schools last year. People seem to want to ban so much in schools. What I found worthy in Dr Haque’s points is the first point: Career aspirations don’t just come from home. Also point 2 – social capital matters. It led me to have a look at the book review of Robert Verkaik’s “Posh Boys” which looks at the place of independent schools in the UK in the 21st Century. The Guardian described it as “A trenchant j’accuse against the old-boy chumocracy and the “apartheid education system” that perpetuates social inequality”. As the principal of the very school Hogwarts probably originated from and the school least likely to look like Hogwarts even with the odd rickety staircase and ex caretaker who is more than a passing resemblance to Hagrid, I think this kind of argument doesn’t actually help or add anything in the social mobility debate. If private school aspirations are about a “Hogwarts” model as school leaders told me at the COBIS conference in London in May then their students are going to be suffering poor social mobility in the globalised and digital society of the 2020s and beyond as much as their white working-class counterparts in the coastal towns of England. And parents will be paying a lot of money for their child’s privilege of fanciful 19th century idealised educational fiction and not being able to be socially mobile outside of a narrow English confine which no one knows what will even look like post Brexit-Global Britain. I have worked in and work with a range of schools, and whatever label we give them what I have always found is all parents and carers want the best for the children. Working class parents want the very best for their children as much as any socio-economic class of parents. It was ill-judged for the chief inspector to say they had no drive or aspiration. I have also seen some of the worst and best lessons, school leadership, curriculum design and safeguarding in independent schools and to say the private school system existing prevents social mobility is too crude and lets so many other factors off the hook in this fundamental debate.

Two things these last few weeks at Wyedean have given me very clear signs of hope, which is again about the drive and aspirations of our young people to want to use education to make something of themselves and navigate successfully a complex globalised society. Firstly, seeing the future cohorts coming to Wyedean from our local primary schools as well as being able to take time in the very warm weather to talk to our existing students as we come to the end of a long academic year with the summer holidays ahead. The Year 11 Prom last week, a wonderful American idea that allows our young people to mark the end of school formally and make a rite of passage in their young lives. It made me so proud of how these students have grown in confidence especially with the stress of so many hours of exams this summer term. The second is reading a captivating and hopeful article on the recommendation of my great colleague and inspirational global educator, Barbara Zielonka in HundrEd by Josephine Lister. The article is below and what it illustrated for me is the continued narrowness of the national confines of debates in the UK around issues like social mobility and the need to look for international comparisons and examples to inform our debates and search for solutions in a much wider way. I was blown away at the notion put forward by global strategist, Parag Khanna, that far from the revival of nationalism and aggressive populism that we see in Europe and America right now the actual global trend is the continued rise of the urban megacity having much less in common with their nation’s rural hinterland and more connectivity to other world cities. London already illustrates this in the UK along with cities like Paris and New York. One of my main aims for Wyedean and our part of the Forest of Dean and borders is to be proud of our area but make sure we are outward facing. This mentality alone is a key factor in the power of agency in developing social mobility for our students. Lister also references the work of the NGO BRAC in Bangladesh, a country suffering the impact of climate change with the constant flooding from the Bengal Delta. The solution for the young people, especially girls, is to get an education and to have special boats which could connect rural areas and act as schools if needed. Education is critical to social mobility as I have seen only too often in so many countries where it is not taken for granted. We can ban mobile phones all we want but the key to education in the 21st Century can now exist on just two things – a device and a connection. The research of Professor Sugata Mitra and founder of SOLE has proved that with a more technologically literate generation than ever when school is not an option, young people in India and other places struggling to climb the social strata for a better life can do so because they can now access education through a device and a connection. “I understand democracy as something that gives the weak the same chances of the strong” Gandhi

There's a growing educational gap between rural and urban areas connectivity could help solve it

I know the power of agency in education to improve social mobility, as a young secondary school student in the mid-1980s living in a former mining town, coming from a council estate and a large family where my father had been digging coal underground since the age of 15. I knew even then that I would need the drive to harness the power of agency to fulfil my aspirations through education. I was very fortunate that my brilliantly caring, funny, engaging, creative and challenging wood work teacher shared a similar background and somehow was in my school despite having a PPE from Oxford University and could name drop his famous contemporaries impressing most people. I had teachers who took us to West Berlin, the Wall came down by chance, whilst we were there, a real moment of history. Teachers who made us so proud of our town and county’s history and local identity that I still get a thrill driving past the barn when Charles II hid in 1651 after the Battle of Worcester and thinking “What if…?”. A school where languages, Art, Drama, IT, Food Tech, Music, Creativity, Sports were as equal in the curriculum as other subjects. Teachers who gave us a love of learning, of books and ideas. Who taught us how to debate and to critically think. Who brought the outside World to our corner of it, so we could talk to people in different professions and walks of life raising our experiences and life chances. Who didn’t sneer at our popular culture because they saw it in the context of interacting with visiting museums, galleries, libraries, allowing us our heroes of the day akin to Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, Ariana Grande. I have had more conversations from my own students about the World Cup and Russia this last week, and they looked shocked when I shared with them my own stories of visiting and working with schools and agencies in Moscow and Siberia. How did my own trajectory from the “neck-end of Madeley” get me to delivering lectures on History at Tomsk State University 10 years ago? My own daughters have enjoyed the film “The Greatest Showman”, and PT Barnum is almost the classic example and advocate of social mobility in 19th century America as well as widening popular culture to the people. My daughters looked very surprised when I said to them at the end of the film at the scene where Barnum is watching “Swan Lake” with his two daughters performing that I had seen the actual lake outside Moscow where Tchaikovsky composed the ballet score. I have experienced this, all thanks to my teachers, who made going to university sound so natural despite the fact that we were the first in our families to do so. Families worked with the school and wanted such high aspirations for their children. I am not sure as a teenager in 2018 that I would be able to have the same path as I did in the 1980s and 1990s through education in the climate of today.

My late father in law, Peter Whittle, is another example of a white working-class boy who accessed education from the poverty of Royston Street, Edge Hill, L6 in a post war Liverpool and went onto study History at the University of Bristol, despite his mother refusing to sign his admissions and grant forms. When we scattered his ashes on the cliffs above his beloved Brehac plage on the Cotes d’Armor two years ago, we looked back at a life of social mobility of a solid cricketer, writer on the Liverpool Echo, teacher, yachtsman, brilliant chef and restaurateur as well as a man who learned languages and epitimised everything that was good about being a cosmopolitan European and being English. Although passing on his love of Everton FC to my three daughters has been raised a few times.

Education is critical to social mobility through high aspirations. The Observer article from the weekend starkly illustrated the deep challenges facing English education going into the next decade: Observer view on role of schools generating inequality admissions

For education to mean something by playing a determining role in allowing social mobility for all, we do need to level the playing field but in the sense of greater opportunity, investment and wider society by having high aspirations for all our young people and not just a few. We need it for the sake of cohesiveness and mutual prosperity. We are committed to it for the young people of our communities in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley at Wyedean as all educators are in their communities as well.

Aspire Together, Achieve Together: Wyedean is an academic and nurturing global school committed to World Class C21st learning for all. We aim to turn dreams into Futures. Wyedean School mission statement on the school website.

Rob Ford


21 June 2018 

Real Digital Learning is not Digital Distraction.

Why we need to move past seeing technology as the “enemy of the age” and educate, beyond our schools, the crucial integrated facilitating role it already plays across global society in the C21st.

“Can you imagine teaching, or indeed day-to-day life, without technology? Although many people view the future of our world as digital - they are wrong. Our world is already digital - as any teacher or schoolchild will readily attest. This environment moves fast...”

Julia Adamson, Director of Education at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

The technology itself is not transformative. It’s the school, the pedagogy, which is transformativeTanya Byron

“The place of mobile phones in the classroom seems to me dubious at best”

Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of OfSTED speaking at the Wellington Festival of Education, June 2018

I sat in a meeting of school leaders this week and what I noticed is something that is now such an everyday part of human interactions that we take it for granted. No one appeared to be listening and everyone appeared to be distracted by their technology. We have greater connectivity and facilitating technology than ever before but we are becoming more disconnected it would seem.  Let me go back to the beginning of my sentence; this wasn’t a classroom full of children or even a packed commuter train where you would expect people to be glued to their devices for music, books, newspapers, email, social media, videos etc.  This was a room full of school leaders. School leaders lamenting about the decline in standards of behaviour and about students not engaged with school.

I wanted to write a blog piece about the phenomenal impact digital learning has had on Wyedean School as a key strand of learning but this week there were a number of comments and reports that should not be unchallenged. The thing that happens in education too many times, is a new agenda will be announced and then already overburdened school leaders and teachers will get to the end of a long academic year feeling they can’t quite rest because someone very important and influential has made an announcement and no one is quite sure if it is a policy, in the OfSTED framework or just advisory. This week first the Culture Secretary, not the Education Secretary, Mike Hancock, announced that mobile phones, but not devices, should be banned in school because they disrupt and cause low-level poor behaviour.  No study cited. At the Wellington Festival of Education, the Chief Inspector of OfSTED, almost word for word, has made the same call. As a school principal of 1100 students aged 11-19 I think this is a very worthwhile debate to explore and to have in education right now even alongside the chronic underfunding, the recruitment crisis of teachers, the narrowing of the curriculum and the dysfunctionality of local-national accountability and responsibility of academies, MATs and the local authorities. The reason why we need this debate, informed by randomised control trials across schools and age groups, is because it is a debate that needs to be moved on conclusively. I read the annual Roehampton University TRACER report this week and I have referenced the opening quote in the foreword by Julie Adamson at the start of this blog. Anyone with an opinion on technology and young people, should not only think about their own relationship and interactions with technology, but also think carefully and deeply about the place of technology in our digital world.  For me, this quote should be at the start of any informed debate.  The link to the report is here:

Roehampton Annual Computer Education Report


For many schools, poor low level disruptive behaviour is the main barrier to progress and school improvement success and I have no doubt the use of mobile devices not only distracts but causes untold issues when used in a negative, undermining way, but won’t solve chronic underfunding, poor aspirations or unpreparedness for a global and digital society. What these schools need is a greater panacea than OfSTED “helpfully” suggesting that mobile phones are banned.  Greater funding and deeper understanding of the issues around social mobility and aspiration may be a place to start. Not driving out hard working teachers and school leaders labelled as “failures” by OfSTED from the very schools and communities that need them most would be another. No doubt, we will also hear that an imitation loud grammar school blazer with a good crest and silent corridors will solve all the ills of these schools. The recent report from Stephen Tierney, of the think-tank, Heads’ Roundtable, report in this week’s TES about OfSTED not being fit to “judge” a school in a deprived area because it is more than five times likely to be failing than one from an affluent area is powerful evidence. We need to move beyond blaming a phone, a community, a student or an educator and beyond looking for simple short-term solutions that may have initial impact but are not sustainable and ultimately the old problems with deep root causes soon reappear. The link to the TES here:


Anecdotally, mobile phones were banned in a rural school I worked in, after many hours poring over a draft policy.  Here is the thing, the policy said only phones.  The “knowledgeable” adults could not think past their own digital experiences, knowledge and students just brought in other digital devices, and the perceived issues remained.  The rural locality with the long bus journeys, winter nights and dark lanes meant parents had no way of being in communication when their child left to and from school. There were very real and serious safeguarding issues caused by the fact students could not contact home not just after school but also for school clubs, trips, and revision sessions after school. The student council fed back and said the hour or so commute was valuable reading time, music time to relax for good wellbeing and time to revise, all using their phones and or devices.

On the longest day of the year and summer solstice, with the wonderful sound outside my window of the Year 6s here for transition week and the anticipation of this next cohort joining us in September, I met with my brilliant group of Year 9 Critical Thinkers this morning. I was all set for Refugee Week debate and ready on throwing into the critical forum Trump and the disgraceful practice he has ordered of separating young refugee children from their families on the Mexico-US border along with the new Italian government’s “tribute” to the 1930s and their approaches to the Italian Roma communities. We went for a discussion on technology, digital learning and young people and mobile devices. I will repeat again a point made in many blogs; I talk to the students of Wyedean and I am filled with so much hope at the wisdom and decision making abilities of this generation for the future compared to the present one. So in no particular order of discussion from critical thinking Year 9s:

 1) Safety and safeguarding: the majority of students here catch buses, often living in rural areas especially in the Forest of Dean. Having a phone is vital for communication alone. A bus broke down on the A48 yesterday on the way home and students were able to call individual parents/carers in advance.  School texted home as well as a post on Facebook and an alert on our Wyedean App.

2) Policing: Would we have scary and intimidating security and body scans/airport scans at the school gates with a huge queue of students entering the building each morning? Personally, I prefer the current school culture of standing out at the front of the drop off and just wishing students a great day with a smile. Liability of storage of 1100 phones in school?

3) Effective use in learning: Online tools and apps are used extensively in innovative and engaging learning and access through mobile devices is now an everyday part of learning culture. For example, use of the app Kahoot and interactive class knowledge quizzes, Show My Home Work is now invaluable to us in not only for the setting of work but also allowing independent learning and home involvement. Students also use this in their free periods at break and lunch around the campus extensively.

4) School has a robust behaviour policy and misuse of devices already exist at Wyedean as our core commitment to a positive learning environment for everyone: Good schools set these boundaries and enforce them.

5) The social media World continues after school: There is no “cut off” for our duty of care or partnership with parents at 3:30.

6) Adults are often worse than young people for digital distraction and inappropriate use of phones: What have people such as Trump demonstrated about aggressive trolling and unacceptable behaviour to women, minorities, children without consequence?

7) Digital society preparedness: how would removing technology help anyone prepare for a globalised society functioning with so much technology? Pay apps are very popular on phones with young people so they do not carry hard cash for example.

8) Global Learning: How many countries and schools are we able to connect with using Skype, Zoom, and Google Hangouts etc. On Monday, I presented to Eastern European colleagues in their conference in Chisinau an hour-long presentation on “Stretch and Challenge Learning for all”. We need global connectedness for a post Brexit “Global Britain” even more.

9) Wider access to learn through World Universities through MOOCs and already alternative additional curriculums exist for individual learners in school using edx, FutureLearn and others. Many use their devises in the library and common rooms to study on these.

10) Like everything, social media has a negative side but we use it in a very positive and celebratory way in school: Students who aren’t sporty can see the sports team doing well like the Softball, Rounders and Athletics teams this week. The Year 7 “First Give” presentations in the JK Rowling library this week used digital learning and shared with home and the wider world this way.  Huge thanks to the Mayor of Gloucester for being a judge! She tweeted it too!

I want to add here a very thoughtful piece by the American EdTech expert, Ethan Miller, appeared on the ever-brilliant “TeacherToolkit” this week looking at the question of “too much technology being bad for students”. I would extend that to adults as well.  The link is below and there are four very real points policy makers, educators, parents and young people should consider what Miller posits:


I am aware this is a long blog but sometimes these things cannot be dealt with in “280” characters even if the president of the USA thinks it is possible to solve most complex issues this way. I will leave this with the discussion from Year 9s: “We still love reading books, taking a walk, having a coffee with friends, playing real sports/games and seeing live events. Schools have had money cut dramatically from wellbeing and counselling services to a record low.  Go figure. Minecraft or Fortnite are crazes for young people in the same way that crazes for young people have always existed. Adults need to stop “worrying”. 


We need to build into schools more outdoor learning like the DofE weekend my students and colleagues had in the Wye Valley last weekend. Sports, wellbeing, enrichment need more status in the curriculum – gardening club is very popular here.  Technology and digital learning are as fundamental to young people as literacy and numeracy. Global learning is wonderful online but seeing visitors like our Japanese partner school this July cannot be replaced as a “real experience”.  Final word, adults need to model the values, priorities and behaviours they want to see in young people.  This “technology/behaviour” issue is as much a young person issue as much as a wider society issue where “poor behaviour” in every form is now the norm for adults all over the online world. See Guardian article link: 


So to the positive. Digital Learning is a key learning strand of the curriculum at Wyedean School, connecting subjects, and facilitates innovative learning, as it should in all schools. It is not about gimmicks, expensive white elephants or looking for “cutting edge futurism”. The worry highlighted in the Roehampton report this week is the smaller number of girls taking Computer Science and the overall take up for the subject with the removal of the more general ICT qualification.  In a digital World that already exists and is getting more, sophisticated we should be prioritising Computer Science and digital learning even more.  I would like influential educators and government ministers shouting this from the rooftops rather than talking about banning all mobile phones in schools. The French have passed a law to do this in schools from September. Yet it was President Macron this week who recorded his face-to-face put down of a school student then trolled it on social media for the more powerful moral figure in French society to make his cheap political point at the expense of a French teenager online for the World to see. 

My innovative and tireless colleague, Emma Williams has been truly transformative in her leadership and vision of digital learning at Wyedean. This is nowhere better illustrated than the partnership she has developed working with Newent School and with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) as a “Cyber School”.  The partnership with the NCSC has just been a remarkable development. I recommend looking at https://twitter.com/WyedeanComputes if you want to see compelling, innovative and digital learning across the curriculum and some of the recent digital learning events like the Dragons Den, the Coding Club, AI, outside speakers or just using the Raspberry Pi that have all added to incredible transformative digital learning at Wyedean. I think to when Bill Gates said, “Technology is just a tool, in terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important” Educators like Emma are such teachers who motivate students and enabling them access to technology and digital learning to engage them and prepare them for their future lives and their world. 

I want to finish with a lovely comment made by two Wyedean parents on Twitter today about their son being able to take part in the Coding Club. This is why digital learning needs to continually be placed at the heart of the curriculum and we move away from the “digital distraction” debates. 

“Thanks for putting on this club. My son is loving it and learning so much. Really appreciate the efforts you go to at Wyedean to give our kids such brilliant opportunities.”

Working in education is the best job in the World! Digital, Global, Creative, Caring and a Sustainable World.

Rob Ford

 12 June 2018

How do we decide in schools a strategy for a “preferred future” and avoid “cutting edge futurism”?

Class of 2018, it’s not the technology you build that will define you. It’s the teams you build and what people do with the technology you buildSheryl Sandberg

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on the building the newSocrates

In my principal’s study in school, amongst the paintings I have a copy of a print by the artist Tom Freeman depicting the night of August 24th, 1814 when a force of British soldiers led by Major General Robert Ross burnt down the White House and the Capitol buildings in the War of 1812. Most students remember this event from the 1812 War especially Dolley Madison saving the portrait of George Washington from the White House just before the redcoats got there, and of course the story of the British arriving to find no President Madison only fine presidential wines and a delicious meal laid out which they promptly devoured before their arson act of revenge and cultural vandalism.  Students of this war also remember “Old Hickory” and the future 7th President, Andrew Jackson, defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans just after the war had ended because news of the Treaty of Ghent hadn’t made it across the Atlantic in time. I looked at this painting this morning at my desk and normally it reminds me of when my colleagues in Virginia gave it to me as a gift; as an ironic present to take with me back home to the mother country. Today, I thought about the weekend’s furore of the G7 summit in Canada, where the richest nations were supposed to be planning the global future but instead President Trump, in a summit eve conversation with Prime Minister Trudeau, accused the Canadians of burning Washington DC in the War of 1812. Not one to let facts get in the way of a good tweet, many commentators made the same point about Trump’s poor grasp of historical facts and knowledge especially in someone who has made it as president and a president who cites historically “old Hickory”, another outsider to the White House, as his hero. The point was also made that Trump graduated from an Ivy League school, Pennsylvania, and should know that Canada was still part of the British Empire in 1812 and it was the British who burnt Washington DC in revenge for the burning of York (Toronto) in Lower Canada at the start of the war. Then there were a few commentators who talked about “Google knowledge” and how we don’t need to know facts, events, dates or just knowledge anymore and Trump was no different.

This set off a chain of thoughts in my thinking especially as a former Head of History, who loves and values dearly historical knowledge, about how this type of comment around the purpose of education is taking more and more hold of the debate concerning what we will be and what we should be delivering in schools for now and the future especially viewed through the digital learning lens. Even in the late 1990s I remember a school bursar arguing with me over my request for a set of text books because “in the future there would be no more paper”. Like all things around predicting the future, the flying cars and cities on the Moon etc, they haven’t quite come to fruition yet.  Unfortunately, in education capricious fads come thick and fast and I have been struck over the weekend on #Edu-Twitter by one commentator referring jokingly to “cutting edge futurism” with reference to those who use the term “C21st learning”.  As someone who references this a fair bit, it did make me go back and question how I was using it in explaining the educational approaches of Wyedean School and the point of global learning in general.  It’s made me think even more introspectively because Wyedean is about to embark on a widescale consultation with all parts of its community (sorry, cannot say “stakeholders”) looking at the “preferred futures” and the vision of the school going into the 2020s.

What I do know is this; the “knowledge v skills” debate is about as useful as the “Man v Food” programme on Dave. Certainly not as entertaining as the TV version of another false binary dichotomy in a zero-sum game. There are so many snake oil salespeople still in education. I’ve sat in “cutting edge futurism” conferences in the UK and overseas and listened to very well paid “gurus” with about 5 mins total teaching experience in front of adolescents on a cold wet dark Wednesday afternoon in November, to tell stressed and hard-working educators capricious statements such as 1) there will be no curriculum content in the future; 2) Coding will replace MFL or 3) the “3Rs will be replaced by the 3Cs”. And of course, no one will have textbooks and all teachers will be robots.  The way the profession has been treated poorly on a range of issues from pay awards to performance management and punitive QA systems has almost turned hardworking teachers that are still left in the profession almost into robots. But as the Welsh sing “Yma o Hyd” – “we are still here”. The 3Rs are fundamental and have underpinned education in the past and will continue to be important but so will creativity, communication and collaboration in learning. Coding is a vitally important area of computer science and digital learning which we need to invest in with more funding.  Wyedean has recently begun working with the National Cyber Security Centre to develop this key area of the curriculum.  This is one of the most exciting initiatives I have seen in over 20 years of education. My brilliant colleague and faculty leader, Emma Williams, is now simply “Agent Williams” and it is engaging so many learners and using outside agencies like the NCSC to positively influence education.

We are also aware of the fundamental importance of learning more than one language and there are a number of recent British Council studies emphasising the damage being done as the UK moves to a “linguaphobic” situation:


I refuse to believe that tools like Google Translator, useful at a facilitating level, will replace learning languages and all that knowledge acquiring means to a learner when they use it to engage people and culture in a wider global society that isn’t monoglot English. What has been illuminating in the initial discussions I have had with colleagues, governors and teachers about the future of education in Wyedean is that no one is falling into the “curriculum reductivism” model in the discussions or suggesting learning is all about “skills”. The noises coming out of OfSTED and the new framework in 2019 is focusing all around the curriculum and for schools to have a much more strategic approach to why they are delivering the model to their students. This is actually to be welcomed and there are very few systems in the World where there is a coherent strategy around the skills, knowledge and understanding students will acquire in their experiences of the informal and formal curriculum that will form their education model through their schooling.  More importantly, aiming for a purpose beyond school and linked to the values and positive contributions individuals make to their local, national and global societies. It was well received news last week that in Wales the recommendations were to allow the inspection service, Estyn, a break from inspecting schools to actually allow them time to implement the very interesting curriculum reforms of Graham Donaldson on the Welsh system.  More strategic thinking like this on the English side of the border would be more welcome.  I am speaking at a British Council event for Welsh senior school leaders on school improvement strategy in Cardiff next week and I will certainly be praising them for this refreshing approach to actually allow something to be developed and established, especially something as important as a nation’s approach to curriculum and its future through the education of young people.

The American author, William Doyle, stresses the following six things we all need to consider in education when we speculate what the future of education will be:

1)Student wellbeing;

2) Teacher wellbeing;

3) Social and cultural wellbeing;

4) Nature-Play;

5) Collaboration, professionalisation and research;

6) Post digital schools & non-digital oasis – effective but limited use of screens.

Doyle’s points echo the very things we miss when we fall into simple, easy, lazy and fractious arguments, often based on the personal becoming the general in debates about the purpose and direction of education for the 2020s and beyond. The strategy I had when I first become principal of Wyedean in 2015, which had underpinned my approach as an educator and school leader since I started teaching in the mid-1990s (staffrooms not stinking of cigarette smoke as they did back then is clear progress) is the curriculum needed strands to join it up and in particular the strands of global, digital, creative and sustainable learning. There are more, but these are the four I focused on. When we look at social mobility issues in the C21st or BAME or gender equality or LGBTQ, the socio-economic and equity elements of education should be considered more in the curriculum and the education experience in our schools. This is something I feel I could be doing more to lead on as a school leader going forward as this has not been raised nearly enough in broader education debates especially at the supra-national level. When I first became involved in the IB at the start of the millennium, it was  the IB Learner Profile and the type of student that would emerge from the whole IB experience still blows my mind as an educator and just makes sense whenever I catch a progressive/conservative/neoliberal/liberal education debate on what we teach in schools and how we teach it:


Currently, my good friend and colleague from Gar-Field High School, Virginia, and presenter of the White House burning painting to me, Brian Bassett, is with his IB students and colleagues in Ghana working with partner schools and communities to build libraries full of those old fashioned educational quirky things Guttenberg called “books” all those centuries ago. Everything about an educational philosophy, approach and lasting legacy you would want for the C21st and for that matter the C22nd, which some of these students may just make it into to pass on a baton to the next generation. On a similar note it is very welcome that the European Commission is offering young people age 18 a free travel pass this summer to see Europe through their Discover EU scheme and a number of my sixth formers at Wyedean are applying for this horizon widening opportunity. Brexit means we are leaving the structures of the EU, not the continental geography of our allies and neighbours of Europe.

I have been very fortunate to begin working with one of the most inspirational global educators around, and a 2018 Varkey Global Teacher prize finalist, the Norwegian teacher, Barbara A Zielonka. Barbara is a passionate advocate of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From this September her #bethechangetakethechallenge1819 initiative is being launched in over 100 schools worldwide to raise awareness of the SDG by using digital learning to link global classrooms, subjects and develop skills such as the American academic Patrick Kyllonen, defined as C21st century learning in 2012 as cognitive, inter-personal and intra-personal competencies. I am very honoured to be the UK ambassador for this initiative and to work and share ideas with incredible educators across the globe. Barbara is also behind initiatives such as “How can technology empower the class of 2030?”. More of that cutting-edge futurism but only this time it is!  It is in Wales where the teaching of the SDGs is compulsory in the curriculum, something else we could learn from over the border of the River Wye.  I feel I can look Barbara in the eye especially now the school’s solar panels, covering the entire roof space have been installed and switched on.  Chepstow announced it is “plastic free” on the weekend and the BBC announced “plastic” was the children’s word of the year.  I am in awe of the schools that are committed to be plastic free by 2020, and this is something I will look at in Wyedean. The power of “The Blue Planet” changing attitudes and approaches as we are truly all in the process of being educated. This theme of the SDG is always linked to our annual Wyedean Creativity festival and this is being held on the 6th July.

My colleague, vice principal academic and best timetabler on the planet I have ever seen, Gwennan Jeremiah, is attending a SW RSC conference this week on curriculum approaches. I am hoping it is not just about how we squeeze the curriculum into the politicised EBacc. Believing in the future is also to be an optimist by default I keep telling myself. My colleague and Wyedean’s director of teaching and learning, Julie Smith, wrote an article in last week’s TES on the school’s approach to “stretch and challenge” learning and we are speaking to Eastern European colleagues online at the META annual summer conference next week about this inclusive approach at Wyedean to creating compelling learning opportunities through challenge: https://www.tes.com/news/gt-we-must-stretch-all-students-not-privileged-few

Often the “preferred future” is the one that is already happening and the one that has always been underpinning the very essence of what we do in education always. Not a panacea, silver bullet or any guru’s snake oil to miraculously solve overnight all society’s ills through education and our schools. To return to Socrates, who I quoted at the start of this blog, 2500 years ago I am sure his “Socratic method” of teaching was being sneered at because it was seen in Ancient Athens as “cutting edge futurism” by his peers.  Well, it has stood the test of time and tomorrow I will deliver an assembly to Year 10 and a critical thinking lesson to Year 12 using near enough the same methods of teaching and learning from the Classical Greeks.  It still seems to be working well in 2018 and when you work with young people in education, you are always building the new. The “preferred future” is a decent one for the next generation avoiding the mistakes so often made by others in the past.

Rob Ford


  25 May 2018

Do schools kill creativity?“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” Picasso “Creativity takes courage” Matisse

I had the honour of meeting and shaking hands with the man who shook the hands of the Beatles, Sean Connery, Jane Fonda and many other famous icons over the post war decades, as he photographed them in their heyday promoting their art. World-renowned photographer and local Wye Valley Tintern resident, David Hurn, is self-taught and because of his dyslexia at school he joined the school camera club. David has astonishingly agreed to work with my colleagues and students in the Creative Learning Area on a number of projects and our Creativity Coordinator, Jane Collins, has led the project to bring David’s talent into school. David has also agreed with Jane to support our annual Creativity Festival which is being held on Friday 6th July. Jane is one of those extraordinary colleagues who epitomises the love of their subject and conveys that to every student. Jane’s role as Creativity Coordinator in the school also means creativity is at the heart of the curriculum and not on the periphery, marginalised or relegated to an after school club in pursuit of a narrow skills focus, based on the job market alone. A principle of education that so many school curriculum models seem to have been designed on now. The government’s own press release from November 2017 celebrates the fact that the creative industries alone are worth £92 billion to the UK economy and are growing at twice the rate of the economy making a record contribution: Creative industries record contribution to UK economy.

The question for many in education and in business is “Why is creativity being killed in schools?”, as Sir Ken Robinson debated in 2006 in the most viewed TED Talk ever. In a near identical experience to David Hurn, Sir Ken battled hurdles in his Liverpool school as he overcame childhood polio and used the transformative power of education, learning and knowledge to progress through school and to university. He is now one of the most powerful advocates for creativity being central in the curriculum. What we call nowadays “social mobility”, Sir Ken famously described as being his enlightened teachers seeing “something in me I didn’t see in myself”. I would recommend his interview on BBC Radio 4’s “The Educators” as well as his TED Talk; always good to listen to, particularly when the Gradgrind (the late Ted Wragg’s infamous fictional academy) gets you really down:



Artists like David Hurn wanting to support the next generation of young people to access the arts, and realise the potential of creativity, educators like my colleague Jane Collins who sees potential in students, when they don’t and powerful and articulate advocates like Ken Robinson make the forceful case for the curriculum to be broad, rich and definitely full of creativity, so that students have a choice in their futures in a globalised economy and world. “Social Mobility” again. We had the privilege on Monday of working with a long time old colleague from the IB, Dr Peter Fidczuk who spent the morning at Wyedean looking at the possible subject models for our IB Careers Programme when we launch it. I caught the eye of my Director of Sixth Form, Johnathan Lane, at one point as we marvelled at the subjects on offer that we could have in our IBCP. The routes, pathways, career plans, study programme; whatever we choose to call them, could potentially engage and open up experiences and potential that our students from the Forest of Dean and the Welsh borders often don’t see in themselves. They have had such a heavy, narrow diet of necessary information, which is not always a worldly education in itself. I remember, in the policy dialogue I was asked to contribute to in London back in November, upsetting the CEO of a MAT somewhere in the north. I pointed out the damage that the relentless pursuit of Ebacc in England by some schools and the DfE has done to wipe out the curriculum of so many creative subjects leaving only a narrow core. I want to say it again here: the Ebacc is not a “Baccalaureate” in any sense of the educational concept. Read the IB’s mission statements and look at their “joined-up” curriculum models and programmes, starting with an aspirational learner profile, to see how narrow and short-sighted the Ebacc actually is. The problem in England for the last 10-15 years is exactly what Geoff Barton, the general secretary of ASCL, emphasised in his blog and on the Today Programme this week: School leaders and educators have given up “leadership” of their profession and need to grab it back. Doctors and Lawyers haven’t allowed civil servants and politicians take over their professional judgements and teachers should be no different. An interesting development to support Barton’s rallying cry is the way school leaders are increasingly challenging the long held shibboleths of English education like the OfSTED inspection judgements, league tables, validity and fairness of attainment and progress measurements, school structure models, school improvement models and teaching and learning effectiveness practices. It is refreshing to see this tackled, finally and a real dialogue taking hold in the profession about the purpose and meaning of education as we approach the 2020s in less than two years. My fear is the number of brilliant art, language, music and DT teachers we have lost.  As a result of this we are now in a permanent recruitment crisis because working in education is no longer seen as an attractive vocation, precisely because of the misguided approach to raising standards by all shades of the political spectrum over the last 20 years. I will leave cruel and punitive quality assurance systems destroying great teachers for another blog.

Last week I was invited to take part in a BBC Radio Gloucestershire debate on the new two year linear A Levels. Essentially, a ‘false binary’ dichotomy was set up by the BBC producer with another Head arguing against my viewpoint. We both came to the same conclusion that some coursework was still good and we will need to wait to see how these A Levels work out. I also made the point that we need to prepare our young people for a global jobs market and we do need to expose them to testing, but that bit is about how much we put pressure on our young people with factors like the sheer number and hours of exams.

I have been trying to work out, in this context, what I think of Lucy Crehan’s book “Cleverlands” as she looks at the five perceived global educational success stories of Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada. Having worked with these countries a lot in global education I have found myself at odds with some of her conclusions, in particular from what I know of my collaboration with colleagues in Finland, for example. The Finns believe their greatest challenge is to avoid the temptation to rest on their laurels of PISA and their structural reforms in education of decades ago. As a consequence, they are going to take a risk and design a more fluid curriculum, less based on traditional subjects, but rather based on the skills associated with creative, digital and global learning and critical thinking. I worked extensively with schools in Singapore about 10 years ago. The drive for these schools and educators was finding ways to bring more arts into their curriculum, and I remember standing in Tintern Abbey one Saturday with a whole group of Singaporean teachers reading Wordsworth’s famous poem and discussing methods to include more creative poetry and drama in their curriculum, rather than just literacy skills.

It is funny how life can come around in full circle, as I sat in Tintern Abbey in the glorious sunshine a couple of weeks ago thinking of those Singaporean colleagues from St Nicholas school. I was transfixed by the astonishing surrealism of the “Museum of the Moon” a piece of glorious public art by Luke Jerram and the music composed by Dan Jones. A Bristolian and a Welshman: always a good combination! A replica, detailed model of the Moon hung down in the middle of the ruined nave of the abbey and it was so beautiful, bold, challenging and thought provoking. Art should challenge and move us. Art should be integral in our lives always and to paraphrase Ken Robinson, Creativity should be just as important as Maths. The Wye “Festival of the River” brought so many people together and made them think about where they live, where they are in their lives, as well as the beauty and appreciation of what they have right now in that moment of time. I thought about the collaborative power of music this week as I watched and listened to the people of Manchester sing Oasis’ “Don’t look back in anger” as they reflected, one year on, from the senseless terror attack on young people in  the Manchester Arena. I thought of the images from Sante Fe, as another senseless US school shooting took place, killing 10 people so soon after Parkland was supposed to be the turning point where this murder of teachers and students stopped. I thought of this as I sat in the Sixth Form café today where Year 13 were in full fancy dress, despite the rain, celebrating their milestone of leaving school singing collectively Jason’s Mraz’s “I’m Yours”. It was just wonderful. Young, joyous faces ready to move onto university, careers, jobs and lives, but right at that moment they were singing and expressing their inner selves. Young people should have the world at their feet and the ability to dream the impossible without fear of the future. I did like the fact the smart phones provided the “lighter” effect of the concert though. It is 2018 after all.

I met, by chance, in London at the O2 Conference Centre one of my education school leader heroes this month, Brian Christian, principal of the British School Tokyo. Brian was in the audience when I spoke at the COBIS conference about global learning and leadership for the British Council. Brian’s approach and philosophy for his school is one we should all aspire to as school leaders. It is inclusive, it is global, it is about sustainability, it is digital, it is about character and wellbeing, it is about achievement and preparation for life. It is about loving learning and wanting to be curious about the world. I greatly appreciated the long conversation I had with him in London, demonstrating again the power of collaboration, sharing and partnership across education systems and countries. That part of Lucy Crehan’s book, I agree with entirely, she was the keynote speaker at the end of the day. Brian tweeted this week a picture of the beautiful English cottage garden on his school campus in Tokyo. One of the most enjoyable enrichment activities we have at Wyedean is the Sixth Form gardening club run by Johnathan Lane. Students who are studying maths and physics also enjoy Wednesday afternoon enrichment, growing peonies and squashes, as well. I do think two-year linear Post 16 courses allow Year 12 to actually do something different in the summer of Year 12 instead of countless exams. We have made that a key part of Wyedean’s ethos and culture.

I was going to avoid mentioning the wedding of Harry and Meghan in this blog, but in the context of creativity in schools and the wider curriculum it is almost impossible to leave out. Meghan’s dresses were astonishing creations by the very best of British talent in Clare Waight Keller and Stella McCartney. Kanneh Mason’s beautiful cello solo in St George’s chapel must have made the whole of Nottingham, and not just his old school of Trinity, burst with pride as this confident, supremely talented young black musician played to the great and good invited from British royalty to Hollywood A Listers. Bishop Michael Curry reminded the whole world of the power of beautiful oratory as he quoted MLK, talked about child poverty around the World, the legacy of slavery and all with the running theme of the redemptive power of love. When a black gospel choir serenaded with Ben E King’s “Stand by Me” the sheer beauty of the voices was awe inspiring to anyone hearing it.

It is up to all of us what we want to see in our schools and in the curriculum for young people to learn. What do we value? What values do we want for the future generations? What are we preparing them for in schools? COBIS schools don’t offer their students a diet of a few narrow skills. Like the IB, they offer a broad, challenging, coherent, compelling learning and life preparing education. The same goes for schools where the values that underpin the culture and ethos are not shaped by short-term politics, or sacrificed on the tight budgets we all face. Why did a school I once worked with in West Java offer the most comprehensive enrichment programme that I had ever seen, when it was operating on a total budget equivalent to one subject dept in a UK school, let alone an entire school? The answer lies in what the school, school leaders and community wanted for those young Indonesians in their curriculum and their education. We have to lead in education again as educators and be brave enough to lead education knowing that creativity allows us to find the things in our young people they didn’t know existed. Far from killing creativity, we should be looking to grow it, encourage it and develop it as the teachers of Kanneh Mason did, Bishop Curry’s did, Ken Robinson’s did and my colleague Jane Collins’ once did. What schools should kill is ignorance and apathy in our young people. You don’t achieve this by killing creativity and the opportunities that go with such a curriculum and approach to education.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” Albert Einstein.

Rob Ford

2 May 2018

In education we are always influencing the next generation of leaders
“Plus est en vous” (More is in you/There is more in you than you think)

Gordonstoun school motto.

“Education must enable young people to effect what they have recognised to be right, despite hardships, despite dangers, despite inner scepticism, despite boredom and despite mockery from the World” Kurt Hahn

It is not very often I start a critical thinking lesson asking students for their thoughts about the ongoing events in Republic Square, Yerevan, as I did this week with my sixth formers. The “Velvet Revolution” being played out peacefully, in Armenia, currently illustrates well the thoughts I have been rolling over about whether or not our education system and curriculum really allows the development of young people to take up the reins from the previous generation. The huge crowds of protesters in the streets of Yerevan that peacefully called for the removal of the former president, Serzh Sargsyan from becoming PM and effectively continuing his rule, largely came from the young people of Armenia in a spring like, almost carnival atmosphere as they decided they wanted their future to be determined differently. I know the well known quote attributed to the Girondist, Vergniaud that “revolutions devour their children” but the educator optimist in me is seeing more and more signs that the next generation are showing more and more signs that the mistakes and mess of the previous generation across a range of global issues from power, climate change, sustainability, refugees, technology, war, human rights etc., are going to be led differently, more ethically. What is happening in Armenia right now speaks volumes about the people of Armenia, especially its young people.

Education should not be in some abstract bubble as we teach our students not only skills and knowledge in their formal and informal curriculum, but also through our values and ethos that underpin the collective spirit and purpose of our education and schools. I witnessed so many examples last weekend at my former school, Royal Wootton Bassett Academy. I had the pleasure of attending their innovative “Empowering young people” conference with the added privilege of being the keynote speaker that closed the conference on Saturday afternoon. There really cannot be many schools that have taken Human Rights and Holocaust education and put them at the centre of a curriculum that brings together every age group and subject in the school in a meaningful, educational and empowering strategy. The work of its lead and founder, Dr Nicola Wetherall, is awe-inspiring and is a powerful example of grassroots leadership influencing the school organisation and community in a positive way. The ripples from this work has linked Holocaust and genocide survivors, academics, other schools, organisations and most importantly young people. The leadership of young people evidenced in this conference and through the awards evening on the Friday evening filled the well of educational optimism about the next generation of leaders and the values they want to see underpinning the world. The young people in the streets of Armenia are also the descendants of one of the very worst and first horrors of modern systematically killing a whole race of people through hate and that was the 1915-16 Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire in WWI. History and the link to building a better World with human rights and human values is not lost on this country.

I would recommend looking at this US article and study on the work of RWBA: Please click HERE to read the article.

The drive back along the M4 to Bristol on Saturday teatime made me think about one of my education heroes, Kurt Hahn, and the importance and relevance he placed on the development of the next generation of young people in all the schools he established from Salem, Gordonstoun, Atlantic College and movements like the DoE, Round Square International and of course UWC. Hahn’s concept of “experiential learning” meant children should not just sit and do things to “receive” education they should be “doing” things in school. The concept of “project” education is an everyday part of education but when Hahn introduced it at Gordonstoun in the 1940s/50s it was very innovative education that would enable young people to develop independent learning skills, self-esteem and build their leadership capacity. Linked to this is Hahn’s belief in the power of failure in education and how as educators we develop a lens of common humanity through creating compassion in our school experiences.

I have spent this week so far thinking about how we put this into practice as educators. I took my last assembly with Year 11 on Monday just before they go on study leave for the summer examinations. They are a great year with brilliant tutors and led with complete compassion and an educator’s heart and year head in my brilliant colleague Claire Rush. I chose not to do the traditional Headmaster “Work hard for your exams; don’t fail; you get out what you put in…” etc. but instead talked about self-esteem and status as they are about to leave this significant stage of their lives by leaving school. I even managed to get will i am singing, “What I am” on Sesame Street into the end, I think they appreciated it. I know the next generation of leaders at Wyedean are already leading; the sixth form group that have worked tirelessly with local charities collecting clothes for Syrian refugees is another great example of the compassion and the values we want to see our young people develop and own. The British Council and the NAHT delivered a very strong case to the government this week concerning the issues around schools visits and opportunities for global learning by visiting our own continent of Europe post Brexit. I made the case again at Royal Wootton Bassett for the importance of international education and global learning for “Global Britain” post 2019. I hope we do not have to fight for this powerful intrinsic education model of curriculum enrichment, lost in the narrowness of bloody-minded politicians. With this in mind, we have welcomed two French partner schools in the last week to Wyedean to work, visit and share with our school community. On Monday, I had the pleasure of working with the Moldovan English Teachers Association as I delivered a webinar on the importance of global learning for our young people. It struck me how important it is for this post-Soviet country to engage in the wider world and create a society and opportunities for young Moldovans to thrive. I am honoured to be delivering a seminar on global learning for COBIS 18 in London in May. The same theme in a recent TES article I contributed for the British Council:

Please click here to read my TES article.

In more than twenty years as a teacher and a school leader I have found myself returning constantly in times of doubt to the direction of education to Kurt Hahn’s ideas as a global educator and about the direction and development of young people in our duty of care and who will take the torch from this generation and carry it forward to the next. Hahn felt education should be to develop young people who were ready to be citizens of a new kind of world and as we approach the 2020s, we see these young people more prepared to lead with integrity, spirit, foresight and humanity in the World. There is so much more in them than you and I could dare to imagine and that is why the well of optimism for the future is full.

Rob Ford


 20 April 2018

 Why schools share, partner and collaborate

 Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.

Helen Keller

Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth.

Sir Ken Robinson

There are too many moments in this role when a “typical day” is impossible to describe. We returned from the Easter break this week and came back to some of the warmest days in April on record. Probably the earliest moment of the summer term on record as well of the request being made for students, by students, to wear shorts in the heat. Instead of enjoying the very relaxed atmosphere around the Wyedean campus, relaxed and Study Leave for Year 11s and 13s is just weeks away, I found myself at Cardiff Metropolitan University in the sweltering sunshine trying to load heavy chairs, desks and notice boards onto the school minibuses.  I am fairly sure the average day of a school principal, or his vice principal business and finance for that matter, doesn’t normally consist of doubling up as a removal team but in the age we live in nothing surprises me in education.  Cardiff Met had very kindly and very generously offered the school a whole host of free furniture for school, which they no longer needed, and in the educational financial climate we are in it was very gratefully welcomed when there simply isn’t spare money for additional chairs, bookcases and display cases. I know a number of colleagues feel that this is a scenario that would never have been envisaged when it wasn’t too long ago a Prime Minister promised “education, education, education”. However, there is no luxury of reflection when it comes to being resourceful and doing what we can as school leaders to ensure the quality of the education in our schools doesn’t falter.  We are the lightning conductors for our school communities always. The offer from Cardiff Met University illustrated for me less a charitable hand-out to a school but a wonderful example of what can be achieved when we collaborate in education.

I did reflect and realise on Monday that if I did want to work in Suffolk a four-hour tortuous commute from Bristol was probably not a wise idea. I managed to arrive at the impressive new campus of West Suffolk College with plenty of time to spare, to speak at the International Festival of Learning (IFL).  Over 1000 teachers and educators attended this great event in the spring sunshine and I managed to catch the first panel discussion with Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of OfSTED, and Geoff Barton, general secretary of the school leaders union, ASCL. Amanda Spielman certainly comes across as a much more compassionate chief inspector of OfSTED, and her comments last year about the focus being on the curriculum echoes very much with the strategy and ethos of Wyedean School’s approach.  She made the point in the room on Monday that the curriculum in many schools has just “fizzled out”. I wish she was wrong but I have lost count of the number of school leaders I have spoken to who make the astonished look of surprise when I tell them about Wyedean’s rich and deep curriculum and educational experience that sees the arts, sport, music, languages, design etc at the heart of our school alongside other subjects. Geoff Barton lamented how many schools are now essentially reducing the curriculum and becoming qualification focussed from Year 8 onwards.  He said Key Stage 3 is a learning stage in its own right and no research shows options after less than two years in secondary school does anything but reduce curriculum exposure to a broad range of subjects and learning experiences.  Linking this to wellbeing, how much pressure is on young people at the ages of 12-13 to make such decisions when we want them to be engaged, challenged and enjoying school? 

One of the highlights about Monday’s IFL is the sheer number of schools, educators and related organisations and agencies that were able to get together in the same place and discuss education. I drove back home after I had given my talk to the conference and I thought about a quote I had read recently from a superintendent of schools in Washington State, Judith Billings:

“Children are the priority. Change is the reality. Collaboration is the strategy”.  

The key emphasis in my talk to the audience in Bury St Edmunds focussed on the school improvement strategy at Wyedean over the last few years, based on a very simple but determined strategy. Wyedean could not exist in an introverted isolation at the southern end of the Forest of Dean, pushed up against a hard Welsh education border where collaboration or even willingness to collaborate is non-existent. The game-changer for Wyedean, looking out to the confluence of the Wye and Severn, 'blessed is the eye between the Severn and the Wye”, and the wider sea; along the M4 corridor to Bristol, the south west and towards London, was to engage with networks, partnerships and anyone who could offer an external perspective and challenge to Wyedean School. If we hadn’t engaged on a twin strategy of a positive school culture focused on compelling education and wider collaborative engagement the last few years that have been so significant in how the school has improved would have been very different. Moreover, it is not just OfSTED who  see this significant improvement but Challenge Partners, the British Council, the IB, local universities, the CLF, the RSC, local primary schools and a whole host of parents and children who want to come to Wyedean for their education. 

To return to the crux of Superintendent Billing’s quote, one school and one school leader does not have all the answers especially in the very complex and fluid educational picture we inhabit in 2018. Through collaboration we can be challenged in our approaches and thinking that pulls down the walls of our own self-constructed echo chambers. I always find it fascinating that the central tenet of a student’s “education” is not so much about skills and knowledge acquisition, very important to learn but against each other, a false dichotomy… a blog for another day, but being challenged, and open to question and to be intellectually curious. In all of this to be prepared to change opinion and views held through this process. As the IB learner profile challenges oneself, “How do we know we know?” Collaboration and meaningful partnerships achieves this for a school in education. I have lost count on the times I have been asked if either Wyedean is going to start a MAT or join a MAT. There are a huge number of MATs such as the CLF in Bristol, where that organisation based on collaboration, has made a significant difference in school improvement. There are also many examples like the now defunct WCAT in Yorkshire where that model did not work. What has worked for Wyedean School is the ethos of wanting our school to be immersed in World Class education and for our school to exude a positive school culture that allows our education to be a transformative force for good in the lives of our young people and the community we serve. The MAT model of collaboration and partnership for school improvement for Wyedean School is not one that would allow us to have achieved what we have over the last few years. Partnerships like Challenge Partners and now becoming an IB World School candidate are the collaboration networks that aligns with our school ethos of global learning and C21st World Class education that run through our school values and ethos like a stick of Blackpool rock. A key part of our school ethos is our commitment to work with any school and to collaborate to develop education and meaningful experience that continues to enhance the education at Wyedean and those we have the privilege to work with. We also know that we do not have all the answers as a school community. We often do not even know the questions. However, we know where to find them in our networks, both formal and informal.

In that spirit I am really pleased that the director of Teaching and Learning, my colleague Julie Smith, has been invited to speak at a major global learning conference in Europe in early May, about our innovative approach to learning in a positive school culture that empowers the teacher and therefore the learning rather than unnecessarily overburdening colleagues with fads and a punitive workload. I am looking forward to speaking at my former school, Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, at their “Empowering Young People” conference next week and meeting up again with my former colleague, the brilliant Dr Nicola Wetherall who has done so much important work in schools around Holocaust and Genocide awareness education. Nic has done so much to bring together leading academics, schools and public figures to develop further intellectual curiosity and understanding of key historical events, historic like the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the Nazi Holocaust to more recent times in Rwanda and Bosnia. The impact of such educational experience as we develop wider understanding and link it to the climate and events of our own World in places such as Syria is immeasurable but we know as educators that introverted isolation for our schools, our communities, our colleagues and our students is not the way forward when we think about meaningful education in 2018. The meeting of Commonwealth leaders in London this week is representative of 53 nations, a third of the global population, looking to work further together and the education aspect of the global Commonwealth community is a powerful force of good around the globe. To participate in education and belong to a formal and informal school community is in itself an act of sharing and collaboration and can only be a force of positive good as we go forward. 

Rob Ford