Politicians – party or people?

Seeing so much from Westminster lately I couldn’t help reflecting over my time as a teacher, school leader and director. I have been fortunate to have met many MPs and Councillors.

Mostly local but when labour were in power Graham Allen MP often brought ministers to meet us in Nottingham North. NN is the constituency that historically send the fewest young people to University of all constituencies [Trinity moved from Nottingham North to Nottingham South at a boundary change]. I have always had huge respect for our local MPs – Lilian Greenwood ( whose constituency the school moved into and who always took time to visit her schools) and Alex Norris, sill a school governor and in Nottingham East Nadia Whittome who helped with many projects and programmes and of course my home MP Vernon Coaker although not the present incumbent.

Our own MPs responding very positively to support local heads in the pandemic and taking the trouble to thank them via video or other messages.

Many Conservative education secretaries I’ve met at school conferences (Michael Gove) or through RC heads (Nicky Morgan) or just occasionally a visit to Nottingham (Damian Hinds). Others like Estelle Morris came and spoke at Trinity; Ed Balls listened to our choir when we were invited to sing at the launch of ‘faith in schools’ at the British museum.

Although Nottingham City is a majority Labour I’ve worked with some significant Conservative councillors too including teacher colleagues; some I would count as friends.

So that’s both main parties, local and national, ministers and backbenchers; official business, visits or sometimes campaigning.

To a person they have been polite, thoughtful, and nearly always willing to listen and take time to explain policy or reason. Sometimes I’ve disagreed about their policies including those on education.

The best…. know their ward or constituency very well and keep talking and listening to all their voters (and non voters) whether in power or opposition. They listen to local professionals and many, rather than have a second job are school governors etc , using their time effectively and yes working very hard. They ask good questions and many are extremely good at remembering names and concerns – they are genuinely ‘bothered’ . Of course some have been in power, some have been in opposition

And when in power those who absolutely represent their ward or constituency not just their party are frequently respected and often returned at elections.

Those in opposition willing to recognise helpful policy and to try and nudge and influence on behalf of all of us are respected and yes often returned at elections.

We understand their preference for (and probably their duty for) fulfilling a manifesto but on taking power they change from being single minded party political to thinking and acting for ALL locals. They kind of move on from ‘Party’ to public though with one eye on ‘Party’.

Clearly some never learn and think their job is to run things like they are the only party or people who are right, that they can choose mates and nepotism over sharing fairer representation – diverse views. That they are still campaigning not running government. They ignore public over ‘Party’

Thank you to our local representation when you do ( as you do so often) represent us, thank you for your work on all our behalf, however challenging be it in power or not.

Most of all think of the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, those who struggle who have little power or voice – the neighbour we all should love. And those of you who do – which is a majority on my list – thank you.

Thank you Nottingham

I had only a vague awareness of the Goose Fair Dinner and so to get an invite from my friend and amazing colleague Nigel Cook was a genuine surprise. To then find myself receiving one of four awards was incredibly special. The tribute from Cllr Cheryl Barnard was just lovely and like all those kinds of speeches you wonder how someone can say all the nice things but omit your weaknesses. 

I appreciated the reminder to my commitment which continues for “learning” in science, in the City’s Cultural standing and especially to literacy.

To receive an award of recognition is always special BUT to receive from your peers, from colleagues you have worked with is genuinely the absolute best. I cannot thank the City Council enough – not just some recognition of my time working with them but my time in the City as a teacher and school leader. It was genuinely overwhelming and today, the day after, is slightly more overwhelming as I cannot keep up with the Facebook messages, private messages and Twitter. Yes, you read that right even I can’t keep up with twitter. I don’t feel “Unsung” at all – that stays in my mind with the likes of school receptionists who had to make difficult calls to families about closures or positive tests in a pandemic; to cleaners who went the extra mile and quietly double checked the cleaning; to heads who often worked through the night to make sense of plans and of Gov last minute changes; to fellow NCC officers who went to visit the homes of families in need – the vulnerable those with SEND………I could go on.

So I hope then that this will do – thank you for all the comments/likes/retweets etc It does mean a lot. At the dinner were very many of the genuinely great and good of the City; many of whom I have worked with, many I have learned so much from (I will post on this in due time). Officers, leaders, politicians – and the DNA thread is the double thread of Nottingham and Service – where else do Council leaders go and pick up litter, where else is the voice of the City handed to an incredible young poet Ravelle-Sade Fairman and a young musician Ellei Stainsby where else is service at the vital personal level the ethos – right from those at the top?

Last night I was very proud of Nottingham City, and stood amongst more deserving winners. I was very touched by the recognition and very grateful for the help and support of so many people present there including my wife Jane. As I said when I left the City Council if anything was achieved it was thanks to the team, the shoulder’s of others and TEAM – you know who you are

John Dexter with an audience again
– the thing you lose when you stop teaching

As we left,  one of those City ‘Fathers’ a big character and yes a great servant to the City asked for a photo with Jane and I to send to his daughter who I taught, he asked another  person who is also a very significant prominent and effective local leader if he would oblige.  ‘Of course, how do you know John?” ‘He taught my daughter’. “Well that’s fascinating as he taught my son!”


Job done. QED


If you are interested the picture of Goose fair is by Noel Denholm Davis (1876–1950) painted in 1910 primarily a portrait painter, Davis was born in Nottingham, where he studied at the School of Art for five years in the 1890s and was then at the Royal Academy Schools. He painted  the likes of Sir Jesse Boot; Captain Albert Ball; General William Booth; and he painted the incredible frescoes in the Council house

These are historical names from our City, each a great servant and I’m proud to have worked with many local leaders who continue that tradition. Thank you

Ive now had three amazing send offs……. promise no more

Farewell and Thank you Nottingham City

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”

Back in my days as a science teacher I recall a lesson when I asked if anyone had a £2 coin in their pocket and could read the message around the rim.  The class discovered the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants”.  I was about to discuss the methodology of science, how Newton referred to himself, in a letter responding to Robert Hooke after Hooke wrote to congratulate him on his discoveries and his published scientific paper. “Yes, yes Sir” said one enthusiastic teenager “it’s an Oasis album”.

Wherever the phrase is used, the meaning suggests that creativity, developments, even innovation in science or other areas is often about picking through other people’s ideas and discoveries – that’s what I’ve tried to do across a fragmented and challenging educational landscape.

I have come to the end of my time at NCC this half term and since 2017, have been privileged to work with many “giants” of education, of teaching and learning, governors, and support staff, NCC colleagues, TU and the voluntary sector, heads and CEOs – in Nottingham City and regulators and wider services. Anyone working in schools in recent years has seen the value of unsung giant heroes like the cleaners not only keeping a place clean and tidy but safe from a virus; catering staff working out how to get meals to FSM children in a pandemic or suddenly during a lockdown holiday; reception staff having to ring home (yet again) and explain a class bubble has burst or a pupil, a teacher has tested positive; teachers who have had to replan delivery models, find creative solutions and look out, even more carefully for children and young people; heads who never anticipated reading or writing so many risk assessments alongside leading a school, senior leaders bouncing from issue to issue, discussing health more than teaching; governors wondering what on Earth they volunteered for ! So many “giants” and many amongst NCC staff too; giants trying to ensure clear guidance for safe working; giants trying to help admit a child mid year; giants working out how to help a SEND child unable to get to school or support a vulnerable family; or reach out to those vulnerable unaccompanied asylum seeker children and many just trying to keep a service alive like the swimming services and Councillors under fire from every direction but staying focussed on priorities, even busy MPs stopping by to thank local heads during the height of the pandemic.

I reflect on my four and half years ( since writing “Why be an education Director?” ) and it has been a privilege of seeing and hearing many colleagues in their work and working closely with some Nottingham “giants”. It has seen the LA world try and improve communications and create flexible systems to support schools and academies in the mission for the 48,000 Nottingham children and their families, who we all work hard to serve and educate.  We have tried to be creative and innovative to find and offer opportunities, to listen to partners and try and bring an effective engagement together. There is a great strength in partnership, a great strength in working on the significant areas we have in common. There is an importance to listening to the voice of children and young people ( and their parents and carers) and shaping the offer to raise aspiration, ambition and outcomes in an early help, inclusive City.

Nottingham now has almost 90% of settings good and outstanding and recently a very positive report of SEND across the whole provision in Nottingham City. Those who work hard every day to deliver and raise standards are amongst those giants. During my time the pandemic has been a massive trauma for the workforce and significantly for very many families, touching us all sometimes in hard and very sad ways. Overcoming that deficit and disadvantage will need more ‘standing on the shoulders’ to look for solutions but I have every confidence that working together progress can continue to happen.

Children and young people playing sport, or involved in an outdoor education activity or taking part in a concert, a play, a show, in any communal activity even solving problems in lessons, these pupils each make their contribution but the result is always greater than the parts. This brings an added joy, an uplift and a lesson for cooperation, collaboration, and partnership and that’s a way forward for the wider collaborative work in the City. 

So thank you for making my time in this role so rewarding, for the times of working together to solve problems and find acceptable solutions, for creating an inclusive culture and for being a “giant” in the City. Thank you for your hard work from Early Years, Primary, Secondary, AP, Special and Colleges and my very best wishes for the continued success of your organisation and for you personally.  

I am hoping to blog a few more posts now as I reflect upon 40+ years in education; 26 in classrooms delivering ~ 26,000 Chemistry and Science lessons, as a school leader and head and in helping an LA.        

Walk 14 Hannig around the Saas Village

So we return to Saas Fee and walk to the side of the village, after a short cable car ride up Hannig to 2342m and walk facing the Fee glacier. A glacier like so many suffering from climate change. at one point not so long ago, snow and ice were at the edge of the village! This is a nice 3 hour amble with lots of flowers and the odd goat. In the village lots of really interesting history, especially the Priest who first brought tourists to the place.

 

Walk 13 Chatsworth

Today we go to Chatsworth. Lots of walking in this estate and lots of time spent in the amazing gardens. Many of you in Nottingham and Derbyshire or S Yorkshire will know this place well. We have enjoyed their Christmas extravaganza in the house and also the summer RHS shows ( usually in serious rain and mud).  This though is a walk days starting on the edge of the estate at a BandB and walking up around the Tower and  larger ponds.

We have such familiarity I have few photos but enjoy this walk from January 2019

Walk 11 Woodthorpe Park

Today is a special walk, it’s a from ‘home’ walk, it’s lockdown and it’s Easter.

We have always appreciated a park at the top of the road; taking babies in pushchairs; toddlers to swings; sledging in snow. Just a place to stretch or sit or meet and to watch the seasons pass through those grand horse chestnuts and gardens. Enjoying blossom, kicking over leaves, being blown about or frosted.

 

  • Thank you Nottingham City council for keeping this open during the 2020 pandemic.
  • Thank you local people for being sensible walking around etc
  • Thank you NCC for buying it and looking after it since 1921 – and in part thanks to a donation from Sir Jesse Boot.
  • Thank you to the volunteers who help out – and long may that continue BUT
  • Most of us appreciate parks, we probably appreciate them more now. I hope government will help fund local councils better to preserve, sustain and ‘grow’ our green spaces – there is bailing out banks and there is stewardship of our natural parks in urban settings

Walk 10 Around Millelallalin nr Saas Fee

Get the gloves on! We ride up from Saas Fee at 1309m to Millelallalin at 3456m. Come out on snow and sit underneath Allalinhorn. This just explores the area around the  cable car station. There is a scary walk around the edges and across the glacier to be saved for a later trip. You’ll need to acclimatise and also get used to walking on snow. Oh and not forgetting all the summer skiers tramping down having gone up about 5 am and finished midday as the sun disrupts the surfaces.

This is a place to amble and observe and enjoy a Swiss hot chocolate. We have walked up towards the peak in glorious sunshine and after half an hour a complete white out came as a bit of a scare.

Walk 9 Clumber

Lots of Nottingham folk will have walked or cycled at Clumber. We have done both, and recall taking the girls there when they were fairly little to learn to ride their bicycles, with mixed success.

Recent times we’ve also enjoyed visiting the gardens and greenhouse….and having a cup of tea.

In the long hot summer of 2019 there were some great photos from the air showing the outline of the old house thanks to fairly scorched ground.