Mar 08

5 things YOU can do on International Women’s Day

Sometimes it can feel that the gender parity gap is too large for any one of us to make a difference, but in truth every single step we take towards a fairer, more equal world is worth the effort. Today is International Women’s Day – a day where we focus, together, across the entire world, on a concerted drive towards respecting and honouring women, and ensuring that all human beings have equal opportunities, whatever their gender.


So today – act. Take five simple steps. And if you are short of something to do, do these five things:

  1. Be inspired by the IWD site and read about the #PressforProgress campaign – “whether through a global conference, community gathering, classroom lesson or dinner table conversation – everyone can play a purposeful part in pressing for gender parity.”
  2. Enjoy the Google Doodle for the day, which highlights artwork from 12 female artists, especially commissioned for today.
  3. Seek out the equality and diversity policy of one or more of the organisations with which you are aligned – a charity, a company, a school, perhaps – and read it. Think about how these values are lived in practice … and how they could better be achieved.
  4. Reach out to a(nother) woman in your life, and lift her up: thank her, recognise her, stand in solidarity with her.
  5. Commit to action – write a list of three things that you will do this year that will make a difference – in your local community, in a national organisation, and through contributing to global change.

Every step matters. Celebrate womankind today.

Nov 10

Democracy and the power of music … and of people’s voices

My fingers are sore from typing thank you emails, and I still have dozens to write; the swift campaign to save the City of Edinburgh Music School this past fortnight has garnered enormous support, and we are all immensely grateful to everyone who was prepared to stand up and recognise that Edinburgh City Council’s proposal to close the Music School was wrong by any standard (not least financially – the money for the School originates from the Scottish Government).


It was enormously heartening to see and hear such passion being expressed by students, parents, former students, former parents and people who had just simply encountered the Music School and understood what it is achieving in musical excellence (a phrase I do not use glibly) for children and young people from all walks of life across Scotland. The campaign was successful: the voices of these people were heard, and Councillors across party borders listened and worked together to make sure that an amendment to the original proposal was proposed, voted upon and passed, saving the Music School.

Reflecting on the last fortnight, there are countless observations to be made, and dozens of lessons to be drawn; here are just three of them:

In a democracy, people’s voices can be heard – but only if you speak up. This is one of the most powerful lessons of the past two weeks. From the moment we had first sight of the internal briefing document which underpinned an apparently innocuous line in a set of budget proposals due to go out to public consultation, people started speaking out to express their views, and things started to happen. People wrote to their Councillors and started approaching politicians on Twitter; they told their families and friends, and they did the same. Councillors listened – they really listened – and started asking questions, subjecting the proposal to a scrutiny that was impressive. Especially considering how much a Councillor is paid (not much), the level of direct engagement and the swiftness of response was astonishing. The same was true of MSPs, some of whom stood up at an early stage in support, and very prominently enabled the truth to emerge, helping the balance of arguments to sway towards maintaining the Music School. Andy Wightman MSP’s question to the First Minister in First Minister’s Questions last Thursday was masterful in illuminating the situation; equally elucidatory was Nicola Sturgeon’s reply. They knew about the issue because it was on everyone’s lips; it was on everyone’s lips because people were speaking out about it and using the democratic channels open to them to do so.

Being a public servant is really, really hard – but ultimately so very important. Having spent the past two weeks engaging frequently with public servants, from elected representatives (Councillors, MSPs, MPs and  members of the House of Lords) to Council officials and the lovely, helpful and impressively well-informed clerks who work in Edinburgh Council Committee Services, I can say with confidence that it is not at all easy to meet all the needs of all the people and groups for which they have responsibility; in fact, this would be an understatement. Balancing budgets in straitened times is – excuse the language – damned hard, and there are only a certain number of ways to cut the cookie. Officials and Councillors know that cuts will not make people happy; in fact, the opposite is true. This does not excuse the lack of transparency in the budgeting process, but it makes it easier to understand why people felt it necessary to obfuscate (and the scale of the endeavour makes it entirely conceivable that the origin of the money to fund the Music School has been lost in the mists of time). It is really hard to be honest and open when dealing with really complex issues in a society which operates by communicating via simple sound bites, but we have to work together to find a way to do this.

Music has the power to make a difference in the world. Music really does make spirits soar. It speaks to our souls, and the language of Music unites us across every possible boundary or barrier you can think of. In the words of the great violinist Nicola Benedetti, who spoke out strongly in support of the Music School,

“We all need a little bit of magic and beauty in our lives – great musicians, people who have dedicated their lives to doing the seemingly impossible, can provide this. 
These students, excelling in this field, have the potential to deliver uplift and beauty to their societies. Continued support for the arts in general is an investment in the health of the country.”

At its heart, this is what was driving us.

So – a busy fortnight draws to a close, and the right decision has been taken on the Music School, but there are many more causes to be highlighted and addressed – causes that affect us all – and the key lesson of the past two weeks is that we do all really need to become engaged and involved in these.

One final observation for now – communities who are passionate and energised make a difference. One of the most wonderful outcomes of the intensity of the past fortnight has been the strengthening and broadening of what was already a community with a shared interest and shared gratitude for the work of the dedicated educators and specialists at the Music School. People have come together and forged friendships in the heat of the fight. My new ‘Best Friends Forever’ are too numerous to mention. Communities with a cause – and the courage to use their voices – can and should work together to make a difference.

Together, after all, humanity is stronger and better.


Oct 28

Democracy in action in Edinburgh, challenging autocracy, and the fight to save the City of Edinburgh Music School

Sub-text: the vital importance of teaching young people how to engage effectively with politics …


Are you sitting comfortably?

If you have a spare 2 hours (I know, I know … who does? But this will be worth it!), then watch this hot-off-the-press webcast of the Edinburgh City Council Finance and Resources Committee meeting on Friday 27 October 2017. It is a classic and absolutely fascinating example of how citizens can work with their elected politicians; and how if they don’t, then autocracy and officialdom rule. If you are a teacher of politics, general studies or media, this is your next week’s lessons sorted; even if you aren’t, you will find this fascinating, if horrifying in places. And it should absolutely be a salutary reminder to us all that if we don’t get involved in politics, then democracy fails.


Some background: uncovering a “deception”

You need a bit of background to understand the context – on Wednesday 25 October 2017, an anonymous tipoff to parents and staff at Broughton High School in Edinburgh, home to the internationally renowned City of Edinburgh Music School, uncovered an internal Council document which under the guise of ‘creating’ a ‘citywide equity and excellence music service’ actually proposed nothing of the sort, but rather listed a series of potentially devastating cuts which would result in the closure of the National Centre of Excellence at Broughton and one of its associated primary schools, Flora Stevenson’s, and a dumbing down of musical tuition across the city through more large group instrumental tuition (which, as anyone with any knowledge of music knows, simply does not respond to individual need).

Realising that this was to be discussed at a Council Finance and Resources Committee meeting on the Friday at 10am (less than 48 hours’ time), parents and students at the Music School and at Broughton and Flora’s swung into action, contacting their local Councillors and the press. They wrote and spoke about their personal stories, their fears for the wider school community, the music education provision in the city, and also drew attention to various issues which were emerging that suggested that this was an extremely misguided move on the part of the Council. This meant that the Councillors on the Finance and Resources Committee had at least some more information in preparation for the meeting. The response of a number of Councillors was exceptional – swift, interactive and open to listening. (A big shout out here to Councillor Whyte, Councillor Miller, Councillor Hutchison, Councillor Ross and Councillor Johnston, as well as other local councillors, including Councillor Osler, Councillor Barrie, Councillor Gloyer and more.)


The plot thickens …

As the hours ticked away towards the meeting, a number of interesting issues started to emerge …

  • Funding of the school. The Music School is actually funded, indirectly, by the Scottish Government, and not by the Council. The existence of National Centres of Excellence is recognised as part of the needs-based grants to local councils; this amount was determined by central government and has been fixed for a number of years, even though it is rolled up into the overall settlement. In 2011, Labour MSP Peter Peacock asked a parliamentary question about this:

 24 February 2011. Index Heading: Education and Lifelong Learning

 Peter Peacock: To ask the Scottish Executive what its position is regarding a local authority no longer providing funding for a national centre of excellence in education for which its annual funding had been specifically increased. (S3W-39439)

 Mr Michael Russell:

The previously ring-fenced funding for national centres of excellence was rolled-up into the local government finance settlement with effect from 1 April 2008. Although the provision for national centres of excellence is still recognised in the needs-based distribution formula there is no separately identifiable funding. If a council were to withdraw this service, this could impact on the future funding allocations for that council. The Scottish Government view is that it would not be appropriate for a council to benefit at the expense of other councils, within the distribution formula, in relation to a facility or service that it no longer provides.

Over recent years, the Music School has been asked to cut its budget along with other Council departments. This obviously has had a direct impact on pupils of the Music School, despite claims from the Children and Families Department that frontline services have been protected. This includes a reduction in the number of instruments that can be studied by each pupil, and an increase in funding required from parents for certain activities undertaken by the Music School that are a key part of their studies and essential for their musical education – for example, paying for Grade exams. The Music School has also been required to fund pipes and drums tuition for children across the city from its budget. This means that in fact the Music School actually costs less than the amount originally intended for its costs from the Scottish Government.

Given that the amount included in the settlement to the Council is in the region of £500k a year, and the Council actually spends only around £400k on the Music School, with the closure of the National Centre for Excellence the Council would actually lose significantly more from the Scottish Government than they would propose to save. The closure of the School would be financially counterproductive and would seem to be – in simple, layman’s terms – utterly daft.

  • Councillors being kept in the dark. The Councillors who were members of the Committee (with the exception, it appeared, of those in the prevailing administration – Edinburgh Council is run by an SNP/Labour coalition) did not have access to the internal document which clearly provided the bones of the proposal to close the Music School. (By this time, the internal document was available online, published by a Green Party MSP who was disgusted with the proposal and the process.) No mention of this or other internal documents appeared in the extensive Committee papers. At the meeting, Councillors repeatedly asked for information, which was not given to them … they were told that more information would be available on Monday 30 October, when the proposals went out to consultation, but that it was not available to them at the meeting. This somewhat stretched the bounds of credibility, as it was by then Friday lunchtime, and there was no sense that officials would be working feverishly over the weekend to flesh out proposals which had already been published in summary.
  • Manipulation of democracy: In the meeting, the Councillors were being asked to vote to put out items for public consultation whereby the public voice could be heard about where cuts should fall. However, the amount of savings on the list of proposed areas for consultation added up exactly to the amount the Council was seeking to save, meaning that in fact there was no choice for the public, giving rise to the suspicion that this was purely a (costly) formulaic, PR initiative. Democracy isn’t democracy if there is no choice…


The meeting – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Watch the webcast and spot the following:

  • Councillors asking astute and searching questions, challenging officials and the Convenor of the meeting; asking for more information but being told it wasn’t available. Councillors persisting, uncovering, illuminating. A hooray for democracy, and inspiring to watch.
  • Disturbingly, officials, obfuscating and ‘spinning’ the truth – the Head of Schools ‘reassuring’ Councillors that the Music School would not be closed, but relying on a different definition of what ‘to close’ means. (Shades of Bill Clinton and his definition of ‘is’ …). Similarly, there is an attempt to describe the National Centre of Excellence as continuing to exist while being neither a Centre nor enabling Excellence (and not being National, either). A thumbs down for democracy.
  • Equally disturbingly, obfuscation on the part of the Convenor about the process that has led to this particular list of proposals (adding up the exact amount of budget savings required). Watch as it is gradually revealed that in fact there were other proposals, but that the decision was taken not to submit these to the Committee, leaving the Councillors on the Committee no choices about which proposals should go out to public consultation. Another thumbs down for democracy.
  • A vote, narrowly won in the face of hurdles, to postpone the decision to approve items for public consultation until 7 November.
  • A realisation of the dangers inherent in our system, when officials are not held to account and required to be transparent; if the Councillors had not been alerted to the existence of information developed and retained by officials and the administration, it would have been quite understandable if they had thought that they were doing the right thing by agreeing that the proposals should go to public consultation.


What next?

What does all this mean? Well, on a practical note concerning the City of Edinburgh Music School there is work to be done (at the time of writing) by Councillors, parents, supporters and community members to illuminate the facts of the situation, in preparation for the meeting on 7 November. Parents believe that this proposal should be stopped in its tracks. Watch this space.

For educators – and actually, for all citizens – there is a deep lesson to be learned here about teaching young people the importance of engaging in politics, holding officials to account, thinking critically, and not taking ‘truth’ at face value. In an age where young people are often disengaged from politics, this message is more important than ever before.

Plato said: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Don’t let us let that happen.


Background on the City of Edinburgh Music School

The City of Edinburgh Music School is unique: nowhere else in Europe is there a school in the maintained sector which offers a complete specialist music programme from primary to secondary level in two neighbouring centres, completely integrated into a mainstream comprehensive school. It is a National Centre of Excellence. Musical talent – real, amazing talent – is developed through intensive training, involving regular practice, various ensembles and individual expert tuition, and it paves the way for students to secure positions in some of the most prestigious colleges, universities, ensembles, orchestras and media organisations in the world. It has equity at its core, through equality of access to musical tuition regardless of financial means.

Its successes are well-documented in the public domain, as former students have gone on to many great things in the world of music; its overwhelming success, however, lies in how it changes the lives of children with particular needs, stretching and channelling them, and enabling them to become truly themselves, able to develop into adults who will play an important role in society. It is vital for the personal development and growth of all its students. The continuity and stability provided by a community of children and young people, integrated into a wider school community, is a significant part of why the Music School works so well, and why, too, the Music School is able to impact the lives of so many in the school and wider community.


Background on Edinburgh City Council

The City of Edinburgh Council is made up of 63 elected councillors. They represent 17 wards within the city.

The 63 Councillors currently represent the following groups

  • 19 SNP Group
  • 18 Conservative Group
  • 12 Labour Group
  • 8 Green Group
  • 6 Liberal Democrat Group.

The full Council meets once a month and takes decisions on important issues such as the Council budget. The Council also delegates decisions to committees.

Sep 25

Strategically Global: a short transformational international course for female educational leaders

Dates for your diary: Thursday 27 September 2018 to Monday 1 October 2018

The Traidhos Community north of Chiang Mai, Thailand, is an amazingly beautiful and inspiring place … and this is why we have chosen it as the venue for ‘Strategically Global’, an intensive short course for female school leaders around the world who want to lead their school’s internationalisation strategies with knowledge and confidence. Increasingly, schools are realising that they need to develop comprehensive strategies to provide pathways and opportunities for their students to develop global mobility skills; schools are also realising that they need to invest in their female leaders if they are to release the huge resources that they have to offer.

‘Strategically Global’ has been developed to fulfil these needs of schools – and of female leaders in schools – and has the added advantage of enabling participants to develop a close international network of contacts and relationships, a solid stepping stone towards creating opportunities for students in schools. A unique feature of this course is the pre-course and post-course coaching, one-to-one for each participant; this course is designed to be both practical and transformational.

Course details

Over the 5 days in Thailand, participants will engage in experiential workshops at Traidhos, as well as going out into the nearby community to understand the power of internationally-focused education for all. The course focuses on personal as well as professional development, and aims to strengthen the capacity of each participant to lead her school’s global strategy when she returns home, armed with an array of valuable skills and new friendships.

The three key pillars of the course, outlined in the course booklet, encapsulate all that participants need in order to make a difference when they go back to their own schools. We are committed to making this a very special experience, and have striven to keep the costs low, as well as choosing timings that will minimise absence from school. Thailand is not hard to get to – it is a flight or two at most away from almost anywhere. We understand the needs of female leaders in schools, and we want to stretch, challenge and empower … because ultimately, it is our young people, growing up in a world that is inter-connected globally as never before, who will benefit from these deep learnings.

This is our passion and we want to share it. Please join us!

For further details, and instructions on how to sign up, please see the attached brochure . We are keeping it simple and direct – we are the people who will coach and guide you, and we are the organisers. Engage with us – we look forward immensely to meeting you and sharing with you.

Aug 17

Why open a school?

As I travel to Hong Kong again, this time for the grand and very exciting opening on Saturday of the brand new Dalton School Hong Kong, on whose Foundation Board I sit, I am minded to ponder on why people strive to open new schools. Over the past few years I have seen many, many schools open across the world, and I have been involved in several of these; of the defining features of these openings is that they are incredibly hard work – hours and hours, months and years of developing a concept, finding premises, persuading investors to provide working capital, navigating legalities, appointing a principal and staff (and harnessing their educational experience), bringing together an effective board, designing a unique curriculum, connecting with the world to ensure there are students … building, developing, growing.  It takes a phenomenal effort to start a school; what, then, drives so many people to make this effort and to pursue the goal of opening a new school?

One of the main drivers for new schools is that the envisaged school fills a gap – either because there are no schools at all in the area (which despite the overall success of the Millennium Development Goals is still the case in many parts of the world), or because the new school provides for a different kind of education – more student-centred, perhaps, more forward-thinking, or just refreshingly different from the education which is currently available. Schools across the world are on a journey of constant self-improvement and challenge, and sometimes it takes a completely new structure, freed of embedded expectations, to turn these ideas into reality. For some groups, the motive is financial, because education – like any business – has the potential to raise a profit, but even when this is the case, there is almost invariably a strong educational motive behind the school – no-one takes on the task of bringing a school to fruition without a compelling sense that a school is, of itself, an important thing to develop.

Dalton School Hong Kong

And this belief, I sense more and more strongly, the more deeply I am engaged in new schools across the world, underpins every single new school development: a very central, core understanding that education really, really matters in our world. Education has always mattered and always will; to every question worth asking, the answer involves learning and education. Schools – where we protect time and expertise for the young people of our world – are the prime facilitators of education in our world, and when we consider how far we have come to provide universal schooling globally, and our global ambitions for secondary as well as primary education for all, as elucidated in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we should – at the very least – take pride in what our society has achieved, and how far we have come as a human race.

New schools are not just buildings or collections of policies and schemes of work; they are ideas and pinnacles of hope, of which we can be deeply proud. I, for one, am intensely proud to be associated with them. Saturday cannot come quickly enough …

Jun 27

Bridging the gap

I have spent quite some time recently looking at two iconic bridges – the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which rises in splendour above Circular Quay in Sydney, and the brand new Queensferry Crossing, visible from Edinburgh airport and for miles around. Each is remarkable in its own way – the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 134 m, from top to water level, while the Queensferry Crossing, at 1.7 miles in length, is the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world, and also – by far – the largest to feature cables which cross mid-span. Perhaps even more importantly, each is immensely practical and is a beautiful sight to behold.


Bridges are feats of human engineering, and must rate as one of humanity’s greatest inventions. They facilitate movement – physical mobility – by enabling people to travel to previously inaccessible places, and they connect people physically in ways that would otherwise be impossible. It takes a bridge to be able to cross a ravine or a river safely; bridges take us up above the dangers of road traffic, or let us move, as if in the sky, between high-rise towers. Without bridges, it is fair to say, we would get to fewer places, less easily, and some places might just be out of our reach entirely.


And so it is with education – one of the greatest metaphorical bridges of all in our world. Education makes it possible to move from one side of a divide to a better life on the other side; education turns an apparent impasse into the start of a journey. Part of this is about earning qualifications, which opens doors to further study, but it is increasingly and powerfully obvious that the role of education – and schools – is much, much more that of an enabler, enabling young people to discover and have confidence in their own unique profiles, and providing opportunities for these young people to test out what it is like to cross different types of bridges in their lives. In a global world, these bridges come in many and varied shapes, sizes and directions; often they have yet to be built. The more that schools can do to open the eyes of their students to the multiple – infinite, perhaps – opportunities that await them, the readier each student will be to embark on the journey ahead of them – and, where they do not yet exist, to create new bridges of their own.

I firmly believe that anything is possible if we put our minds to it; I believe too that no child should be limited in his/her potential by early life experiences and social background. In showing students how to identify existing bridges to different experiences and opportunities, and in helping them understand (and have confidence in) how to create and build their own bridges, schools are facilitating mobility.

And the world is an easier place for everyone to navigate as a result.

Dr Helen Wright is the author of ‘Powerful Schools: how schools can be drivers of social and global mobility’, published by John Catt in 2016.

Jun 10

Technology, creativity and the power of the natural world

I am currently in Sydney, having flown in for a week to work with new principals in the Association of Independent Schools in New South Wales, as well as with other internationally minded teachers and school leaders. Wonderfully, my visit coincides with the annual Vivid Sydney festival, where landmarks such as the Botanic Gardens, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are transformed with astonishing light displays. I thought that last year’s displays were amazing; this year’s installations pushed the boundaries yet further; it is no surprise that this 8 year old festival attracted 2.3 million visitors last year.

In one of the most remarkable scenes of the evening, the sails of the Opera House morph into a jellyfish that is so realistic in its portrayal, so breathtaking in its natural power, and so beautiful in its shape, colour and apparent transparency, beautifully moulded to the sails of the Opera House, that the audience – on the packed quayside – were awed. It was, quite simply – along with, it must be said, the rest of the digital light performance – amazing to watch. The combination of the artistic vision, the creativity and the technological expertise required to represent this larger-than-life sea creature … this was a wonder in itself, and was a sharp and clear reminder of what human beings can do when respect, are inspired by, and work together with the natural world around us, drawing on their inner capacities to think, feel and imagine, as well as on the tools and advancements that their fellow human beings have made, and continue to make.

Vivid Sydney picture

The resulting work, displayed for all to see, is all the more uplifting because it is a step up on last year’s work, when improvement was nigh impossible to imagine, and because, most likely, it will be improved upon yet further for next year. The human spirit is indomitable; its quest for ever greater improvement is unquenchable.

And this, of course, is what we need to be showing our children in schools, from the earliest age. We need to be igniting in them the spark of curiosity that will lead them to explore new territories, new understandings, and new ways of interpreting and using what we already know, as well as discover what we don’t. We need to be showing them pathways that others have forged to find and create the new – not so that they can follow in their footsteps, but so that they can see that such pathways can be imagined and created, and so that they can develop the confidence and self-assurance to set off on their own trajectory. Each of us has our own paths and journeys; schools need to be wise, flexible spaces where adults guide and nurture, but where ultimately they help children release their imagination and are emboldened to set off on their own unique journey through life.

Does this sound like a school you know? If so, please contact me and tell me! I see glimpses of this (or often more than mere glimpses) in many schools across the world, and I encounter many, many young people who are well on the way to becoming their unique selves … but I also see many hurdles that stand in the way of children developing their strengths, and I see much mediocrity.

Vivid Sydney reminds us of what we can achieve as human beings when we set our minds to it; our young people deserve nothing less than that we help them to achieve the equivalent in their own lives.

May 10

The exciting future of international school leadership

The annual COBIS conference in London is always an inspiring event, where leaders in British international schools gather together to share good practice and be inspired by innovative ideas for forward-thinking education. This year’s theme has been ‘Transformations’, and in listening to the many speakers interpreting this theme in different ways, it struck me just how exciting a time it is to be engaged in international school leadership.

The world, as we know, is in a state of flux and fluidity, which may appear daunting at times, but is actually a gateway to a phenomenal range of opportunities. In amongst this melee of opportunity, English medium international schools are flourishing: the latest figures from ISC Research indicate that there are now 4.61 million students studying worldwide in 8,646 English medium international schools (up from less than 1 million students in 2,584 schools in 2000). English – and an international education – is in huge demand, and this demand is growing. In part this is because English continues to provide a gateway to personal success for students all over the world, and in part it is because international schools often offer a high quality, forward-looking education which students, quite rightly, crave. When this education also takes them on to an international stage, or into a state of mind where they appreciate the real and immense value of connecting across national boundaries, it takes them to a place where they are best empowered to make a collective and positive difference in the world.

All schools have the ability to make a difference in the lives of young people; high quality international schools (like the COBIS-accredited schools who attended this most recent conference) have the ability to make a high quality, international difference in these lives. And what an exciting education this can be! With schools pushing the boundaries in technology, in staff development and in student-centred, personalised learning, this is a time like none before to be involved in education on an international level. Education opens minds and hearts; for leaders in international schools, who are entrusted with the keys to this education, it can be one of the most satisfying – and important – endeavours they ever engage in.


Mar 25

Social mobility, global mobility – why navigating the world is so important for young people

I have had a whirlwind few weeks, with a distinctly global focus. In the second week of March I attended the British Schools of the Middle East conference, where Heads of British schools gathered to hear Professor Yong Zhao remind us that in a marvellously connected world, where we can reach anyone we want, then young people can truly be whoever they are, and can (and should) develop their passions, because someone, somewhere, will want what they can do.

Then – after a brief venture back in London where I was amazingly fortunate to be invited to the astonishing last night performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House, which made my spirits soar – I travelled to Hong Kong for a curriculum summit of the new Dalton School Hong Kong, a deliberately child-centred, dual language primary school due to open in Kowloon in August 2017, and on whose board I sit. The work that is going on in preparation for this opening is impressive, underpinned by a powerful understanding that children learn best when they are enabled to discover for themselves, and when teachers respond to their individual needs.


Finally, I travelled on Wednesday back to London to present at the BECSLink conference in Wimbledon, which was run in conjunction with the Tim Henman Foundation, and focused on how business, education, charities and schools can work together to facilitate social mobility for children who start life with one hand tied behind their back. Together, the message was clear, we can make a real and visible difference for these children.

My contribution to the BECSLink conference focused, unsurprisingly, on the importance of global mobility for young people, and I sought to energise the participants in thinking about why this mattered, and how we could all do something about it. The adult decision-makers of today have grown up in a very different world from the world in which young people are growing up, and we need to be very aware that we do not – consciously or unconsciously – inhibit the global potential of young people by not recognising the limitless opportunities they have at their fingertips through the digital medium, through cheap travel, and through the immense social and business networks which span the globe and touch us all.

(Where are you today, as you are reading this? Where was your phone or laptop assembled and programmed? With a tap or a click, how many people, in how many parts of the world, could you reach out to?)

The truth is that today, young people are literally only a second and/or a click away from the other 7 billion human beings on this planet. The opportunities that they have to connect, to work, to learn, to experience the world … these exist as never, ever before in our history. They can use these opportunities to discover and do what they are most excited by in their lives – their prospects for work are vast.

But they cannot do this alone. If they tune into the subliminal messages from the adults in their lives that the wider world is foreign, strange and physically hard to access, and if they don’t see people going out and connecting with ease, relishing learning new languages and experiencing different cultures, then they are effectively slashing the scope of their horizons. We have to help them build cultural resilience together with a spirit of curiosity and invention, and we have to show them pathways that others have taken to become globally confident.

Global mobility, social mobility … the two are inextricably intertwined, and the sooner we can embrace this, the quicker our young people will benefit.


Mar 07

‘International Women’ – focusing on the international on #IWD2017

International Women’s Day this year focuses on women in the changing world of work, with a goal of equality in the workforce by 2030 (in line, of course with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals). In many ways this is a perfectly straightforward vision, in line too with all the work that has been done over the past few years (decades, even), to help develop and sustain equality across the globe, in all aspects of life, so that we eventually reach a stage where all human beings are valued equally.


What struck me this week as I travelled internationally, on a plane travelling to Bahrain for an education conference, was that we are absolutely missing an opportunity to pursue this vision if we do not think more ambitiously about the ‘International Women’ in International Women’s Day. For most of us, we recognise Women’s Day on 8 March as International because – amazingly, if you think about where we have come from over the past years – it is celebrated across the world, with women (and men) standing in unity and a shared commitment to gender equality and normalising this equality in local and national contexts across the world. We have come so far, in such a short space of time, in fact … and while there is much more to do to tackle bias (unconscious and conscious), International Women’s Day is also a celebration of what we have managed to achieve.

There is something missing from the dialogue, however. Much of the celebration and focus on 8 March is country-centric, and yet we live in a world which is globally connected as never before. Digital technologies give us the opportunity to work with anyone, anywhere in the world, at a moment’s notice; our transport infrastructure means that it is easier, quicker and cheaper than ever before to travel internationally. The financial and economic hurdles to our global understanding are smaller than they have ever been, and the global opportunities are greater than they have ever been. When we become truly international, we learn to embrace others as they are, and to appreciate both difference and essential sameness. International understanding is a foundation stone of global understanding, and it presents countless opportunities that can break cycles of poverty, and emancipate individuals and systems.

We know that opportunities are meaningless unless they are grasped, and if we are to encourage our next generations of women to go beyond where they currently are, and grasp the opportunities which are now available to them, then we need to set an example now. International women – women who think internationally, act internationally and live internationally … this is who we can become if we stretch ourselves and make the effort to break down the social, emotional and practical barriers that stop us from being internationally minded role models.

And in doing so, we will make the life pathways of our daughters – across the world – just that little bit easier.


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