Head Teacher Iain Veitch’s CelebrateEd rallying call wows delegates

Welcoming delegates to the inaugural CelebrateEd – Northern Celebration of Education, Head Teacher Iain Veitch led an impassioned speech on challenging the narrative of under performance in the region. Read his speech in full:

Ladies and gentlemen

As you approached the Celebration today, it may well have been that your minds did not dwell upon the fact that you were walking or driving through a city once renowned as the home of passion, engagement, aspiration and invention.

If you came here by car, you may have crossed the High Level Bridge, the first dual purpose bridge ever in the world; you may have used the Swing Bridge, the first hydraulic bridge in the world or if you came on foot, perhaps you walked over the Millennium Bridge, the first tilting bridge in the world. If you came from Middlesbrough, you may have used the Transporter Bridge without realising that the prototype for all such bridges was designed by Charles Smith in 1873 in Hartlepool.

My premise is that if Ireland has traditionally been the home of Saints and Scholars, then the North East of England has been the home of Pioneers and Dreamers, those who have sought to and succeeded in changing the world.

Pioneers and Dreamers like:

Joseph Swann, who in 1859 exhibited the first commercially viable electric light bulb at the Lit and Phil In Newcastle, a full 20 years before Eddison ‘invented’ it in America. His house in Gateshead was the first to be fully lit in the world by electricity and because of him Collingwood Street became the first electrically lit street in the world.

William Armstrong, whose work within hydraulics changed the way cargo and freight could be lifted, who pioneered hydro-electricity and who is regarded as the inventor of modern artillery.

George Stephenson, who is 1815 created the Geordie lamp, to make miners safe underground, and who in 1821 was the chief engineer on the Stockton-Darlington railway, the first passenger railway in the world; who in 1822 opened the Liverpool to Manchester railway, the first inter-city railway in the world; who,  with his son Robert developed ‘Locomotion No.1’ — the first railroad locomotive in the world to carry passengers on a public line, and then refined his design into the more famous Rocket.

Rachel Parsons, the first woman to study Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge University. She was a pioneer in science and engineering, the director of an engineering business in Tyneside, helping to train women during the First World War, and later founding the Women’s Engineering Society. 

Her father, Charles Parsons, is best known for inventing the steam turbine, which made cheap and plentiful electricity possible and revolutionised marine transport and naval warfare. 

The North East was also home to Thomas Addison who is credited with a number of medical discoveries including pernicious anaemia.

 John Walker who brought the world the safety match

Gladstone Adams who invented the windscreen wiper.

John Henry Holmes who patented what is now the light switch

Arthur George who invented the aeroplane joystick 

Wilfred Handley, invented Domestos and

James Killingworth who invented Bleach.

William Owen who invented Lucozade.

William Wouldhave who invented the lifeboat

Gertrude Bell, from Durham, who threw off the shackles of Victorian England to become a writer, archaeologist, political officer and diplomat, best known for helping to establish modern Iraq after World War I.

Peter Higgs discovered the Higgs Boson particle and Jonathan Ives, admittedly only a self proclaimed adopted Geordie, who studied computing at our hosts today, Northumbria University, and is now CEO of Apple, a company which has changed the world in modern times.

All of these historical figures, these change-makers, and thousands more were developed within North Eastern educational institutions, yet how many teachers or children within our schools realise that they are standing on the shoulders of giants? 

One could be forgiven for looking at this list and concluding that history largely stopped in our region at the turn of the twentieth century. 

However, our host today, Northumbria University, has just been named as number one higher education institution in the country for graduate start-ups. And what then happens? Of the 200 North Eastern companies with the highest turnover last year, over half were started by people from this area. I am talking about:

Arriva from Sunderland, which has an annual turnover of £4.3bn

Go Ahead from Newcastle, which has an annual turnover of £3.5bn

Bellway, also of Newcastle, which made £2.5bn

Froneri Ices from Northallerton, which made £1.4bn

Greggs, originally of Gosforth, which made £894m

Northgate of Darlington, which made £3667m

Parkdean of Newcastle – £431m

Hays Travel of Sunderland – £332m

Fenwicks of Newcastle – £302m

Esh of Esh Winning – £234m

Cleveland Cables  of Middlesboro – £213m

J.Barbor and Sons of Jarrow – £154m

The list could go on and on. There are 72 companies in the region with a turnover of over £1bn last year and Tom Gallon of the LEPP told me that there are no vacant lots in the business parks running the length of the Tyne, with a substantial number occupied by local entrepreneurs; men and women like those already named who dared to dream, turned that dream into a reality and then built upon it to become major players in their communities.

Does this chime with a region which has a national reputation for being economically stagnant?

How many of us present today have bought into that reputation and bemoan the lack of positive role models for our students yet are unable to name the region’s brightest and best entrepreneurs? How many of our teachers see their task as hopeless? How many of the children in our schools are unaware of the opportunities open to them on their doorsteps? In other words, how many of us are party to the national perception that the fact that we have the highest rates of benefit claimants in the country means that that is all that we have, all that we are, and all that we can be?

With our business leaders turning back the economic tide and our teachers confronting disadvantage head on with a courage and determination to let no child’s history be their destiny, who could possible say that we are not still the land of pioneers and dreamers?

I am a proud Geordie – I love the heritage, the landscape and the ingrained culture and values of the place which my uncle referred to as ‘God’s own country’ and so it has been a source of real pain and frustration to hear our secondary schools in particular labelled as failures by those who neither know, nor understand, nor, indeed, care about our context.  

Is it not time then that the region took back the agenda from those who would seek to deride us or impose magic bullets upon us?

Is it not time that we affected change within our own practices in order to regain our seat as the cradle of thinking not just in the country but also for the world?

Would it not be a good thing to send a resounding message that the North is resurgent, that we need neither the stick nor the carrot because we are masters of our own destinies?

Wouldn’t a good place to begin this march be within every classroom in every school?

The messages I have received in preparing for this event, and the programme which includes practitioner-led workshops on oracy, literacy, meta-cognition, evidence-based actions and a whole host of other topics, seems to suggest that the answer from the profession to all of these questions is a resounding yes.

Ednorth is a movement with a moral purpose at its heart, to effect a long term shift in the educational culture of the region. To be part of it requires an ethical and moral buy-in from its participants, a commitment to drive educational disadvantage from the system, to ensure that no child’s history is their destiny; a belief that there are to be no sacred cows if we are to affect real change; a commitment to the principles of honesty, openness, collaboration and sharing and an acceptance that every child does genuinely matter, principles which used to mark us out but which have become tarnished in an age of competition. It is to be school-owned, school-led and school-focussed, with Schools North East and Shine acting as coordinator and resourcer whilst schools themselves act as the driver. Through it, we aim to establish the region as a nationally recognised Centre of Excellence, one which has local voices acting as its most powerful advocates, which is marked by its research centred approach, which has a community identity and sustainability which will allow it to thrive, and thus change the lives of our children. 

These are bold aims but we would argue that a fragmented system requires such boldness; they are aspirational – but without aspiration, what will we truly achieve? They are forward thinking, but our tragedy is that for too long we have wallowed in our past – it is, after all, pointless standing on the shoulders of giants if you do not use them as a platform from which to move forward. 

‘How do we get involved?’ I hear you cry. Simply contact the Schools North East team or visit the EdNorth website and you will be able to play your own small part in our history.

The purpose of today is to act as the launch pad for our first step back to greatness -it is a celebration of what we already have but also the first step to something much bigger and more ambitious, the first mile of the drive towards transformation. We hope that it will be the catalyst for evidence based change firmly rooted in the practice of everyday teachers; that it will get you to commit to be its most powerful advocates in order to turn two days filled with energy, joy and optimism into a genuine movement which will aim not to get ahead of the game but to change the game completely. Our aim is that by next year, we will have 1,600 colleagues, not 160, who are keen to talk about the wonderful things they are doing in their classrooms and 3,000, not 300, who come to listen, marking a rising tide of pedagogy which will transform the lives of our own children, and through them the image and fortunes of a region which we all love so dearly.

I hope that you have a great two days and that you walk away from it with your heads held a little higher, safe in the knowledge that this really is a great place to both learn and teach.

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