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
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
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
is best known for inventing the steam turbine, which made cheap and plentiful
electricity possible and revolutionised marine transport and naval
The North East was also home to Thomas Addison
who is credited with a number of medical discoveries including pernicious
Walker who brought
the world the safety match.
Gladstone Adams who invented the windscreen
Henry Holmes who patented
what is now the light switch
Arthur George who invented the aeroplane joystick
Handley, invented Domestos and
who invented Bleach.
Owen who invented
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:
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
of Gosforth, which made £894m
Darlington, which made £3667m
Newcastle – £431m
Hays Travel of
Sunderland – £332m
Newcastle – £302m
Esh of Esh Winning
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
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
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.