So, what kind of a Chief Executive am I? Perhaps more importantly, what kind of a person am I?
Well, these are things that you’ll make your mind up about as you come across me and, hopefully, read my blogs and Tweets. And, if you spot me, stop me and introduce yourself – then you can also find out first hand. Getting to meet you all will, I know, be an impossible task – but don’t let that get in the way of making introductions whenever possible.
And, as well as wanting you to find out a little about what makes me tick, I thought you might also like some background.
I was born on Holy Island, Anglesey a little while back now and grew up a services child as my Dad was in the Royal Air Force. For my first nine years I lived with my Mum, Dad and older Sister (Sue) on various air bases around the UK and I have never harboured a grudge that, unlike Sue, I missed out on three years in Singapore. This is the price you pay for always being able to tell her you are five years younger.
Service life meant that we moved around a fair amount and, to be honest, I can’t readily recall all the places we lived – or all the schools I went to. But I do remember my favourite primary school teacher: Miss Black (The Ruts, Stanmore). She is responsible, along with my Mum and her Mum, for a love of reading (and a less endearing intolerance of poor spelling and punctuation – be warned). It’s possible that Miss Black is also the reason I went into teaching – but that is probably more consciously attributable to another teacher I came across in secondary school (more anon) and, ultimately, my wife.
When I was nine my Dad left the RAF, but we continued our peregrinations as he became a travelling salesman for Electrolux. This resulted in him working in the West Midlands (Birmingham to be precise), Surrey and Bedfordshire – and it was in a small village in North Bedfordshire that the family settled down long enough for me to undertake a largely uninterrupted secondary education (Pilgrim School, Bedford). In those days I was sporty (rugby, rugby, rugby – my Dad scorned the beautiful game), but I also revised hard enough to pass some exams and get a place at University. With support at home, but also aided and abetted by another hugely influential teacher – Miss Robinson this time – and an ambitious headteacher (Mr Cornwell), I passed the entrance exam for Oxford and had three of the best years you could wish for at Worcester College (BA Honours, Modern History – and Rugby). I am immensely proud to be the first in my family to go to University (just as before me, my Dad had been the first in the family to get to Grammar School by winning a scholarship). This reads like showing off – and maybe it is – but the wider message is also pretty clear about the power and importance of education.
Having completed my undergraduate studies, I left Oxford to do voluntary work in a residential special school in deepest Buckinghamshire. Here my teaching ambitions took further shape and the 12 months I spent at MacIntyre Care not only persuaded me to do a PGCE, but also introduced me to my future wife.
And in 1985 I was finally ready for the world of work! I set out on 17 fabulous years of teaching pupils with severe and profound learning difficulties – and I know for sure that I learnt much more than anything I ever taught the children and young people in my care. I have my wife, Kate (officially Catherine, but variously Kate, Kit and Kitty), to thank for this – she turned a callow youth into someone with a purpose. In fact, two purposes because the day I started work (a training day) was also the day we were married – and I’ve tried to maintain a work-life balance ever since.
Kate and I have two sons – Andrew and Matthew. Andrew lives in New Zealand with his partner Nicky and their daughter Charlotte. Matthew’s married to Natalie and they live in London (with a cat called Flower – don’t ask). They are all teachers (except for Charlotte and the cat – but I don’t fancy their chances of escaping the profession in due course!). Kate also teaches. I am now the odd one out.
Anyway, before forsaking my education vows, I weaved my way up the country working in schools in Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Knowsley and Tameside, finally becoming a headteacher in 1994 in Denton. I did this for seven years before being lured into local government in 2001 when Tameside Council offered me a secondment to lead its inclusion and access service. And I never looked back. I’d had more than a decade and a half of fabulous years teaching (well, most of them were fabulous most of the time; the children were, of course, fabulous all of the time), but a new vista opened up in front of me and, ultimately, a new career path. Sometimes I get asked if I miss teaching and I say “yes, of course”. But I also say that I so enjoy what I do now that I want to stick with that. And now Birmingham has completely grabbed my attention and is definitely going to give me all the new horizons I need (and much, much more I’m sure) for a very long time to come.
As I imagine you know, prior to Birmingham I was in Solihull for eight years (as Chief Executive from 2007 and, until 2009, also Director of Children’s Services). I came back to the West Midlands via Stockport where I’d had the time of my life helping to bring in Every Child Matters, whilst Solihull taught me how to be a Chief Executive.
So, here I am in Birmingham – excited by the prospect of working with the administration, the whole council, all of the staff team, our partners and – most importantly – our communities to ensure this is a City that is prosperous, fair and democratic. Together we can make a positive difference to people’s lives.