China, Ceramic Poppies and a lack of Cynicism.

Last week, I returned from a trip to China and soon after set off to London for a visit to the Palace of Westminster. These two highly enjoyable and constructive trips have highlighted to me one engaging feature of good leadership – namely a lack of cynicism.

How weary must people be of disengagement, suspicion of motive, or a lack of trust shown by some of their civic and political leaders.  And for those leaders who steer clear of this, it is equally galling when calls to follow a chosen path, or to welcome a new initiative, are brushed off with lack of interest and cynicism by those we are trying to lead.

In complete contrast, the journey to the Houses of Parliament last week served as a reminder that principled initiatives can bring people together, spread joy, and engage in what Pope Francis calls ‘a culture of encounter.’

We gathered at Lime Street at dawn last Monday and entered parliament a few hours later, guests in Speaker’s House. Under the leadership of Dr John Patterson, we were there to present each and every MP with a ceramic poppy, made by artist Jane Dixon and pupils at St Vincent’s School for the Blind and our own at All Saints. With the Chancellor’s budget minutes away from its announcement, it was more like a dribble of MPs who attended, but that did include Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt. Thanks to her and all those who came.

John is a leader without an ounce of cynicism. He occupies a world where anything is possible, and everything is achievable. It is this which inspires such loyalty, and full credit to a top bunch of Liverpool leaders for accompanying him and the St Vincent’s pupils on this visit.

Thanks to DI John Sacker from Merseyside Police, Peter Oliver from Merseyside Scouts, Bernie Hollywood OBE – entrepreneur and adventurer, Mr Nawaz and Mr Mirza from the Pakistan Centre in Toxteth, Steve Martin, District Commander of Rotary District 1180 and Angela Williams from Inner Wheel, Barbara Murray, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Liverpool, plus staff, governors and friends from St Vincent’s. Last but not least the three pupils who came – Rainbow, Chloe and Scott. All represent the city positively, and the city should be proud of them. Indeed, one characteristic of Liverpudlians is a profound lack of cynicism.

We met more colleagues outside the Palace and all of us were subsequently delighted when PM Theresa May wore one of the poppies during PNQs the following Wednesday. It’s easy to knock Mrs May, indeed it has become a national sport. But she tweeted her support for our work (or at least her office did) when she didn’t have to, so credit where credit’s due.

As an aside, I was shocked at some of the tweeting that it attracted. No-one should have to deal with some of the insults and abuse she received in this subsequent thread. This was an initiative involving blind pupils remembering the Great War, not Brexit for God’s sake!

Whilst on politicians, a shout-out for Stephen Twigg MP, who held the event together, and loves to celebrate the good things being done by his constituents. He is a top man, and gives the genuine impression that he always has time for people. Like John, Stephen appears inoculated against cynicism.

The Liverpool-London journey took place shortly after returning from Qingdao, China, where a group of Liverpool headteachers set up a few ‘school to school’ partnerships, courtesy of a company called Access China UK.

Now, this may be immense gullibility on my part, but I truly believe that the headteachers we met there are equally free of cynicism. This I suspect is cultural rather than ideological, but it is equally endearing. Their hospitality and generosity is heartfelt and genuine, and they have a pride in their schools that can only be good for their pupils. I was struck by the contrast to our stricken school system where headteachers have become rendered numb by the constant lies and duplicity. Hard to believe it, I know, but I think we may be outdoing the Chinese in running a competitive, high-stakes educational system. Read @YongZhaoEd for more on this.

Now I know China is far from an open and free country, and just by saying that will probably get this blog censored over there. But I’ve been there twice now and the ‘can-do’ attitude appears to have more in common with Dr John than it does with the direction of travel of our own DfE. I look forward to future collaboration with the staff at Wenchan Primary, as well as our friends in Chongqing, in the spirit of enterprise and partnership.

I really do feel that a lack of cynicism is a good indicator of well-being. Leaders like John bring out the best in the people they lead. Not because they can write a good action plan (John’s plans look like Spaghetti Junction) but because they espouse a message of hope and a belief that anything is possible. Crucially, they act on this message, hence our trip to Westminster.

And if you’re a pupil, a member of staff, or a parent, what better message could you wish to receive?




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