In a break from the norm, I'd like to use this platform to pay tribute to a man who I've had the privilege of working with for 14 years - Jason Wing. Jason has retired from front line education and leaves his post with the Active Learning Trust at the end of the academic year. Many of you know him but what follows is a little bit of insight into the man who has had so much success in everything he has done and has shaped my career into something I didn't think was possible. I hope it's not too sentimental as I know he doesn't like that sort of thing!
When I moved from London back to East Anglia in 2006, I landed at Witchford Village College to teach English. Soon after, Jason arrived as Assistant Principal and was quickly promoted to Vice Principal in charge of behaviour and attendance. I think we hit it off professionally right from the start and thankfully Jason spotted something in me and was part of the leadership team that promoted me to Year 9 Progress Leader. That's also where I met and worked closely with the brilliant James Tatham - hence why I was so desperate to get him on my team at LECA. I think most would agree he's done OK!
Jason is larger than life. He is a rock of a man in every way and I have lost count of the times I have leaned on him for moral support and advice and just knowledge. Jason is my mentor and over the years has become my friend too, always keeping professional distance but also someone who I know will answer the phone if I need him. I trust him and his judgement 100% and as the LECA years have unfolded, we have sparred in the Conference Room with smiles on our faces.
At Neale Wade Academy, Jason again trusted me to join his senior leadership team (SLT) and help manoeuvre the school through the minefield of Special Measures, Academy conversion, and the numerous Ofsted visits we endured before we finally secured the 'Good' we were so desperate for. Jason stood front and centre of that huge push every single day. It is a relentless behemoth of a school and Jason was there every day directing his team. Yes it was stressful; yes it was so tiring but Jason was always there - the rock of the school, leading from the front.
On the second from last Ofsted visit at Neale Wade, Jason was obviously determined to secure the best rating possible. We felt ready to get the Good but when the team arrived unannounced on a snowy February morning we knew we had to dig in and hold firm. It wasn't a great start. Snowballs were flying around the entrance as the inspection team arrived and our senior leadership meeting was cut short in shock. We scarpered out on duty to calm the hundreds of students arriving on site and to steady the ship before the inspection started. It wasn't a great start. The lead inspector quickly laid her cards on the table and suggested we'd need a miracle to get a Good. Jason was determined to defy the odds as he had so many times before in his other life as an Olympian.
The inspection went well after a couple of nervous lessons in the morning. The behaviour stats looked good, the lesson data looked good, the attendance data looked good. All improving. By the time we got to the halfway point we felt we had a chance. Then, on the second day, it was crunch time. The team finished the inspection and convened in the conference room to discuss their findings. The issue was the progress and attainment figures - would they be good enough? On paper they probably weren't but we could show that they were improving and that our historical predictions had been deadly accurate. That would be Jason's play.
Following the team meeting, Jason was invited in to talk to the Inspectors. In our offices outside the conference room, the SLT huddled in small groups and waited for the nod. It was a bit like analysing an exam after you leave the hall. Some felt really confident, some remained quiet, some were deeply pragmatic. The nod, however, never came. Instead what came was one of the rarest things in Jason's long career - Jason losing his rag! We had a 'war board' in the conference room which tracked every single Year 11 student in the school and helped us predict what they would achieve. Jason could tell the story of every single child on that board and proceeded to do so, hitting the wall with every explosive explanation. Yes the data isn't great right now but these children are improving and we will meet our (deadly accurate) predictions. It must have been frightening - not just the wall-banging but the passion and knowledge of this man. It is uncanny what Jason can recall from his memory when he's asked to - it's a gift he has and he flaunts!
We didn't get the Good that time, but we did the next time. Jason rallied us and the massive teaching team at Neale Wade and yes, those students got what they were predicted and more. That was enough. Jason essentially invited Ofsted back and we knew we were ready this time. It was, I know, one of the highlights of his career and one of the few occasions his face could not disguise his emotions. I will always remember putting my hand on his shoulder and saying 'we did it' and he just nodded. The man who can talk for England was silenced, just for a moment, by his own incredible success!
When the Trust secured LECA in 2016, Jason - for a third time - trusted me to take on the job. It was a massive ask but when he said he would be my Executive Principal it suddenly didn't seem so daunting. We worked closely together, attending lots of meetings, sourcing uniform, talking about what LECA would 'look like' and what stands today is testament to our work together. Of course, things have evolved hugely since then but the 'never give up' ethos and the focus on inclusion came from those early seeds. Jason is passionate about education and the steadfast belief that everyone has their place in this world, no matter who they are or where they come from. He often used to quote Ken Robinson who famously talked about people finding their 'element'. This has also permeated LECA and is firmly part of our ethos - everyone can be brilliant at something.
Jason is brilliant at a lot of things. It seems so unfair that his career with the Trust and on the front line of education may well end without his schools being open. He deserves a massive send-off and I do hope he gets one. What I do know is this: whatever Jason does next he will be brilliant and bombastic and belligerent and that is what makes him great.
Head of School, LECA