Celebrate Easter and join Aspire’s virtual Hunt the Easter Elephant competition!

Yes, you heard it here first folks: instead of laboriously schlepping around the garden or your local park to hunt for pass-their-sell-by-date Easter Eggs, you can hunt for Easter goodies from the comfort of your own armchair, bathroom or bus queue – or wherever you read the Aspire Trust website from!

During Easter Sunday, we’ll be hiding 12 Easter Elephants through the many pages of the website (www.aspire-trust.org) – and if you can find all 12, just email info@aspire-trust.org with your name and email address and you could win a prize!

Everyone who identifies the location of all 12 Easter Elephants (ie the name of the webpages) will be put forward to a prize raffle which will be drawn at 12.00hrs GMT on Easter Monday: the winner will win 2 free tickets worth £50.00 to the opening keynote speeches at our All Our Futures conference on Monday 16 June (more details here).

So, if it’s pouring down on Easter Sunday and you’re worried how to break it to the kids that you won’t be spending any time soon foraging amongst the shrubbery for their Easter Eggs: then just log in here, look for the 12 Easter Elephants with your kids and family– and enjoy our site at the same time!

Worlds apart? Imagining the co-existence of the academic and the business life.

“That’s just academic!” snapped Brian when he and Jim from the nearby university were discussing the rights and wrongs of a particular manufacturing process deep in the heart of a failing car plant outside Birmingham.

“You’re just over complicating matters and imagining scenarios which are irrelevant for this particular application. You sit there with your arms folded, a look that says ‘so what?’ and a haircut that was fashionable back in 1982 when you were leading a critical theory module on post-partum physics.

You’ve over thought the whole project in this one business plan and it’s full of words with more than 3 syllables: how dare you use the word performativity when I don’t have a clue what you mean.

That’s the trouble with you academics, your language is obtuse and impenetrable and it fills me with suspicion. And actually I’m not interested in ‘on the other hand’ and ‘it depends’ because in my world, there is no ‘other hand’ and the only thing that anything depends on is whether it generates enough cash in the system. End of.”

Brian’s outburst that wet Monday morning in his Birmingham car plant is nothing unusal. Academia, academics and the academy are terms of abuse in many quarters (sometimes even in schools) especially by those who claim to inhabit the ‘real world’ and who would argue their position as one borne of pragmatism, realpolitik and rationalism. In that world, anything ‘academic’ is at best irrelevant, at worst self obsessed.

The pond which separates the academic from the entrepreneur is sometimes wide, sometimes murky but never without its interest and intrigues. C.P. Snow used to refer to the Two Cultures of the Humanities and the Sciences in the intellectual life of the West as being a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems: but with businesses increasingly spinning out of universities and with businesses frequently reconsidering how they can best transfer the knowledge from the conservatoire to the messiness of their production lines, there’s never been a better time for better cross cultural understanding to enable the academic to speak to the entrepreneur and vica versa.

Brian and Jim eventually patched up their differences over a game of darts in the nearby pub; but whether Brian can apply Jim’s knowledge, and whether Jim is even interested in trying to solve a production problem in an industry which is on its last legs is yet to be established.

Hanging out at the International Festival of Business: how is a business a school?

Contrary to what many employers might hanker after, potential employees do not arrive on their doorsteps for their first day of work as fully formed potential employees of the year. Employers might bemoan the lack of literacy, numeracy, ICT-cosy-ability, the ability to walk and talk at the same time and other human being related skills, but the proto-employee will have learnt loads of other things since they were in school, college, university or at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Whether they were taught those things is another matter: but they will have certainly learnt loads of things albeit not necessarily of the employer-user-friendly-type.

That’s because as human beings our natural state of being is to learn, to be inquisitive, to be curious and to construct meaning. It’s what separates us from the dolphins, the chimps and the allegedly intelligent fungus that lives on leaf mould in Patagonia. None of these things construct meaning like human beings and if you’re not sure about that, just go to your nearest pub on a Friday after work and tell me what you see constructing meaning. Not a dolphin in sight and certainly no chimpanzee holding forth on why Manchester United are in such steep decline. No: it’s the human being in the room who is making meaning from their every day learnt experiences, many of which are forged in the workplace.

So, businesses might help themselves if they recognised that they have a stealth-like educational function to their raison d’être. This isn’t about passing exams or following curriculum or heaven forbid just learning a list of mechanical skills to evidence in their portfolio of competences: it’s much more important than that as it’s about making social sense of our existence, economic sense for our families and cultural sense for our communities.

Businesses may not think they’re schools but they so have a powerful educational mission and could do everyone a favour if they stepped up to the plate a lot more frequently.

More to follow on education and business at our June conference: http://www.allourfutures.co.uk

Hanging out at the International Festival of Business: how is a school a business?

Some time after the Tony Blair’s testosterone fuelled ‘education education education’ mantra started being chanted around UK school playgrounds, I found myself working with a number of schools around Liverpool who were preparing for the tsunami of funding that was heading their way.

Whether this was for kids from rich families or for kids from poor families who were starting with a deficit of life chances before they even stepped through the school gates or the kids in the middle who were neither GandT (Gifted and Talented, aka troubled, awkward and difficult to manage) nor HTR (Hard-to-Teach aka troubled, awkward and difficult to manage) but were still able to attract funding due to their perceived invisibility, the fact was that many schools found themselves awash with cash. Sometimes more than they knew what to do with and sometimes more than was good for them.

This led to many schools to take their fiduciary duties even more seriously and to believe that that they now had to start acting as if they were businesses.

This might involve the appointment of a ‘business manager‘ (sometimes a redeployed bursar who would have struggled in any commercial organisation, never mind one that was pretending to be one); the consideration of students as ‘customers‘ and the teeth grinding proposition that the curriculum was something that students could pick and choose from much like a visit to their favourite sweet shop on a Saturday afternoon.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m enthusiastic about personalising curriculum where it makes sense and responds to students’ interests in a meaningful and authentic manner: but all too often the personalisation agenda became subsumed within a Disneyfied agenda which threw any critical faculties off the fourth floor of the head teachers executive lounge suite and sold sold sold a morally bankrupted curriculum which valued the individual at all costs: visible in one school I visited which encouraged students to think of themselves as the Me PLC of their generation.

From now on, schools were businesses, students were customers and teaching subjects was something you only did in the privacy of your own home. ‘Subject knowledge’ became a dirty word used between consenting adults and certainly not something you would wax lyrical about in public.

There was of course a lot of resistance to this tendency of talking about schools as business centres; but more often than not, the rhetoric was seductive and many schools accepted their new identity as business start ups with the minimum of squealing.

What the consequences are of that turn of affairs will be explored in future posts – and of course at our next conference, All Our Futures which will be held in Liverpool in June 2014. Further details are here.

All Our Futures: The Business of Education or the Education of Business?

We’re producing our next All Our Futures international education conference in June this year and, as it’s part of the International Festival of Business (IFB) which is being promoted across the Liverpool City Region, we thought it only right and proper to align the focus of the conference with the energy of IFB itself.

Which is all very well until you start thinking about the thorny relationship between those two apparently innocent concepts: ‘business’ and ‘education’.

Surely (and here I’m reminded of Prof. Derek Colquhoun, my Ph.D supervisor’s comment that any sentence that starts with ‘surely’ should ring lots of alarm bells immediately) the links between education and business are obvious and trouble free?

Educating children is about preparing them to get work, create work and become valuable net contributing members of our economy isn’t it? Surely education must attend to the needs of business in order to make sure that our net contributing members of the economy (aka children) can take their fit and rightful place at the big dining table of the Big Society? Surely schools should remember that fundamentally they are businesses in their own right and grow up and behave as such?

Well, surely these ‘surelys’ are going to get a right good going over on this blog in the months to come and throughout All Our Futures too. I hope you can join us – either online or in person – because we surely are going to put the world to rights during that week!

For more information please visit http://www.allourfutures.co.uk

All Our Futures, Brazil 2013: Calling School Prinicipals, Senior School Students and Artists for a once in a life time opportunity!

All Our Futures is Aspire’s annual conference for international school principals, head teachers and senior educators and offers a unique knowledge transfer programme which encourages sharing of skills, expertise and wisdom of school leaders, head teachers and schools principals from across the worlds’ schools.

This year we are planning one of our most exciting programmes ever: a week-long programme experiencing the schools and cultural life of one of the world’s iconic cities: Rio De Janeiro in Brazil.  Produced alongside dedicated programmes for senior school students (the Chaperones programme) and artist educators (the Artists in Residence programme), All Our Futures, Brazil 2013 will be one of the most memorable educational and cultural experiences of the year.

All Our Futures: School Principals and Head teachers programme

We will show you world leading practices in inclusive education; inspiring teacher development programmes; exemplar faith schools; and thrilling international schools and extraordinary community education in some of the world’s poorest communities – all addressing, in their own way, to some of Brazil’s biggest economic, educational and social challenges.

We are delighted to be working with the following partner schools:

SESC High School http://www.escolasesc.com.br/
Colegio Cruzeiro http://www.colegiocruzeiro.com.br
A Liessin Colegio Israelita Brasileiro http://www.liessin.com.br
Colégio Notre Dame Ipanema. http://ipanema.notredame.org.br/
Escola Nova http://www.escolanova.com.br
Instituto de Aplicacao Fernando Rodrigues da Silveira CAP-UERJ
Rede de Educacao Marcelinas Rio de janeiro -Colegio Santa Marcelina

who will be introducing your to their pedagogic practices and demonstrating their approaches to inclusive education, teaching and learning, school management systems and other fields of interest. Visits will include the opportunity to meet staff, observe lessons, meet students and share knowledge and experience of schools from other countries.

Chaperones: Student Cultural Exchange Programme

Chaperones is a fantastic programme of Inter-cultural learning for young people from contrasting backgrounds to learn about each other. With its rich history, iconic architecture and radical spirit, Rio de Janeiro provides the perfect backdrop for a creative educational programme.

Chaperones offers the opportunity to provide parties of up to 24 (20 young people aged between 14 and 18 years and 4 attached teachers) to participate in a one week Cultural Heritage programme cultural centres across Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Local schools offer hospitality to young international visitors to visit their young people and teachers. Visitors also participate in a series of placements with local cultural organisations such as Afroreggae and the museums and music venues in Lapa.

Visitors will also observe, participate and contribute to both the region’s heritage and by making contacts with local artists, teachers and cultural workers, ensure that links with students home countries are extended beyond the one week initial visit.

A full social programme will be provided for visiting students and accompanying teachers. This will include visits to local theatres, dance companies, films and of course the football teams!

Artist Educator Residencies

For artists, we are offering 5 day long residencies in a varity of settings which will enable them to develop their skills, expertise and contacts in a unique and unforgettable manner. We can offer residencies for visual artists, photographers, musicians, drama workers and story tellers and dancers.

Combining All Our Programmes!

Participants from both these additional programmes will also be involved in the first and last day of the All Our Futures programme with delegates on the main educational programme. If you would like further information about either of these programmes, please get in touch.


No visit to Rio de Janeiro would be complete without a visit to some of the worlds most memorable sites and our programme will offer you a full range of travel experiences to add to the learning and sharing that will take place.  These include:

Sugar Loaf + Corcovado

Corcovado: One of the Seven Wonders of the World. The statue of Christ the Redeemer is the largest and most famous Art Déco sculpure in the World.  It is also the most visited monument in Rio, situated at 710 meters (2,329 feet) above sea level on the top of Corcovado mountain. From there one can have a 360-degree view of the city.

Sugar Loaf  is at 396-meter (1,299 feet) high  from where you can have  panoramic views of Copacabana, Botafogo and Flamengo beaches, Rio-Niteroi bridge and Guanabara bay. Access to the Urca Hill is by cable-car. Unquestionably beautiful views. You can also experience a helicopter panoramic trip (additional costs apply).


The Favelas in Rio are lively residential areas, where a multitude of social activities, crafts, music and commerce take place. Besides the friendliness of its inhabitants, you will also be able to appreciate from above the most beautiful views of the city. The favelas in Rio are now safe places to visit with guided tours and recommended by many visitors.

Maracanã was once the biggest football stadium in the World, and  has now been partially rebuilt in preparation for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup,  the 2014 World Cup which will be the first one held in Brazil since 1950, and also the 2016 Summer Olympics, and the 2016 Summer Paralympics.

Sambódromo is the place where the famous Rio carnival parade takes place. We will endeavour to take you to a samba pavillion too, time permitting!

Historic / Cultural Tour: options of itinerary, may include: Rio City Centre – History and Architecture; Fort and Fortress;  17th century Saint Benedict Monastery’s Church (a gem of Brazilian religion art, Barrocco-style); Santa Tereza (Rio’s Bohemian borough) amongst others.

Beaches Chill-out: enjoy the sun, and the sea. Observe the Brazilian culture of socialising and keeping fit. We will take you as many places as the group wish travel. We can organise the trip to some secluded beaches.

Boat Trip in the Guanabara Bay: the same route taken in 1500 with the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil. The beautiful city skyline can be enjoyed in all its details. A wonderful start to the day!

Best of Rio Van tour: in a single day we will be visiting: Tijuca Forest, Christ The Redeemer, Sugar Loaf, Maracanã, Sambódromo and the Metropolitan Catedral. Includes lunch at a Churrascaria (Barbecue house)  in Copacabana. A Perfect start!

Jeep Tour:  Tijuca Forest: Statue of Christ the Redeemer, climbing back into the woods. Lunch at the Meadow Grill located at the Jockey Club in Gávea! Morro da Urca and Sugar Loaf, climbing cable car. The view is thrilling! A Must See! Botanical Garden. Considered one of the most beautiful places of Rio,  housing the museum of  Tom Jobim, and  variety of flower plants.


Plataforma Show: The largest and most traditional spectacle of the authentic Brazilian folklore. The show tells the story of Brazil in rhythms, melodies, songs and dances. For nearly two-hour show, a cast of graceful dancers and talented percussionists perform the cultural origins of Brazilian popular music, a result of the mix of Portuguese, Indians and Africans. The show ends in a parade in rich costumes highlighting some important characters of national history.

Lapa: an authentic Brazilian night-out in the city centre of Rio. Mingle with the Brazilians and feel the beats of live-music everywhere. All cultures in one place. We will be taking you to one the best music bars, where you can indulge in food, a variety of drinks and music.

 Our excursions are produced with our travel partner, Vie Travel

Vie Travel is engaged in promoting language, knowledge exchange and cultural immersion to overseas students and international businesses. Vie is a specialist travel company, concentrating its services on the educational and knowledge sectors. We provide packages and services specially designed to promote learning, language and culture. Our bespoke services are based on exceptional local knowledge, helping those traveling with education and learning in mind.

In addition, Vie also offers the traditional travel assistance such as sales of airline tickets, accommodation and hospitality. From 15 July 2013, language packages will be available for on-line booking.

So… what are you waiting for?!  Just drop me an email if you’d like to know more: nick@aspire-trust.org

Answering the questions of your 10 year old self: 500+ Reasons to be Cheerful at All Our Futures, Rio De Janeiro, October 2013

Reasons 53 –  83: Answering the questions of your 10 year old self

We go back to school and invariably revisit our youth and think why do we do what we do?  What would we do differently?  And what would we say to ourselves if we met ourselves in the playground?

If we’re working in education, we have the added questions of what does this practice tell us, are there ideas or approaches I can adapt? What would happen if?  What might happen if not?  We might alter our practice and question our stance – quite subtly though, and not necessarily in a way which would merit the attention of head teachers, inspectors or distant academics – but which might be noticed by the young lad sat in front of you, day on day, week on week.  He might notice a slight change of emphasis in your tone; the girl next to him may notice a slight momentary doubt creep into your voice when asserting something you think you have known true for years.  She will spot your Galileo moment when all that was constant is no longer so and the certainties you had before, are no longer quite as certain.

These are all useful, productive forms of educational transformation. Frequently off the authorities’ radar, their effects bring about life changing moments for your students, about which neither you nor them will know anything of for at least 30 years.

And what would you say to yourself if you met yourself in the playground 30 years ago? “Don’t worry.”  Would be a good start; although you may not listen to yourself.

More here on how you can bring about major educational transformation in the microscopic of ways here: http://www.aspirecreativeenterprises.com/ACE/aof_rio.html

More on our travel partners here: http://www.govie.co.uk/events/

Travelling 6000 miles away to find yourself at home: 500+ Reasons to be Cheerful at All Our Futures, Rio De Janeiro, October 2013

Reasons 84 – 584: Travelling 6000 miles away to find yourself at home

The maddening thing about travelling is forgetting the answer to the question you frequently ask yourself: why do you travel so far to do what you do at home? Before long, you eventually remember that travelling has little to do with leaving, as it is with finding, home.

It’s a powerful word ‘home’ and one you realise isn’t necessarily the village, town or country you grew up in; or the school or university you attended, or where the friends you made or the family you’re part of are located. It’s a combination of possibility, atmosphere and attitude that nudges you, where-ever you are, to recognising to yourself – ah yes, this is home: this is where I am tuned into, and this is what has tuned into me.

The concept that we are walking radio antennae has been ever present this week and the visit to Escola Sesc de Ensino Médio (SESC High School) in Jacarepaguá in Rio led to that oddest sensation of coming home to somewhere I have never been before and meeting people I have never met before: and yet, for a morning at least, this amazing campus became home.

To quote from its website:

“In February 2008, SESC High School opened its doors in Rio de Janeiro to a group of young enthusiastic residents from across the country. Those were teenagers aged 13-16 years who were given the opportunity to introduce an innovative experience in Brazil’s educational scenario: top-quality fulltime residential high school education.

This pioneering project was an initiative of Antonio Oliveira Santos, president of the National Commerce Confederation for Goods, Services and Tourism (CNC) and Social Service for Commerce (SESC) National Department, who saw the building of an educational community as an opportunity to educate children within a diversified environment, preparing them for both the job market and the exercise of leadership and citizenship.

He was clearly focused on: ‘Including Brazilian youngsters in the knowledge society with an emphasis on education for life.’”

Much web-speak is often only so much promotional media spin, cluttered up with clichés, cut-and-paste-thinking and as many graphics as the designer is encouraged to get away with. But in this instance, the SESC website reflects the reality and ambitions of its students, teachers and wider communities. We are looking forward to making it home for all our All Our Future delegates later this year.

More at http://www.escolasesc.com.br/

and here:

More here too: http://www.aspirecreativeenterprises.com/ACE/aof_rio.html

More on our travel partners here: http://www.govie.co.uk/events/

Finding Faith: 500+ Reasons to be Cheerful at All Our Futures, Rio De Janeiro, October 2013

Reason 51 – 52: finding faith.

The significance of faith schools in Brazil demands you take a closer look at the very notion of faith itself than you might feel comfortable with in the confines of the familiar secular set up we have in the UK. But whether you agree with the principle of faith schools or not, there’s no getting away from it: education demands that the educator starts from a position of faith in the first place.

Whether this be the acts of faith that presupposes that young people will benefit from the actions of well meaning adults; that the teaching of knowledge, skills and wisdom can be learnt in a predictable way within the confines of a regulated and structured system of activities; or the belief that education has to be a force for the greater good all the time: these are all acts of faith that we as educators subscribe to in any educational venture.

We feel this regularly and intensely on the first day of any course or intake of new students: the day is marked with a surge of optimism, of possibility and of great things about to be achieved. Without these faith symbols, the actions of the educator are merely empty vessels of meaning; habits devoid of substance, intent or purpose.

And Brazil – with its social, economic and ecological challenges – is arguably one of the best places in the world to come and see how faith in education is being played out in the streets, the favelas and the mountains.

We’re especially looking forward to working with Colegio Santa Marcelina in October and seeing how they marry their world of faith, the world of the streets in their educational acts of faith. More at http://www.marcelinas.com.br/riodejaneiro/index.asp

More here too: http://www.aspirecreativeenterprises.com/ACE/aof_rio.html

More on our travel partners here: http://www.govie.co.uk/events/

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