Primary/Nursery Headteachers’ meeting

Got into work about 7.15am to clear my feet before what I knew was going to be a busy day. I've always enjoyed that time in school before anyonelse is around – I always seem to get through so much more than at the end of the day.

Met Sheila Ainslie and Fiona Brown of Pupil Support about a transportation issue relating to one of our pupils.

Met a parent at 9.00am to discuss a confidential matter relating to their child's needs.

Primary/Nursery Headteacher's Meeting at 10.00am. More or less the same agenda as for the secondary heads the previous week. The attainment action plan was well received and will feature as a major agenda item at the full Heateachers' meeting to be held on the 14th September. I was particluraly pleased that the notion of the comparison of 5-14 attainment results acrooss all our schools was accepted. Steven MacLachlan, the council's emergency planning officer, briefed the meeting about the importance of having contingency plans prepared for a range of emergencies. We hope to build a range of possible responses to emergencies by making the most of the vast combined experience of our headteachers.

Meeting finished at 1.10pm Then met Helen Faulds and Susan McNaught to reflect upon the systems we've put in place to help me manage my admin workload. The system appears to have worked very effectively to date and I thanked them for “keeping me in line”.

Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group meeting at 2.00pm We are charged with ensuring that the Act is properly implemented in the East Lothian. A successful meeting which was highly action focussed. this has the potential of helping to really create an integrated education and children's services department.

4.00 – 6.15pm correspondence and telephone conversations.

Musselburgh Grammar School

Met Sheila Ainslie at 8.15 to discuss staffing issues relaing to pupil support. Valerie Irving at 9.00am to finalise our proposals for 5-14 assessment. We are going to go for an on-line moderation system called ALTA. More of this at a later date. 9.30 meeting with Richard Parker to complete the chat we were having last week. Richard made some excellent suggestions which I'd like to follow up. These included: an induction programme for Education Department staff; a CPD programme for support staff making use of internal expertise; a support staff conference for school and centre based support teams. We thought a half day programme during an In-Service day would be worthwhile – the theme would be “Supporting Excellent School”; and development of a who's who section on the website.

Alan Cruickshank at 10.00am to discuss issues relating to ICT. There are still a range of budgetary issues that need to be resolved before we can properly embark on taking forwards our ICT strategy. Alan is going to follow up on these and get back to me.

Visited Ronnie Summers, Headteacher of Musselburgh Grammar School. at 11.30. We explored a number of topics such as pupil attendance; course choice; schools of ambition; and development planning surveys. The school is well placed to make rapid progress over the next few years given the incredible amount of hard work Ronnie and his staff have done to tackle a wide range of issues.

Ronnie's going to set up a meeting for me with a few Principal Teachers to enable me to explore their own ambitions for the school, whilst also discussing some of our plans to improve the teaching and learning process in East Lothian.

2.00pm meeting with Gordon Brown. Gordon really helped me come to grips with the Determined to Succeed programme and I think I understand the value of our pre-vocational provision at “The Shed” – which I'm going to visit on Friday. It seems the challenge will be to establish clear authority expectations which ensures that all students have an entitlement. Some schools – and Dunbar Grammar was one – did not make use of the facility. If we are going to make the best use of the programme we need a much stronger steer from the centre. We also need to work out how we link this programme to core authority funding when DTS funding is reduced or withdrawn.

4.00pm agenda setting meeting for Policy and Procedures Review Panel. This is a committee made up of councillors who have to scrutinise the work of departments.

Managed to get to some paperwork after the meeting finished at 5.30pm.


Today was chance to reflect on some of the main threads that have been taking up my time snce I started in post.

The challenge in leadership is to establish a balance between consultation and instruction. It is a fine line to tread but I think we all appreciate instruction in some instances. The expectation in some cases is that consulatation shoud occur on all occasions – the problem being that consultation without decisive action can incapacitate an organisation. However, the problem for the leader is that an over-reliance on instruction has two undesirable consequences – firstly, a paralysis of those below the leader who rely on direction or approval before action and – secondly, a belief by the leader that only they have the answers.

I'm fascinated by the challenge of creating a culture which manages to tread that line between the two alternatives of consultation and instruction – the key has to be that where instruction occurs that it it is underpinned by a logic and rationale which people can at least understand – if not necessarily agree.

One of the key themes in the proposed attainment action plan is “Performance Monitoring and Improvement”. I'm keen that we improve our ability to gather relevant data and make good use of it to understand and know our schools. The problem with many initiatives which only have a singular focus of measure, measure, and measure again is that measurement by itself never made anything better. That's why we must ensure that our drive to understand our schools is linked to the more proactive agenda of leadership, teaching and learning and curriculum flexibility. However, without some rigorous means of measuring the impact of these more important elements we are “feeling our way in the dark”.

Today started at 8.30am with a meeting of the Education Officers. We are making this a weekly meeting with the focus being on what's happening in schools. Sheila Ainslie is attending the meetings to ensure we have a close link between pupil support and school support.

10.00am met Alan Smith from The Learning Game about SELS. We are buying the system for all our schools with a view to all P7, S2 and S4 pupils completing the same questionnaire. This will allow us to establish an authority average for each statement , e.g. I feel safe in school. The school score can then be compared with the authority average.

Meet a couple of teachers after this about a variety of issues, then met Alan Blackie who is off on leave for the next two weeks.

Met Paul Raffaelli at 2.30pm – my successor at Dunbar Grammar School -he is doing an excellent job ( my worry is that he does so well that he exposes my weaknesses – but I suppose that this is the fear of any person who is succeeded by a person with significant talent). Anyway, Paul was explaining the difference between having been a Depute and now being Headteacher. We both agreed that it wasn't so much how we, as people, change when we take up headship but more how other people change towards the person how adopts the role.

The fundamental challenge for people who become headteachers is that we don't allow that change in other people's attitude and behaviour towards us lead to an change in how we actually do behave and think.

Secondary Headteachers’ Meeting

Got in this morning at 7.30am to prepare for the rest of the day. Met Pauline Evans at 8.30am. Pauline is our Childcare Information Officer. She has responsibility for giving information to childminders, playgroups and nurseries. I'm beginning to understand the importance of early years and childcare. Pauline showed me an excellent website she helps to maintain – worth a look –

Out to Preston Lodge for 11.00am. Visitors from Barga – a town in Italy – which has links with Prestonpans through John Bellany. Willie Galbraith had organised a tour of the school and the chance to meet students and staff. I met some great senior students who told me about their plans for the school. I hope to invite the Head Girl and Boy from each secondary school for lunch at John Muir House once they have all be elected. PL are setting up PLTV – I'm going to go back to the school in couple of weeks to find out more but it might have some potential for exc-el?

Back for a brief meeting with the education officers who were discussing the content of the first evaluation visit which will take place this term. We are trying to get the appropriate focus to these meetings – a key part of which must be that information is submitted by schools prior to the meeting taking place otherwise no proper interpretation or discussion can take place.

Secondary Heads meeting at 2.00pm. Agenda – PPP; complaints procedures; Health and safety; Additional Support for Learning Act; Student placements in schools; Education Department budget;Attainment action plan; teacher exchange; work shadowing.

The meeting went well and I'm looking forwards to working with my colleagues over the coming session. It is my intention that our relationship should be characterised by transparency; collective enterprise; creativity; positive solution focussed debate; honesty and a determination to improve the quality of teaching and learning in East Lothian.

North Berwick High School

Met Richard Parker, Principal Officer with particular responsibility for School Boards – amongst many other jobs, at 9.00am. Richard has a tremendous depth of experience in education. We explored how we might ensure how might make the best use of Principal Officers in raising standards in East Lothian. Richard is keen to visit other authorities to find out how they operate with a view to picking up worthwhile ideas. We explored how we might be able to set up a parental forum using Student Evaluation of Learning Software (SELS).

Met Kelly, Gemma and Ashley from the Pupil Support Admin' team at 10.00am. They are part of a very strong team ably led by Fiona Brown.

Visited North Berwick High School from 11.30am-1.30pm. Excellent meeting with Headteacher Colin Sutherland. Colin and I share many thoughts about how we can take forward education in East Lothian. Colin has a particular expertise in terms of data analysis, as one might expect from a former maths teacher. Hopefully a number of Headteachers can take on parts of our attainment action plan. Colin might be willing to start a weblog – watch this space.

Back for meeting with Sheila McKendrick to finalise programme for headteachers' conference to be held at Lennoxlove on the 8th November. The event is entitled “Leading Excellent Schools”. The programme looks very promising and I will be approaching a number of Headteachers over the next few days to recruit their involvement.

Met Alan Ross, Head of Children's Services at 4.30pm Alan spent a good hour patiently explaining the background to Children's Services in East Lothian. I learned a huge amount in a smiall amount of time but will need a few follow up meetings to fully come to terms with the chalenges facing Alan and his team – only then I can really beginning to look at how we might work more closely together to support vulnerable children in East Lothian.

Website takes shape

Met Maureen Jobson, education officer, at 8.30am. We talked about the work she has been doing this week with all our nursery nurses and teachers. The sessions have been looking at how we can improve the planning process. There can be no doubt that an enriching and well structured nursery experience provides a very sound foundation for subsequent education to build upon.

We set up a trial nursery nurse section on the website and the potential of creating a community of professionals helping each other to improve their practice is a very exciting prospect. It is of relevance that nursery education is leading the way in this respect for the whole authority. We also set up some of Maureen's notes on planning for nurses and teachers to access and download.

Attended the Pupil Support meeting at 9.00am. We have agreed that an education officer should attend their fortnightly meeting on rotation to ensure linkage between the teams. This will be reciprocated by Sheila Ainslie attending the weekly education officer meeting.

Met Graham Sales, one of our management information support officers, at 10.00am. Graham has been setting up an Access database which collates and enables easy acces to any information about our schools. I was very taken by the system he showed me. If we can be rigorous about collecting and inputting data then we would certainly apear to have the means to extract useful and meaningful information to suppport our work and help us to know our schools better.

Meeting with Councillors John Ross, Education Committee convener, and Maureeen Talac, Depute Convener, at 12.00 with Alan Blackie and Alan Ross. These briefings take place on a regular basis. I updated them on the attainment action plan and the exc-el website.

Attended the nursery education training event at North Berwick Nursery School. I was struck by the fact that there are more similarities than differences between the challenges facing nursery teachers and nurses and teachers in secondary and primary schools. We all need to be clear about our desired outcomes of the teaching and learning process; we all need to well prepared in terms of our planning; and we all need to consider next steps. The challenge is to undertake these planning tasks in away which supports the teaching and learning process in a manageable and sustainable manner.

Returned to John Muir House to meet Caroyn Walker, our Personnel officer. Carolyn briefed me on her work and that of the department.

Correspondence and e mail until 6.15pm

Schools go back.

Directorate meeting from 8.30-10.00am This takes place every Monday morning. Alan Blackie, Director of Education and Children's Services, Alan Ross, Head of Children's Services and myself meet to dicuss issues which have arisen over the previous week and to tackle any matters which require attention.

Met Alan Cruickshank, ICT Dept, at 10.00am to discuss the future of ICT in East Lothian schools. We agreed that the future needs to focus more upon how we use ICT as opposed to a hardware focus which has been the situation to date. We need to clarify the budget issues priot to making any strategic plans.

Visited Prestonpans Infant School at 11.30am. Jean Gardiner phoned me on Friday to alert me to the fact that building work had not been completed. The staff and cleaners had done an immense job to overcome these difficulties and the school opened this morning. Jean took me round the school and introduced me to the staff. I was very impressed with the school – a wonderful atmosphere.

Back for a meeting at 1.00pm to identify performance indicators for the department. This was a very productive meeting and I think we established a set of indicators which will really enable us to measure our progress in a more meaningful manner. Meeting finished at 3.30.

At 4.00pm, along with Alan Blackie and Alan Ross, met with David White the new manager of East Lothian Health Community Health. A lot of the content of the meeting was over my head as I'm not up to speed with the jargon or structure of health services.

5.00-6.30pm Sorted out correspondence and e mails. Spent some time on the Attainment Action Plan.

Attainment action plan

I’m working on a paper to take to the Education Committee in September. The paper will set out an attainment actin plan for the next three years. The starting point is an analysis of East Lothian Attainment in comparison with our comparator authorities. The results of this analysis are very positive and demonstrate that we have made more progress than other similar authorities over a ten year period. However, we are still some 5% points behind the best performing authority in our grouping.

Given the near completion of PPP it would seem appropriate to refocus our attention on improving attainment. My paper refers to recent research which demonstrates that raising attainement levels has the greatest impact on ensuring children avoid social exclusion. The attainment action plan will have four strands – each of which emerges from our existing Service Improvement Plan. These strands are: Leadership development; Teaching and Learning (The Exc-el project); Performance Monitoring and Improvement (with a focus on gathering data which can be used to compare schools' rates of progress; and Curriculum (with a focus on more flexible curriculum plans in the secondary schools linked to more freedom of subject choice for students).

Many meetings

I’ve been in post for four weeks. In that time I’ve been meeting all of the staff within the Department. These meetings have proved very useful. My over-riding impression is that we are fortunate to have so many committed and professional staff at all levels. I think the opinion in schools can sometimes be that people in the “centre” sit around drinking coffee all day and don't know what it's like in schools. This is completely mistaken and the staff here are determined to ensure that they provide a quality service to schools. If there is one problem it might be that people often work in isolation of their peers but this is easily resolved and I will be chairing a communication working group over the next few weeks.

I'm keen that I don't become overwhelmed with the job and have set up a number of systems and procedures with the help of our admin staff. One of the key elements of this strategy is how I intend to deal with e-mails. Too often someone in my position can spend all their time reading and responding to e mails. Given that my typing skills are limited – to say the least – it normally takes me 5 -10 minutes to read and respond to a single email. People deserve a response to e mails but too often that response is expected almost instantaneously. My system involves my admin support intercepting my e mails and printing them off. I then work on all the mails at the end of the day, dictating my responses onto a digital recorder. These files are downloaded onto my secretary's computer in the morning and all my e mails are typed and sent off on my behalf. In this way I can deal with the strategic aspect of my job whilst ensuring that all e mails enquiries are dealt with logically and timeously – usually within 24 hours. In this way I can deal with all my mails in under an hour wheas if I was typing a response to each I might be engaged in the process for up to three hours a day. We will be reviewing the success of this system after a couple of months.

First thoughts

Hopefully my year in post will be characterised by a focus upon:

Culture: trust; belonging; purpose

Empowerment and engagement at all levels

Data – generating; analysing; acting

My priorities for the year are as follows:

  1. Service Improvement Plan
  2. Exc-el website – teaching and learning
  3. Budget management
  4. Restructuring
  5. Teacher Exchange
  6. Leadership development
  7. Talent identification
  8. Student Evaluation of Learning
  9. Authority culture
  10. School cultures
  11. Departmental communication
  12. Standardised testing
  13. Project management
  14. Curriculum for Excellence
  15. Early Years
  16. Timetabling
  17. Staff deployment analysis
  18. Integrated community schools – promoting an action focus

All good fun so far!!