STACS or not?

9.30-11.45 Out to see Willie Galbraith at Preston Lodge to finish off our chat about examination results at the school.

We focused on our authority generated figures which group results by subject for all schools and use the %of S4 as the standard comparison. Both Willie and myself agree that this gets rid of the discrepancies which can occur when the statistics relate to the the number taking the subject. For example one department might ony have 18 pupils taking a course – which would equate to 10% of S4. If 9 pupils gained a credit this would be 50% of the pupils taking the subject but only 5% if set against the S4 year group. By using the % of S4 roll figure you are able to get a much more reliable figure to use to compare one school against another. Quite honestly I feel these tables are more effective than the charts and box plots which STACS provide.

12.15-1.00 Met with Helen McMillan to discuss Early Years and Childcare. I agreed with Helen that we need to clarify our strategic intent in respect to this area and I need to spend some time on this with colleagues.

1.10-1.50 Gillian Reilly and Clare O'Sullivan. We are going to set up a coaching pilot for the remaiinder of this session for 2 mebers of the department, 6 Headteachers and 9 teachers. All the evidence would seem to suggest that the coaching model can significantly help people to manage their lives more effectively and in turn get more out of their jobs. Gillian and Clare are going to write up a final propsal for agreement by AJB.

2.00-3.00 WAN (wide area network) Project meeting This is a group which has been set up to manage the upgrading of the network to schools. We rea using the PRINCE2 project management system. The project team will oversee the upgrading of the netwoork to schools – minimum spec 2mgb to primaries and 8 mgb to secondary schools.

4.00-5.00 Met a headteacher to discuss peronal issues


10.00-12.15 I met Stuart Hiles from Employee Development Department – East Lothian Council.

Stuart has developed a tremendous e-learning package which makes use of open source software called
moodle Stuart has been focussing on employee development using e-learning but I was very excited about the potential of the system for developing courses for pupils. Stuart is going to make a presentation to members of the exc-el board and ICT education management group of the 9th March at 3.30 – if anybody else would like to come along you are most welcome – just drop me a line.

1.00-4.15 Met with Patrica McCall, Elizabeth Diamond, Fiona Beveridge and Sheila McKendrick to refine the cluster working paper in response to the feedback received.

We went through the paper and produced something which will prove very helpful to us next session. We will circulate it to all HTs for comment over the next few weeks. Many thanks to all.

4.15-5.30 E mails and phone calls

Friday 27th January

Missed updating my weblog on Friday.

8.15-9.45 Education Officers Meeting

10.30-11.30 Young Scot Youth Parliament event at Musselburgh Community Centre. I was on the panel along with other representatives of East Lothian Council, Health and the Police. Very searching questions and I was pleased that anumber of students approached me after the event for a chat.

11.45 Went to Musselburgh Grammar to see Ann Graham who retired today. It's hard to believe that Ann is 60.

12.30 Out to Pinkie Primary to speak to the staff about the newspaper article which really got the wrong end of the stick when interpreting their recent HMIe report. I went through a large number of HMIe reports which have been written since the introduction of the 6 point scale in August. I could only find one school with a better report.

1.30-6.00 Back to the office to clear my desk.

Fast Tracking in East Lothian?

East Renfrewshire Council has taken the decision to start Standard Grade courses – or their equivalent – in Second year as opposed to Third Year.

According to Ian Fraser, the Head of Education, the
fast-track move was being considered for two reasons.

“One is the increased attainment and better skills and abilities of pupils coming from primary schools into secondary and they are performing at a higher level than previously,” he said.

“Secondly, it's trying to look at the top end of the system – the gold standard, the higher grade awards – and trying to give youngsters more time to prepare for Highers.

I have to admit to having a certain sympathy for both of these perspectives. Pupils are performing better then previously in primary schools and the one year dash for highers is very demanding.

However, I’m worried about the encroachment of certificated courses further down the secondary school. Certification only serves to reinforce the separation between subjects; teachers get locked into the syllabus; and the demands of the “exam” become the driving force behind the learning experience.

How does all this fit with the curriculum for excellence? Teachers in East Lothian, in common with other teachers in Scotland, are doing some wonderful things in relation to formative assessment. They are throwing off the shackles of a limited curriculum model and exploring teaching approaches which excite and engage children.

I’d like to suggest there an alternative to the “fast track” approach for secondary schools.

So what do I think?

  • .Children need time to grow up without the pressure of certification
  • Teachers need to work more closely with other subject teachers
  • We should be using these two years to build upon children’s primary experiences and make best use of graduate specialists
  • We should be focusing upon helping children to develop the four capacities which underpin the curriculum for excellence

These capacities being:

  • Effective contributors
  • Successful learners
  • Confident individuals
  • Responsible citizens

I do not believe that the certificated curriculum is best suited to enabling these capacities to be developed.

If we aren’t going to adopt the “fast-track” model then an alternative to the current model must be developed. The status quo is not an alternative.

Some options:

Many schools are now operating subject rotation e.g. instead of doing three subjects a week, such as Geography, History and Modern Studies for one period each – pupils get three periods of one of the subjects for one third of the year before they move on to the next subject. – this doesn’t really make any difference aside from reducing the number of teachers a pupil sees in a week.

Group common subject together and get one teacher to teach the common course, e.g. once again using the social subjects model a social subjects course is developed and taught by only one teacher – this could require a modern studies teacher to teach the geography element of the course – not really making best use of the subject expertise nor challenging the notion that the S1/2 curriculum is fairly low level stuff.

How about this?

Restructure the curriculum around the four capacities. For example – there are approximately 16 subjects in S1/2; split these subjects into four groups for S1 and a different group of four for S2.

Let’s say we our split goes:

Group 1 History ;Geography ;Craft and Design

Group2Music; Art; Modern Studies; RME

Group 3 Science; PSE; Maths; ICT

Group 4 Languages; English; PE; Home Ec

Now we’ll not worry if anything’s missing here – it’s just for fun. Then each subject group is then allocated a particular capacity to develop, e.g. Group 1 could focus upon developing confident individuals.

Each subject would reflect upon their existing curriculum and look at how it might reinforce the chosen capacity with examples – (it would not necessitate a complete course rewrite!) but particularly think abut the means of delivery to hopefully develop that particular capacity.

In addition to the relevant capacity each student would have to complete a project which linked all the subjects together whilst perhaps having a real focus on one of the areas. So if I was a pupil in Group 1 I might want to take one of the history topics a little further – let’s say Second World War (history) – within my project I would have to make significant reference to Music, science and language. The project would be marked by the main project focus teacher, in this case history. I would have to consult with my subject teachers about my project and use their expertise to develop my project. I would have the option of completing my project with a partner or partners

The academic year would be split up into four parts, with students having to complete four projects in the course of the year. Each project would be commented (an overall mark would not be given) upon by a main subject teacher – the focus of the comments would be upon the quality of the research, the structure of the project and originality of the links – no doubt we can come up with better criteria than that.

Hopefully, in the course of the year, the quality of projects would improve. Project work would mainly be done at home but up to 25% of teaching time in a ¼ year period might be given over to project work. Projects would make significant use of
ICT – probably being completed on a student’s virtual space.

Each year the subject groupings would be rearranged to enable different teachers to work together.

So what might be the outcomes of such a flight of fancy?

  1. Teachers would be working much more closely together.
  2. The four capacities would take a central place in the curriculum.
  3. We would have built a very strong foundation for certificated courses
  4. Children would have some opportunity to follow their interests
  5. Homework would be of real relevance to each child
  6. We would build upon children’s primary experiences
  7. We would make appropriate use of teacher expertise
  8. Children would see inter-connections between subjects and their learning
  9. Children could work at their own level – and extend themselves
  10. Learning could be collaborative
  11. Teacher's have to work much more creatively and with a focus on education as opposed to certification

One obvious difficulty with this proposal is that it doesn't do anything about the one year dash for the “gold standard” Higher. I'd have to agree with this but I think if we were able to develop more effective learners in S1 and S2 then they should be able to handle higher courses more successfully. I also think we need to start to see preparation for Higher as a three year process, i.e. linking the S3/4 curricular experience with the S5 experience in a more coherent manner. I also think we need to realise that to develop a curriculum only to best serve the more academic end of the school then we are hardly meeting the needs of the lowest attaining 20%.

I'd welcome comments in this work in progress.

I found an interesting letter recently
“From the Principal” (not unconnected from this debate)

Alive and Kicking

9.00-10.30 Visit to Saltoun Primary School great hospitality from Anne Malcolm and her staff. Enjoyed meeting the staff and pupils. For the second time I arrived at a school to see Anne and an inspector was in the school to visit the nursery.

10.45-11.45 Arrived at St Martin's Tranent. Roseanne Ainslie met me at the door – she looked flustered and guilty – the following correspondence had circulated around schools in the morning

I have been asked by a very sad Mr Don Ledingham to seek your help in finding a very sad and lost Teddy Bear. In other words somebody as “nicked Don's Teddy”. Please return.

The bear gets it unless DL ensures all proposed cuts due to education are borne by the secondary sector.

Just in case any suspicion as to the identity of the kidnapper should be coming in my direction, I want to share some information from my personal spy network – viz – that Ted is being moved to a more secure hiding place very very shortly.

Is it East Lothian policy to negotiate with hostage-takers? I feel we need a firm line on this. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with our cuddly allies.

The Musselburgh cluster take a collective responsibility to absence monitoring and attempt to work creatively on resolving issues around absent “persons”. We work collegiately[no half hearted contributions from us!!!] to ensure consistency of experiences for our “persons”. We are aware of the importance of smooth transition and I can therefore say Mr Ted should have been able to move on with no fear of his next steps. Please be advised no member of the Musselburgh Cluster HT group had anything to do with this missing “person”.

As I walked into Roseanne's Office there was Mr Ted – apparently a “heavy” had delivered the abductee just five minutes earlier – he was in good condition apart from a severed ear. I issued a formal verbal written warning and will look to make sure all those involved in Mr Ted's abduction suffer the consequences of collective responsibility – revenge will be Mr Ted's!!

When I got back to the office I approached Jenny Wilson, our senior educational psychologist, to ask if she knew anything about trauma counselling – but Jenny is only half way through such a course. Fortunately I then bumped into Dave McGinty, our Area EIS Officer, who spent some time debriefing Mr Ted about his experiences whilst trying to identify the culprits – see photo

2.00-3.30 Local Negotiating Committee for Teachers

3.30-5.00 Desk clearing – failed!

5.00-6.00 Met with David Gilmour and John McMillan to discuss the management of change. John is possibly going to keep a weblog to reflect upon our change process from an external perspective.

By the way – thoroughly enjoyed my visit to St Martin's.


8.30-4.15 East Lothian Headteacher's Conference

Very successful event. Agenda – 1. Scottish Survey of Acheivement, Carolyn Hutchison; 2. Learning Teams, Ann MacLanachan; 3. Teaching Principles, Donald McGillivray; 4. Curriculum for Excellence; Alison Wishart; 5. Exclusion/inclusion, Alan Ross and me. Lots of very worthwhile discussion which will be written up and circulated.

Mr Ted was abducted during the course of the day and no word has yet been received from his kidnappers. The authorities have been alerted and a nationwide sweep is taking place. On no account should these desperate individuals be approached. All infromation will be gratefully received.

Back to the office until 6.00pm

Exc-el conference

8.15-9.45 Correspondence and phone calls

10.00-12.00 Education Committee – excellent presentation from Sheila Ainslie on Staged Assessment and Intervention. She really demonstrated a mastery of her brief and was well received by the committee – impressive stuff.

12.30 Met with Valerie Irving to complete a draft letter which HTs can use to send out to parents to explain the implementation of MIDYIS.

1.00-3.00 Met with an HT to cover a range of school-based issues.

3.00-4.00pm wrote up letters following meeting.

4.00-5.30 Exc-el Board Meeting – Ollie Bray, Sheila McKenrick, Robert Whiteside and Ed Offer were in attendance –
Ewan MacIntosh joined us by conference telephone call.

The format of these meetings is a convesration with no aganda but with one topic leading onto another. We covered –
guidelines for student bloggers see example for MLFE; using templates for student bloggers – this was an interesting pont and has potential for adult bloiggers who say, “what do I write about?”; log-ins for comment writers; a contract for users; promoting the site; using an alternative blogger tool but using exc-el as the point of access; and an exc-el conference – perhaps on a Saturday after Easter. The focus of the conference would be on blogging and how we develop a community of learners – it would be open to people outside East Lothian – we're going to set up a wiki to enable the conference to take shape. What fun!!

School visits

7.30-8.00 Completed budget paper for submission due by lunchtime

8.00-8.30 Met with Alan Blackie to pick up on Directorate agenda

8.45-5.00 School visits to all our secondary schools. Head Boy, Head Girl, two third years and two first years from every secondary school accompanied by a member of staff from each school toured Ross High School, Musselburgh Grammar, Preston Lodge, North Berwick, Dunbar and Knox Academy. We spent 45 minutes in each school looking at building highlights, brief presentation from students and questions and answer sessions. I was uplifted by the experience. We have a great deal to proud of about our schools – too often people focus on the negative – today would have impressed anybody. I suggested to the students prior to setting out that today would have been a succcess if they could come away with just one idea which they could think about using in their schools. The reality was that they came away with a great deal more than just one idea. There is huge potential if we could just find ways of just tapping into the the obvious enthusiasm there is for working together.

We had lunch at the Seabird Centre and I managed a chat with a few students over lunch – I'm glad to report that 12 of them have agreed to keep a weblog on exc-el.

5.00-6.45 Worked at my desk to clear backlog of correspondence.

7.00-8.30 Tranent School Cluster meeting. I spoke about the attainment action plan and the proposed cluster working arrangements. One of the evening's questions was “have all staff bought into the plans?” I explained how such cultural change takes a long time to establish. It's funny how this runs counter to the comment I received last week that I'm trying to move things too quickly. It's a fine balance between the two.

North Berwick High School – Headteacher

Friday 20th January

8.15-8.45 Education Officer's Meeting – I had to leave early to get to the Town House for the North Berwick Headteacher interviews.

9.00-12.00 We interviewed three candidates for the vacancy, which is due Colin Cutherland's 18 month secondment to the Scottish Executive. We appointed Stewart McKinnon, Depute Headteacher, Musselburgh Grammar School. I'm convinced Stewart will do an excellent job and build upon Colin's very successful tenure.

12.00-1.00 Tried to pick up on correspondence and phoencalls

2.00-3.30 Personnel issue with union reps.

3.30-4.30 Preparation for the implementation of SELS. (student evaluation of learning) Callum Stewart, Depute and Preston Lodge High School is going to help us smooth out any difficulties. We hope to launch the system in the next few weeks but I'd like to ensure we have a robust system prior to launch. Access
SELS manual

Budget preparation

I had hoped to get along to the Prestonpans cluster meeting this morning but we have to submit proposed efficiency savings and their consequences by Monday lunchtime. Spent all morning working with Derek Haywood with assistance from Anthony Gillespie and Alan Borthwick.

1.00-2.00 Met with Alan Ross and Sheila McKendrick to shape our presentations about inclusion at next week's HT conference

2.00-3.00 LNCT preparation meeting

3.30-4.15 Out to Prestonpans Infant school to apologise to Jean Gardiner for missing this mornings meeting. Managed to have a chat with a few staff – it reminded me how important it is that I keep in close contact with teachers.

4.15 Popped in to David Allan for ten minutes – David was the former HT at Preston Lodge High School.

4.30- 5.00 Prsntation to Detemined to Succeed primary reps about exc-el and the new part of the website which they will be able to access.

5.10-6.00 Round to see Willie Galbraith at PLHS. Wise words of counsel. It was good to hear that Willie sees staff in East Lothian to be deeply committed to the concept of inclusion.

Cockenzie School Board

8.00-10.00 Work at my desk.

10-12.00 Nursery/Primary Excutive Meeting. An overcrowded agenda – I’ve agreed to meet with Patrica McCall to put the agenda together prior to the meeting – we are going to explore whether or not we could roll this meeting inot my monthly meeting with AHTS. The meeting was very positive and we made progress on a number of areas.

12.30-1.00 Meeting with a parent

1.00-2.00 Met with Alison Wishart, Sheila McKendrick and Valerie Irving to discuss the session at next week’s HTs conference. Alison will give some examples of Curriculum For Excellence and give some ideas for how we might be taking it forwards in East Lothian – the workshop session will require HTs to focus on ideas they could implement in their own schools. The session will be followed up by a seminar teasing out the principles behaind the curriculum for excellence. We agreed that the strategy we wish to adopt for CfE will follow the model provided by formative assessment – i.e. a bottom up development which will match the principles of CfE with teachers aspirations.

2.00-4.30 Again too crowded an agenda – I think it’s a function of where we are in our development in that there is so much to update HTs. I hope that this will be the last time that agenda's need be so full as we can perhaps start to focus on two or three key areas in future meetings which link with our long term strategy.

4.30-5.00 I had three individual meetings with HTs following the meeting. An HT colleague made an interesting observation that I need to be careful we don’t try to take too many things forwards at once – this has been a recurring comment throughout my career – particularly in the early stages of a new job. I was able to show my colleague that everything we are taking forwards featured on my original agenda when I took up post. I’m confident that we can draw these apparent disparate threads together over the next couple of months.

5.-6.00 Met with Alan Ross, Alan Blackie and Cathy Marshall (health) about the changing children’s services fund – heid buzzing!

7.00-8.00 Meeting at Cockenzie School Board – I’d been invited to speak about primary/secondary transition with particular focus on maths. I spoke about our 5-14 plans for improving the reliability of our assessments and stadardised testing and then explored the 5Cs strategy with a particular focus on consistency and collective responsibility. I enjoyed the meeting and found the discusion to be worthwhile in helping to confirm the direction of travel we are taking.