Home visits

I had hoped to finish a number of jobs this morning – most notably the Reporting Absence to Parents Guidelines. I was making good progress when I received a call from a school. I won’t go into the details but I felt it necessitated a home visit to parents. I’ve always believed such visits to be extremely worthwhile. It certainly worked this morning and we resolved the matter effectively.

Which leads me to a true story. When I took up my post as HT at Dunbar Grammar school I continued my practice of home visits from my previous school. There were a few pupils who got a shock when their headteacher arrived at the door to ask why they weren’t at school. Anyway – a parent approached me at an information evening and explained how she was having real difficulties in getting her 16 ywar old son to school, as she often left home before he had to get out of his bed. We agreed that the next time he wasn’t at school that I could make a home visit. As it happened the very next day he was absent – I asked the office staff for the address and directions and set off with a colleague (always go acccompanied). I went up to the door and rang the bell ……..no answer, knocked on the door……………no answer, knocked harder………….no answer, listened at the letter box and heard loud music (he must still be in bed!!!), shouted through the letter box……….the music got louder!!, tried the front door………..it opened, walked in the house……………shouting for him to come out!!………………….no answer – imagine my surpise when at last a terrified woman with a young child came out of a bedroom to explain that no one of that name lived in the house – I'd got the right house number but the wrong street. Huge apologies, a letter and bunch of flowers heped to diffuse the matter – but from that day on I've always double checked the address!

Back to the office to continue on the policy and some budget related matters. Quick meeting with Ruth Munro to complete our remit meetings. Then met an HMIe to discuss the effectivenness of community learning and development in Haddington. Very interested to hear about the
Caley Centre in Stevenson which involves young people in innovative community engagement.

Exc-el Board Meeting from 4.00-5.45 – another superb meeting which I will write up on our
wikipages tomorrow.

Standard for Headship

8.30-10.00 Directorate Meeting: Helen McMillan was at the meeting to discuss Early Years and Childcare, with particular reference to line management issues. The remainder of the meeting was taken up with routine business matters.

10.00 – 10.30 Met Maureen Jobson to reflect upon
The Standard for Headship – this is a useful document and sets out clearly the expectations for school leaders.

11.00-12.00 Met with a member of staff to discuss an issue.

12.00-12.30 Met Valerie Irving to discuss education officer remits – only Ruth Munro to go, then we will discuss the new remits colectively.

1.00-1.40 Maureen Jobson to go over Early Years issues

2.00-3.30 Sport and Education Meeting – this was a challenging meeting – the impact of the decision to break the link between the visiting specialist and the classroom teacher due to budget savings was discussed. It’s an interesting position to be in but I’m determined to continue to provide accurate and honest accounts of budget situations and the challenges they will present to all of us.

4.-00-4.45 Popped round to Meadowpark – our severe and complex unit for primary age children. The staff wanted to express their desire for the facility to remain in Haddington, as opposed to the planned move to tranent which has been on the cards for the last five years. I did not hold out any false hope but I promised to provide answers to all of their queries and suggestions. I was very impressed by the passionate views and obvious commitment to the needs of our children.

Practice into theory!

In my recent post
Theory into Practice I wondered how we could engage teachers more in reflecting upon their own theories about teaching and learning.

Walking the dog this morning a thought popped into my head – as they often do! Would it be possible to develop a questionnaire or self-test form? The questionnaire would present all the various theories through a series of practical examples, which teachers would then check off against their own beliefs? At the end of the process the teacher would be provided with a summary of their beliefs and how they tie in with existing theories.

It would then be possible for teachers to compare their own belief systems with their colleagues and perhaps better understand why they do certain things and why they don’t do other things. As I suggested in my last post on this matter many of us can’t explicitly explain our practice – I know that this certainly applies to me.

This may have some potential as we take forwards our
teaching and learning strategy over the coming year.

Home education

I’m giving a great deal of thought to home education at the moment. This is a fairly new area for me and I’ve been reading up about the law and some of the practical challenges it presents to parents and local authorities.

Parents have an legal right to home educate – as enshrined in the The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 which must be read in conjunction with relavant
guidance issued under Section 14 of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000

.The Scottish Executive published
draft circular on home education which included the following introduction:

1.1 Parents have a legal responsibility to ensure that their children receive an education which is suited to their age, ability and aptitude. Most choose to do this by sending their children to school. Where parents exercise their right to educate their children at home, authorities have duties to ensure that the arrangements are suitable.

1.2 Parents may decide to home educate for a number of reasons. They may, for example, wish to educate their children in accordance with their own wishes, including any religious and philosophical convictions. In some cases, a decision to home educate is made when difficulties have been experienced at school.

1.3 Parents of children who have attended an education authority school are required to seek the consent of the authority before withdrawing them to educate at home. There is no such consent seeking requirement for children who have attended an independent school or who have never attended school.

1.4 Education authorities have a duty to ensure that there is an adequate and efficient provision of school education in their areas. They also have a duty to enforce school attendance if they have reason to believe that parents are not providing a suitable education for their child ; this applies equally to children who have been withdrawn from local authority schools and to children who have never attended school.

1.5 Decisions on home education should be made in light of the circumstances of the individual child. It is essential that such decisions meet the legislative requirements and that the policy and procedures adopted by authorities are based on best practice and advice.

1.6 This guidance is intended to promote a consistency of approach across the country by setting out the legislative position and by providing advice on the roles and responsibilities of education authorities and parents in relation to children who are educated at home. It has been drawn up in consultation with interested parties to promote an effective partnership based on a shared understanding of what is expected from each of the parties involved.

1.7 It is important that education authorities and home educating parents work together to develop mutual respect and a positive relationship which functions in the best interests of the child.

Schoolhouse – the home education association in Scotland – provides some very useful advice and offers some interpretation of the above law (I’ve added the bold highlights):

According to the law, the education authority may not 'unreasonably' withhold its consent for the withdrawal of a pupil from a state school (N.B. consent is not required to remove a child from a private school), but the law places upon it a duty to ensure that each child is receiving a full-time and efficient education suitable to his/her age, aptitude and ability (also taking into account any special needs he/she may have), though none of these terms is actually defined. It is worth noting that the Scottish Office (now the Scottish Executive) has consistently declined to provide guidance to local authorities, asserting that interpretation of the law is a matter for the courts, but in the absence of Scots legal precedent, it is likely that the landmark English case of Harrison & Harrison v. Stevenson (Worcester, 1981) might be influential. In this case, where the family successfully practised an unstructured and autonomous form of education, it was held that a 'suitable education' was one which 'prepares children for life in a modern, civilised society' and an 'efficient education' was one which 'achieves what it set out to achieve'. Although most Scottish local authorities now accept that home education need not be anything like school provision, some education officers are still inclined to pressurise families into conforming to a structured model, and it is worth noting that elected members in some areas remain highly resistant to home education and have been known to ignore professional advisers’ reports and recommendations.

I fully undertand that some families wish to educate their children at home for very personal, religious or philosophical reasons and would wish to uphold that right. There are other parents who wish to home educate due to problems enountered in school, e.g. bullying – although I’d like to think we could work together to tackle such a problem. The Act and the Guidance regularly refer to a partnership between the parents and the authority – it would be my hope that this would characterise how we support home education in East Lothian. However, we have a duty to ensure the rights of the child are upheld as much as the rights of the parents – and such a commitment will always guide our practice. What do you think?

Passion through achievement

I talked about ‘Passion through achievement’ at the recent
“Outdoor Connections” conference. My point had been that too often we think that it’s enough just to expose children to an activity for them to be ‘turned on’. I disagreed with this by arguing that we need to enable children to experience success (in their own terms) in an activity, if they are to develop an enduring passion for continued participation. In my opinion kids need to experience
‘mastery’ of an activity or subject (even at a very low level) and then build upon this – in an outdoor education context it might be as simple as managing not to capsize in a canoe; mastering a snowplough turn; finding your way round an orienteering course.

I was reminded of all this on
Wednesday of this week I met
Peter Hill at EdinburghUniversity. In his office I saw a pile of Scottish Physical Education Association (SPEA) journals. As I thumbed through the pile I recalled an article I’d co-written with colleagues (Carole Hall and Alastair Kidd) in 1994 entitled ‘The Earlston Method’.

We worked on the notion of ‘hooking’ children onto physical activity. For us, the ‘hook’ was our attempt to enable children to experience the ‘feeling’ or ‘joy’ an expert performer experiences. If children never get to experience the feeling of success, which would maintain or stimulate greater interest in the activity, then continued engagement is extremely unlikely.We also argued that too often children only catch glimpses of the ‘whole’ activity or ‘big picture’. More frequently they participate in lessons which are nothing more than ‘brightly coloured hoops’ (sometimes even not that brightly coloured). The kids jump through these hoops, rarely understanding or appreciating why they are doing the activity in question.

Does this line of argument have anything to do with the high levels of disengagement in the current secondary school curriculum?

For me, the challenge for the teacher is to provide that big picture and then to work out what the ‘hook’ might be and aim to provide opportunities for every child in the class to experience regular success at their own level.

So what might be some of the ‘hooks’ in history; maths; physics; languages; home economics; computing; geography; craft and design; music; art; religious education?

I intend to explore this line of thinking over the next few weeks

Inclusion = liking children

Following on from my posts about
Children need to be liked and
Being positive about inclusion have set me to thinking that this is perhaps the key to the inclusion agenda. In my experience where a teacher, or a school for that matter, adopt an “Unconditional Positive Regard” for children, then the inclusion responsibility is effectively discharged. Whereas, if the relationship is characterised as being “transactional” , i.e. you do something for me and I’ll do something for you” then inclusion will not happen. For those who are worried that this sounds like children can just do as they please, I would repeat that I’ve never been soft on discipline – if fact I tihnk we should use short-term exclusions much more frequently (half to two days) for very minor events i.e. lower our tolerance threshold for poor behaviour, whilst always wanting to our best for the individual child.

Chief Officers’ Group – couple of presentations to start the meeting – the first was on Healthy Respect (Improving the sexual health of young people) – I was interested to learn that drop-in services are much more effective than just providing information. We currently don’t have any such services within any of our schools – in one of my previous schools we had such a service which provided C-cards (access to condoms) – teenage pregnancies in the area dropped significantly. I understand the reservations of many people and groups about such easy access to condoms but the facts are difficult to dispute.

The second presentation was on transition of children with additional support for learning needs to adult services. Apparently this is a very difficult transition – there seemed to be a proliferation of groups trying to sort this out – which set me to thinking – is there any way we can manage to tackle problems in a more action focused manner as opposed to setting up yet another group?

The main agenda item was the Changing Children’s Services Fund – followed by a reflction on our INtegrated Children’s Services Plan – we have received feedback from the Scottish Executive who want more detail – this will make the document over 200 pages? I’m a bit worried about this – a few years ago the HMIe judged school effectiveness by measuring the weight of the development plan – I wonder of the Exec’ might be better to spend their time reflecting upon impact – rather than the plan?

I had hoped to get out to visit a school but a number of issues hit my desk. Out to North Berwick High School for a meeting about pupil support – Sheila Ainslie chaired the meeting – Sheila uses the
solution focussed approach in much of her work and I was mightily impressed with how she managed the meeting.

Back to the office for a communications group meeting which reflects upon communications issues in the department. There is understandable concern about any changes in accommodation when we finally settle on our restructuring process. Nothing unsettles people more than moving desks. We hope to engage all staff in this dialogue – we will probably need some movement but we’d like people to work out the solutions rather than imposing any masterplan.

Family comes first – always

9.00-11.00 I took my eldest son up to Edinburgh University for his interview for physical education. It must run in the “jeans” or something.

Managed to get to the Integration Team Meeting at Haddington for 11.30am. It would appear the greatest challenge we face from a children and family support worker perspective is consistency beteen schools.

Back to the office for 12.30 – quick bite of lunch

1.00 met the Education Psychology Team for a 30 minutes to discuss how we could make the best use of their expertise. Then some preparation before the secondary HT meeting at 2.00-5.00. I’ve learned my lesson from the last couple of similar meetings and greatly reduced the agenda. I have to admit to really enjoying the meeting and felt we made significant progress on a number of important issues.

Left early to pick up my son from Edinburgh – interview seemed to go well. Family always comes first!!!

Cluster School Board Meetings

9.00-11.00 Follow up inspection meeting at Ross High School. Met HMIe Grant Mathison along with Willie Carroll (Acting HT), Dorothy Bartholemew (DHT) and Maureen Jobson (Education Officer) to discuss the draft follow up report. Grant made some very positive suggestions and we ended up with what will be a very good report recording significant progress over the past two years.

11.30-12.00 Discussed the new remits of education officers with Maureen Jobson. I’ve used a system I developed in Dunbar where I try to give each task or job a weighting depending on the likely weekly workload, e.g. a task which has likely significant weekly workload rates 4 ranging down to 1 for less onerous tasks. The points are all added up and then used to give some equity between various remits.

12.30-2.00 Visit to Dirleton Primary School. Very hospitable welcome from Mary McCall and her staff. Yet again I was impressed by a small school providing a very high quality education. Thanks.

2.15-3.20 Popped into North Berwick High School to see how Stewart McKinnon is settling as Head Teacher.

3.30-4.15 Met with a HT about personal issues.

4.15-4.45 Met with Alison Wishart to discuss remit.

4.45- 6.30 Correspondence and paperwork

7.00-9.15 Musselburgh Cluster joint school board meeting. I’m finding these meetings to be very worthwhile. A lot of challenging questions were asked and we tried our best to respond. Many if the questions concerned budget related issues such as per capita allocations; business managers; difference betwen funding between primary and secondary schools – all issues I’ve been wrestling with this week. I hope some parents will take up the offer to enage with this website and even become bloggers. One school is interested in piloting a school board section on the site – this has real potential – watch this space!

Primary PT Seminars

9.15-10.00 Directorate Meeting- focussed on the Better Integrated Services Paper. We agreed in principle to reflect upon how we can best deliver Staged Assessment and Intervention. We are going to organise an event for our co-ordinators of pupil support in schools, a number of HTs and a range of reps from children's services. The intended outcome of the event will be to have devised a service which we can implement to best meet the needs of children in our communities. Alan Ross and I will meet to sketch out the day prior to involving others.

10.00-12.15 Continued working on the departmental budget. I’ve put together an analysis of the situation and have sent to to finance for clarification. As I’ve stated previously I’m not prepared to release figures unless I’m confident they won’t change at a later date.

12.30-1.30 Met with a Principal Teacher to give some advice about interviews

1.30-2.00 Continued work on budget

2.00-2.30 Agenda setting meeting for Policy and Procedures Review Panel meeting.

2.30-3.30 Phone calls and correspondence

3.30-4.15 Met with Angus McRury, HT of Innerwick and fellow blogger

4.15-5.30 First Primary School Principal Teacher seminar. I was really struck by the overwhelming sense of duty which characterised the people round the table. Amongst many other things we explored how Exc-el could open the door to parents and others on the real world of teachers. The feedback seemed very positive and this is definitely a forum we should be continuing. It was suggested that we arrange a 4.15-6.15 meeting for all PTs. Why not share your ideas for an agenda/focus on our

Theory into practice

What a wonderful contribution the Educational Psychology Service have made to this website through
Everything you wanted to know abut teaching and learning….and more – particularly the most recent posting on schools as
Effective learning environments. However, it’s set me to thinking – always a dangerous thing! – and the question I can’t stop thinking about is ….”should teachers have this knowledge?” I’ve taught at a teacher training institution, completed a degree and masters degree in education but I couldn’t claim to know everything on this section of the site (in fact I reckon 60% is new to me) Most of us have
tacit knowledge about the learning and teaching process. Often half-remembered bits of theory join with our practical experience to form an implicit set of assumptions upon which we build our practice.

I don't know if it’s unfortunate or not but many of us adopt an anti-theoretical perspective on our practice – “we don’t have time for all that nonsense”; “we prefer to focus on the business of teaching”; “I don’t agree with all this theory – I know what I know and it works for me” Yet I’ve still to meet a teacher who does not have a set of implicit assumptions and personal set of beliefs which drive their practice – the challenge is to get these assumptions to be articulated and shared – and, if necessary – to be challenged.

One of Exc-el’s
prime purposes is to improve the teaching and learning process – but is it possible to improve the process without a more explicit understanding of the theory which underpins our practice and the learning process? Should all teachers be updated with this knowledge – in much the same way as my father (a doctor) had to update his knowledge – on a compulsory basis? Why is it that any attempt to do something like this would be regarded as a professional affront by many teachers – or would it?