Digital projects


Yesterday I explored the notion of
digital immersion. In response to some of the comments I received I suggested that we something other than the traditional cascade model of development if we are to see real change.

I’d now like to link this idea with what I proposed under
fast tracking alternative and
pupil motivation – i.e. project work.

When I first became Head Teacher at DunbarGrammar School I invited first year pupils to complete a project of their own choice over the summer holidays. It was completely voluntary, with the pupils being able to choose any topic they wished. I committed myself to personally reading each project and offering a comment – thinking that few kids would take up my offer. Boy was I wrong!! When we got back from the break over 40 projects were submitted – out of a year group of 120. I still remember being blown away by the quality and range of topics. Two of the projects were submitted by Iain Thompson and Katie Revell, now Head Boy and Head Girl respectively of the school. I still remember their submission – The Sharpe Novels (Iain) and Stone age homes in Orkney (Katie). I met them both a few weeks ago and they remember doing the projects and said it had been one of the best things they had done in school over the past six years. Now maybe they were just trying to keeping me happy – but I vividly remember the obvious commitment shown by all pupils to their work. It’s important to point out that many of the projects were submitted by ‘non-academics’ and as many boys took part as girls. I didn’t mark the essays but wrote a side of A4 in response to each project (I suppose this was formative assessment) and then returned the work during an assembly.

Unfortunately I didn’t repeat the exercise, although we played around with a project called
extreme learning a few years ago in school with
Duncan Smeed (who first introduced me to the notion of blogging) – although the project suffered from some technical difficulties
(see discussion thread)

I wonder of we could try something similar on an authority wide basis, i.e. seek volunteer pupils to take part in projects of their own choice using weblogging technology?

Digital Immersion


Second time around (I wrote a long post for tonight but lost it the upload) This won’t be as long but will have the same jist)

My boys – 18 and 15 – both use
to hang out with their friends a digital environmement. They share photos, music and ideas with their pals. When I asked Lewis (the 15 year old) if he got this sort of thing at school he looked at me as if I was stupid – of course not! The more I read about the digital world the more I think we are letting kids down. Why can't we try to replicate the kind of learning and communication environment young people are using outside school? I know, I know – lack of hardware, lack of software, lack of technical support, lack of time, lack of training, lack of leadership, lack of reliable network connection, lack of bandwidth, lack of ……………you name it. (if you agree with this why not help shape our
ICT strategy

I was asked a question by someone today about whether or not teachers would have to use
SSDN in their teaching when it comes in. I thought about it
– not for long – and said yes. I know this sounds a bit severe and infringes teacher autonomy but how would I feel if my child was prevented from becoming digitally competent just because a teacher doesn’t feel comfortable with technology or doesn’t believe in its importance? – I wouldn’t be happy. The reality is that I am more competent than my own children when it comes to ICT – is that as it should be?

This leads me to digital immersion – this is relevant given the recent controversy about a
Gaelic speaking school in Skye where children would be immersed in the language throughout the curriculum. There is significant evidence to show that this form of
language learning is much more effective than periods of study. I think this is how children should learn how to become comfortable with the digital world, i.e. by being immersed in the digital dimension as part and parcel of the learning process – both at school and at home. The challenge we face is to make up for some of the obvious deficiencies – as identified earlier – but also to use our imagination e.g. this website will have cost less than 1000 GBP to put together; weblogging space can be accessed for free; open source software is becoming more readily available; most children have access to the web at home.

Is there an alternative? – I don’t think so -if we don’t start to get our act together the gap between how children communicate and learn at home and how they learn and communicate at school will get wider and wider – with a commensurate level of disengagement from the formal learning process.

Morning – visit to MacMerry Primary School – as my granny used to say – don’t judge a book by its cover – it looks a bit forbidding from outside but when you get in it transforms itself. I’ve rarely been as impressed by a class as I was by P4/5 what enthusiasm for the learning process – could we just bottle it?

Fiona Beveridge (the HT) was teaching so Connor and Rebecca took me round the school – thanks – these really are the highlights of my week!

Back to office for meeting with Alan Blackie and others re’ various action points. Then SSDN meeting.

Afternoon – meeting at Ross High School re’ additional Support for Learning Unit. Back to office to pick up on correspondence and various quick updates from folk.

Out to Haddington School Boards cluster meeting – very useful event – three in a row. I hope one of the parents is going to take up our invite to become our first parental weblogger- watch this space. Realised that we need to put something together to brief parents about curriculum for excellence.

Public Service


I’d like to challenge those who denigrate those of us who decide to work in the public sector. I think the vast majority of people I work with are driven by a sense of service to the public good, i.e. public service!! I find it offensive when suggestions are made that there is something lazy and complacent about those of us in public service. I’d challenge anyone to show how our practice is inferior to “private” sector work. I would never talk down the challenges facing those in working in the private sector – why is it acceptable the other way round? What do you think?

This morning saw the first
Admin’ Conference. Over 130 administrative support staff from schools and the department attanded a full programme. The event had had been orgainsed by Gillian Reilly and Richard Parker and reps from each of the clusters. Alan Blackie opened the event with a welcome and I followed up with a brief overview of our vision for education in East Lothian. I made the following points:

1. I started off by reinforcing the focus of our all our jobs, i.e. to make a positive difference to children’s life chances. This is the unifying factor for all 1300 members of the education department and I don’t think we can ever over-emphasise it.

2. I then mentioned the idea of trust and the fact that we know that most people just want to their jobs as well as possible. We want to establish a culture in all our schools to enable this.

3. I emphasised that the only difference between me (Head of Education) and any admin’; support member of staff is only in terms of accountablity and responsibility. Aside from these factors we are members of the same taeam and on the same level – there is no place in East Lothian for any notion of different status groups – I’m committed to challenging this notion wherever it arises – there are occasions when some members of staff (sometimes because they are under pressure) do not treat admin’ staff with the respect they deserve.

4. A lot of admin’ duties include the submission of data and infromation. I tried to explain how important this is to us if we are to “know” our schools and be able to measure progress.


5. I concluded by challenging those who denigrate those of us who decide to work in the public sector. I think the vast majority of people I work with are driven by a sense of service to the public good, i.e. public service!! I find it offensive when suggestions are made that there is something lazy and complacent about those of us in public service. I’d challenge anyone to show how our practice is inferior to “private” sector work. I would never talk down the challenges facing those in working in the private sector – why is it acceptable the other way round? What do you think?

The rest of the morning was taken up by seminars and presentations – I must mention
Elizabeth Clark who spoke to us about communication – what a performance!! The feedback for the event seemed very positive.

From there to speak to the East Lothian Music Instructors. I wanted to let them know how much we value their work but also to explore anything we might do to improve their effectiveness. we came up with anumber of ideas and I'll be trying to take them forwards over the next few months.

Then caught the feedback session for all staff at Preston Lodge High School about Accessibility. I thought the staff made a number of valid points but the points which I made
yesterday would still apear to be valid.

Being positive about inclusion

Schools are on the mid-term break yesterday and today so not as much e-mail traffic as usual. I spent most of this morning working with Derek Haywood, School Business Manager, trying to finalise the budgets for primary and secondary schools.

Worked on SELS from 11.00-1.00 this system will allow us to actively engage pupils in providing feedback on the school exeperience. We are going to put the student data onto the system for schools which should make it much easier to implement the on-line questionnaires.

2.00-4.00 Met with Alan Ross, Sheila Ainslie and Raymy Boyle to consider how we can develop our cluster approach to integration. We discussed the twin challenges of promoting a culture of inclusion and the structures and processes necessary to enable it to be effective.

TFT number 3

In the course of the conversation I was struck by the following question ” Can a teacher, or for that matter a school, really live up to an inclusive culture if they don’t try to adopt a
positive perspective towards children, such as that I described on Friday, i.e. unconditional positive regard? – I think it’s almost impossible to do so without such a perspective. If we are overly influenced by the likeability of a child, or their commitment to the education process we can’t really be successful in changing their behaviour (we’ll just want to get them out!) I thought the section in the Educational Psychology service section of the website relating to motivation and
Maslow’s motivation theory to be very relevant to this debate.

Educational Psychology Service – contribution

TFT Number 2

Check out the new part of the site written by our Educational Psychology Service entitled –
Everything you wanted to know about Teaching and Learning and ………..more. I think this is a tremendous resource and demonstrates how educational psychologists can play a central role in developing teaching and learning. All too often Educational Psychologists’ knowledge and expertise is only used in a very limited manner for a small number of children with specific needs – hopefully this starts to redress the balance. Please give us feedback on this part of the site.

My first TFT has stimulated some debate – do you agree that
“children need to be liked”?

8.30-10.00 Directorate Meeting with Alan Ross and Alan Blackie -some of the issues covered: comunity centre review; attendance at national conferences/presentations; cheif exec visit; dsm guidelines; business plans and scorecards; preparation for committee meetings.

10.00-11.00 Met with Anthony Gillespie to go over the budget paper which was presented to council on Thursday. It provides a series of challenges for the department to operate within budget but we already have some clear ideas about how we will proceed. Anthony is going to give me a more detailed breakdown so that we can finalise budgets for schools as soon as possible. The key to effective budget management is the provision of clear and unambiguous information about how much money you are going to have to work with. The worst thing anybody can do is say “perhaps”. Over the next few weeks we will need to provide that level of clarity (and honesty) for schools even if the message is a difficult one.

11.00-12.00 Pre-vocational meeting – Alison Wishart; Jennifer Tulloch; Wendy McAdie and Gordon Landells from JEVC met me to discuss pre-vocational work and lijnks with Jewel and Esk Valley College. Our Pre-vocational strategic group has decided upon some courses of action – drop S3 provision for next year; explore Friday afternoon provision for S3 which would avoid them missing classes; pilot satellite programme in couple of communities.

12.00-12.20 quick bite of lunch with Alson Wishart.

12.30-1.00 met with reps from Careers Scotland to sign new contract.

2.00-2.30 Met with HMIe to discuss Additional Support for Learning.

3.00-4.00 variety of meetings re’ finance and schools rolls.

Children need to be liked

Following on from yesterday’s post and my conversation with Ewan MacIntosh I'm going to experiment with offering a little more of my own thoughts and feelings about education. I intend to start each daily entry with a “thought for the day”

TFTD Number 1

Children need to be liked

Do pupils need to feel that their teacher “likes” them for them to be motivated in class? I think the answer to the question is undoubtedly yes. I remember earlier in my career a teacher who used to comment as certain pupils came into the staff base “I don’t like him” or “I don’t like her” I used to challenge that teacher by asking how could they teach that child with that sort of attitude? I think pupils pick up a vibe if a teacher “cares” about them, which they equate to “like”.In my experience all of the best teachers I have come into contact with have created a classroom where pupils feel they are “liked”. Perhaps we should think of appropriating the psychotherapy term “unconditional positive regard” for the teaching process. What do you think?

Treading a fine line

Confession time! I lost my nerve yesterday about a post made by a colleague.
Angus McRury had put up a post where he expressed his concern for the long term viability of the school. His school roll is dropping and the numbers entering the school are getting smaller and smaller. On reflection he was right to share his worries.

However, when I read it I immediatly thought about how a parent would feel if they saw the post. I was worried that a parent might think that the school might be in imminent danger of closure (it’s not) and choose to send their child to another school rather than have their education disrupted a few years down the line if the school closed. I felt Angus’s post might compound the situation. Readers of my blog will hopefully have picked up on the fact (and this is perhaps debatable) that I am trying to challenge the traditional hierarchical relationship between education managers, headteachers and teachers.

I dropped Angus a line and expressed my concerns – the problem with a note from “your boss” is that it can sometimes seem more like an instruction rather than a suggestion. Anyway – Angus changed his post and took out all references to the notion of Innerwick being a “dying school”. However, when I read Ewan
MacIntosh’s Blog tonight he referred to the original post and thought it showed the importance of schools as places of education and a headteacher’s passion for his school. I gave Ewan a Skype call to let him know that Angus’s post had changed. We had a great chat and in the course of our conversation I realised I had made a great mistake in getting Angus to change his post. Here was a teacher – who had returned from being sick to find that his numbers were dropping and the viability of school possibly under threat. He had the courage to share his feelings.

The problem with expressing feelings is that they can often lead to hurting the feelings of someone else. Nevertheless, teaching is a human enterprise and perhaps we should be more prepared to share our feelings – as opposed to just sticking with bland descriptions of our daily practice (e.g. my blog).

There is such a fine line in providing people with the freedom to express their feelings and the need for censorship because of fear of litigation or disciplinary action. I suppose the future of Exc-el itself could be compromised by one inappropriate post. However, on reflection I made a mistake and I hope Angus can forgive me.

I’d like to invite peope to comment on this post with ideas about how we provide a medium for opening up the education process, through things like exc-el, and the necessary judgement required for self-moderation.

Giving shape

9.00-12.00 Meeting with Education Officers. Main item on the agenda was our Service Improvement Plan. This is a key document in shaping the direction of education in East Lothian as schools must take account of a series of obligations which reflect national legislation and local priorities. We have been developing a proportionate approach towards school development planning, i.e. where a school is clearly meeting any of the obligations identified in the Service Improvement Plan it need not feature in its plan. We are also keen that schools retain 15% headroom in ther plan for the coming year, which will give some space to tackle issues as they arise – which is often the case in reality.

We used the
Task Management Tracker (example) for the first time to monitor progress in January – it proved a very effective way of monitoring progress, see links –
Statement of intent;
Task Management Tracker background;
Ganntt charts

Yvonne Binks gave us a brief presentation at the start of the meeting about her work for the SEED to promote
Better Behaviour – Better Learning This could link very well with our on-going deliberations relating to the shape of our
emerging teaching and learning strategy as it provides an entry point for schools and teachers to develop their progress with a view to better engaging children

12.00 Met Gillian Reilly and Richard Parker to find out more about the Admin conference they have been organising along with a committee of colleagues.. The event is the first of its kind in East Lothian and will have over 130 admin support staff from schools and the department taking part this coming Wednesday. Thanks to all involved. Admin staff play such an important role in education and yet are all too often not given the recogition they deserve. For many parents they are the first point of contact and from a personal point of view I couldn’t do, or have done, my job without their support. I know its the same for all my colleagues.

Out to Musselburgh Grammar School for 1.00 to observe an enterprising event for Musselburgh Primary Schools.

Back for 3.00 to meet some parents.

4.00 Met with a colleague to provide some feedback from an interview.

Pupil Motivation Seminar

I was invited to take part in the Scottish Parliament’s
Education Committee seminar on
pupil motivation.

The event took place at Dynamic Earth with members of the committee joining various break out groups- see below

Group 1

? What steps should be taken to emphasise further the fundamental importance and value of education?

? What can be done to build earlier careers education and advice into pupils’ school experience and to demonstrate links between success at school and career success?

Group 2

? What should be done to ensure leadership skills are further developed within the teaching profession?

? What action can be taken to maximise the levels of motivation amongst teachers?

Group 3

What actions should be prioritised to enable teachers to address the learning needs of individual pupils ?

What can be done to help pupils take responsibility for their own learning and develop their commitment to lifelong learning?

Adamson, Bruce Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People
Ledingham, Don East Lothian Council
McLean, Alan Glasgow City Council
Sandford, Kate Quarriers

Group 4

? How should concerns over the challenge presented by the transition from primary to secondary school be addressed ?

? What further steps should be taken to enhance the status of vocational courses?

Group 5

? How can the parents and the wider local community be better engaged in developing a feeling of ownership of a school ?

? What further steps should be taken to ensure that individual schools and local authorities share and promote best practice ?

I took part in Group 3 along with MSP Fiona Hyslop. We came up with a couple of key recommendations :

1. Schools should introduce a formal mechanism to enable pupils to provde feedback to their teachers about the teaching and learning process.

2. Pupils should be able to take more responsibility for their own learning through project work as Alan McLean described it – Gradual Autonomous Support (GAS)

After the event I had lunch in the Parliament with Alan McLean – what a fantastic building! We explored the notion of a variety of entry points for teachers as we have been exploring in East Lothian. Alan has been struggling with a similar question and liked the notion of motivation being the linking factor or goal.

I then caught a
debate in the chamber about the Bichard Inquiry and the Local Government Finance Bill. I have to admit to being a great supporter of the
Scottish Parliament – the Scottish people now have real access to govenrment. I think it will evolve into a very positive force for change in Scotland over the next 10-20 years.

Back to the office to pick up on correspondence and phone calls.

Conference – Outdoor Connections

Left home at 5.50am to get to Dundee for the conference. Edinburgh bypass was clogged at 6.30am!! Got to Dundee for 9.00am. My
presentation seemed to go down reasonably well. I had lunch with Heather Reid “BBC’s Heather the Weather”, who was chairing the event; Bernard McLeary, Chief Exec’ Learning and Teaching Scotland ;and Colin Brown, who is heading up the Curriculum for Excellence programme for the Scottish Executive. Also met some “old” chums – John Hall and Andy Wishart from Scottish Borders and Colin Tucker from Earlston High School and Ally Morgan, my former teaching tutor – 63 and looks younger than me!

Couldn’t stay for the afternoon session as I had to be back for the Prestonpans School Board cluster meeting. The evening event went well and these sessions seem to be very worthwhile. One particular point of note – only one person had heard of the A Curriculum for Excellence