The status quo is not an option

We held our last HT conference of the session. The theme of the day was "A Curriculum For Excellence." Speakers were:
May Sweeney; HMIe Phil Denning – our new District Inspector; Paul Smyth from Research Machines – who spoke about SSDN; and
Ewan MacIntosh – whose presentation he has posted as a podcast.

Here is a summmary of my summary.

"Learning and Teaching is at the heart of A Curriculum for Excellence (ACE)" May Sweeney

This was very gratifying to hear, as we have placed our Learning and Teaching policy at the heart of our development. She also suggested that Assessment is For Learning (AiFL) needs to be embedded in ACE – once again our policy has at its core the building blocks which relate to formative assessment.

However, a policy means nothing unless it can be translated into reality -CONSISTENTLY – in all our classrooms. (I'll post our teacher self-evaluation tool here tomorrow.) Our challenge is to find ways of ensuring that it is consistently applied.

May Sweeney also pointed out that ACE is not a top down development model – which once again is one of our principles in developing practice in our schools. The reality is that ACE is already happening in many of our classrooms – it's not something which is new and totally foreign to our experiences. To this end we are holding a Celebrating Success event in September where schools will be asked to demonstrate examples of ACE which are already happening. The event will be held in the Brunton Hall, which will be split into four zones – each zone covering a different capacity.

I reflected on Ewan's presentation where he had challenged the traditional power structure in the classroom – I took this a step further by suggesting that we need to challenge the power structure at all levels within the education establishment – this doesn't mean that I'm advocating anarchy, but that people are engaged in helping to shape their practice. The bottom line is that we all need to give up some of our power, and leaders need to demonstrate through their own practice.

We were also encouraged to challenge the notion of being assessment led – which has been the bane of the secondary school curriculum. It's here that we come across the paradox which is ACE, i.e. will following the principles which underpin ACE lead to a drop in educational attainment.

I suggest we believe in the evidence and our own experience – where children are engaged in their learning then they learn more effectiveley – with a subsequent enhancement in their attainment. Our problem is that it would appear that children are more engaged in their learning within the primary environment. I referred to the one of our 5Cs – COLLEGIALITY – in relation to this and I was encouraged by the fact that HTs have been reinforcing the need for their teachers to learn from their colleagues in other sectors. Ewan had mentioned the need for more play – at all levels – this is now being reflected in the P1 curriculum which is now picking up on good practice from the nursery sector.

The point here is that we need to have faith in the power of effective teaching and learning. However, we can't fall into the trap that affflicated
progressive education in the 1960's where a lack of rigour and chellenge led to a worthwhile development being abandoned for a more traditional model.

May Sweeney had talked about curiculum organisers – such as "Me and my community" and using these as ways of encouraging inter-disciplinary projects. I linked this with the ideas we have been exploring in connection with
project work and inter-disciplinary work, whilst making best use of available technology.

Drawing my summary to an end I reflected upon what Phil Denning had been saying about the need to build sustainable communities – and the need for school to look at ways in which we can engage with partners outwith schools – COLLEGIALITY – particularly community learning and development. I linked this with our cluster based approach and referred to the notion of family resemblances as a way of considering how cluster could develop. – without uniformity. Clusters will be the key drivers for A Curriculum for Excellence in East lothian – which in turn is dependent upon all of us accepting COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY for its successeful delivery.


On the road

On the road for a lot of today – West Barns Primary sSchool for Dave Wharton's ED&R; LevenHall Nursery (Musselburgh) for Alison McNeil's ED&R; Meadowmill Sports Center for a meeting with Eamonn John and Beth McLeod about our PE, sport and physical activity strategy; Preston Lodge High School for meeting with management team to reflect upon porgress made in relation to the school's HMIe follow up report which we will have to submit in September – both Alson Wishart and I were impressed with the consistent progress which the school has made in many areas.

Back to the office for 4.30 to meet with the Principal Teachers of English. It was revealing to hear from the PTs about the issues which they are tackling and the strategies they are using to improve learning and teaching. We looked at our new Learning and Teaching Policy – it looks like there is big task for us in relation to making best use of ICT in the teaching of English.


I had planned to take a day off on Friday but as things turned out I had to come in to pick up on some business and it turned out be a worthwhile day.

Today has been taken up with the directorate meeting; my own ED&R with Alan Blackie; meeting with Bill Torrance the new EIS Local Secretary; and an ED&R with Liz Kerr – the HT of Haddington Nursery School.

One of the points which emerged during my chat with Liz was the issue of transition and how it is something which characterises a child's experience throughout their school career. As a secondary teacher transition tends to mean only one thing the move up from primary to secondary. However, Liz talked about transitions from nursery to primary which she manages within her own school and then the transition from infant school to upper primary. The challenge in all transitions is that we must try to avoid the fresh start approach. For example Liz's P3 pupils are involved in buddying their P1 pupils. Yet we tend to think of this as something that only older pupils can do. Liz has worked hard with colleagues at Kingsmeadow to make it a positive transition without it involving a step back – the key is people getting together.

One of the problems in schools – not all – is that teachers can tend to see a child only existing as they are at that point in front of them – e.g. S2 – with no history and no future beyond their presence in their classroom (
Alan Coady touched on this last week). If we could reinforce that we (teachers)are all involved in helping children navigate along a path on which we are all guides and not just a snapshot approach towards child development. I know this sounds particularly negative and I'm delighted to see progress in so many of our schools – nevertheless, it remains one of our biggest drawbacks. Finally – the greatest transition – which is all to often ignored is the one from school to work or further/higher education.

Last point – the school take P2 pupils on a residential experience – wow!! Thanks to Jill Wareham and her team.

Queen Margaret University College

QMUC is opening its new campus in East Lothian in August 2007. This presents exciting opportunities for all of us in East Lothian. I was at a presentation today about university and Jewel and Esk Valley College. Once again I was struck by comments made about how ill prepared young people are for university and even further education. Change in the school curriculum and the delivery of that curriculum is not an option – it has to happen and soon!

I really enjoyed meeting Elizabeth Cowan and Karen Robertson today – they updated me about e-live – we really have to start something similar in East Lothian – definitely next term. Their combined
weblog is worth looking at – welcome.

Hosted a brief farewell to our language assistants – including two from China.

Popped in to see David Scott this evening – he has his operation tomorrow at 8.00am – passed on everyone's best wishes – he was in good form and thanked everyone for their kind support.

Learning Stories

Employee and Development Review Meetings with Susan Smith at Tranent Nursery and Fiona Beveridge at Macmerry Primary. I was very interested to find out about learning stories from Susan – this is where nursery pupils keep a diary/record of their year in nursery – obviously their teachers and nurses have a significant role to play but I was struck by the idea of how similar learning stories are to what I was describing on this blog yesterday. Now if we could just explore a learning journal/story/project which followed a child up from nursery through until they leave secondary school!!

Both Susan and Fiona liked the idea of a headteachers manual.

I had a meeting over lunch about the development of a 360 degree review system for headteachers.

The afternoon was spent with the secondary headteachers. Very positive response to the Getting Things Done approach – looks like we will be following this up with all HTs who are interested next year; similar positive nod to the manual idea. All agreed with the investment in the upgrading of the bandwidth to schools – despite the investment. We had a discussion about our SQA budget which is currently held at the centre but which is due to be delegated to schools. As someone pointed out this does involve a transfer of risk – but at least HTs have some control over the presentation policy in schools – having said that we are going to look at developing authority guidleins on presentations. We also agreed that the authotrity shoucl develop guidlines for school uniform. All in all a very postive meeting.



HTs Toolkit/manual and Extreme Learning

Two ideas crystallised today.

HTs Toolkit/Manual

As readers of the blog will be aware we are looking to offer
practical support to headteachers next year by providing guidance in "getting things done" (GTD) – a time management strategy which has been very well received by the primary/nursery executive. As second strand to our leadership development strategy has emerged over the last few days. Many headteachers get bogged down by two things in their daily business – managing their workload – which "GTD" might help resolve; and secondly the challenges they face on a day to basis when dealing with pupils, staff, parents or any combination of these. I was speaking to an HT yesterday who described how they were dealing with a particular problem with a parent. I thought the course of action they were taking was really interesting and would be worth sharing with other heads who faced similar circumstances. How would it be if you could reach into a manual, or toolkit, and find a range of actual soluctions which have been tried by HTs in response a similar problem? Being a headteacher can be a lonely position and we often do reach for the phone to ask for advice – that course of action could of course still be open – but the manual would be a easily accessible guide. I discussed the idea with Debbie Beveridge (HT Wallyford Primary) today during her ED&R and we both thought it had merit – particularly if we could use the existing expertise in the authority to develop the toolkit. I'm not suggesting that people would have to follow the guidance in the manual and that it would be more likely that a successful course of action would be an amalgamation of a person's own ideas and other people's – but at the very least it could prove to be a useful way of reflecting upon a variety of solutions which might not have been otherwise considered. We could set such a toolkit up on the web. I'll be exploring this with folk over the next few weeks.

Extreme Learning

I had a treally useful meeting this afternoon with Jackie McKinnon – it was to have been an exc-el board meeting but everyone was busy with activity weeks and the like. We took the opportunity to look at the emerging idea of rich tasks and how they might relate to how we take forwards A Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian. I have been looking at a project focus in my blog for quite a while see
fast tracking and
ICT summit – whilst others such as Ollie Bray and Preston Lodge High School have translated it into reality.

Our challenge is to find a way of fulfilling the four capacities of a curriculum for excellence within schools and also to provide some guidance to schools – it's not good enough just to say you are free to do what you like.

The problem with using the
Rich Tasks idea is that you either buy into the concept wholesale and follow it to the letter, or you modify it and use an alternative terminology. We played around with some ideas and Jaqui suggested ACE Projects – I really liked the idea and could see it being a reasonably acceptable title for kids. The idea builds upon the notion that pupils would be free to choose the focus of their project, lets say ornithology. They would then have to link their project with at least four recognised curricular areas – let's say science, maths, langauges and art (it could just as easily be a different four areas)- it's not too difficult to see how this could all be linked together around the selected focus. We would then use the
exc-elspace facility for pupils to write up their project – with most of the work being done at home (do they have access to ICT ? I hear you ask – well yes they probably do – and if they don't there are ways around that).

The projects would aim to develop the four capacities and formative assessment would play a central part with pupils having to present their findings – (confident individuals). The projects would gradually become more demanding as pupils move up from P6-S2. I am confident that if we could resolve some of the practical challenges – particularly in the secondary school then this idea has real merit. If this idea does capture people's (and children's imagination) then we would set up groups of teachers for each of the year groups being considered and a overall strategy group to hold the thing together any takers?

I'd like to encourage some debate on this matter on this blog – don't sit in silence.

Just remembered – where did extreme learning come from? Blame Alison Wishart – apparently the powers at be in don't like the abreviation of A Curriculum for Excellence (ACE) and want it mentioned in its full form every time its is referred to – so ACE PROJECTS would be a problem – take a look at
extreme learning debate – although we would need the permission of its creator –
Duncan Smeed – ideas welcome for alternatives.

Complementary management teams

We interviewed for the Quality Improvement Manager – Inclusion and Equality – position this morning. We interviewed three very strong candidates and I will post the interview questions here next week once we have completed other interviews for the Inclusion and equality team later this week.

We have identified our preferred candidate and await the normal formalities. As with all interviews it was the best candidate on the day who was selected but it did set me to thinking about the make-up of management teams. As I reflect on my career in management I can see that many of my less successful appointments have been where I have selected people who are similar to myself. I think we all have a tendency to want to appoint people in our own image. As I become more aware of my own deficiencies I can now see that there is a need to balance the skill-set present in a management team. The secret to making this work is for everyone to be honest about their abilities and to use their colleagues where their skills are more suited. I know I appreciate it when colleagues challenge my opinion or suggested strategy – I can be too gung ho and sometimes forget that in my rush to see improvement that I try to push things on too quickly.

It has now been confirmed that Helen Alexander (Williamson) is to retire from her position as Headteacher of Ross High School, Tranent. Helen is a remarkable person and has made an incredible and indelible mark upon the school and the community. This was recognised two years ago when the HMIe gave the school one of the best inspection report of any school in Scotland. I admire Helen for her energy, courage and determination to give children at Ross High School the best possible education. She is someone who stands by her principles and is prepared to challenge majority opinion if she feels the education of her children would be compromised. She will certainly be difficult to replace but she has left a strong legacy for her successor to build upon and I'm very confident about the future of the school.

Late update

I'm sitting here on Sunday night just having completed my preparation for the coming week. As I've stated elsewhere on this blog I like to make sure I start each week with as little as possible hanging over me. It doesn't always work but it certainly helps me to manage my job.

I bought a new camera (Panasonic Lumix FZ5) last week and tried it out during the weekend – here's a shot of moorhen's nest which I came across this afternoon.

I wasn't able to update my blog on either Thursday or Friday of last week – just a bit too hectic.

Friday started with the usaul Education Officers' Meeting then on to a board meeting at the Scottish Seabird Center where I am the Council's rep. My mum works as a volunteer at the centre and I have an interest in wildlife so it's certainly not a chore. Back to the office for a meeting with a teacher and his union rep. The met with Jennifer Tulloch of the Shed – our pre-vocational unit. Finished off the afternoon with a really productive meeting about PPP with Jimmy McGuiness and Sheila McKendrick.

I won't go into detail but I had a really good ED&R with Ann McLanachan on Thursday – Judy Arrowsmith – Ann's critical frind from the Learning Team initiative sat in on the meeting and it was interesting to see how the process was enhanced by an objective contributor. I then went on to Seonaid McGiilivray for her ED&R but also popped into Pretonpans Infant School and Pinkie Primary School. On to Meadowmill for the East Lothian Youth Games – outstanding!! Then onto Wallyford Primary School to meet the management team and Maureen Jobson.


David Scott

I popped into see David Scott at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary this evening. I met Donald McGillivray in the car park and we went up to see David together. I've checked this out with David and he is very happy for me to report this in my blog. David is in good spirits. He is due to be operated on in a couple of weeks on a faulty heart valve – eveything else is in good shape – the doctor was surprised that he had smoked for 30 years such was the good condition of his lungs and arteries. David hopes to be out a couple of weeks after that and is already thinking about how quickly he can get back to school – typical! He asked me to pass on his thanks to everyone who has been thinking of him and particularly to Fiona and Irene for holding the fort at Pinkie.

We had a nursery/primary Headteachers meetng this morning – very psotive resoonse to Rob Lewis' presentation on Getting Things Done. We have agreed that this should be a major focus of support for HTs next year – very interesting.

Afternoon spent interviewing for the vacant Quality Improvement Officer. We made our selection and I've informed the preferred candidate. I've phoned the unsuccessful candidates this evening – a job I have never enjoyed but people deserve early and personal notification if they have been unsuccessful I never give detailed feedback at that time but offer them the opportunity to phone or meet up at a later date to go over the interview.