Study Blog

My youngest son, Lewis, is just starting his fifth year at school. He's a bit like his dad was at school – keen on sport, disorganised and with a pathological aversion to study.

A couple of weeks ago he agreed to let me help him set up a study blog – I first saw this idea on one of
Ewan's posts – Lewis wasn't at all convinced that there was any merit in the idea but if it would keep me quiet he was up for anything.

We went to wordpress and set up a blog format that he liked. We then set up categories which matched all the subjects he is taking. Since the beginning of term we've spent half and hour a night putting together his blog. He takes a subject a night and puts together notes from each subject. Rather than copying out notes verbatim he uses hyperlinks.

The surprising thing is that he is enjoying the experience – I was amazed to hear that he had told some of his friends at school who now want to try the same thing.

For the first time in his life he has all his notes in one place – as opposed to being all over his bedroom floor. We set up sub-categories for each subject which will enable him to call up notes for each topic. Obviously the test will come when he starts to access the information for assessments, etc.

I hope to gradually withdraw from the process but he seems to like having me with him just now. Over the next few weeks I'd like to try to get him to comment on his notes and engage with the information by offering his own reflections – but I think this might be a while away.

I won't put up a link to his site as he deserves some privacy but I will keep you posted on progress. If you have any suggestions about how he could make good use of this process to assist his learning I'd appreciate hearing from you.

His brother – who starts Edinburgh Universioty in two weeks now wants me to set up something similar for him.

Is there something in this? – particularly for boys?

Admission Impossible

I've just watched a horrendous TV programme entitled
Admission Impossible

The programme charts the progress of families who are attampting to ensure their child gets into the school of their choice – although it appeared to me to be more about not going to their local school.

In a small way this linked well with what I've been exploring in my last few posts – is this the future of education in Scotland if we devolve everything – good schools will get better but the lack of coherent improvement mechanisms mean that poorer schools get poorer. It also seems to set one school against another – as opposed to a professional partnership between schools where we share best practice.

Perhaps we have a real opportunity in Scotland to create something different and not necessarily follow the English model which seems to be route that some might see us take.

Last point – I respect the right of parents to send their children to an independent school but it would be my hope and ambition that no East Lothian parent would send their child to a private school because they were disatisfied with the local provision. In this sense I was impressed withe recent statistic from East Renfrewshire where hardly any children leave the authority to go to private schools.

Exploring Alternatives: School Improvement (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post I set out some of the obligations facing Local Authorities in relation to school improvement.

In this, the second part, I’ll explore some of the alternatives which might be considered.

I’d distinguished between school review (quality assurance model) and school improvement (quality improvement model). If an authority only were to adopt the former model it could put in place an arm’s length service which would perform “mini-inspections”. The responsibility for quality improvement would be delegated to the schools with the acountability for improvement being laid at the headteacher’s door – with clear consequences if improvement did not take place.

The quality assurance team responsibility could be commissioned out to an external service.

The quality improvement model would involve some form of support team to work with schools -perhaps only those who are identified as being of concern. This could be contracted out to consultants. An alternative might be to devolve the school improvement budget to clusters of schools who would be responsible for supporting each other.

In terms of national priorities the authority is currently responsible for ensuring the National Priority obligations are addressed and reported. It might be possible to give such respnsibility over to a group of Headteachers – as senior officers of the authority – for them to decide upon the service improvement plan and the associated monitoring and reporting to the Scottish Executive.

The inspection of the education authority is more problematic but if it had been contracted out it would be the private company which would be inspected with the responibility for theeir effectiveness or otherwise lying at the feet of the authority.

If all budgets had been delegated to schools it might be more difficult to get a more coherent picture of the service provided but this would be worth further consideration.

The authority has responsibility for contributing towards the planning and implementation of integrated children’s services. A key part of this responsibility is the partnership with Heatlth, children's services and police at an authority level. One of the challenges facing us is to develop integrated children’s services at a local level. Could this be devolved to school or cluster level?

School development plans are currently influenced and validated by the authority. An alternative would have to be developed which either involved another agency taking responsibility for ensuring quality or some from of peer validation.

In the next few posts I’ll begin to tease out some of the issues which might emerge if we were to implement some of these possible alternative delivery systems.

It is my intention to engage in a dialogue with Headteachers and colleagues about our current delivery systems in relation to authority obligations and whether or not we do indeed add value to education in East Lothian?

Exploring Alternatives: School Improvement (Part 1)

In this- the last of a series of posts which consider alternatives to current delivery of educational authority statutory obligations – I will explore the category of
school improvement. Given that this is likely to be one of the longest posts in the series I’ll split it up into three parts.) This is part 1.

The following obligations could be grouped within this category:

  1. Education authority’s annual statement of improvement objectives
  2. Raising Standards
  3. National Priorities
  4. School development plans
  5. Review of school performance
  6. Inspection of education authority
  7. Integrated Children’s Services

There is such a degree of overlap between many of these obligations that it will be difficult to consider them in isolation. For example – the requirement of an authority to prepare and submit an Integrated Children’s Services Plan cannot be separated from the Education authority’s requirement to produce a Service Improvement Plan (annual statement of improvement objectives).

In a similar vein, education authority obligations in respect of National Priorities clearly sets out what an authority must do, which will, in turn, influence the planning process.

The Review of School Performance links with National Priorities through the need to report on such things as attainment and examination results , which in turn links with Raising Standards. It is worth quoting again the
Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000
section on Review of School Performance:

“(1) An education authority shall from time to time, after consulting such bodies as appear to the authority to be representative of teachers and parents within their area and giving such persons within that area as appear to the authority to have an interest in the matter an opportunity to make their views known, define and publish, as respects quality of education provided, measures and standards of performance for the schools managed by them; and different measures and standards may be so defined for different categories of such schools.

(2) An education authority shall, as respects each school managed by them, from time to time review the quality of education which the school provides; and if, having regard to the measures and standards of performance for the time being defined by them under subsection (1) above and relevant to the school, they conclude in any such review that the school is not performing satisfactorily they shall take such steps as appear to them to be requisite to remedy the matter.” (my emboldening)

I think it’s important here to distinguish between Review of School Performance and Raising Standards

Raising Standards within the 2000 Act clearly sets out what authorities obligations are:

” An education authority shall endeavour to secure improvement in the quality of school education which is provided in the schools managed by them; and they shall exercise their functions in relation to such provision with a view to raising standards of education.”

A quality assurance model – which many authorities have gone for – would not appear to be sufficient in itself to satisfy the legislation i.e. there must be a means to improving education. In the next part of this post I’ll explore how these obligations might be delivered in an alternative manner.

Exploring Alternatives: Resource Provision

In this, the third of my exploration of alternative provision, I'm going to focus on Resource Provision.

Included within this category are:

Delegation schemes;


Employer obligations.

As has become clear from the previous posts (see
Educational Provision and
Administrative Provision) it isn't as simple as delegating all the resources to schools unless they are going to pick up the additional obligations that currently reside with the education authority. The problem with a simplistic form of delegation is the potential for schools to avoid some of the obligations which face the authority. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this exercise, I will explore what it might mean to delegate all resources directly to schools.

If all money which is currently contained within an education authority budget was delegated to schools the central service could no longer operate. In this scenario the authority would delegate the responsibility for their obligations directly to the schools. It would be up to individual schools to satisfy all the requirements of the Standards in Scotlands Schools Act 2000 and other relevant legislation.

The problem which might face the authority is that it would have no means to ensure consistency of standards and any means to improve standards (both issues which I will explore in my next post).

Yet how do independent schools manage to maintain quality of provision? (well the reality is that they don't) there are a number of schools in the independent sector which have closed in the last ten years – that is not an alternative for the only school situated within a community)

The second area of delegation is in relation to property. The money currently used to maintain schools would be delegated to the headteacher to commission local trades to complete required work. The problem here might be in relation to capital expenditure such as school extensions or even new schools.

The third area is in relation to all budgets relating to personnel. All employees would be directly employed by the school where they work. All personnel issues would be dealt with at that level. Employees would no longer work for the council. Local negotiation would take place at school level and agreements would not operate across the council.

I should mention at this stage that there is is another budget which is currently held at the centre in East lothian i.e. ICT. Over 1,000,000 GBP is used to facilitate ICT across all our schools. This sum would have to be broken down to a school level for individual HTs being responsible for the hardware and software they put in place.

There would, undoubtedly, be a significant sum of money delegated to schools which is curently held in the centre – I look forward to hearing how HTs would like to accept this responsibility and how it might impact upon education.

Transforming Public Services

I was asked a question in my last post about why I was undertaking this exploration of our obligations and some alternative means of delivery. I have explained in an earlier post where the question “do I add value?” came from but it should be noted that there is a wider political drive to ask the same questions. It’s worth reading Transforming Public Services: The next phase of reform from the Scottish Executive.

I’ve copied a couple of extracts below which give a flavour of the document and its central thrust:

From the

4. We have a window of opportunity in 2006 to agree the direction of change and we would urge all those involved not to be constrained in their thinking about how best to organise our public services for future generations but to embrace the chance to use their imagination and think about what would really make a difference to the people of Scotland. The process of change will be continuous over the long term with the key period for implementation occurring during 2007-2011.

5. Our ambitions for service transformation apply across the whole public sector. The proposals and options in this paper are relevant to local government, police and fire services, the NHS, the enterprise networks, further and higher education institutions, the justice system, the Executive itself and the range of NDPBs and executive agencies.

6. We do not propose to adopt a one-size fits all approach to the vast range of public services, and different communities across Scotland. Some services are delivered nationally, some regionally, and others locally. Our challenge to local communities and public services is to work with us to identify the reforms that will transform service delivery in their area.

7. The challenge to reform applies equally to the Executive. We must transform the way we plan, fund, direct, and oversee public services and remove barriers to service transformation. We want to work in partnership to design a framework for public services that is sustainable, integrated, fit for purpose and user centred.”

Point 6 is a key element for me, i.e. they are not proposing a “one-size fits all” approach – there is a flexibility to come up with solutions – at least there is at the moment.

I think the last sentence in point 7 sets out what we should be attempting to create – easy to write – much more difficult to achieve.

In the same introduction a series of challenges are set out which face Scottish Public Services.

” But there is no doubt that our public services have to be more responsive and effective and that we face a number of long-term challenges over the next 20 years, which we cannot meet unless we accelerate the pace of modernisation and reform:

  • We have a more diverse and individualistic society with different aspirations and expectations. People are better equipped to make assessments of service quality and to judge service quality against the best elsewhere, and they expect services tailored to their needs.
  • The unparalleled growth in expenditure on public services in recent years is not likely to continue indefinitely, particularly when our economy faces increasing competition from Eastern Europe, India and China.
  • We are experiencing unprecedented technological change – with opportunities to deliver services in new ways, but also risks of increased inequality.
  • The proportion of people of working age in the population is shrinking. The fact that so many of us are living longer is a cause for celebration, but we cannot deny that it will put public services under increasing pressure if we do not reform.
  • There is declining engagement with the political process and generally with the public sphere. This could fuel a loss of trust in public services unless we can demonstrate that they are valuable and efficient, and match the best that can be found elsewhere.
  • Our determination to improve economic opportunity is informed by the social disadvantage that is still experienced by too many in our country.”

I think the reasons set out in the paper are very compelling and I reckon we have three option:

  1. put our heads in the ground and hope it goes away;
  2. wait for someone else to some up with the solution;
  3. become directly involved in the debate and be proactive about our future.

I’m obviously attracted to the latter course of action and hope that this exploration in the area of education can help us in a small way to find some of the answers to the challenges set out above.

Curriculum for Excellence Projects

Karen Robertson mentioned our plans to develop
projects which link with A Curriculum for Excellence

I've copied a letter below which went out to headteachers on Friday. If you are interested and wish to take part please contact your headteacher in the first insance. You do not need any ICT expertise – just a committment to explore your own practice and to engage children more in their own learning.

Dear Colleague

As you maybe aware one of the Curriculum for Excellence strategies we intend to take forward in the coming session is the development of an integrated project approach for P6-S2 pupils.

The basic concept of the project approach is that pupils will be able to select a topic of personal interest and link that to four curricular areas. For example, a pupil may have a particular interest in Ornithology and might link that project to Science, in relation to global warming and the effect on bird migration; Geography, in relation to the migration of birds; Art, in relation and drawing/painting of birds; and Maths, in relation to statistical analysis of bird migration.

These ideas are very much in their infancy and any teachers who become involved would have the opportunity to have a significant impact on the development and implementation of this project approach. It would be our intention that the level of sophistication required by students would develop from P6 to S2 with the intention that by the end of the four year period student would have developed a wide range of skills.

The role of the Teacher will be to facilitate the project approach and to act as an advisor for their pupil. It is our intention to use to provide a webspace for each pupil to complete their project in a virtual environment.

The intended outcomes of the integrated project apporach are as follows:
To tap into children's passions and interests
four capacities would take a central place in the curriculum.
To build a very strong foundation for future learning
To enable homework to be of real relevance to each child
To would build upon children’s previous experiences
To make appropriate use of teacher expertise
To enable children to develop research, writing and technological skills
To enable children to see inter-connections between subjects and their learning
To enable children to work at their own level – and extend themselves
To enable learning to be collaborative
To encourage teachers to work creatively and with a focus on education as opposed to certification

I would welcome expressions of interest from interested members of staff to myself by Friday 1st September 2006. I'm aiming to get one representative from each of our schools, although I know how difficult this target might be for smaller schools. Thereafter, I intend to convene a meeting of all interested members of staff at John Muir House on Wednesday 13 September 2006 from 4.00 pm to 5.00 pm in the Education Department's Large Meeting Room, 2nd Floor.

It would be my intention to establish an overall steering group and sub-groups for each of the year stages involved.

If you or any of your members of staff require any further information please do not hestiate to contact me.

Don Ledingham

Exploring Alternatives: Administrative obligations

I included the following obligations within
Administrative obligations

School Boards

Home to school transport

Placing requests

Grants – clothing, free school meals, etc.

Rights of appeal against exclusion

Alternatives to current provision:

  1. Delegate responsibility to schools or cluster of schools
  2. Ask another authority to provide this service.
  3. Contract it out to a private company
  4. Establish a Scottish central facility which would fulfil these obligations

Placing requests, school boards (or their replacement) and appeals against exclusion might need more local knowledge and if not devolved to schools or clusters could be managed within a private company which is involved in the
Educational Provision

As stated in previous posts I won't engage in any value judgements or evaluation of any of these alternatives until I've explored all four of the categories.

Exploring alternatives: Educational Provision

I’ve separated the statutory obligations for education authorities into four categories:

Educational Provision; Administrative; Resource provision; Educational Improvement.

In the next series of posts I’ll consider some alternatives for the delivery of each of the categories and then discuss the merits of the existing arrangements and the possible alternatives.

Educational Provision: So how could an education authority fulfil its obligation to provide education in a different way, i.e. how could it ensure that there are sufficient school places for all children in East Lothian? (at this stage I won’t offer any value judgements about any of the alternatives) However, I’d welcome your comments.

Could the local authority sell off the school buildings to an organisation which would operate the schools? By operate I mean the buildings and staff are transferred to the company who would deliver the statutory obligations of the authority under contract.

Could the local authority retain ownership of the schools but commission someone else to operate schools, in much the same way that PPP is managed?

In such arrangements it would be the responsibility of the authority to negotiate the contract with the commissioned organisation and to put in place monitoring systems to ensure that service level agreements are achieved.

Authority obligations : four categories

In my last post I summarised the key statutory responsibilities for Education Authorities. I didn’t intend the list of responsibilities to be exhaustive and would welcome any additions which people might like to suggest.

These series of posts are linked to the question “Do I add value to children’s lives?”

I’ve grouped the statutory obligations into four categories: Educational Provision; Administrative; Resource provision; Educational Improvement

Educational Provision

Duty of education authority in providing school education

Home Education

Requirement that education be provided in mainstream schools

Pre-school education

Education of children unable to attend school

Additional Support for Learning


School Boards

Home to school transport

Placing requests

Grants – clothing etc.

Rights of appeal against exclusion

Resource Provision

Delegation schemes


Employer obligations

Educational Improvement

Education authority's annual statement of improvement objectives

Raising Standards

School development plans

Review of school performance

Inspection of education authority

Integrated Children’s Services

I’m not convinced that I’ve captured all of the obligations, nor am I sure of my categories are the best. I’d welcome suggestions.

Once I’ve been able to finalise these categories I’ll have a go at identifying those obligations where I can directly add value to the quality of educational experience we provide in East Lothian.