Extreme Learning – we are not alone

I received an e mail from Ewan MacIntosh this morning forwarding an e-mails he received from New Zealand. I'll copy it below as I think it's an exciting example of how the world is shrinking and how we all face the same challenges. Perhaps we could do some woirk together once we're a bit further on?

>> Hi Ewan,
>> I?ve been keeping an eye on your blog, and enjoyed making connections
>> between the comments in the ?extreme learning? blogs and similar discussions
>> here on interpreting our new curriculum at the local level. Picked up some
>> good reference from the del.icio.us bookmarks too, thanks.
>> In a discussion yesterday with Jo Gibson, a colleague of mine who manages
>> Learn-Now, ?a cross curriculum, online extension and enrichment programme
>> for students in New Zealand and around the world? it occurred to me that I
>> should pass on details of her programme to you. We were talking about the
>> success she was having with students from a number of countries working
>> together, and the importance of linking with teachers who had this global,
>> holistic view of learning. It got me thinking about the enthusiastic
>> community of learners you work amongst. There may be links that can be made
>> here…
>> The URL is
>> A description of the programme is available at
>> You can see there is heaps of opportunity for collaboration between students
>> in other countries, so I though I would pass these details on to you, and
>> let you decide whether or not there is any opportunity to pass it on to
>> teachers you communicate with.
>> Cheers,
>> Jedd
>> ————————————–
>> Jedd Bartlett
>> ICTPD National Facilitator

Culturalists Vs Intellectual Capitalists

I've been invited to present a seminar on the emerging
Multiple Metaphor Model at the Association of Directors of Education Scotlland (ADES) Conference due to be held in November.

I had occasion to day to go over the model with Shelagh Rae, the esrtwhile Director of Education for Renfrewshire. It's useful trying to explain a concept to someone from cold. In trying to set out the alternative to the traditional linear model of change management I referred to
Peter Senge's work on
mental models. I then picked up in something I'd been reading at the weekend about Knowledge Creating Companies. In that area Nonaka – who has influenced my thinking about the metaphor model – sets out what he reckons to the distinctive differences between Eastern and Western models of change management. Nonaka's basic premise is that Japanese and other Eastern countries rely much more upon tacit appreciation in the form of metaphor and analogies to capture the essence of their purpose, whereas Western companies have much more reliance upon explicit knowledge.

I've taken this slightly modified excerpt from Alastair Lomax's article about
Knowledge Management which captures this quite neatly:

“Knowledge Management is often described in zealous and imperative tones in the literature. Broadly speaking, the research work in this important field falls into two divergent schools of thought.

On the one hand there are those more concerned with soft issues: finding means of analysing knowledge within a systemic context: culture, values, schema, belief systems, tacit norms, embedded routines In this study, this school has been called the Culturalists.

On the other hand, there are the empiricists, whose work is concerned with finding means of analysing knowledge as quantitative, discernible, explicit, measurable and strategic. In this study, this school has been called the intellectual capitalists.

Some researchers have inferred that such schismatic differences might be the result of cultural and national difference. The concept of the East-West divide is used here as an intellectual tool.

Nonaka & Takeuchi (1995) have developed this notion by differentiating between Japanese and Western models of knowledge. In Western firms knowledge is characterised in a reductionist mode as a commodity: something formal, controllable, quantifiable, explicit and systematic. In Japan the emphasis is on tacit, as opposed to explicit, knowledge: not visible or easily expressed, highly personal, hard to formalise or emulate, deeply embedded in individual subjective perception and experience, ideas, values, beliefs and emotions.

A dichotomous view of Knowledge emerges from the literature. Gathering the elements of this dichotomy into a model, a new theoretical model, which formed the basis of the quantitative analysis, was proposed. This is called the Knowledge Orientation model:



Intellectual Capitalists













New Knowledge


Existing Knowledge




Values & Beliefs






I hope to build the mutiple metaphor model upon the foundations of shared mental models (Senge) and Nonaka's culturalist model.

Exploring Alternatives: The Private School Model

In my series of posts about alternatives to education authorities I had explored how
educational provision might be provided by private companies. Since then I’ve met a number of people who have expressed the point of view that if private schools don’t need an education authority to manage, monitor or help them improve then why should state schools?

I think this is a very legitimate question and one that needs serious consideration. But let’s think about it further. The private school provides a service which people pay for.

I have something to sell – education – and if you are prepared to pay I’ll provide it. There are three conditions to this transaction:

1. If you the customer doesn’t abide by my conditions of service then I have a right to terminate our contract, i.e. remove your child.

2. If you as a customer you are not satisfied with the service provided by the school you can terminate the contract at any time and remove your child, i.e. send them to another school.

3. Many private schools have conditions of entry – selection procedures – this is a bit like a hospital saying we aren’t prepared to take you as a patient because there’s not much chance of us being able to help you – the effect of this quality control system at entry has a significant impact upon the quality of the product which leaves the school at the other end. Many conditions of entry are not necessarily based upon pupil ability but on the level of engagement of the parents in their child’s education.

Now let’s translate that into the state education environment. A company, or let’s say a board of governors, is given responsibility to run a school in one of our secondary schools in one of our towns.

If we then consider each of the elements in turn:

1. Options for the school – As a school we set out our expectations – your child fails to meet them – we ask you to remove your child and send them to another school. In the private sector this works because the parents can either send them to another private school or enrol them in a state school. However, this becomes more difficult in a community where there are no other alternatives within easy reach, or the parents do not have the financial wherewithal to send their child to a private school. If we remember it is an obligation of the education authority to provide education for every child – and the authority has commissioned a company or school to take on that responsibility for a community then that course of action, i.e. removing a child from the roll is not an alternative – unless in extreme circumstances.

2. Options for the customer – In the private sector if a parent is dissatisfied with a school the parent can remove their child at any time and send them to another school – market forces – I suppose. In the state sector this can still happen but the cost of transportation is borne by the parent who may not be in a position to meet that cost. This option also presupposes that there are vacancies at another school. Schools are under no obligation to agree to a placing request unless there are sufficient spaces, i.e. it can say no – whereas it must provide a space for a child within its own catchment area.

3. Conditions of entry -This is the area which would cause the greatest problem for state schools – if a child lives in the catchment are of the school the parents have a right to expect their child to go there. The school cannot set out any conditions of entry.

If we accept that schools would have to fulfil these conditions then it would still be possible for the school to operate like a private school, i.e. independent of the authority. The problem here comes when the school is failing. In the private sector a school would close as pupils left – parents would vote with their feet. As we have established above parents in state schools don’t have that luxury. So what happens? The school when inspected by HMIe (once every 6-7 years), receives a poor inspection and is placed under special measures – which don’t necessarily work. The bottom line is that it’s difficult to turn such a school round. The role of the authority in terms of school review and school improvement – I would argue – is better placed to ensure consistency of provision within all schools within its borders. However, this raises an interesting and debatable point – are education authorities actually making such an impact? – the answer would have to be no – i.e. there are still too many schools receiving poor inspection reports.

So what’s the alternative? I think the alternative is here already – we just need to be more rigorous in its application:

– authorities and schools need to work in much greater partnership;

– schools need to fully understand the role and obligations facing the authority;

– decision making power needs to moved down to schools wherever possible involving parents wherever we can;

– partnership between schools needs to be at the heart of development – underpinned by the notion of collective responsibility;

– authorities need to know their schools in depth and be prepared to take action to support a school where there are signs of any diminution in the quality of service it provides.

In summary – I think private schools provide a quality service in most cases but they operate within a very different set of conditions of service – comparison between state and private schools is therefore very difficult. Nevertheless, I think there are many things which the state sector can learn from the private sector and many things the private sector can learn from the state sector. Our common goals should be to provide the highest quality of educational experience for every child in our care.

Study Blog Update

Thanks for the comments on my previous
blog entry on this topic.

Lewis received his first comment on a blog post yesterday from someone in Dublin, Ireland, in connection with a post he had put up about Proportional Representation. It's made a real impact as he now realises there are people out there are reading what he writes. It also helped him to better understand what he is studying.

University – equality of opportunity?

We took Douglas, our eldest son, up to Pollock Halls yesterday to settle into his Edinburgh University accomodation. It was beautiful day but the roads around Pollock were jammed with cars of parents taking their children into the halls. I couldn't help noticing that every car seemed to be an expensive and new or newish model. In fact our 10 year old Passat seemed very out of place. That set me to wondering?

Do universities like Edinburgh really provide equality of access for all?

Prison Yard

In yesterday's post on
Inverting the Core I used the throwaway term – “Prison Yard”. I woke up in the middle of the night – not something I usually do – and couldn't get this idea out of my head.

In my post I'd been suggesting that the current core of traditional subjects taught in classrooms and within a highly structured timetable were akin to a prison yard, i.e. we – the teachers – had to stand over them from the watchtowers, keep them in line, and ensure that they follow our schedule. For their part many learners endure this regime but are desperate to escape to do the things that they want to do – that have some personal meaning. Yet within the prison yard regime some learners just keep their head down and do their time, others fight against the system, whilst others learn what is required of them in the system and do their best to conform. In all cases the system doesn't properly prepare them for life “outside”.

Now I know some people will be reading this and thinking – oh here we go Don just wants a laissez faire, liberal, anything goes learning environment. But that's not what I'm proposing, instead I'm suggesting we give learners more ownership of their learning – what, when and how. But in an environment where schools will still have their place – in fact an even more important place than they are have at present – one where we focus on the core values which underpin citizenship, community and personal development. Yet the role of teachers, the way in which we teach and the way in which we approach learning will have to dramatically change.

Is it too idealistic to think that we could create schools where children were excited to come to – not just to meet their friends but because they are excited about the learning process? A place where children have access to people with an expertise in the learning process and knowledge about how to access, interpret and use information? A place where pupils of all ages are coming into school with things they have encountered in the outside the school – and where the school helps them to understand and make sense of that information in a connected and coherent manner?

Last point – by suggesting that we invert the core does not mean that I am suggesting that the current core activities such numeracy, literacy, etc. are any less important – only that we need to find ways in which they have more meaning to children's lives – where children develop a desire to master these basic skills – and where we extend their value outwith the immediate school environment.

Inverting the core

I met John Connell this afternoon on my way home. We had a grand chat about a range of topics but one of the things that jumped out of the conversation was the idea of inverting the core.

John was saying how he had received a comment from Joe Nutt about how we have to be careful that we don’t forget that schools are more than just environments for academic learning. I recalled something I’d said at the Outdoor Connections conference where things such as music; art; outdoor education; debating; performing arts; or sport should not be regarded as being peripheral activities. I’d also explored this at the ICT summit this time last year. It was at that point that John came up with the inspired phrase “Inverting the Core” – perhaps that’s what we have to do? Perhaps school will become much more of an environment which allows children to learn about how to work with others? In such a model the traditional core would surround these activities where some learning takes place in school but much of takes place outside making best use of the web and social software.

In the current model I’d argue that too much learning is constrained to the “prison yard” learning environment and the only things which have real meaning to children are those activities which are currently regarded as peripheral. If we could just turn this inside out and allow learning to become the property of the learner – and not the school. Idealistic or what!?

Extreme Learning

Over 30 teachers have volunteered to particpate in our P6 – S2 Project Approach. The first meeting takes place this Wednesday 13th September in the Haddington Council Chambers – please feel free to come along even if you haven't indicated previous interest.

We have decided to go for ”
Extreme Learning” as a title for our approach. Extreme gicves the impression of being on the dge; exciting; radical; personal and different from what has happened in the past – it certainly doesn't conjure up pictures of boredom or disangagement. The beauty of this term is that it can be appied easily across the country if it is successful.

I've copied below a partial draft outline of what we will discuss on Wednesday. Please comment; query or suggest.


The intended outcomes of the integrated project apporach are as follows:

· To tap into children's passions and interests

· To develop the four capacities.

· To build a very strong foundation for future learning

· To enable homework to be of real relevance to each child

· To build upon children’s previous experiences

· To make appropriate use of teacher expertise

· To enable children to develop research, literacy, numeracy 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


The members of the group are presented with a draft outline of the approach (see section 3)

  1. The group refines and improves the outline.
  2. Timescales identified
  3. The draft outline is shared with Headteachers for their approval.
  4. Information is shared with pupils and parents
  5. Pupils are invited to participate
  6. Each pupil is provide with a virtual project space
  7. Teachers support their own pupils on-line and in school
  8. Other teachers can provide specialist assistance or general advice
  9. Pupils are encouraged to comment upon other pupil’s work.
  10. Parental guidelines would be produced
  11. Collaborative projects would be encouraged.
  12. A formative assessment and self-assessment scheme would be devised in conjunction with pupils.
  13. Incremental stages (complexity/sophistication) would be identified within the four-year programme
  14. Submission of projects
  15. Feedback provided
  16. Evaluation of project
  17. Project report circulated locally and nationally
  18. Stage 2 of approach developed in light of experience and feedback
  19. Stage 2 commences session 07-08


1. Pupils select their key area of interest

Examples of key areas of interest:

film making; football; dance; model car racing; politics; dress making; gangs; fishing; TV; websites; Arctic Monkeys; French; local history; genealogy; churches; Edinburgh; seabird centre; Medicine; litter; character in a novel; architecture; space travel; model making; 9/11; fashion; computer programming; Scottish Parliament; sports coaching; drama; Coronation Street; celebrities; music production; poetry; elections; basketball; ornithology; weather; Christopher Columbus; Iraq War; tourism; Islam; hill walking; gardening; farming; inventing; business; banking; nuclear energy; Environmental issues; Jesus Christ; old age; hospitals; unemployment; drugs; poverty; royal family; electronics; fireworks; newspapers; road building; pyramids; etc. etc.

2. Pupils identify four areas which they will refer to in the course of their project. The areas could include:

Biology; Maths; English; History; Geography; Religious Education; Home Economics; Business; Computing; Physics; Music; Art; Languages; Sport; Health and wellbeing; Chemistry; Psychology; Philosophy; Technology; Design; Media Studies; environmental studies; citizenship; creativity; politics; Finance; enterprise;

3. The pupil selects a research topic based around the key area of interest and the four curricular areas. For example

Film making: Art; Technology; Music; English – Project title – Wallace and Grommit – how do they do it?

Scottish Seabird Centre: Design; Geography; History; Biology – The migration patterns of the Gannet

Weather: Physics; geography; Media studies; Maths – Heather the Weather

Nuclear energy: History; geography; physics; citizenship – Should Iran be able to develop nuclear weapons?

Elections: maths; politics; media studies; citizenship – When will Tony Blair resign?

Hospitals: Health and wellbeing; home economics; finance; chemistry – Why is my gran’s food in the hospital so bad?

Areas to be resolved – (I'm sure there will be many more but this will be anough to be getting on with at the moment):

Technology: Blogging platform?; common layout (differences for each year group?); opportunities for personalisation?; teacher support?; pupil support?; central on-line support?; security?; protocols?; open web access? comments enabled?

Participant Information: what do they need to know?; invitation process?; time commitment?; do they need existing ICT skills?; technological needs?; access to school computers?;

Parental Information: what do they need to know?; what will be their concerns?; can they participate? how do they support their child?

Models of Participation: voluntary?; whole class?; support for learning?; excluded pupils?; curricular?; extra-curricular?; differentiation?

Research skills: guidelines?; exemplars?; referencing?; librarian support?; research questions?; using data?;

Presentation: layout?; common formats?; use of podcasts?; video?; use of comments?; variety depending to year group?

Assessment: formative assessment criteria; self-assessment?; involving parents?; external assessors?; reference to the four capacities?

Evaluation: Collection of baseline data? – pupils, teachers and parents?; collection of on-going data? collection of end of project data; criteira for success; external judgments?