Communicating with Parents/Community

I learned an important lesson on Wednesday night when I attended a public joint school board and community council meeting in Dunbar to discuss the plans for a new school in the community. 

It was apparent that members of the community didn’t feel they were being properly consulted over the proposals – even though the decision won’t be taken until March. What was interesting was the difference in the way people responded to information. 

As a council official I was – for some – one of the ‘bad guys’ – to stereotype – a bureaucrat; not to be trusted; and not interested in public opinion.  It’s funny but I don’t think I said anything last night that I wouldn’t have said as a Head Teacher – yet the message was definitely influenced by my position.

So what did I learn? – we must improve our communication with parents and communities using as many ways as possible to give people an opportunity to access information and to express an opinion.  I think people do realise that such decisions do not go to a referendum but what they do want is to be able to have access to information upon which they can make up their own mind. I will never again – I hope – go into a meeting where people feel they haven’t access to information or that they feel a decision has been taken prior to the meeting – even if it hasn’t.

Why do men like blogging?

Because they don’t have friends! – so said Freda Ross Head Teacher of Pencaitland Primary School on Tuesday when I pointed her towards my blog entry on SELS. The disciplinary papers are in the post!

But does she have a point ?- the majority of exc-el bloggers are male. Why are women more reticent to blog – or do they just have more friends?

I think part of the problem – if indeed it is a problem – is to do with the idea that blogging has a technical focus. If this is the case this I think we need to do everything in our power to overcome this barrier by focussing upon the process and the value of communication – as opposed to the technological background

Principal Teachers – Leaders of Learning

We held our third Principal Teacher seminar on Monday. This was the third in a series of five  and our development strategy is emerging through these discussions.

We have agreed to organise a conference in the new year for all PTs in East Lothian starting on a Friday lunchtime and finishing on the Saturday afternoon. The theme of the conference will be the title of this post and we’ll use it as a launching point for our development of PTs.

The conference agenda will be generated by the PTs through these seminars and a small working group which we’ll convene when the last seminar has been completed in early December. The conference will be for PTs at all levels i.e.nursery, primary and secondary.

If you have ideas about conference programme items please drop me a line.

P.S. I’ll be inviting Chartered Teachers to a seminar in January.

Public Service Reform: A New Agenda for Education and Children’s Services

I’m attending a 24 hour conference on public service reform.

Colin Mair – CEO of the Improvement Service for Scottish Local Government set out the national context:

The comprehensive spending review of government spending will result in flat financial settlements to the public sector over the foreseeable future. The result of this will be limited real growth of budgets.

Set against this will be a rising objective demand for specialist services for those with acute needs – which will require public services to prioritise where money is spent.

Paralleling these demands is the political change which will take place next year which is more likely to be much less politically aligned.

Colin set out a number of challenges which will be presented by the above:

Efficient Government:

“Focus on efficiency – not cuts”
“Review business processes”
“Share service development”
“Minimise duplication and overheads”
“Efficiency needs to become a core value” Integrated service Delivery:

“Focus on outcomes”
“Organise around the service NOT around the producers”
“Improve ease of access”
“ Share customer information”
“Re-engineer the customer service chain” – lost me on that one

Strategic issues:

“Consider numbers, capacity, boundaries, utility”
“Look for links within and between sectors”
“Organic evolution Vs Big Bang” – Big Bang wastes peoples lives + costs more
“Are you fit for purpose?”


“How is a demand led system managed with a cash limited budget?”
“”Consider the costs of integration Vs Collaborative Gain” – not integration at all costs
“”How do you create a momentum for evolutionary change?”


“There are coherent and agreed principles of reform”
“We recognise that there needs to be variable operating contexts” – not uniformity for its own sake
“The improvement Service will support local innovation”
“There is a climate for change and space for change” – can we take it?

The bottom line here is that everyone of us involved in Public Service will be affected by these issues over the next few years. I always reckon it’s better to be actively involved in the change process as opposed to waiting for it to be ‘done’ to you.

A Curriculum for Excellence – going over the top?

over the top?

Alison Wishart has just returned from Australia where she was exploring alternative secondary school curriculum models – some of which match with our extreme learning ideas

I had a great chat with Alison this morning which set up a discussion with secondary head teachers this afternoon.

Alison was telling me about schools in Australia where the early years’ secondary school curriculum is built around “concepts” which we might know better as themes.  For example, one of the themes is personal identity – subjects explore this theme from their own perspective with students – e.g. biology looked at disecting sheep brains and looking at human brain structure; whilst in other subjects they looked at the influence of nature/nurture; ethnic background; geographic location, etc, etc.  The pupils then had to complete projects drawing these subjects together using their own experience. I hope I’ve got this right Alison.

Some subjects are seen as “tools” such as maths, language, ICT which enabled this exploration to take place.

Alison then told me about the single exit point assessment – as opposed to our multiple and seemingly never ending SQA assessments in our secondary schools. What prevents us from allowing pupils and teachers to have much greater freedom from S1 – S3 then pupils undertaking a one – or preferably two year course – where they sat only one assessment at the point of exit? We currently let pupils sit multiple assessments due to the fact that we are worried they have no “fall back” position.

But what if we became smarter at knowing pupils potential – the fact is we do know their potential, what we don’t know if they are going to engage with their studies or not – that is the imponderable. But what if we could turn pupils onto learning – through a more engaging curriculum  – which builds upon their primary school experience – I’d argue that the likelihood of them switching off is greatly reduced.

I  have personally known so many – thousands – of children who would have got something out of this approach but who will be first to take the leap?

This leads me to the discussion with our secondary head teachers. We were discussing SQA costs – which are rising exponentially – to the point where schools are going to have to look at their presentation policies. The reality of this will be that pupils of lower ability will gradually be limited to which exams they can sit. So what might be the alternative – well why not S1 -S3 as a developmental phase where pupils build upon their primary experience as learners? In S4 most pupils will embark upon a two year course which will lead thenm to an exam at the end of S5. Some pupils will exit at S4 and take ther exams at that point. Wow! – at long last teachers would get two uninterrupted years working with pupils towards Highers or their equivalent. So what about S6? – well that would need some thought and perhaps that’s where we need to engage with higher education to look at what they want from school education – as far as I can see they certainly don’t rate what’s coming out of schools at the moment – so what have we got to lose?

The main problem here will be parents – or so we think. They want the safety net – or so we think. They want their children to be tested regularly – or so we think. But if we were to really engage with them and explain to them and their children about what we were thinking of doing would they really react as we might expect? I’m a parent – and I would have loved to have seen my sons have this opportunity.

Should we take the first step? – or wait for someone else?

Do away with Education Authorities?

I suppose I should be losing sleep over the recently launched Headteachers Association of Scotland (HAS) Manifesto.  In their manifesto – which I have yet to read – the association (of which I am still a member) – called for the current 32 education authorities to be scrapped and replaced with 8 education boards. 

HAS claims that too much money is wasted on salaries and paperwork in the current structure and that it would be better spent in schools. As I have been extensively exploring on this issue on this blog this is not something which comes as surprise. However, I think the drive to move this way will be to reduce costs – not to redistribute money to schools. The pressure on public service budgets over the next few years will mean that any savings made in transforming public services  will be just that – savings.

I’ve been reading recently about Scottish Water which has moved sequentially from local authority control; to area groups; to a single national unit. The organisation is well respected and has significantly reduced its overheads.  The down side – if people are interested – is that there is very little space for local variation in the service. 

I think Headteachers have to recognise that going down this road to which they are obviously committed will result in much greater uniformity of provision.

The “X” Factor

I had a really interesting chat with someone last week who asked me to imagine the optimum type of educational leader. In order to give the person some form I used “X” to represent the person.

What was fascinating was that this technique enabled me to describe some key leadership and management behaviours which I probably wouldn’t have identified were I not to have adopted this perspective. 

What I have decided to do over the next few months is to imagine and explain “X’s” behaviour. Watch this space.

Extreme Learning – taking shape

The Extreme Learning exemplar is starting to take shape.

A number of things are emerging:

Perhaps we should have a number of project templates – not just about the look of the site – which would give students a scaffolding to build their project?;

It would help students if there was guidance in each of the knowledge areas which they could use as prompts for the sorts of things they might investigate. For example in maths – percentages; graphs; formula; trends; etc.

Perhaps this is where some differentiation can take place with different levels being made available to students and they choose which is appropriate for them? A basic level of Maths might just be about mentioning numbers and showing a graph; a more complex level might be where the students use the numbers to work out solutions or to provide evidence for what they are investigating.

I wonder of there are any geographers out there who could suggest what I might look at in relation to geography for the Gannet project?

As for assessment I think I’ll set up a comment page for people to leave a comment about the project but I’m also playing around with the idea of the project writer making up a test based upon all of the content covered in the project. The writer of the project might have to sit their test in exam conditions? It could also be available for others to try on line?

Last point does it matter of there is some plagiarism in the project? What happens iof a student coipies a piece of text from saomewhere on the web and inserts in their project.  I know the traditional approach is that they should write it out “in their own words” but what if the way in which it is written elsewhere says it much better. I have to admit to having put in couple of bits like that in my project. The point is – I am learning. Is that not the point?

Community Learning and Education Links

We held our first of three seminars today to explore links between Community Learning and Education.  What was striking was that there are so many existing links between community education – in all its forms and our schools.

Community Learning and Education Links

Museum Service

The Museum Service support many curricular projects – they even offer a mobile service such as this display at Dunbar Grammar School.

Campie Romans

The museum service supported Campie Primary School set up their own exhibition on the Romans.

Active Schools

The Active Schools programme supports one primary school and one secondary schools active school co-ordinator in each of our communities. Our sports development unit promotes and develops sports in all our schools with international level coaches.

Eats Lothian Ranger Service

The East Lothian Countryside Ranger Service work closely with schools on a wide variety of environmental projects.

River Days

The Countryside Rangers set up this river survey for Wallyford Primary School.

Family Learning

The Community Learning and Development Team have arranged a number of school based family learning days which have been exceptionally successful.