Leaders of Learning Network

I met a teacher today who has been applying for Principal teacher jobs without success.

One of the problems is that many jobs ask for leadership experience – but how do you get that experience if you’re not in a leadership position?

Many people manage to gain such experience by being in the right-place-at-the-right-time – i.e. they are lucky enough to get formal acting-up experience due to circumstances in their own school.  We’ve tried to address this at senior management level by opening out all such opportunities to external candidates but we can’t take it below that level due to the impact it would have on class teaching.

However, we’ve had a number of conversations recently which have stressed that ‘leadership’ is not something that is the sole preserve of people in ‘leadership’ positions. The question is whether or not we could come up with some kind of scheme for people who aspire to leadership positions in schools by linking a school-wide responsibility, which they might have volunteered for, with a formal leadership network?

For example, I might be leading a group on formative assessment in my school. By joining the network of “Leaders of Learning”, who lead learning and teaching groups in their own school, cluster or even authority wide, I have a recognised leadership position within the authority.  The network would meet regularly, have links to other groups and authority wide initiatives.

We could also provide specific training opportunities for the network which would link with the possibility of formal qualifications.

When applying for a promoted position in the authority I would have the formal recognition that I have held a leadership position – thereby addressing one of the dificulties so many people face by not being in the right-place-at-the-right-time.

I much prefer this kind of system to a fast tracking scheme – as the police use – as it’s inclusive and links nicely with our priority to share leadership and develop learning and teaching.

My only concern might be that some people might see this idea as getting people to take on leadership responsibilities on the cheap – is this exploitation?

Corporate Parenting


A teacher said to me last week that we (in education) seem to have to play, more and more, the role of parents as well as educators.  I had to point out to this person that that is exactly what we have to do – especially for some of the most vulnerable children in our communities. 

One of the duties I have as Head of Education is to ensure that we meet the educational needs of Looked After and Acccommodated Children.  The duties are set out in Through care and after care

1.1 Local authorities have a duty to prepare young people for ceasing to be looked after (“throughcare”) and to provide advice, guidance and assistance for young people who have ceased to be looked after over school age (“aftercare”).

There are around 11,000 children and young people looked after by local authorities in Scotland, of whom about 1,500 are over 15 years old. About 1,200 young people aged 16 or over cease to be looked after each year.

The concept of corporate parenting is set out in Looked After Children and Young People: We Can and Must Do Better:

1.4 Local authorities have a role as corporate parents to these young people, particularly those who cannot return to their families. This means that the local authority should look after these children as any other parents would look after their own children.

1.5 The role of corporate parent is not restricted to the social work department of the local authority but applies to all departments and agencies, who should recognise their own responsibility to promote the welfare of looked after young people and ensure that their needs are adequately addressed by each department.

We have named contacts in each of our schools who have responsibility for tracking and being the link for other services in relation to Looked After and Accommodated Children but I’m not convinced that our commitment extends much beyond that.

The reality in schools that such children are often some of the most challenging to educate.  Without a significant mind shift – mine included – I don’t think we will properly take on our corporate role as parents.

I wonder of there would be anything to be gained from meeting all of our secondary age Looked After and Accommodated Children with a view to gaining their perspective on how education has fulfilled its parenting role and how it might get better?

Equality of opportunity yes – but at all costs?

On my way home from work I arranged to meet John Connell in the Black Bull. Over a very welcome pint of the “amber nectar” our conversation ranged over a wide range of topics.

I’m never very good at remembering things so I thought I’d try to get this down before we go out. One of the points that  we discussed was the MiWiFi  strategy we are hoping to develop in East Lothian.

John was taken by our ideas where we would provide a wireless network in all our schools which children could access with their own machines.  But he made a great point when I suggested that one of the problems that we might face is the potential discrimination between those children who could afford a top of the range laptop/device and someone who could only afford a “bog-standard” device. John suggested that our desire to always provide equality can sometimes prevent us implementing really good ideas which will benefit all.

In response I equated this with the challenge about sports shoes – yes they can be a source of bullying but the bottomline is what you can do with your trainers e.g. if I can play basketball, better or run faster than someone who has “better” sportshoes – then it doesn’t really make any difference – the important thing is that I’ve got trainers.

John followed up with a better example – will the man who starts playing golf and goes out and buys all the best gear where money is no object, beat the man who a great golf swing and can break par with a second hand set of clubs?

Perhaps this is where we should focus our attention – it’s the outcome stupid! Sometimes we can be so tied up with ensuring equality that we actually prevent the disadvantaged from the opportunity to succeed.

Interview Advice


Interviews are a very stressful but there are some key points which people should try to keep in mind:

  1. Always answer the question (you’d be surprised by how often people drift into some other area);
  2. Keep referring to your experience and mention children (once again too many people never mention kids);
  3. Don’t keep rambling (I always try to keep to three points at the most – some people can try to include up to ten examples in a single question!);
  4. Check if the school you are applying for has been inspected (it provides very useful background info’; and demonstrates that you can explore an issue in depth);
  5. Try to speak with some passion/emotion (not over-emotional) about your subject – you are going to have to enthuse staff and pupils;
  6. Talk about teams and others and your role in these teams;
  7. Never say “I’m a good communicator/motivator/organiser/etc, etc – let your actions make it clear that you have these qualities;
  8. Avoid the unecessary use of jargon – so many people think they have to press all the buttons in interview by mentioning every buzzword/initiative/theory;
  9. Don’t read lots of literature about policies, theory, initaitives, etc.  If you don’t know it as part of your current job then it will only sound like you are trying to hit “buttons’ when you are being interviewed.
  10. Use examples which show how you think – don’t just say when asked to give an example that “I did this…….”  remember – it’s not so much what you do but why you do it.

Other additions to this list are welcome.

Creative Arts and Education Group – creating a dynamic


We held our first meeting of the Creative Arts and Education Group.

As has become a pattern for first meetings it was more of a conversation about what people thought should be the purpose of the group.

The essential focus of the group is to enable us to give some shape and consistency to the wide variety of creative arts for young people in East Lothian. We talked about entitlements for children and how we might link school based activities with out of school activities.

Our next meeting will try to emulate the 3-18 strategic Learning and Teaching group by extending its membership to create a “tartan” with horizontal and vertical connections which will also include parents and pupils. The more I think about this there is definitely something in having much larger groups than has been the conventional approach. I think the key is to make the group part of the process i.e. to create a dynamic itself by engaging a large number of people – such meetings become workshops and creative opportunities, rather than staid mechanisms only there to fulfil bureaucratic functions.

Our next meeting, which will have over 25 people in attendance,  will consider our purpose and the approach we wish to take towards the development of the creative arts and education.  We intend to evolve our strategy as opposed to go for any “big bang”.

Translating policy into practice – a “tartan” approach

We held our 3-18 Strategic Learning and Teaching Group this afternoon. The key strategic item was how we translate our Learning and Teaching policy into consistent practice in our schools.

The “traditional” management approach to such a conundrum would be to issue an instruction that it should be implemented by all teachers – as Captain Picard (for Trekkies out there) might have said, “Make it so” – if only it was that simple.

The beauty of our group is that it is made up of people representing all levels in education in East Lothian: 6 Head Teachers; 6 classroom teachers; 4 Quality Improvement Officers; 3 Education Support Officers; 1 Educational Psychologist; 1 Head of Education; 2 Librarians; and 1 LTS New Technologies Research Practitioner. The richness of perspectives provided by such representation means that “simplistic”, “managerial”, “top-down” strategies are much less likely to emerge – and so it was today.

Following a tremendous discussion and small group brainstorming session focussing on – how we translate policy into practice? – the following stategy began to emerge.

We reckon that real change in practice depends upon following:

  1. shared and distributed responsibility for improving and leading the development of learning and teaching
  2. the generation of a momentum which will feed and drive the change process
  3. the creation and membership of groups which extend beyond people with similar experience/expertise/interest/
  4. the identification of short-term points of focus – rather than just trying to implement the whole policy all the time
  5. constant reminders of what we are attempting to achieve – awareness raising
  6. a flexible approach which takes account of context and people
  7. absolute willingness to get rid of all “closed” doors – sharing
  8. the encouragement and modelling of professional reflection
  9. the use of technology to share ideas and support our teams/communities
  10. the promotion of the concept of teachers as learners

Each of the above can be fleshed out and developed but a sucessful strategy would need to have all of the above features if policy is to be translated into practice.

A successful strategy would also have to recognise and tackle the following barriers:

  1. time limitations
  2. the pressures exerted by the existing secondary school curriculum
  3. the physical barriers presented by school design

For those of you wondering what on earth the “tartan” approach might be – then my apologies, but I just can’t help thinking in pcitures.  On listening to my colleagues talking this afternoon – particularly when speaking about the impact “learning Teams” have had in East Lothian I couldn’t help but imagine sub-sets or venn diagrams where people can belong to one group but also belong to others, e.g

 So a secondary teacher might be a member of a department, part of a group of teachers developing an aspect of learning and teaching across their school; and also a member of a group made up of primary and secondary colleagues.

However, rather than lots of circles the thought of tartan popped into my mind – I suppose it could be a matrix – but that seems a tired metaphor. Tartan is made up of vertical and horizontal lines – and so perhaps might our strategy? By creating networks of people at various levels, sectors, areas of interest, etc, we create a community which is connected, aware and self-sustaining – where leadership can come from anywhere on the tartan.

PS – it’s East Lothian tartan.

Voluntary Teacher Exchange – “taking a chance”


I’ll be e-mailing all teachers in East Lothian in the next couple of days to relaunch our Voluntary Teacher Exchange programme. We hope to open this out to other members of staff at a later date.  I’d welcome any comments or queries regarding any of the following:



The Voluntary Teacher Exchange Programme evolved from a series of interviews with key members of East Lothian education service undertaken as part of the Exc-el programme.


The programme has the potential to:

1. Enable teachers to broaden their experience without making a permanent move to another school.

2. Spread good practice within East Lothian

3. Enhance/continue to improve the quality of teaching in schools in East Lothian.

4. Offer individually tailored packages of CPD to teachers.

5. Help teachers to investigate and experience areas of the profession which they might wish to develop, e.g. a support for learning teacher exchanging with a classroom teacher or a primary/secondary teacher exchanging workplaces.

6. Help teachers to develop their skills and reflect on their own teaching and learning.

7. Enable teachers who have maybe only worked in one school for a number of years to experience a different context.

8. It has the potential to refresh and invigorate participants.

Teacher Exchange – The Mechanics

1. All members of teaching staff (regardless of position) in East Lothian are eligible to apply for the Voluntary Teacher Exchange Programme. We may extend this opportunity to other members of staff at a later date.

2. Exchanges can extend from a single day to an academic year and can include exchanges between sectors, e.g. primary and secondary staff

3. Interested members of staff should receive the permission of their Headteacher prior to applying.

4. Applicants should complete and return the attached application form (in final version) to the department.

5. Where a Headteacher wishes to apply for an exchange they should contact the Head of Education directly.

6. The department will attempt to match up suitable exchange partners. 

7. If a teacher has a preferred echange partner they should indicate this on the application form. 

8. Where all parties, i.e. , teachers, headteachers and head of education, agree an exchange a series of pre-meetings and preparation briefings will take place.

9. The exchange will commence at the time agreed. Exchanges may be terminated by any of the parties (exchange partners or Headteachers) at any of the previously agreed review intervals, e.g. a three-month exchange might have review intervals on a fortnightly basis.

10. No travelling expenses or cover costs will be provided.

11. Exchange partners will continue on their existing pay and conditions of service.

12. A strict confidentiality clause will be inserted in the exchange agreement to protect exchange partners, colleagues, pupils and participating schools.

13. All exchange participants must submit a comprehensive report to the Head of Education at the end of their exchange to enable the programme to be developed and improved.

Linking evaluation with development planning


One of the tasks we need to complete this week is the Service Improvement Plan update.  This is the document which provides guidance to schools about any priorities they should be including in their own School Development Plan.

Our Service Improvement Plan covers a three-year timespan and uses the National Priorities as a scaffold to give our plan some sort of coherence and shape.

However, it struck us today that the National Priorities are perhaps not the best way to present our plan – particularly given Journey to Excellence and the revamped version of How Good is Our School?

As Graham Donaldson, HM Chief Inspector of Schools, wrote just last month in the foreword to the third version of HGiOS?:

“The set of quality indicators continue to provide the core tool for self-evaluation for all schools, but they are now complemented by the very useful materials in other parts of The Journey to Excellence series.”

I think this gives a strong clue as to the most appropriate route to take in relation to linking planning and evaluation – i.e. use the ten dimensions identified in the Journey to Excellence as a planning framework – and HGIOS? as the evaluation template. This is not to say that we ignore the National Priorities but just that these are now embedded within the other two documents.

We’ve hopefully have moved a long way towards promoting a strong self-evaluation culture in our schools and authority but we need to develop a framework for planning which gives schools enough flexibility to address their own specific needs whilst ensuring consistency of approach across East Lothian. Hopefully our ideas will enable there to be a clear and coherent link between the planning framework and the self-evaluation framework – which is not currently the case.

Under-offer and over-deliver

I’ve been on holiday this week so we took off yesterday for one night at the Ardeonaig Hotel, Loch Tay, which has just been awarded the GOOD HOTEL GUIDE’S “INN of the Year for Great Britain and Ireland 2007”.

We had a fabulous time there and the food and service were second to none.

I was really taken by their motto – “Under offer and over deliver”. So often in life it’s the other way round.