Is it safe?

We had been out at the weekend and I met two teachers who work in different local authorities – neither of which are East Lothian.

One teacher talked about their authority’s Curriculum for Excellence co-ordinator and the other referred to a School Review which she was going back to after the holidays. It made me think about what we do in comparison:

Curriculum for Excellence

  • What some other authorities do  –The Curriculum for Excellence Co-ordinator chimed with something which had been referred to in TESS a couple of weeks ago, in that most authorities now had a dedicated co-ordinator for Curriculum for Excellence.

  • What we do in East Lothian – We’ve gone for making a Curriculum for Excellence the responsibility for all of our authority team – myself included. 

  • Why we do it ? – We hope to permeate the thinking which underpins a Curriculum for Excellence across everything we do in schools. We also think that by making a single person responsible for an initiative reinforces an impression that it exists in isolation from everything else.

  • Potential downside – By spreading responsibility across a number of people there is a danger that no-one actually takes on responsibility for such an important development.

School Review

  • What some other authorities do – The School Review, which is like a local authority inspection requires a formal visit to the school by a review team which will also include some peer reviewers.

  • What we do in East Lothian  – In East Lothian we don’t have a school review process – our alternative is to develop our validation process whereby we rely upon the school’s own self- evaluation and use our evaluation visits which take place throughout the year to validate that evaluation.

  • Why we do it? – We are trying to develop the process of self-evaluation in our schools as we believe that such honest and rigorous evaluation has much more potential long-term benefit than a process where school review is “done” to the school.

  • Potential downside – Schools don’t actively engage in rigorous and honest self evaluation.  Our validation process might not pick that up compared with a “mini-inspection” which might lead to some schools to provide a standard of education which might be unsatisfactory.

So to the question “is it safe?” The connection between this question and the above two strategies might seem obscure but I happened to watch Marathon Man last night.  There is a scene in the film where Sir Laurence Olivier tortures, for want of a better word, Dustin Hoffman, whilst asking a recurring question – “is it safe?”

In our business we often make decisions about health and safety and work out risk assessments for trips or other potientially dangerous activities. But some of our other strategic decisions also carry a risk – such as the two examples quoted above.  What if they don’t work? Perhaps we should be taking a line which reduces risk?


Hanging by a thread

I was taken by this verse on a gravestone I came across in South Leith Parish Church. It reads:

The spider’s most attenuated thread
Is cord, is cable, to man’s tender tie
On earthly bliss; it breaks at every breeze.

The grave belongs to Mrs Janet Burns who died on the 15th June 1812.

I’ve tracked the poet down as Edward Young, (1683 – April 5, 1765).

He is best known for Night Thoughts (1742) from which this verse us taken. Long after his reputation has faded he lives on in unattributed quotations, such as “Procrastination is the Thief of Time.”

William Blake was commissioned to illustrate the poem in 1795.

Communication – Never take it for granted

When I took up this post I set out a number of personal priorities.

One of these was to improve communication within the department at all levels. I tried to summarise some of the various elements of that developing strategy back in January.

In the last week there have been three separate instances of people questioning how effective our communication actually is within Education in East Lothian.

One of the things I’ve learned in my career is never to think that communication is “sorted” or to ignore anyone who suggests that communication isn’t working.  Whether or not communication is effective lies in the eye – or should that read ear – of the beholder.  It’s not for management to say “we’ve done all we can, if people don’t get it then that’s their fault.”

I reckon there is a natural timespan in any organisation before communication needs to be formally revisited – even if everything seems to be fine.  That timespan lies somewhere around 12 – 18 months.  Such a review need not result in any action having to be taken – just that we perform a “health check”.

One of the best bits of leadership advice I got from a former boss was “the moment you start to relax and think that everything is going well is the moment to look over your shoulder”. Not that I’m recommending paranoia, rather that  communication issues- unless they are fundamentally systemic – are just part of  the reality of organisational life.

The challenge for leaders is not to take these issues personally but to recognise that such concerns are a natural phenomenon – and not to become defensive – or worse still – offensive. 

Leadership – Nature Vs Nurture or Nature Plus Nurture?

In a meeting this week we were exploring some of the essential criteria we might use for promoted posts such as Principal Teacher, Depute Head Teacher and Head Teacher.

For example –

Should anyone who wishes to become a Depute Head Teacher have been a Principal Teacher in more than one school?

Should a prospective Head Teacher have held promoted positions in more than one school?

Does someone have to have held a Depute Head Teacher’s post for a certain period of time before they can be considered for promotion to HT – e.g. three years?

The underlying assumption behind all of these possible criteria is that you cannot be regarded as being ready for promotion until you have “served your time” and “have experience of more than one school”. 

Some questions:

Does “serving time” in a promoted post really prepare people for the next step?

Does it mean that if I’ve done five years a Depute that I’m automatically ready for Headship?

What if the cut-off for consideration is three years and I’ve been in post 2 years and ten months – does two months make such a difference?

What if I’ve held a promoted post in a school where I’ve been given no autonomy by my Head Teacher – should that be the same as someone who has maybe taken on leadership responsibilities in another school but without being at the same promoted level?

All this takes me back to the title of this post Leadership – nature or nurture?

I do believe there are some innate traits which good leaders should have but that it’s not necessary to have the “full set”. – that’s where nurture comes in. Experience in a variety of posts does help – and can be considered essential in some cases – as long as the person is learning from these experiences.

We are relaunching our Exchange Programme next term where teachers/PTs/Deputes/ and HTs will be able to seek an exchange with a colleague in East Lothian in the coming session. Hopefully this will give some individuals who wish to broaden their experience the opportunity to do so within a nurturing environment.

(I’ll be exploring, in a separate post, what “experience” and why it might be a necessary criteria for job selection)

Link – nature versus nurture