Where do I find the time?

I had a fascinating discussion with some headteachers recently about the time they spend on their jobs, the difficulty of their jobs and challenge that such time pressures and other demands present.

I know I’m presenting a significant challenge by asking headteachers to spend up to two days a week focusing upon the teaching process by observing what’s going on in their schools’ classrooms. The obvious response is “where do I find the time?”

So what are the personal outcomes of such pressures? – 60-80 hour working weeks ; 4-5 hours sleep a night; disrupted sleep patterns were not uncommon – what sort of work/life balance is this? – is it any wonder that people don’t want to become head teachers?

So what are some of the expectations which headteachers have to live up to? (in no particular order):

Have a high profile in and around the school means that you undertake duties such as dinner duty, break time patrol, stair duty, detention duty, gate duty, bus duty

Evening work connected with parents’ evenings; community meetings; parents’ council meetings or school events – usually meaning that you have worked through from 7.30am – 9.00pm – on occasions up to three times a week

Open door policy means that you are often disrupted when trying to complete a task – meaning that you either have to do it when everybody has gone for the day, take it home or get in even earlier the next day before anyone else – that’s why headteachers are usually in first and leave last

Correspondence – mail and e-mail are never ending with requests for surveys, responses to the authority, government or other agencies, requests/queries from parents or the  community can fill a day themselves

Managing the consequences of pupil misbehaviour can take up huge chunks of time, with interviews, investigations, phone calls, parental meetings and reporting back to teachers all arising from one incident;

Financial management can be a big burden – even with a business manager – with worries arising from discrepancies causing sleepless nights

Personnel issues ranging from grievances, capabilty, competence and recruitment and associated paperwork are tasks which regularly require significant attention

Meetings outwith school can take up large amounts of time in a week – as the school’s major representative you are often required to attend

Writing policies, plans, letters to parents, newsletters, speeches

Analysing attainment data and the subsequent meetings with principal teachers or teachers

Completing the school improvement paperwork i.e. Planning, self- evaluation and monitoring

Timetabling and curriculum issues are significant issues at certain times of the year – especially if the headteacher is the timetabler

Complaint handling involves investigation, responding and on occasions repeated meetings

Reviewing forward plans from teachers and departments

Requests/demands from parents to see the headteacher “I won’t be fobbed off with anyone else”

Meetings with the senior management team, principal teachers, and staff and individual meetings with senior management colleagues

Teaching can also feature on some headteachers list of duties as they like to maintain credibility with colleagues and maintain contact with the classroom by taking on a class for the year, of course a teaching headteacher in a small school has no such option.

The question which jumps off the page for me here is – “Is it reasonable to expect any person to undertake such a range of competing and cumulatively impossible demands?”

The key driver for this review must be the well-being of our headteachers.

In my next post on this topic I’ll try to explore how we (it needs to be a collective solution) try to create some time within such a pressured existence to be involved in the kind of work that really makes an difference to learning and teaching for children and colleagues.

Independence, Continuity and Confidence

I was in Macmerry Primary School this morning observing a P1/2 class and a P3/4 class.

I watched active learning  in action when I observed the infant class work in three groups on reading and writing. I was really impressed by the ability of the pupils to work independently with real quality, whilst the teacher worked with another group. When they finished their task they went to the play area and chose what they wanted to do next – building with blocks, painting, drawing letters in sand, wieghing and measuring, playing in the ‘house’ area – and many other options. The pupils were confident about making their own decisions and focused on the task they selected. Such independence doesn’t just happen – many of the class were in P1, i.e. only a few weeks into term – yet they had become accustomed to clear and consistent expectations of their teacher.

It was interesting when I went into the P3/4 class that I saw a similar level of independence and expectations from the teacher. It’s this level of consistency and continuity which makes it easy for pupils.

This set me to thinking about the levels of independence we offer older pupils. We have this tendency to think that independent working is something we should work towards in later secondary years – when in actual fact children have been used to working this way in their first two years of primary – or even earlier. It also struck me that there is a huge amount to be gained from having consistent expectations and ways of working in classes – so many difficulties arise when a pupil has to work within different parameters as they move from one classroom to another – does it have to be this way?

The right to have teaching adapted to your ability

We heard from Valerie Irving, one of our Quality Improvement officers, this afternoon who had visited Oslo, Norway before the summer.

Two of the key principles which guide the education system are:

“The right for every student to have teaching adapted to his/her abilities within the class framework”

“The mode of teaching must not only be adapted to subject and content, but also to age and maturity, the individual learner and the mixed ability of the entire class”

Our own Additional Support for Learning Act suggests a similar entitlement but not in such a specific manner.

Children have a metaphorical “cultural rucksack” in which students place the cultural experiences they are entitled to during their school lives.

S1 – S3 Curriculum – have your say

We are holding our Curriculum Architecture Conference on Tuesday 1st October.

Nearly 100 people will be in attendance including headteachers, teachers, pupils, elected members, employers, parents, unions, and reps for further and higher education.

The main part of the day will be given over to discussing the attached document. Mixed groups of ten will work their way through the 37 statements and engaging in a dialogue about each.  The opinions of those at the table will be recorded and used to shape the eventual policy.

If you want to have your say you can access the paper and send your thoughts to me dledingham@eastlothian.gov.uk or simply leave comments in this Log.

Here’s an example of some of the statements:

Choice and personalisation

  1. Schools should ensure that there is more choice within subjects
  2. Pupils should be encouraged to co-create their curriculum with their teachers.
  3. The school should advocate for those children whose parents who are not willing or able to advocate on their behalf.
  4. Pupils should be involved in the design of the curriculum for their school.

Writing – do we have to accept that boys will be boys?

I had a great visit this week to King’s Meadow Primary School in Haddington. At the beginning of my visit I had a chat with Headteacher Donald McGillivray about boy’s writing. Donald has done a fascinating analysis of boys’ attainment across the school and the statistics show that boys’ writing is of a much lower standard than girls’ writing – in what is a very high performing school. This situation is matched in most schools in East Lothian.

As I visited classes around the school I concentrated on classes which were being taught language. As it happened the classes were all working on spelling -which was being taught in a very engaging and imaginative manner -but I managed to get a chance to talk to most of the teachers and asked them about why boys were underperforming in writing. The concensus was that boys need tasks which are related to a context and that these tasks must challenge and engage their imagination. For me it demonstrated once again that it is the learning task which teachers select that holds the secret to improving learning – the challenge for us is to experiment with and work out the kind of tasks that will lead to a sustained improvement in boys writing. As it stands at the moment boys are behind girls by between 15-20% so the risk is certainly worth taking.

I came across this video from teachers.tv which showed a class where boys had closed the gap on girls. The key points  were:

  • Speaking and listening form a solid foundation for written work
  • Multimedia techniques ease reluctant students into writing
  • Role-play encourages boys to participate

One of the main things to emerge for me when I was speaking to Donald McGilliivray is one that Steven Heppell had been referring to last week and which I’d repeated at our Headteachers’ Conference is that the answers lie in our own hands and in our own schools. We need to move away from the idea that we will resolve problems such as boys writing by buying a package, training all our teachers and then expecting them to implement the programme. The reality is that all our schools are different and what might work in one school would not necessarily work in another. I also believe that such an approach only serves to foster a dependency culture which is anti-professional and ultimately self defeating, as teachers feel  deskilled and are not encouraged to reflect upon and take responsibility for their own practice.

I’d much rather see a school work out some key principles which would guide the type of learning experiences which teachers would provide for boys, then evaluate the success of these approaches then discuss, share and develop these ideas within schools, within clusters and within the authority.

Last thought – if we could close the gap between girls and boys in respect to writing we would – in a single act – raise the levels of attainment in East Lothian by an unprecedented amount, with all the corresponding impact that such a lift would have on children’s life chances.

Knowing our school

There are three points of focus that I’m taking during my school visit programme:

  1. Self-evaluation;
  2. Distributive Leadership; and
  3. Learning tasks.

I’m going out to Kingsmeadow Primary School tomorrow. HT Donald McGillivray sent me a paper which outlines how they know their school and how leadership is distributed right across the school.

It’s really helpful to get this kind of detail.

Self Evaluation – How I Know My School


  • SINATRA planning tool– regular access and written comments
  • Teacher’s PET tracking tool – regular access and feedback at…..
  • Target meetings and mgt/staff discussions. Review of assessment info.
  • Team leaders report back at…..
  • Management meetings – fortnightly
  • Staff Meetings – monthly
  • Support staff meetings
  • ASL review meetings: attend, read minutes,etc
  • Jotter moderation and comment
  • Surveys – pupils, staff, parents
  • Peer and management classroom observation and….
  • ED&R – tying the above into the process
  • Area meetings – participation/minutes
  • Involvement with parents via Parent Council and informally
  • Involvement in curriculum development – take the lead, eg, “Radiowaves.”
  • Annual whole school audit
  • Main author of development plan, drawing together from staff input and other sources
  • Ensuring continuous review of development plan via set-piece meetings and other activities contained within CAT calendar
  • Management team class involvement: timetabled, other than observation
  • Walking about and being seen


Leadership – How Distributive Leadership is Developed and Promoted


  • Staff encouraged to, and do, take leadership roles in development plan priorities
  • “Team Leaders” a feature at each stage, with PTs having a major leadership role for their year group/area
  • Staff   rotate chair all staff meetings and have right of access to agenda setting
  • Area meetings on CAT calendar allow staff to share issues and resolve problems by themselves
  • Collegiate planning at each stage is firmly embedded as a means of developing collective responsibility for learning and teaching [on CAT calendar]
  • School Advisory Group, made up from staff representing each stage, manage all ASL resources
  • Staff  have complete management of the school fund
  •  Staff all have their own budget for purchasing educational materials[ not texts]
  • Peer observations are a feature where staff agree a focus for class observation with another teacher who then carries this out and gives feedback
  • Timetabling for the session  is devolved to a staff group….with…..
  • RCCT being agreed and delivered within this same context




  • Prefect system in place, covering: playground, wet weather, library, computer suite,etc
  • PLPs allow some pupil control over their own learning
  • Existence of School Parliament, Executive Group, Pupil Council, Green Team, Health Group – pupils actively participate in all of these.  Membership via electoral process
  • School Bank run by pupils
  • House system in place with House Captains elected by pupils
  • Reward system that allows house points to be accumulated …and, also….
  • Personal success celebrated via award of certificates  – weekly, termly sessionally
  • Development of an enterprising culture via much of the above, as well as curricular, class-based activities that promote enterprise
  • Pupils run assemblies under the direction of the teacher
  • Golden Rules allow children to develop responsibility for self and others
  • Inclusion allows opportunities for pupils to be responsible for supporting /assisting other children [ wheelchair bound, Down’s Syndrome, etc]
  • Children teach other children [Radiowaves,etc] in order to pass on information/skills
  • In class, pupil peer/pair assessment is developing


Here’s a link to some of the poems I’ve written over the last ten years.

These assorted poems were held on another website which is now defunct. I suppose they have some relevance to who I am and what’s important to me – which in turn influences how I go about my professional life.

Many of the poems were linked to a project I was involved in with Gordon Hunter where we set out to capture Scottish rural life through poetry and photographs at the turn of the millenium. The exhibition, which was entitled “Scottish Inheritance” and culminated in an invitation to display our work at the Scottish Writers Museum on the Royal Mile. The exhibition raised over £3000 for the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Society.

Reverse Observation?

Following one of my recent posts about political scrutiny I was thinking about whether or not we could expose ourselves to further scrutiny.

What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive

I was further provoked in this area when listening to Professor Michael Fullan during yesterday’s Scottish Learning Festival  where he was talking about one of his Six Secrets of Change. Michael Fullan has had a significant impact upon my own thinking over the last 12 years – although I have to admit to finding some of his Secrets being “reheated” ideas from other people – but synthesising these ideas is never a waste of time – particularly if some people are coming to them for the first time.

The secret he “revealed” was “Transparency Rules”. As he talked about the importance of being open to scrutiny I scribbled “reverse observation”.

During this year I’m visiting three schools each week focussing upon the quality of the learning task set by the teacher. Although these visits are announced the week before, the actual classrooms I visit are completely random. My idea – or offer – is to invite any teacher in East Lothian to reciprocate and come and observe me for one day.  The person – who would be drawn at random (assuming there might be more than one volunteer) would come into observe me working for a full day.  I would not know when they were coming in and the visit would be co-ordinated by our Staff Development Team. The person would arrive in my office at the beginning of the day and shadow me for the rest of the day. They would then write up an observation report which I would post on this Learning Log.

So – what do you think – would anybody be interested?