Taking the PISA


The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardised assessment that was jointly developed by participating countries and administered to15-year-olds in schools.

The survey was implemented in 43 countries in the 1st assessment in 2000, in 41 countries in the 2nd assessment in 2003, in 57 countries in the 3rd assessment in 2006 and 62 countries have signed up to participate in the 4th assessment in 2009.

Tests are typically administered to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country.

Information about PISA 2006 

Sample test questions Maths, Reading and Science 

The full results will be made available on the 4th December.

My question is whether or not we could be using this information to help us shape our Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland?

Classroom Observation – shifting the focus

We had a very productive discussion this afternoon at the secondary headteachers meeting about classroom observation.

I was delighted to see the range of strategies being implemented in our schools but the overwhelming point which emerged from the discussion was the shift from observation with a focus on judging competence to one where the focus is on learning about the practice in our schools and how we can share and develop what we see.

When formal classroom observation first appeared as part of the school evaluation process it borrowed from the only models that we really knew – the HMIe observed lesson,  and the more pervasive model of the university/teaching college “crit” lesson – where the observer sat in a corner and took notes about the  entire lesson.  Feedback was provided through the “crit” which identified good and weak aspects of the lesson.  As someone who was a teaching tutor for three years at university I know from experience that the feedback provided was so extensive and ranged across so many aspects of practice that it was practically worthless.  The crit therefore became a right of passage which the teacher had to endure but was rarely seen to be a productive aspect of teaching practice.  Now I’m sure (or shoupld that be hope that)  I made some impact over the three years I delivered these crits but I don’t think I actually provided any feedback which was focused enough for teachers to really change them.

As I’ve written about before the current focus of my observations – Learning intention and learning tasks – have opened up a new world for me in terms of what I see and what I learn.  The beneficiary of the process is not the person being oberved – its the oberver! – a direct opposite of the traditional model where the beneficiary is supposed to be the person being observed.

Now if we could just develop this concept and establish a more substantive link between what we observe and how we improve the quality of the  learning and teaching which goes on in a school then I believe we could take the lid off our schools.

So how do we judge if someone isn’t competent? My response here is simple – there are so many other indicators available to us to judge whether someone is doing damage to children’s learning that we need not depend on classroom observation to be the tool of choice. Where such concerns arise the classroom observation process takes on a different slant but is part of a very different process and one which had been clearly set out beforehand – our classroom observation policy actually captures this very well.

Accelerated Readers – or “active” reading

I walked into a class of 11/12 year olds this week and saw something quite special.

It was during my visit to Sanderson’s Wynd Primary School in Tranent where I saw a whole class actively engaged in personal reading.  I know it sounds a bit oxymoronic – but they were definitely actively engaged in reading! – boys as well as girls.

They were all reading different books which they had choosen for themselves and which were obviously pitched at their own level.

So what was the secret? The teacher Lynne Welsh explained that they were using the Accelerated Reader scheme.

Now in my career I’ve come across lots of schemes and software driven systems which make great claims for improving learning – but rarely have I ever seen kids so motivated to read.  The idea is remarkably simple – but that’s probably the secret.  It wroks as follows:

1. Student Reads a Book. Students choose books at their appropriate reading levels and read them at their own pace.
2. Student Takes a Quiz. Accelerated Reader Enterprise offers more than 100,000 quizzes to help you motivate and monitor increased reading practice.
3. You Get Information. You get immediate information feedback on the reading and vocabulary progress of each student.

The system provides a level for every book and by working out the reading level for each child recommends the most appropriate level for each child.  The child then selects a book from that level – reads the book, then takes a quiz to test their comprehension. The teacher can then work out the next level – tying the whole process to the zone of proximal development i.e. stretching the child by an appropriate amount.

Apparently the system is being used in all Tranent Primary schools and the early years of secondary school.  I’m looking forward to finding out more but from what I saw yesterday it certainly seems to work.

Now I suppose the question is why didn’t Im know about this as Head of Education? – well that’s my fault but at least my classroom visits are helping me to learn about such schemes and possibly share that practice across the authority.

A Curriculum for Excellence – nuts and bolts


 We had a meeting this afternoon where we were considering our Curriculum for Excellence strategy.

One of the concerns voiced by teachers, parents and pupils is what does ACFE actually mean?  There are concerns that it’s too woolly and won’t actually change people’s practice.

 Perhaps there’s something to be said for the government’s outcome agreement approach – which focusses on outcomes as opposed to processes. Here are some possible examples:

All teachers can identify aspects of their practice which they have developed in response to A Curriculum for Excellence;

Every child (without additional support for learning needs) reaches a functional level of literacy and numeracy by the age of 9;

All schools will have revised their curriculum to take account of the principles of co-creation of the curriculum, personalisation and flexibility;

90% of children will engage in extra-curricular activities; communty activities or vuluntary activities.

The point being that schools woukld be free to develop the processes to achieve these outcomes. The additional beneift would be that parents, teachers and pupils would gain a clear insight into the purpose of ACfE which is perhaps difficult to gain from a mantra like recitation of the four capacities.

A wee night in with the lads

I got caught out tonight by my youngest son (17) who asked me if he could have some of his friends round on Friday night for a “wee night”.  I thought I was being funny when I asked why he wasn’t having a “big night in?”.

He looked at me with pity as only 17 year old sons can do and spoke slowly and carefully – “no dad a wii night in” as he shook the controller.

Creating a positive dynamic


I visited Sanderson’s Wynd Primary School in Tranent this morning.

In the course of a very enjoyable visit where I observed a number of classes and talked with Headteacher Fiona Waddell and some of her staff about how they create a purposeful learning environment.  The school is not without its challenging pupils but what struck me was the collective impact the staff make and the cumulative effect it has upon children.

All too often in schools classroom behaviour is seen to be the responsibility of the individual teacher, and there is no doubt that individual teachers do set the tone and do have significant impact upon their own class’s behaviour. However, when we talk about the standard of behaviour in an entire school it’s a much more complex affair.

The reality is that an individual teacher can have little effect upon behaviour across a school, nor can a headteacher impose discipline if they have to do it all themselves.  However, where all the staff come together and realise the collective impact that they have upon children then the results can be quite exceptional.  It’s in circumstances such as these that the critical mass takes on a life of its own (see – tipping point)

In my recent posts about being user (customer) facing it might have been possible for people to think that I was suggesting that we roll over when confronted by kids who want their own way on all matters – especially where their behaviour is concerned. I actually think we do a great disservice when this happens as in my experience they need clear parameters and boundaries against which they can rub up against – but which provide clear and unabiguous guidance. Our commitment to treating learners with unconditional positive regard demands that we set such standards.

The problem occurs in schools when these expectations and behaviours are not consistently upheld by all teachers or the management of the school.  What I saw today was a very impressive collective effort which will create a very positive dynamic over the next few years (I should have said that the school has just been created through amalgamation with two other schools).

Last point – in times of challenge -such as these – it’s vital that we retain our sense of “fun”. The staff – despite the challenges they face are prepared and encouraged to relax and have fun with pupils and the wider school community at regular intervals. It’s this careful balance between high expectations and clear boundaries, and relaxation and fun which go towards making a positive, effective and rewarding  learning environment – for both children and adults.

On the treadmill….

Now I know men aren’t good at multi-tasking but over the last few days I’ve managed – for the first time – to be able to combine two things at once in a relatively productive manner.

As readers of this log will know I’d been off work earlier this month with a back injury. Exercise has been impossible but I didn’t lose my appetite – result 10 lbs additional weight.

My solution has been to get onto the treadmill in our garage – the question was how do I do that and still get through the bagful of work I take home? – answer – I’ve set a plank on the front of the machine and then hook up my laptop wirelessly.

I’m writing this entry 5 km and 40mins later.  I remember that they used to say that a former president couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time – well I can walk and type at the same time ( there’s hope yet for us men!)

Apologies if this post is sweat stained!

Street Kids

We recently went to see Joan Eardley’s exhibition at the National Gallery for Scotland.  I loved her paintings of Street Kids- see below. It reminded me of a photograph I took of my own kids when they were small.  I’ve played around with photoshop to try to recreate Eardley’s feel – and failed miserably.

It’s work like Eardley’s which reminds us why we are in the job.

Street Kids

I’d like to thank………….

Best individual blog 

Well blow me!

I’ve been nominated for ‘Best Individual Blog’ at the Edublog Awards. I’m honoured to be in such exalted company.

As Ewan MacIntosh writes it’s great to have two people from Scotland nominated for an international award. 

Many thanks to the person who nominated me – whoever you are?

Here’s what Edublogs have to say about the awards;

We are delighted to announce this years finalists, and to officially open voting. Once you’ve had time to evaluate the finalists yourself, click through the category titles to vote.

One thing we should say at this point is that the response to these awards has been amazing… even though you had to fill out contact form after contact form to get your nominations in, we still received over 500 and choosing a shortlist from these has been immensely hard – if you haven’t got listed this year, don’t be disheartened, for ‘best teacher’ for example we had over 80 different blogs to choose from!

Probationers and parental confidence

One of the issues facing schools these days is the concern expressed by some parents about a probationer teaching their child’s class.

A probationer is a newly qualified teacher (NQT) and in the past they would have just started teaching as a teacher – but without  any of the support systems we now have in place.

I would just like to reassure parents that the quality of new teachers coming into the profession has never been higher – nor has their commitment to develop their skills.

In that regard I need to mention Susan MacKay and Lisa Craig as two examples. Susan and Lisa were NQTs at Aberlady last year.  We were fortunate enought to be able to offer them permanent posts in the same school this year – and what an impact they are making in conjunction with their colleagues in the school.

This ties in with a session I led for half of the current NQTs on Thursday – again I was hugely impressed by their knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for the job – but perhaps the most important feature – and the one which gives me the most confidence about the future was their apparent determination to continue learning throughout their careers.

There is certainly something exciting developing within our schools at the moment as I listened to story after story of how newly qualified teachers were being encouraged and supported to develop their teaching skills  by their more experienced colleagues in our schools.  Thanks.