High expectations + teacher expertise = success

School photo

One of the joys of my job is getting to watch a range of school performances.

On Tuesday evening I went to see the Humbie Primary School Nativity at the Parish Church – a remarkable building in its own right.

Humbie Parish Church

I’ve been to many such nativities and I’m usually captivated by the enthusiasm and innocence which characterise the performance. But on Tuesday I watched something which had something in addition to these elements – and that was high quality performance, in fact quite exceptionally high quality. This is a school with 19 pupils – with every pupil being a member of the choir. They sang an extensive repetoire, using sophisticated singing techniques which I’d never really encountered in a primary school to such a level.

So how does this school reach such high standards? Firstly, I think it’s to do with the feeling of communty which pervades the school – “we do it for each other”, Secondly, the school has high expectations about anything with which the children engage. Thirdly, the singing tutor, Susan Hamilton is quite exceptional. Susan has been working with the school as part of the Youth Music Initiative. Susan is also a Director of Dunedin Consort and showed what’s possible when an adult sets high expectations for children and provides them with expert support to reach that standard.

The children’s response was outstanding and did demonstrate for me that we sometimes don’t set our expectations high enough – of course, having high expectations and failing to provide the support to allow these standards to be achieved can be incredibly damaging for all involved – but there was no chance of that here.

Outcome agreements between a local authority and schools


Continuing on the theme of outcome agreements I’ve been working with colleagues over the last few weeks to try to put some meat on the bones of what this might look like.

It was interesting to read what the OECD examiners recommended in relation to this:

Greater school autonomy in a local government framework

Some of the recommendations include:

Each local authority develops a policy framework which defines the priority targets it seeks to make including improvements in student opportunities and outcomes; where a local authority provides additional resources for equity purposes it should do so within a the framework on the national innovation plan; local authorities should negotiate agreements with schools under which greater management autonomy in staffing and curriculum is established in return for an agreed platform of improvement in learning opportunities and outcomes

The challenges facing us all here is what might these outcomes look like; how would we know if they were achieved; and what happens if a school fails to achieve an outcome?

Outcomes need to be specific – a challenge to educators who are used to flowery and high falutin’ aims and objectives – they  need to relate to how evidence will be gathered and they need to leave enough freedom for schools to work out how to achieve them depending upon their own context.

As regards methods of gathering evidence we have identified three key aspects:

1. PIPS and MIDYIS testing which will take place at P1, P3, P7, and S2, together with SQA data.

2. A series of pupil questionnaires (using SELS) which will take into account the developmental stage of children,  These questionnaires will focus on student perceptions of the education process and their own development.

3. School self-evaluation – validated by the authority

It will be of vital importance that each of the three aspects is given an equal weighting. For example – if pupil attainment were to become the sole focus it could skew the education process to the exclusion of many of the other desirable outcomes we seek to achieve.

So what might some of these outcomes look like?

I’ll share some of the ideas we have been working on recently:

Curriculum for Excellence

  1. I can share my opinion with my class (SELS)
  2. I can work well as part of a team and a group (SELS)
  3. Each child makes progress in line with or better than their PIPS or MIDYIS prediction

Promoting Wider Achievement

  1. Each pupil takes part in extra-curricular or community activities (SELS)
  2. Each child has a cumulative record of their achievements throughout their school career (SELS)

Additional Support for Learning

  1. Each child makes progress in line with or better than their PIPS or MIDYIS prediction
  2. All Looked after and accommodated children have postive school leaing destinations
  3. At least one teacher knows me well in this school (SELS)

From these three examples we can begin to see the matrix effect how one outcome can relate to more than one area.

What we hope to build up a series of outcomes (perhaps 30) which will form the basis of an agreement with schools.

Throughout the year these outcomes will be collected and reviewed. At the end of a year each school’s collective outcomes will be considered. Where a school has made good progress towards achieving these outcomes it is likely that a proportionate response will be made by the authority with a very light touch being taken the following year and the school being given even more autonomy in terms of the processes it uses to achieve outcomes.

Where a school does not achieve some of the outcomes the reasons will be explored and more specific actions planned between the school and the authority would have to feature in the following year.

Where a school failed to achieve a wide range of outcomes it might be necessary for the authority to take much more interventionist approach the following year and take more “hands-on” approach in terms of specifying processes which have perhaps worked well in other schools.

The key to the success of this approach is that schools are rewarded for achieving outcomes with even greater autonomy – whilst the authority manages to achieve it’s outcomes which have been negotiated with the government.

I cannot stress enough the need to come up with a comprehensive basket of outcomes which represent the education process.

Just to remind people that this is work in progress but we are currently “reverse engineering” our Service Improvement Plan by linking each area to specific outcomes as outlined above – at first glance it seems to be a much more focused and user-friendly document

The future of education in Scotland?


I still haven’t received my copy of the The OECD report of Quality and Equity of Education in Scotland but I accessed the read only version as advised by John Connell.

I’ve had to type up the following – as I couldn’t cut and paste – apologies for any errors.

As I suspected it’s much more positive than any of the newspaper reports I read and sets out some very exciting recommendations. I think we are moving in many of these directions within East Lothian and it was very gratifying the see that they mentioned the potential of Student Evaluation of Learning – which was developed in East Lothian.

I’ll be returning to this report over the next few weeks but I just wanted to capture its essence in one place for ease of reference.

The report was compliled by educators from  Australia, Finland, New Zealand and Belgium – a point worth noting when reflecting upon the recommendations.


Few Countries can be said with confidence to outperform Scotland in Maths, reading and science.

Scotland has one of the most equitable school systems in the OECD.

Headteachers are amongst the most positive of school principals in the OECD in judging the adequacy of staffing and teaching resources and students are generally positive of their schools.

On national tests many children are one or two years in advance of expected levels.

The OECD examiners were impressed by the capacity of Scottish primary schools to respond to public expectations of continuously improving standards and consistency of outcomes.

Indicators of improvement as well as high international standards also show that Scotland’s confidence in its comprehensive system is well placed.
It is through Scottish Local Authorities that an equitable distribution of resources is managed, and they are also responsible for ensuring that schools are responsive to community needs, adaptive, and effective. The community Assets represented by schools are in capable hands. The professionalism and commitment of the education departments of the local authorities makes a wider reliance on them a good strategy.

Scotland’s approach to teacher induction is world class and the Scottish qualification for Headship is an outstanding and demanding programme.


One major challenge facing Scottish education is to reduce the achievement gap which opens up about Primary 5 and continues to widen throughout the junior years secondary years (S1 to S4)

Children from poorer communities and low socio-economic status homes are more likely than others to under achieve.

Inequalities in staying-on rates, participation at different academic levels of national courses and pass rates on these courses are a concern

Understanding the challenges
Who you are in Scotland is far more important than what school you attend so far as achievement differences on international tests are concerned.

Children from poorer homes are more likely to under-achieve, disengage from school work, leave school earlier than others, and – if they continue to study at lower academic levels and record lower pass rates.

Curriculum innovation is appears to be modest and schools only have limited flexibility in teaching resources. These are two key instruments of change and adaptation in schools. So lack of more freedom in them makes achieving g high standards for all groups of students more difficult.

Schools should be able to build the mix of staffing they need to tackle the particular challenges they face and offer programmes which best address these challenges.

There is concern about the lack of reliable data on student achievement and school performance throughout Scotland..


These strategies aim at greater flexibility for the agencies which exercise the most direct responsibility for how schools work. We have sought a balance between greater freedom of action on the one hand, and greater transparency and accountability on the other.

National priorities funding through local government compacts

Some of the recommendations include:

A national innovation plan to fund educational improvements and outcomes through agreements with local authorities; fundin g for schools of ambition is more selective and targeted; that the Scottish Survey of Achievement be extended to all children.

Greater school autonomy in a local government framework

Some of the recommendations include:

 each local authority develops a policy framework which defines the priority targets it seeks to make including improvements in student opportunities and outcomes; where a local authority provides additional resources for equity purposes it should do so within a the framework on the national innovation plan; local authorities should negotiate agreements with schools under which greater management autonomy in staffing and curriculum is established in return for an agreed platform of improvement in learning opportunities and outcomes

A comprehensive , structured and accessible curriculum

Some of the recommendations include:

Each local authority develop an explicit policy framework which contains a charter of learning opportunities – a commitment to provide a wide range of education and training places which best suits the needs of the community; vocational courses should be available to all young people from S3 and that sequences of courses be developed spanning the compulsory and post compulsory years; the \Scottish government should support school based provision of school-based courses; each local authority establish a curriculum planning and pathways network which links schools, colleges and employers groups; Standard Grade examinations should be phased out as the 3-18 curriculum is implemented; that Scottish Certificate of Education be developed to sanction completion of an approved programme of studies of training – this graduation certificate would have defined minimum requirements to reflect the new purposes of the new 3-18 curriculum; young people pre S5 should undertake programme of studies with specified minimum standards leading to the SC of E at the and of that year or S6; young people who choose to leave at the age of 16 negotiate an individual plan for further education and training;.

Continuous review of the curriculum and teaching:Some of the recommendations include:Education authorities in Scotland should examine current approach to gathering student feedback on the quality of teaching (e.g. Student Evaluation of Learning Software) and that they work with teachers to gain wider acceptance of the most promising approaches; rolling consultations should be undertaken with teachers from a cross-section of schools regarding their classroom experience in delivering courses.


Monitoring school leaver destinations

Some of the recommendations include:

Consideration should be given to extending the scope of the Scottish survey of school leavers to make contact with children before they leave school and to provide fuller information about school achievement and experience; Careers Scotland should investigate approaches to providing all schools and local authorities with comprehensive pint-in-time data.

Reading Jotters


I was in Pinkie St Peter’s primary School this afternoon and spent most of my time in the P1 and P1/2 classes.

I came across the idea of “reading jotters” for the first time – I’m sure they are in common use in many schools but as I’ve said on many occasions I’m still learning.

The two teachers – Sharon Dickson and Stephanie MacFadzean – both use a similar system to improve reading skills where they get children to scan texts which have been copied into their jotters to identify key words in context. The children then highlight these words using highlighters.  The next stage is to get children to identify whole phrases and to sequence them in the correct order.  This took me back to the idea of quizzes as used in Accelerated reading – “this is great fun” said one of the children.

A parellel strategy – which Stepanie has introduced – is to get the children to “predict” what might happen next at the conclusion of a text – this isn’t an imaginative exercise but actually requires quite sophisticated decoding skills.  What I found particularly significant was that Stephanie has brought this technique from her recent experience of teaching P7 children – she didn’t consider that it might be too hard for the infants and they have responded superbly.

It’s this kind of tranfer of experience between stages which confirms for me the benefits of an all through primary school . Now if only we could get such a transfer of techniques and personnel between primary and secondary schools!

Avoiding the pack mentality


I had a very enjoyable vist this week to Preston Lodge High School to observe five S1 pupils being taught a science lesson.  Amy, Sean Michael, Steven, Dale and Jade showed tremendous understanding and application, and were fortunate to be taught by a great teacher in Gillian Binnie, supported by Mandy Reid.  The class overcame a variety of significant personal learning challenges in such a positive manner that it was genuinely uplifting to watch the lesson.

In the course of the visit I also spoke to to some staff about how their combined Guidance and Support for Learning Department is impacting upon the school – particularly in relation to behaviour support. In the past the school had operated a support base where pupils were supposed to be referred for short period with the assumption that the time out of class would “cure them”.  The reality was that the longer the children were out of class the greater the likelihood that they no longer saw themselves to be part of the school. The consequence that a “pack mentality” was created with it almost becoming a badge of honour to say “we’re all out of English”. I’ve always fought shy of creating such a mentality so it was great to hear that the new system of staff working with children in class as opposed to extraction is having such a positive impact. 

I know that many teachers facing such challenging behaviour just want these types of kids out of their class but the long term effect upon the culture of the school and size of the disenfranchised group which just gets larger and larger  – as does their negative impact upon the school.

Of course there are still some children who learn to manipulate the system to get their own way – i.e. to get out of class.  What I found fascinating was that almost without exception such children have significant reading difficulties. Such evidenmce makes me all the more convinced that ensuring that all children can read by the age of 9 is an absolute imperative.

Active Learning and High Standards


I was in Stoneyhill Primary School this morning and spent most of my time in three P1/2 classes.

My point of focus was on how teachers engage children in active learning whilst ensuring that high quality learning is taking place. The concern with Active Learning can sometimes be that there is lots of activity but little actual learning – especially when you look at the the quality of work being produced by the children.

What was obvious this morning was that the teachers – about whom more later – were obviously using Active Learning to good effect and to the benefit of the children. The key to their success was the level of individual dialogue, observation and focussed work with with each child in the class – it’s the interaction with the children that allows the teacher to judge if the child is understanding and help shape next steps; observation reinforces this awareness and focussed work on specific aspects of the curriculum ensures that quality work is being produced. 

I was amazed by the standard of work being produced in each of the classrooms – the question was why? Such consistency does not happen by accident. The use of joint planning, common principles, classroom observation by management and a very positive “teacher” learning ethos in the school undoubtedly help to promote such consistency.

This consistency is all the  more remarkable when you consider the range of experience of the three teachers – Emily has taught for ten years, Astrid has been teaching for five years, having previously had another career,  and Karen is a Newly Qualified Teacher – every one of them being a great advert for the teaching profession.

As to the standard – I saw work being produced which would not look out of place in classes where children were two or three years older – Active Learning? – yes please.

Oh – mustn ‘t forget the P3’s – keep up the good work Lawrie and Daniel – you are lucky to be in such a great class.

OECD Report on Scottish Education

Apologies if I seem to be obsessed by OECD reports at the mooment but the recently published OECD Review of National Policies for Education – Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland is too important to ignore.

It’s very disappointing that the actual report is not freely available.  I’ve sent off for a copy and will review its findings on receipt.  One of the things I have learned over the last few weeks is that the analysis you read and hear in the media often miss out on some of the key messages.

The summary would seem to suggest that there  are some imperatives for change and I would probably agree with most of them .

Nevertheless, we should not ignore the opening statment in the OECD press release:

Scotland’s schools receive high marks in the latest OECD Review of National Policies for Education, which notes that Scotland has one of the most equitable and best performing education systems in OECD countries. 

Efficiency savings

The concordat agreed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government sets out how funding and outcome agreements will operate over the next three years.

The document is worth reading on a number of counts but it’s the section relating to efficiency savings that perhaps sets out the greatest challenge for education.

The text reads as follows: 

For the period 2008-09 to 2010-11, the level of efficiency savings which all parts of the public sector will be expected to meet has been set at 2 per cent per annum. Under the partnership offer, local authorities will be allowed to retain all of these, to re-deploy against ongoing pressures and address local priorities. This represents special treatment for local government. All other parts of the public sector will have an element of their efficiency savings deducted at source.

When combined with the impact of removing ring-fenced funding streams, retaining efficiency savings will give authorities significant scope to re-deploy their resources to meet many of the funding pressures they will face over the next three years.

So at least 6% savings over a three year period.  At first glance it looks a reasonable deal for education but the reality is that there is no guarantee that efficiency savings made in education will remain there, although they may be spent elsewhere within the authority depending upon need.

We had a meeting of our Finance Advisory and Scrutiny Group on Friday and the challenges facing education in East Lothian will no doubt be replicated in the rest of Scotland to a greater or lesser extent.

The key role for all leaders in education is to ensure that we maintain our focus upon improving our service at a time when our budgets may be reducing – easier to say than to do – but an obligation nevertheless.

Go on – make a nomination

Ann McLanachan - winner of Lifetime Achievement Award

Ann McLanachan, until recently, Headteacher at Longniddry Primary School, East Lothian, receiving her award for Lifetime Acheivement at the 2006 awards ceremony. 

The Scottish Education Awards aim to celebrate the hard work and success taking place in Scottish education.

Nominations will close at 5 pm on Friday 22 February and the winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on 13 June at the City Halls in Glasgow.Nominations will close at 5 pm on Friday 22 February and the winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on 13 June at the City Halls in Glasgow.

Such is the quality of work going on in East Lothian that I intend to nominate a person or a school in each of the categories.  Please join me by making our own nominations.

One Scotland – Active Citizenship Award This category is about encouraging young people to be citizens of local, national and global communities and promoting positive action against cultural and religious intolerance.

LTS Ambition Award  This award is about taking on new challenges and generating an ethos of ambition, a “can do” attitude and a buzz and excitement in the life of the school.

DTS Most Enterprising School (3 Awards) Primary, Secondary and Special This category recognises the central importance of enterprise education and the vital involvement of employers (private, public and voluntary sector) in preparing young people for their contribution to a wealthier and smarter Scotland.

DTS Best Enterprise This category recognises the value of direct participation of young people in an experiential entrepreneurial activity e.g. running a product or service enterprise (economic or social) and the impact this has on the quality of their learning experience.

Quality Meat Scotland Health and Wellbeing – Hungry for Success Award This category is about taking forward Hungry for Success and pursuing a whole school approach to school meals and healthy eating.

BT ICT Learning Award This category is about maximising the potential of ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) to support effective teaching and learning.

BT Greener Schools Award  This category is about how we can encourage young people to take a greater interest in the issues of sustainability and climate change.

CBI Schools for All Award  This category is about offering access to education for all young people and removing barriers where they exist. This year, the focus is on ‘looked after children’, which includes children who are subject to supervision and live with family members as well as looked after and accommodated children who live with foster carers or in residential schools or care homes.

Cambridge Education and Learning Unlimited International Schools Award This category is about how the cross-curricular area of International Education can encourage young people in your school, or authority, with a range of knowledge and skills to develop an understanding of the world and Scotland’s place in it.

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Education Supporter of the Year Is there a cleaner, classroom or learning assistant, auxiliary, janitor, administrator or other supporter in your school, or a school that you know, who stands out from the rest?

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Probationary Teacher of the Year (In First Year of Teaching) Is there a Probationary Teacher in your school, or a school that you know, who stands out? If the answer is yes, why not nominate them for this award?

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Teacher of the Year Is there a teacher in your school, or a school that you know, who stands out from the rest? If the answer is yes, why not nominate them for this award?

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Headteacher of the Year Is the Headteacher in your school, or a school that you know, an inspirational leader who motivates young people and staff to achieve all they can? If the answer is yes, why not nominate them for this award?

The Scottish Daily Record Award for Lifetime Achievement This Award is open to all qualified teachers and head teachers approaching the end of their career, and aims to recognise their work and commitment throughout their education career.