Supporting schools in time of crisis


This week has been one of the most challenging of my career. I can’t go into the actual incidents but there have been two separate and completely unconnected instances of schools in East Lothian having to deal with crisis situations.

The incidents have involved significant liaison with other agencies from local to national level, whilst parents, staff, children and the local communities have been very distressed.  It is generally accepted practice that senior managers such as myself remain at some distance from the actual location of a crisis and maintain a “strategic” role leaving those on the ground to deal with operational issues.

Yet what I learned this week was that there is much to be said for actually being present at the location to support the local staff and to co-ordinate the wider response to the crisis from the site.  On both Monday and Thursday I spent the entire day at the site of the crisis working with the staff, and liaising with other agencies.  In both cases I did not adopt a high presence around the school and tended to remain in the Headteacher’s office leaving the senior management team to work with staff, pupils and generally be around the school.

So what what were the benefits of this approach?

1. If I had not been there the management team would have had to constantly be on the phone to update me and to receive information – this would have limited their ability to deal with issues on the ground, which, if left unattended, had the potential to build into critical situations which might have become unmanageable.

2. I was able to liaise with national agencies and take any calls to the school from individuals who required further information, thereby freeing up the management team – by being on site I could ensure that such information was completely up-to-date.

3. In time of crisis there is a tendency for some people to want answers to questions which local management can’t give  – the fact that I was able to go out and speak to parents and members of the community as Director of Education and Children’s Services helped to resolve some of these concerns.

4. Because I was not operationally involved I was able to handle information as it came into the school and could synthesise and pass it on as necessary.

5. There were occasions that we needed to release resources in a very short space of time – the fact that I could just pick up the phone and speak to my equivalents in other organisations allowed that to happen in real time.

6. In times of school crisis the school management are having to deal with the practical demands of the situation, whilst having to deal with the psychological and emotional pressures of helping people with whom they have very close working relationships.  By being slightly removed from the emotional bonds someone in my position could provide direct support to the managers.

7. By being present on site it demonstrates, in an observable manner, our commitment to the situation and to our staff.  The rationale for remaining in the office is understandable but I don’t think it can ever make up for presence on the ground.

I’m sure there will be times when this strategy is not the most appropriate but from my experience this week it has much to commend it.

As the title of this site points out – this is a “Learning Log” – and these have been learning experiences.


Parents’ Councils Association

We held our second East Lothian Parents’ Councils Association meeting this evening. This was very well attended by over thirty parents. We intend to collaboratively evolve the role and function of this group over the next few meetings.


  1. Parents as Customers
  2. Budget plans
  3. Edubuzz parental websites
  4. Training for parents
  5. Future structure of meetings.

I think this is going to prove to be a very important forum for us to be able to engage with parents of East Lothian children.

Hyper Realism

Zuzana in Paris Studio by Hynek Martinec

“Zuzana in Paris Studio by Hynek Martinec”

We visited the Scottish National portrait Gallery yesterday and viewed the BP Portrait Award 2007 exhibition. I couldn’t get this painting out of my mind – yes it’s a painting!

We used to think of photographs as being real and paintings to be representations of reality. But with the likes of photoshop we can longer trust that what we see in a photograph is real. Perhaps a painting such as this challenges us to think more about what we mean by reality? 

Definitely worth a visit.

TESS Article 8 – Revolution, not evolution


The oft-repeated mantra for managing change in education is “evolution, not revolution”.  Such a strategy takes account of the sensitivities involved whenever change is proposed and recognises the tacit (and explicit) resistance to change that can exist within any large organisation. The accepted logic is that we make change gradually and incrementally by building upon good practice and hopefully extending this across the entire system.

Such a cascade – or “viral” approach – where new practice is supposed to create a dynamic, or critical mass, which sweeps the system into the new world, is generally accepted as good practice. Unfortunately for us research into change strategies in education on a worldwide scale have shown the singular failure of such approaches. Initiatives which depend upon the willing volunteers, who create the perception of change within a system, disguise the majority who have learned to ignore the initiative, safe in the knowledge that “there will be another one along later”.

Yet even a cursory glance at the history of the social and physical world tells us that evolution is not always a smooth and gradual process.  On occasions in the history of the earth significant change has taken place in a relatively short period of time.  Perhaps we might have been reading this article today with scales on our bodies had not a meteor struck the earth and ended the dominance of the dinosaurs?

My point here is that it might be time to consider whether or not we should engage in radical change to our curriculum and delivery systems.  Of course another powerful metaphor is often used to counter such a suggestion “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”.  Yet this seems ignore the consensus within Scottish education that there is an imperative for change and that the plug does perhaps need to be pulled from the bath?

In recent discussions with head teacher colleagues and teachers from throughout Scotland I have been impressed and encouraged by their willingness to engage with a more radical agenda that will best meet the needs of young people, which if translated into action would result in a revolution which could create a curriculum framework around which new professional practice can be developed, nurtured and supported.  I would even suggest that such a change would enable Scotland to take a leading role in educational development.  So what might such a revolution look like?  As with any revolution there are many aspects, which are already in existence in many areas of Scotland to some extent or another.  However, revolution would require that we fundamentally change the landscape upon which the large beasts of Scottish education currently roam.

The following are a selection of five agreed actions identified by a group of head teachers that might collectively make a contribution towards significantly changing that landscape in a revolutionary manner.

Each young person will have a unique learning programme (timetable) that will include home and school learning in its widest sense – Such a concept presents learning as extending beyond the school day and school grounds and begins to actively engage the young person and the parents in designing learning experiences.

Young people over the age of 16 may devise their own curriculum by accessing courses available at their own school, other schools, further education and higher education institutions, and on-line learning environments – Again we begin to conceive of education as being something more than what can be offered within a school.

Children and young people will be progressively taught, from an early age, how to make the best use of virtual learning environments – Such a development reinforces our obligation to consider how the learning process and environment has changed and will continue to change in the future.

Every child will have an on-line space in which they can keep a record of their experiences and achievements that will track through with them from the age of 3 – 18, – Perhaps even from birth where they reflect upon their learning, their experiences and achievements.

Schools will develop and promote their identity through a strong emphasis upon wider achievements such as music, creative arts, performing arts, sport, community volunteering, local politics, outdoor education, community leadership – these will be referred to as “core activities”  – By inverting the core we build the traditional curriculum around those activities which often have “real” personal meaning for children and young people.

Vive la revolution!

Which way next?

We are holding a Solution Focused Event on Tuesday to identify our next steps for the implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence (ACfE) in East Lothian.

The event will be attended by 30 of our Head Teachers and our Quality Improvement Team. The challenge we face is to come up with an action plan to implement over the next three years in relation to the P6 – S3 curriculum.

The session will run from 2.00-8.00 and will address the following:

Identify five measureable outcomes which we can use to judge the impact of ACfE, which we can use to lever change in the system over the next three years.

Consider the paper on “Revolution, not Evolution” – where we will identify our preferences for action.

Generate, through an Engine Room approach, five other actions not identified in the previous paper.

Select 10 priority action points for the next three years.

Organise the priority action points into a chronological order.

Pick three action points for the coming session and prepare a project plan for each over the next 12 months.

Do we really want to promote enterprise?

“How many students who participate in “enterprise activities” go on to become entrepreneurs?”

So I was asked this week. It stumped me for a while but it set off a line of thought which I wanted to explore. It seems that Enterprise in Education has been around ever since the Margaret Thatcher set up TVEI in 1982, whilst Young Enterprise goes back even further to the early 60’s. 

One of the implicit outcomes of such schemes is that they will encourage an entrepreneurial mentality and generate economic benefits to society.  However, I can find no evidence that any of these have directly resulted in more entrepreneurs or growth in the economy – although I invite anyone to correct that assertion.

Looking back over the last 20 years education has successfully turned the rather offensive idea of wealth creation into a more educationally acceptable activity which is about promoting enterprising attitudes – an outcome much more palatable to the sensitivities of those of us in education. The two graphics linked to this post perhaps characterise the fears that many teachers have had about promoting capitalism in schools, i.e. greed, selfishness and a focus on money at the expense of all else.

I wanted to consider how things might be different if we were more explicit about the outcomes of “enterprise” in schools. What if we really did encourage children to set up businesses which were focussed on making money – which the child kept? What if we found ways of supporting them with loans and advice about how to make more money from their ideas? Imagine a 13 year old who sets up her own dog walking business in a town and receives financial support and advice to get her idea off the ground.

I love the idea behind the Grameen Bank established in Bangladesh:

Grameen Bank (GB) has reversed conventional banking practice by removing the need for collateral and created a banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation and creativity.

Could we establish a Scottish version of such a scheme where young people could access loans to set up their own company? Could Tom Hunter take the place of Muhammad Yunus in an enterprising Scotland?

Perhaps its just me but I think such an opportunity would have excited me as a teenager.