Destabilising the status quo


I recently bumped into a former colleague and briefly chatted about “A Curriculum for Excellence”.  My friend has responsibility for developing learning and teaching at his school and was telling me that the school are going to give every pupil comprehensive course support materials for each of their certificated subjects – once the course has been completed.  The teachers didn’t want to put it out before they taught the course as they wanted to “remain in control”.

For me it was a timely reminder about how much work is still to be done in terms of changing our approach to learning.

If we are going to change the way in which we work then perhaps we need to destabilise the status quo thereby freeing teachers to adopt different roles and engage learners in learning as opposed to absorbing information.

Keeping this in mind I wonder if David Eaglesham, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, perhaps provides the catalyst when he said he doubted whether ACfE  could live up to its aims without financial input.

“It is almost inevitable to say it is the worst-resourced initiative we have ever had, because there is nothing there in the way of resources,” he said.
“It is not that people don’t want to do it, but if they don’t know what they are doing or have the resources to implement it, it could be disastrous.”

I agree that there is a need to provide resources but I wouldn’t provide them in the form that they have come in the past.  My alternative approach would be to create a virtual learning environment for every certificated course provided by the SQA.  This course could be accessed by students at a place and time of their choosing – I’d like to think GLOW could play an important role here.

I’ve been speaking to a number of my son’s friends who have just finished school and without exception they all said they would have welcomed the chance to access their entire course on-line.  That’s not to say that they didn’t want a teacher but that they wanted the teacher to work in a different way.

So what would be the outcome of such a step – surely it will replace one form of spoon-feeding with another? Well not according to my son’s friends who are now at university – the teacher would take on much more of a tutor’s role where they have use their tutor to expand and deepen their knowledge.  In so many ways this ties in with what Jerome Bruner was talking about yesterday when he said that educational systems were “too easily routinised” and that there were too few opportunities for students “share hypotheses”, “reflect upon alternatives ” or “reflect upon controversy”.

Bruner wants teachers to seek out “inter-subjectivity” (I think I prefer this term to inter-disciplinary) by contextualising their subject within the wider world – but how often do teachers manage to do this in the pressure to get through the content of a course.

Put it this way – there appears to be an appetite amongst young people for such a change.

Shared Ownership?


In the spirit of provoking a dialectic of possible worlds I came across an interesting model of football club ownership this weekend when I read about Ebbsfleet  United Football Club:

Fans’ community website MyFootballClub has agreed a deal to take over Blue Square Premier outfit Ebbsfleet United.

The 20,000 MyFootballClub members have each paid £35 to provide a £700,000 takeover pot and they will all own an equal share in the club.

In a landmark for English football, members will vote on player selection, transfers and all major decisions. BBC November 2007

 It’s interesting to reflect upon David Sullivan’s reservations about the scheme:

 “My heart says it’s marvellous that fans can own a club and vote on any decision of consequence, but in reality it won’t work.

 Contrast that with the fact the team recently won the FA Trophy Final and appear to be going from strength to strength.

And my point? – would it work for schools???

“The dialectic of possible worlds”


I felt enormously privileged today to be able to attend the Tapestry Conference in Glasgow to hear Jerome Bruner give a spellbinding performance.

For a man born in 1915 (93 years ago) he displayed humour, warmth and humility which would bely most men half his age – quite aside from his iconic intellect. In what was a wide ranging personal perspective on “A Curriculum for Excellence” he flitted through the decades, continents and historical fugures which whom he has engaged.

The strand to which he kept returning throughout his 50 minutes was the need for teachers to engage children in real thought by encouraging them to challenge and ask the tough questions – not just those which are part of the agreed syllabus.

He urged us to reflect upon controversy through a dialectic:

Dialectic (Greek) is controversy: the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments respectively advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses). The outcome of the exercise might not simply be the refutation of one of the relevant points of view, but a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue.

In contrast to Piaget, Bruner has always fought shy of the stages of development and believes that children of any age can participate in such dialogue to make meaning of their world.

However, it was his phrase “The dialectic of the possible worlds” which struck such a chord with me.  I suppose in my own small way I am trying through this Learning Log to explore opposite worlds.  Through the power of the web it can become a dialectic which leads – at the very least – to a transformation in the direction of my own dialogue.

Given my last post about the Dark Forces – I think it’s vitally important that we encourage and support teachers to explore opposite worlds in terms of their own practice and the nature of the curriculum and then participate in a professional dialogue about these possibilities. Without such a dialogue we are trapped by dependency culture created by centralised teaching programmes of study and curricular materials.

And the dark forces gather…………….


The Scotsman’s front page today warns that:

“Just three months away from being taught in thousands of classrooms, the Curriculum for Excellence is desperately underfunded and at risk of being lost in a haze of vagueness and ignorance, according to teachers. And, although it has been four years in the making, both parents and teaching staff say they are in the dark about how children’s experience of the classroom will change.”

I explored such a reactionary scenario nearly two years ago. If we don’t grab the opportunity presented by A Curriculum for Excellence – warts and all – then Alan McCarthy’s ironic exposition of secondary school practice might continue to be the predominant model of education for the foreseeable future.

  1. Knowledge is scarce
  2. Learning needs a specific place and specific time (lessons in classrooms)
  3. Knowledge is best learnt in disconnected little pieces (lessons)
  4. To learn you need the help of an approved expert i.e. a teacher
  5. To learn you need to follow a path determined by a learning expert (a course of study)
  6. You need an expert to assess your progress (a teacher)
  7. You can attribute a meaningful numerical value to the value of learning (marks, grades, degrees)

Solution Focused Budget Planning

The challenge of providing a high quality education service at a time when expenditure is growing faster than the available budget means that change, in some form, must take place.

There is a tendency in education to always reflect upon such an issue from the moral high-ground and simply state that more money must be forthcoming! As the person who is charged with responsibility for a budget of nearly £85 million to deliver education and children’s services for 15,000 children in East Lothian it’s a topic which is constantly at the forefront of my mind.

One of the key factors in managing such a budget is to ensure that everything is absolutely transparent. In East Lothian we have spent a huge amount of time and effort in “opening up” our books – there are no black holes, no smoke or mirrors, no hidden funds. What you see is what we get. When such information is treated as confidential it only goes to feed the suspicion that some groups are being treated more favourably than others.  When everyone can see the entire “pot” it becomes very clear that an increase in one area in education must be subsidised from another area within education.

It was with this in mind that we had our first meeting of a Strategic Finance Group for Education. The group has union representatives from  the EIS, HAS, AHDS, Unison, SSSTA; three parent representatives from East Lothian Parents’ Councils; three senior elected members; three members of the Education Department management team (including me); and a Finance Department Representative. I had hoped to get a couple of pupil representatives – but perhaps next time.

The group spent all morning reviewing the available budget for the coming two years (2009-2010/2010-2011); identifying and discussing possible areas where savings could be made; and planning for our next meeting.  The traditional approach to this process is for management to sit in a darkened room – consider the options, present these options to the administration and then implement them across the authority. This alternative approach turns this on its head by involving the stakeholders at the outset of the process and ensuring that there are no sacred cows such as central services which cannot be offered up for savings. The meeting was exceptionally enlightening as we approached each suggestion with true professionalism and objectivity. As stated earlier we have to make savings if we are to work within our available budget – the challenge is where these savings might be made. By involving those who are closest to the “chalk-face” we begin to build up a picture of how we might work together to ensure that any negative impact upon children is minimised.

The ideas which flowed from the meeting will be followed up over the next three months by firstly identifying the amount of money that can be saved by each option and an associated impact assessment for each option.  When we reconvene after the summer we will have produced a list with quantitative and qualitative impacts – this list will then be further considered by the group to identify preferences and recommendations which can then be considered by the administration. The bottom-line -as I reinforced yesterday – is that nothing is off the table in terms of making savings.

One of the key points to emerge was that the process is not as simple as it might seem.  Although some areas seem ripe for savings the knock-on impact they have beyond the immediately obvious makes it all the more important that the stakeholders present on the group have an opportunity to have their say.

Attachment Theory

 I’ll not kid on here – I first heard about attachment theory just a few months ago and then followed this up with a concrete example of it being put into practice at Lothian Villa.  What follows is my layman’s understanding of what it means and how we might benefit from it in East Lothian.

Ask a teacher or a school which learning theory governs their practice and they will be hard put to give a coherent reply.  Yet reflect upon the observable practice and the dominant model will have behaviourist undertones, where we believe that we can influence a child’s behaviour through the consistent aplication of rewards and sanctions. Through this process we can make children reflect upon their behaviour with a view to them developing an understanding of what constitutes good behaviour. If we look at how most schools and classrooms are organised we can see such a model permeating our practice.

However, Attachment Theory suggests that such a model cannot influence a child who has not experienced secure parenting, nor formed a secure relationship in their early years. If we reflect upon what adults are doing with children under 3 we can characterise good parenting as being caring and empathetic. Recent brain research shows that the brain does not develop the same in an environment where the child has not experienced a secure parenting environment. So such things as neglect and abuse; overt family conflict; hostile and rejecting relationships; or death and loss can all disrupt the normal secure attachment that a child requires to properly develop.

By the time such children come to school they are not in a position to understand or control their behavour so the dominant behavioural models which most schools and classrooms depend upon are doomed to failure, as they assume that all children are the same and that they have had the same parenting and don’t make allowances for those that haven’t.

It is suggested that up to 40% of the adult population have a level of insecure attachment and the associuated diifculties which go with that.

So what can schools do? The bottom line is that we need to teach them the same way as a secure attachment environment, e.g. emotional regulation, impulse control and empathy – all the things that parents are naturally teaching their children aged 0 – 4. The most important thing for insecure children are relationships – therefore schools need to recreate a secure attachment relationship with at least one substitute person (not the teacher).

Yet what do we often do with such children? – we apply our sanctions with no reference to the kind of parenting they have had and apply our sanctions – fairly – often resulting in exclusion (exactly the opposite treatment that the child requires).

For me this is not “fair” it is discrimatory  – yet the logic of treating everyone the same and application of sanctions in schools is so dominant in our schools it is almost beyond critique. So what do we do? For me the answer lies in training and education of all in our schools.  Recent evidence from those schools who have undertaken such training is very exciting and the change apparent in children who were previously deemed to be out of control when using traditional behaviour modification techniques have been spellbinding.

The premise here is that it’s too late by the time we get to secondary school – we need to focus our attention on children in the early years and make up for any attachment deficit.  We need to CLAIM these children as ours and treat them with unconditonal positive regard.  Asssociated with this strategy we need to proactively and unashamedly teach and support parenting skills which will transform the lives of their children.

School-Based Management 4: “owned” by the community?


One of the interesting sessions I attended last week concerned the provision of care services.  Seamus Breen kicked off by asking everbody a key question about the type of care they would like when they were old.  It turned out that no-one in the audience wanted to be looked after in a home – we all preferred to choose a type of care which was personalised to our preferences – find out more about self-directed help at in control .

It was while listening to this that  was taken back to something I heard over two years ago from Charles Leadbetter who focused on the notion of public value in public service. He issued the following prompts:

1. Don’t think about people as users or consumers –  instead think of people as participants and investors.
2. Don’t think of the frontline as being in the classroom –  it’s “out there” and we need to operate “out there” – establish guerilla networks for change.
3. Personalization of service – tailored services established through dialogue and respect e.g. Assessment is for Learning; Challenge the traditional building blocks of the system – school year, periods, timetable; trusting the participants; be flexible and adaptive; devolve finance to the users; workforce redesign.
4. People want to self-provide – they don’t want to be dependent upon a service –  however well delivered.
5. Public services need to think more about creativity than delivery
6. In order to provide shape to our service we need to set boundaries –  need to set them up in such a way that they are not stifling – take risks!!
7. Create satisfaction by eliminating dissatisfaction.

It was this last point that enabled me to make the connection as Seamus Breen asked a similar question:

“Would you purchase it yourself?”

I feel there is enormous potential within the school/(community)-based management approach that would enable participants to answer such a questiion in the affirmative. The main change that such a system could introduce is the notion of the school being “owned” by the community. The shift in the perceived ownership of the school would actually match what people want to feel about their local school but where the perception of a centralised power base still keeps them removed from the real running of the school.

Part of this relates to the theme of rural schools – I live across the road from a rural school (see photo) which was closed in 1949 but which ripped the heart of the community even at that time.  If we pick up on the Scottish Government’s intention to see schools as a central part of each community perhaps the time is now right for a radical re-examination  of the school-based management?

School-Based Management 3: an emerging rationale


What follows will be a first cut at trying to establish a working rationale for school-based management.

The Principles of School Based Management

School- Based Management is based upon the following assumptions.

1. The school is the most effective unit of change within the educational system and is best placed to sustain improvements over time.

2. Those who work directly with pupils and students have the most informed and credible opinions about the educational arrangements that will benefit those young people.

3. It keeps the focus on learning and teaching.

4. School-Based Management puts power in the hands of those who have a significant personal stake in the well being of the school.

5. It will move resources to the point where they can be of most effect.

Changing the role of the school

The school will:

1. be responsible for delivering educational outcomes to a local community.

2. help staff and the community to understand what school-based management is and emphasise that it is a means to improving educational outcomes.

3. establish a true decision making body from those who have an active stake in its well-being, e.g. staff, parents, pupils, elected members, members of the community.

4. involve teachers and students in making substantive decisions about the curriculum and learning and teaching.

5. eventually be responsible for all management functions required to deliver the educational outcomes.

6. undertake to fully implement school-based management in a planned manner over a five-year period.

Changing the role of the Local Authority

The role envisaged for the Local Authority in School-Based Management is essentially one of commissioning educational services to a community to the local school.

Such a move from a centralised bureaucracy to a decentralised, locally accountable system will take careful planning and creative approaches to problem solving.
The Local Authority must:
1. Shift from delivering top-down mandates to encouraging bottom-up change.
2. Provide a fomula driven budget over a three-year period.
3. Set out clear outcomes which the school will be responsible for delivering – the school will be free to identify the process by which it meets these outcomes.
4. Communicate with the community about school-based management and foster shared understanding and support.
5. Decentralise the system wherever possible to allow schools to meet the needs of their communities.
6. Promote and support schools to develop different approaches to change and improvement suitable for their context.
7. Provide support for schools to make the transition to School-based Management
8. Have realistic expectations about the time required for implementation of school-based management, i.e. five years.
9. Support schools to maintain their focus upon the learning and teaching process.
10. Shift resources from the centre to schools wherever possible over a five-year period.
11. Ensure that the school meets the needs of all children.

School Based Management 2

Dazzie D

Scotland has had Devolved School Management (DSM) since 1996.  The scheme had four principles:

1 To improve the quality of decision-making by allowing schools greater flexibility in deciding spending priorities at the local level.
2 To allow schools to respond quickly to needs, changes and priorities at local level.
3 To ensure resources were used more efficiently and provide value for money.
4 To raise the morale of Head Teachers and their staff.

In my first post on School Based Management I began to explore a more radical version of the DSM scheme, which has been in operation in Scotland for the last 12 years, yet has not necessarily satisfied the principles set out above.

The intention of school-based management is to construct a system which would allow schools to take real and substantive control over the education process, with the authority commissioning the service, establishing outcomes and monitoring progress.

Over the coming few posts I’m going to try to make some sense of this issue with a view to exploring some of the possibilities and also highlighting some of the associated pros and cons.

Perhaps it might help here of I were to adopt the position of headteacher and look at the possibilities from that perspective.

Imagine the local authority have contacted me and the parent council and offered to allow us to establish a school-based management system? The most obvious response is what does it mean?

As set out in School Based Management 1 it would involve all associated funding required to deliver education in our school being rolled together and placed in our budget.  The staff would be employed by the school and all management responsibilities would rest with the school – although we would have the option of buying support from a variety of sources.

The authority would set out a list of outcomes which we would have to acheive but how we did it would be up to us. We would not have to adhere to local authority policies – although we would have to adhere to all statutory responsibilities.

The additional aspect on offer would be the possibility of the headteacher (me) receiving a bonus of between 10-20% on an annual basis.  Now I immediately hear others crying foul and seeing this as just another way of managers to get rich but there is a down side! The headteacher would be placed on a five year fixed-term contract.  At the end of the contract – depending on whether or not outcomes had been achieved – the authority could decide to commission another headteacher to deliver education in that school (I could be removed sooner of short-term outcomes are not addressed).  At that point the parent council would be involved in the selection of the new headteacher.  If the outcomes had been achieved the contract might be renewed.

In such a scheme teachers would always remain employees of the school and would be subject to normal employment law. The headteacher and parent council may decide to offer some form or bonus scheme to staff depending on the school budget.

The budget settlement to the school would be set out on a three year basis allowing the headteacher to plan the school’s budget.

Children with additional needs would carry a higher Education Value Credit and it would be up to the parents to negotiate how that credit was spent on their child.

So would I have been interested in such an offer? I think the answer would have to have been yes.  Of course there are so  many questions I would need to ask and resolve but in principle I would have been very interested.

Over the next few posts I’ll begin to take an in-depth look at specific issues arising from school based management, such as:

  1. What happens if school looks like it’s going to go bust?
  2. What happens if the school roll drops and we have a surplus of staff?
  3. What happens in the case of an emergency?
  4. What would trade unions have to say about this scheme?
  5. How do we deliver such things as musical instruction, outdoor education?
  6. What would happen to local authority departments who currently service schools?
  7. What sort of outcomes would a school have to achieve?
  8. Could a school renegotiate everything, e.g. transport, maintenance, school meals?
  9. What if a school is dominated by a particular group of parents who take it down an unsatisfactory route?
  10. Would all schools move to such a scheme at the same time?
  11. Could schools pay more than the going rate for teachers?
  12. What sort of training/support would there be for headteachers who take up this offer?
  13. How would the headteachers of small schools manage to take on such responsibilities?
  14. How do we (should we) ensure equality of opportunity?
  15. What about the management of ICT?
  16. Would there be a way back to authority control once SBM was implemented?
  17. How would schools work together?
  18. How do you ensure that schools in areas of social deprivation are properly supported?
  19. How would you prevent schools from competing with each other?
  20. Would this scheme improve education?

I’d welcome other questions and suggestions. 

School Based Management 1

I’m attending the Association of Directors of Social Work conference in Crieff.

One the key themes emerging is that of personalisation of services to users. The social work field is light years ahead of education in terms of using a mixed economy system for delivering services, by commissioning others from the private and voluntary sector to provide a wide range of short and laong term requirements.

As I was listening to the presentations my mind turned to how education might develop such a model.  It’s been something I’ve been considering for a while but the cogs seemed to click together this morning.

The starting point for this is how do we really devolve services to our communities?

What follows is definitely “blue sky” and might be disconcerting for some but I’ve found that sometimes we need to start from the extreme perspective if we are to shift our ground.

The local authority would set the local outcomes which schools would have to work towards.

Each child would carry an educational value credit which directly related to money which would go to the school. All other current budgets would be rolled together and added to the educational value credit.

If a child left the school the money would follow them – even part way through a year.

The school would deliver – though a contract – the educational service for the local authority in that community.  If the outcomes were not achieved in a given period of time then another service deliverer would have to be employed.

The school would purchase services from the local authority – or other providers e.g. finance support, personnel, staff development and even quality improvement and assurance.

The authority would maintain responsibility for strategic estate planning, such a new school buildings but all other items would be devolved.

Schools in a community could combine their resources to purchase a service from elsewhere.

The pupil support function could also be delivered by a independent unit commissioned by the authority and underpinned by a contract arrangement.

Parents would have a significant role in the strategic direction and monitoring of the school and would be involved in the review of outcomes at the end of a contract period. 

I know one of the major concerns would be the fragmentation of the current system which is building very vibrant learning communities where schools work together. However, if we believe that partnership working improves outcomes – and outcomes will be used to judge the effectiveness of a school – then the leverage for it to happen will be even greater than it currently is. In a similar way the need to engage with other agencies would be built into the outcome agreement.