“Listen and Learn” Meetings

During the summer I try to organise my diary for the coming year.  I’ve been putting in two half day visits to schools each week where I’ll spend some time with the headteacher in a pastoral/support capacity, before visiting teachers to explore how Curriculum for Excellence is being taken forwards in the school.

Last session I ran a series of Leaders of Learning meetings  in each of the clusters.  These meetings with teachers really helped to provide me with a grounded perspective of the issues facing teachers and schools. In my new role I would like to extend such opportunities to meet colleagues from throughout our service and that’s why I’m considering holding a weekly “Listen and Learn” meeting.

The “Listen and Learn” meeting would involve me inviting six members of staff from a variety of education and children’s services establishments to meet with me from 4.15 – 5.15 for cup of coffeee and a blether – this would be repeated with different people on a weekly basis. Over the course of the session I could possibly meet 180 staff in this way.  I’d also intend to hold similar “Listen and Learn” meetings for staff at John Muir House but they could take place during the day.

Individuals would be invited at random from staff lists and would receive a personal letter of invitation.  At first I thought I would invite a group of people representing a variety of levels and specialisms to each meeting but there might be more to be gained from having some kind of focus at each meeting – e.g. inviting six P1 teachers into the office to talk about the challenge of transition from nursery classes; or six maths teachers to talk about how they cope with large class sizes in S3; or six social workers to talk about how they manage their workload?

The purpose of the meeting would be very much in line with “what it says on tin” i.e. listen and learn – with me doing the listening and learning – although I would be more than happy to try to respond to people’s questions and concerns.  My hope would be that such regular meetings with staff could influence policy and ensure that our practice stays in touch with the needs of those who deliver the service.

I’d welcome feedback about this idea but in the meantime the dates and times are in my diary!

2008 Scottish International Summer School on School Leadership

I was invited to speak at the 2008 Scottish International Summer School on School Leadership being held in Edinburgh this week at  the prestigious Surgeon’s Hall.

The event follows the Harvard model – which I attended last year.

Today’s programme focused upon Leadership for Learning. I was one of a panel of four who presented our own personal insights into how we operate as “Leaders of Learning”. It was a challenge to keep to the ten minute limit so I opted to simply describe how this Learning Log and my School Visits programme have contributed to my own and the authority’s development.

I enjoyed listening to my colleagues on the panel and was particularly intrigued when Karen Prophet(Headteacher at Firrhill High School) described how they have moved away from a punishment/sanction based behaviour management system – it chimed with one of my recent posts

The Summer School is a very worthwhile addition to the Scottish educational landscape and I’m sure it will continue to evolve over the next few years into a learning opportunity with an international reputation.

I’ll be checking out the Summer School Blog to see how the programme unfolds.


Civil Grand Jury


My good friend John Connell’s blog is always worth a read and so it was this week when  I came across his post about the Civil Grand Jury system in San Mateo, California.

The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is an independent investigative body created by the California State Constitution. Composed of nineteen citizens, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury serves as a “watchdog for citizens of the county.”

A Civil Grand Jury is charged with a grave responsibility. The Civil Grand Jury serves as an ombudsperson for the citizens of San Mateo County. The jury may receive and investigate complaints by individuals regarding the actions or performances of county or public officials. The attention of the entire county is centered upon an active Civil Grand Jury, and its every act is a matter of public interest. Malevolent and unfaithful public servants are uneasy, while honest citizens and the conscientious public servants are reassured. Therefore, Grand Jury service calls for diligence, impartiality, courage and responsibility.

Empowered by the state judicial system, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury submits meaningful solutions to a wide range of problems. The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is a volunteer, fact finding body with the potential to recommend constructive changes.

John was particularly interested in the Jury’s finding in relation to the question:

Are school districts in San Mateo County utilizing online and virtual classroom programs to expand and supplement the curriculum?

The recommendations made by the Jury in relation to this question are certainly worth reading and go way beyond what an offical might suggest. 

Looking further into the previous Jury Reports I came across the “Performance Review of San Mateo County Education Office” Within the system the Jury can gather evidence, call witnesses and make visits – all which strengthen the validity of the process. 

In Scotland, local authorities were recommended by the Audit Commission’s Report of 1993 to establish audit committees which have evolved in most authorities as Scrutiny Committees, which according to a 2005 report have proliferated but whose “effectiveness is patchy”.

The “audit committee” process in Scotland is dominated by the need to fulfil the requirement to audit of accounts – see  audit committee principles

There are three fundamental principles which define the expression “audit committee principles” and these are that there should be effective mechanisms in place to provide;

  • independent assurance of the adequacy of the risk management framework and the associated control environment within the authority;
  • independent scrutiny of the authority’s financial and nonfinancial performance to the extent that it affects the authority’s exposure to risk and weakens the control environment; and
  • assurance that any issues arising from the process of drawing up, auditing and certifying the authority’s annual accounts are properly dealt with.

None of the various scrutiny systems in Scottish local authorities go anywhere near the scope and range of the Civil Grand Jury.  In most cases the Scottish system is based upon elected members who review and scrutinise the work of their peers. Given the ever growing expectation for public service to be more transparent and to involve citizens in a meaningful manner I wonder if we could develop something akin to the system. I’m not arguing here for the removal of elected member involvement in the scrutiny process but I am intrigued by the potential of a Civil Grand Jury to:

“submit meaningful solutions to a wide range of problems” and “act as a fact finding body with the potential to recommend constructive changes.”

I’m sure there a number of issues that we face in East Lothian which would benefit from a citizen’s perspective upon which policy and practice could be developed.

University Challenge


I’ve just had a very positive meeting with some senior colleagues from Queen Margaret University. The new QMU  has just been built in East Lothian and has been named as one of the top 10 modern universities by the Sunday Times Good University GuideIt’s mission statement reads as follows:

To enhance the quality of life and serve communities, through excellence and leadership in vocationally and professionally relevant education, research and consultancy, as a university which is outward looking and committed to innovation, participation and lifelong learning.

In line with that exciting ambition we discussed the possibilities for partnership and soon recognised that the scope was huge and that what we have at present requires greater coordination and strategic direction.

Here are some of the possibilities:

1. Continuing Professional Development for education staff in East Lothian Council through the University’s Centre for Academic Practice and MSc in Prof Ed.

2. Sharing QMU’s  Learning and Teaching strategy to help to develop independent learners by end of S3.

3. Delivery of QMU part-time learning in EL Schools.

4. Creation of virtual and not-so-virtual learning environments for S6 students.

5. Sharing of kit & equipment e.g. chemistry labs.

6. Joint appointments or secondments.

7. Specific projects in areas such as performing arts especially drama, dance, film-making & theatre.

8. Shared utilisation of space in capital projects.

9. Research evidence for ELC meeting single outcome agreement , eg in health.

10. Engaging with the “Curriculum for Excellence” and “More Choices, More Chances” agendas.

We are already planning an exciting conference to be held at the campus scheduled for June 2009 which will involve every new S6 pupil in East Lothian but this just goes to show the incredible potential which exists for partnership events which will benefit both the university and the community of East Lothian.

 Our next step is to organise a high level strategic meeting to examine other partnership opportunities across the Council, beyond education, and to select a small number of initiatives to take forwards in a productive and coherent manner.

 Other suggestions are very welcome.

A Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian: Freedom and Responsibility


I’ve been working on a letter to go out to all members of staff at the beginning of the new term.  It started off being a list of “must dos” but as I reflected on how I would have responded to such a letter if I were still a teacher I moved to try to capture the essence of the approach which we have tried to follow over the last few years.  It’s best expressed in the recent Building the Curriculum 3: Framework for Learning and Teaching

“Establishments have freedom and responsibility to meet the needs of children and young people in their local communities”

In line with that very powerful statement this draft letter sets out to stimulate thinking, dialogue and the development of practice.  Does it hit the mark?

Dear Colleague

A Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian

I wrote to you last summer outlining our implementation strategy for A Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian, which is firmly based upon improving the quality of learning and teaching.

At the beginning of the last session I pledged to spend a day and half each week visiting classrooms in order to focus our attention upon the importance of the learning and teaching process

Over the last year I’ve had the privilege of observing practice in almost every school in East Lothian.  A comment from my Learning Log captures something of what I observed:

“One thing has become abundantly clear to me over the last few weeks – we have wonderful teachers in our schools! The creativity, passion and commitment to what they are doing with young people are common features of every school I’ve visited.”

My impression is supported by schools’ own self-evaluation in this area. Yet it’s a mark of our determination to set high standards that few schools are satisfied with their current practice – especially in relation to the level of consistency across the school. 

Our key focus last year was to “learn from each other” and the range and extent of partnership events that have enabled colleagues from nursery, primary and secondary schools to work together have been remarkable.

It was during one of my visits to Preston Lodge High School that a pupil summed up the true notion of progression and how we must build upon what has gone before when she described the practice in the department as follows:

“They take what we know and help us learn more” Natalie

The most recent publication from the Scottish Government entitled “Building a Curriculum for Excellence 3: A Framework for Learning and Teaching” sets out in more detail than previously how schools and authorities should seek to progress over the next four years.  A key dimension of that guidance is the concept of freedom and responsibility that encourages schools to adopt a flexible approach, which meets local needs and changing circumstances.

East Lothian Council’s approach to the Curriculum for Excellence adopts a similar perspective whereby schools and clusters are to be encouraged and supported to find solutions that meet local circumstances that enable every child to achieve and attain within a coherent 3-18 educational experience

Nevertheless, within this flexible strategy there are some key imperatives that will characterise how we progress over the next few years.  I’ve set these key points out as a series of questions as they might help to provide some context for the work going on in your own classroom, school and cluster.

In the coming session it will be my pleasure to chair the Curriculum for Excellence Steering Group.  A key part of my responsibility will be to visit schools to learn how A Curriculum for Excellence is being implemented in the classroom, the school and the cluster.  I would ask that individual teachers, schools and clusters to reflect upon the following questions in order to continue to develop our Curriculum for Excellence within a local context.

It is my sincere hope that by building upon the existing good practice in East Lothian that we can develop a curriculum that meets the needs and aspirations of our children and our community.

I look forward to discussing these questions with you over the coming year.

Kind Regards

Don Ledingham

Acting Director of Education and Children’s Services

East Lothian – A Curriculum for Excellence – Building our Curriculum


  • Can you identify all those things that you do to help children feel as if they are valued as individuals and “belong” to their school community?

Learning, Teaching and Assessment:

  • How do you adopt engaging, enterprising and active learning approaches in a variety of contexts to promote effective learning ?
  • How do you enable personalisation and choice within the learning and teaching situation?
  • Where do you involve learners in planning and reflecting on their own learning, through formative assessment, self and peer evaluation and personal learning planning?
  • How do you know how learners are progressing in relation to their own targets and others in their school, authority and different parts of the country, against the outcomes and experiences at different levels?
  • How well do your transition procedures operate between all stages of learning to ensure a smooth, seamless transfer with continuity of learning and teaching approaches and appropriate progression? How could you best develop these procedures?
  • In what ways do you ensure that children (and parents/carers) are partners in the learning process?

Literacy, Numeracy, and Health and Well-Being:

  • How can you develop your individual and collective approaches to learning and teaching to ensure that you contribute to the development of these key skills and attributes across the curriculum?

Skills for Life, Work and Learning:

  • Can you identify explicit examples of how you have embedded learning, which place an emphasis on real-world and employability skills that will be made use of in future working life?
  • How might you overcome the planning and delivery implications of providing young people with opportunities and support to stay in learning after 16?
  • How do you ensure good partnership working to deliver skills for life and skills for work?
  • Does your school have clear, robust processes in place for ensuring that all young people completing compulsory education have an offer of an appropriate pathway for post-16 learning?

Curriculum Areas and Subjects:

  • How can you cluster experiences and outcomes into meaningful groupings to provide appropriate and exciting contexts for learning?
  • How can you best plan opportunities for learners to progress within levels through deepening learning and understanding within a curriculum area?
  • What possibilities do you see for developing curriculum structures for S1 to S3 to ensure breadth and depth of study?
  • How would you develop your curriculum framework to ensure opportunities for collaborative working across curriculum areas?
  • How would you develop a balance between subject-based learning and interdisciplinary learning?
  • What strategies need to be adopted to embed literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing across the curriculum

Scottish Contexts:

  • How do you take account of Scottish contexts, Scottish culture and Scotland’s history and place in the world in your curriculum planning?

Opportunities for Personal Achievement:

  • How could you develop partnership working to build a shared picture of achievement particularly in literacy and numeracy which made use of a variety of partners?

Personal Support:

  • How might you develop your existing structures to provide the personal support that will help young people plan their learning in the most appropriate way?
  • What additional support might vulnerable young people, including looked after children and young people and care leavers, need? How could you involve other learning partners e.g. Community Learning and Development, voluntary agencies etc. in supporting your young people?
  • How do you ensure a smooth transition from one stage of learning to another for your most vulnerable young people, including your looked after children? How could you best develop this?

Principles of Curriculum Design

  • Do you think you spend sufficient time on discussing learning, explaining it to others, applying what has been learned in different contexts, spending time to probe and research in order to promote a depth to learning?
  • How do you ensure that activities provide appropriate support and challenge to enable young people to develop as independent and cooperative learners?
  • What opportunities are there for staff to work collaboratively to review and plan structured and balanced programmes?
  • How well do you plan the delivery of interdisciplinary learning using experiences and outcomes across curricular areas to provide a coherent curriculum?
  • What support will be required to help make informed decisions about allowing learners to progress between levels at appropriate points?
  • How would you develop your curriculum framework to ensure opportunities for collaborative working across curriculum areas?
  • What are the key partnerships you have with other agencies or groups, which support the delivery of the curriculum?

School Gate


 Flickr – landofnod

Back to work today after a great two week holiday without any contact with the web.  It’s been the longest time I’ve been disconnected for over three years and I can’t say I missed it.

Having said that there have been lot of ideas floating around my head over this period and I look forward to trying to post about them over the next few weeks.

It was a pleasure to get an e-mail from Sarah Ebner who has just started a parental perspective blog entitled School Gate for Timesonline. It set me to thinking again why – or it certainly seems that way to me –  that it’s always mums who seem to blog about education from a parental point of view.  Where are all the dads???