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?

3 thoughts on “A Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian: Freedom and Responsibility

  1. Like you, I agree that “the range and extent of partnership events that have enabled colleagues from nursery, primary and secondary schools to work together have been remarkable”. In the long term, of course, it’s not the partnership events that will be of most benefit, but the new professional, and personal, relationships that have been created.

    These new communities of practice, once created, don’t require specific “partnership events” to enable them to continue to work together. Collaboration between locations just starts to become normal practice. During the year, for example, I heard a teacher say that in her previous city school she felt that she very much belonged to the school, whereas in East Lothian she felt part of a much larger professional community. Those links are increasingly being supported by electronic communications tools, and Glow will of course provide more options.

    To get to the point: perhaps the key points could explicitly mention collaboration between schools? You mention collaborative working between staff, across curriculum areas, and partnerships with other agencies or groups, but there’s a risk people assume this should all be happening within the context of their individual school.

    One of the most successful Curriculum for Excellence developments of last session was the Guitar Hero transition project in the Musselburgh cluster. That showed how inter-school collaboration can be hugely important in resourcing curriculum developments by spreading the load. Given that resourcing is one of the key risks, perhaps we should actively encourage this approach to curriculum development?

  2. These are good – and very challenging – questions which go right to the heart of how we support and encourage engagement with the values of Curriculum for Excellence in every school, centre and establishment.

    Within the National CPD Team we have argued that success will require that every educator has access to the best professional learning opportunities, and that we develop better ways to help them answer three familiar and simple questions in the context of their own workplace and previous learning. The questions are of course: “How am I doing?”, “How do I know?” and “What is my next bit of learning?”

    CPDReflect – currently being piloted in East Lothian – will allow teachers to see what good practice looks like. It will give opportunties for those who have already gained skills and knowledge to share these easily with colleagues. By taking the Standards and offering exemplification, CPDReflect will offer tools and strategies to help everyone involved in developing teaching and learning identify ways to progress and develop their professional skills and knowledge in a way that is personalised to their sector, previous experience and workplace.

    East Lothian leading the way! We’re delighted to be working with all of you

  3. Pingback: What is a Curriculum for Excellence? - Fearghal Kelly’s thoughts

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