Supporting parental involvement to improve children’s achievement

I had a phone call from a parent this week asking for advice.  The person is a member of their child’s school’s Parents’ Council. She had joined the Council with a view to learning how she can support her child’s learning and also to help the school.

Her concern centred around her perceived lack of focus on learning and teaching and the role of parents in helping to develop that key purpose.  In her opinion the Parents’ Council was almost exclusively focused upon what might be described as the “technical” aspects of the school, i.e. budgets, class sizes, composite classes, maintenance issues, resources.

Such was her concern that she felt she would be left with no alternative but to resign as she felt she couldn’t raise this matter with the Parents’ Council as she described her interest, in her own words, as “softer” issues to do with learning, than the more substantive issues of budget, class sizes, etc.  

I promised to give this matter more thought and was given her permission to refer to the phone call in this Learning Log.

I think I understand why Parents’ Councils perhaps focus on those issues which are more “black and white” than the complex business of how we help our children achieve.  Not that I’m suggesting that concern for class sizes, or composite classes, or budget don’t have any connection with the quality of the learning experience. But it’s just that by their very nature they can give a concrete rallying point around which parents can gather and feel they are doing something constructive to support the school.

Perhaps the challenge is to strike a balance between the “technical” issues with the “developmental” issues?  Research into parental involvement in education conclusively supports our intuitive understanding that parents make a difference in terms of children’s educational outcomes . So what type of parental involvment makes a difference? I came across this research paper which explored the impact of parental involvment and distinguished between two types of parental involvement:

Spontaneous activity and induced activity are very different phenomena. The former is entirely voluntary whilst the latter might not be, at least initially.

Spontaneous activity is quintessentially ‘bottom up’; it is grass roots in origin, self motivated and self sustained.

Intervention programmes are, almost by definition, initiated by some non-parental source. They are, at least initially, ‘top down’. They are played out characteristically to solve some problem (in this case a perceived insufficiency of parental involvement). pg 85

Such research has shown that the “top down” interventions do not have the impact of “bottom-up” spontaneous parental involvement.

The authors go on to describe the features of spontaneous parental involvment:

9.2 Research on spontaneous parental involvement has revealed a range of activities in which parents engage to promote their children’s educational progress. These include:
– at home pre-school good parenting providing for security, intellectual stimulation and a good self concept
– at home enduring modelling of constructive social and educational aspirations and values relating to personal fulfillment and good citizenship
contacting the child’s teacher to learn about the school’s rules and procedures, the  curriculum, homework, assessment and the like
visits to school to discuss issues and concerns as these arise
participation in school events such as fêtes
working in the school in support of teachers (for example in preparing lesson materials, supervising sports activities) and otherwise promoting the school in the community
taking part in school management and governance

Evidence indicates that  parental involvement has a significant effect on children’s achievement and adjustment even after all other factors (such as social class, maternal education and poverty) have been take out of the equation between children’s aptitudes and their achievement.

In fact one of the key findings of research is that

“Differences in parental involvement have a much bigger impact on achievement than differences associated with the effects of school in the primary age range.  Pg 86, 9.2.2

If the key factor in achievement is parental involvement then how might we create an environment which supports and enables all parents to be involved in the development of their child?

Yet such research presents a dilemma for someone in my position, i.e. if “top-down” interventions intended to improve parental involvement don’t work, how do we “at the top” support “bottom-up” self motivated parental involvement which do have such a positive effect on the outcomes for children?

The other factor to be considered here is how such an agenda might be perceived by parents who might be focused upon the “technical” issues of budgets, class sizes, etc. Quite rightly someone in my position needs to be held accountable and I would support parents’ right to question and discuss such matters. However, it might be worth reflecting upon how we might balance such “technical” concerns with an equal focus upon supporting parental involvement in the “developmental” issues relating to child development and the learning process.

At this point in time time I’m unsure about how to go ahead  but I do hope to discuss this with the East Lothian Parents’ Councils Association to consider if there are any steps we might take to collectively address this issue. 

The Kirriemuir Effect?

I met Tom Bryce yesterday at the Scottish Learning Festival. Tom is co-editor with Walter Humes of the most recent edition of Scottish Education, which  should be obligatory reading for anyone involved or interested in the future of education in Scotland. The list of contributors reads like a “who’s who” of Scottish education and provides a fascinating insight into the range of interest groups who contribute to shaping our understanding of education in Scotland.

It was during our chat that I tried to recall a feature from Walter Humes’ book published in 1986 entitled The Leadership Class in Scotland which is also mentioned in their most recent publication.  I struggled to remember if it was the “Killiecrankie effect” or the “Kingussie effect” until Tom put me out of misery with the “Kirriemuir career” – it wasn’t even the “effect”. Lindsay Paterson explained in his own book on Scottish Education in the 20th century  how the phrase had originally been coined to describe a dominant group of educationalists who had come from small burgh towns to be representative of the mythological “lad o’ pairts”.

I’d read Humes’ book about the The Leadership Class back in the late 1980’s and I now realise I hadn’t properly grasped the meaning of the “Kirriemuir career”. The phrase  – mistakenly – had resonated with me as I saw so many of the influential school leaders in Scotland being the leaders of a small burgh towns – and that they often had a disproportionate national effect in comparison to their counterparts who led large city schools – some of which were very prestigious.

It was whilst listening to Charles Leadbeater later in the day that I was reminded why my understanding of the “Kirriemuir effect”  might have some credibility. Leadbeater argued that you tend not to find innovation in large public service organisations.  In his terms you need to look to the margins.  When I consider where the examples of innovation and creativity are in Scottish education at the moment I’m led to conclude that the small town school is often – although not exclusively – the nurturing ground for educational change and dynamic practice. Perhaps such schools have less to lose, or perhaps the change process is easier than in a monolithic organisation which is more resitant to the change process?

I’m certainly going to give this more throught over the next few weeks but in the meantime I think I’ll hold onto my understanding of the “Kirriemuir Effect”.





A horizontal world and vertical organisations

I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to Charles Leadbeater on two occasions at yesterday’s Scottish Learning Festival.

I’d first encountered Charles at an ADES conference nearly three years ago and it would be fair to say that his ideas have  contributed to how I’ve developed as a public service manager in the intervening period.

I was struck by something that Charles said yesterday about how the world is becoming a “flatter” place through the connected nature of people’s lives through access to the web, yet organisations continue to be essentially “vertical”, i.e only concerned with themselves and seeing their interests and needs as paramount.

If there’s anything I’d like to achieve over the next five years it would be to help organisations like councils and schools break free from their vertical domains.

Imagining a Secondary School Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian

The following outline for a Secondary School Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian is presented as a stimulus for discussion. 
Some of the year group scenarios are more fleshed out than others and I apologise for not having been able to complete the model to the level I had hoped.  Nevertheless, I do hope it provides us with an opportunity to begin to work out some of the “hard” details of ACfE – even if at this stage that’s only to identify the questions we need to ask ourselves.

The model presented here only relates to the secondary school curriculum.  That has been quite deliberate at this stage but in reality we will need to address issues of transition and it might help us here to think more about a P6 – S3 curriculum at a future meeting.

 The S1 Curriculum

For many children the gulf in the type of learning experience on offer in primary schools and secondary schools means that many do not show any progress in the early years of secondary school.

If we are to build a curriculum which flows from 3-18 then S1 provides a remarkable opportunity to capitalise upon the primary experience where children have been encouraged and enabled to be responsible and independent learners and prepare them for the future.

The building block for constructing the S1 curriculum would relate to Learning Teams. In this scenario there are 200 children in S1.  Let’s say that the week is split up into 15  blocks of learning (3 per day).

A Learning Team who are timetabled to only teach S1 classes would deliver the S1 Curriculum. A teacher will teach 12 blocks of learning a week. An S1 Learning Team might have some primary qualified teachers.

In Scotland some S1 subjects have a maximum class size of 20 (science, art, Craft and Design; , home economics, maths, English

10 classes (20) x 10 blocks of learning = 100 blocks of learning require                7 classes (30) x 5 blocks of learning = 35 blocks of learning

The S1 curriculum could be delivered in 135 blocks of learning – which would require 11.25 teachers to deliver the curriculum.

A timetable for an individual student might be as follows:

NB – the blocks of learning used in the timetable models are only provided to give an indicative shape to the curriculum.  Nevertheless, there is some evidence to show that longer blocks of learning do challenge teachers to teach in a very different manner than the traditional one-hour period.

   1     2              3


Social subjects rotation

Rich task 1


Rich task 2





Rich task


Technology rotation





Rich task 4


Expressive Arts rotation

Rich Task















Rich Tasks:

Over the course of the year students would complete 15 rich tasks (inter-disciplinary projects).

The Learning Team will create the rich tasks. Students should be given the opportunity to contribute to the creation and development of Rich Task topics. The tasks should engage and stimulate students to explore issues in depth and take some responsibility for co-creating their curriculum. It will be necessary to identify the desired outcomes to be fulfilled over the course of the year.  Having identified the outcomes the Learning Team will try to map out the most appropriate learning experiences, which will allow these outcomes to be fulfilled. 

In each of the rich tasks either literacy or numeracy must feature as key components. Skills for Life, Skills for Work and Skills for Learning and Health and Well Being should be woven into the programme of tasks.

Rich tasks should enable some form of choice for students to select topics, which are of personal interest.

A range of  examples of Rich Tasks can be accessed from Argyll and Bute Council.

PSE and RME would be embedded in the rich task approach.

 The S2 Curriculum

The S2 curriculum would take account of the end point of S3 – it might be worth jumping at this point to that outline before reading the rest of the S2 model.

One of the lessons we can take from the Australian curricular models is the notion of variation of experience from one year group to the next – albeit that the experience are linked by a common outcomes.

With that in mind I would suggest that the way in which we structure learning in S2 would be quite different from the proposed model in S1. 

A characteristic of the secondary curricular model would be that the degree of choice and specialisation increases as young people move through the system.  The following model takes account of that principle.

Using the curricular areas set out in the BTC3, i.e. science, languages, mathematics, social studies (including Scottish history); expressive arts, health and wellbeing, religious and moral education and technology a series of curricular options could be devised which enabled students to make a range of choices across a broad range of courses. Maths and English would continue to be common features but all other courses would be optional.  In addition to curricular options there would 2 Rich Tasks each week that would also provide students with choice – although the outcomes might be similar.

Vocational education would be an essential element for every student, although some students could opt for additional vocational programmes.

The following curricular experiences would form the S2 Curriculum. Schools would create a curricular model which enabled a student to create their own programme of study.

  • 1. Maths
  • 2. English
  • 3. Science
  • 4. Vocational
  • 5. Social Subjects
  • 6. Expressive Arts
  • 7. RME
  • 8. Technology
  • 9. Rich Tasks 1
  • 10. Rich Tasks 2

Literacy and Numeracy and Health and Well being would permeate all programmes of study and be key elements of the Rich Tasks.

Rich Tasks in S2 would provide considerable choice for students to follow areas of personal interest and to study subject matter in some depth.

Within single curricular area it might be possible to follow two course over the course of single year e.g. within Social subjects to choose History and Modern Studies.


   1     2              3


Social subject


Rich task 1









Skills for Learning






Rich task 2


Expressive Arts

Science or vocational











An S3 timetable: students would be making choices within these curricular experiences

 The S3 Curriculum

The guidance for A Curriculum for Excellence for the S1 – S3 phase is as follows:

The period from S1 to S3 has a clear purpose: that all young people will have a strong platform for later learning and for successful transition to qualifications at the right level for them. The experiences and outcomes include opportunities at this stage, as at other stages, for challenge and success in different contexts, for example cultural, physical and technological. The curriculum continues to provide opportunities to adopt an active and healthy lifestyle and to plan for future life and careers.

As they continue to develop the four capacities, the curriculum should enable each young person to:

  • experience learning across a broad curriculum, covering science, languages, mathematics, social studies (including Scottish history); expressive arts, health and wellbeing, religious and moral education and technology
  • achieve stretching levels of literacy and numeracy
  • develop skills for learning and skills for life and skills for work
  • develop knowledge and understanding of society, Scottish contexts, history and culture and Scotland’s place in the world
  • experience challenge and success


I’d go so far as to say one of the key purposes of the curriculum up to S3 is to make young people employable. Employability requires a person to have mastery of the above and would also provide a coherence to the S1 – S3 curriculum which otherwise can seem a bit amorphous and open to those who would want to bring certification as we know it into the early years of secondary education.

There are many in education who would decry this as utilitarian and regressive.  Many teachers see themselves as fulfilling a much higher function than simply making young people employable. 

I think it is possible to wrap up all of the experiences and outcomes described above as a subset of employability within a modern Scotland. So I’d like to propose that we use this as a focus and rallying point to give the S1 – S3 phase a distinctive character and purpose.

Assessable elements of the curriculum?

If employability is the driver, what might we want to know about children at the end of S3 which would indicate how successful we have been – and just how employable a young person might be?

A young person’s “employability portfolio” might include achievements in relation to:

Numeracy and Literacy – I’d be in favour of an external nation test  which would be used to validate the teachers’ judgement. There could be different levels of achievement in these areas to ensure that there is sufficient “stretch”

Skills for Learning – including how to use a virtual learning environment without supervision or support; knowledge of their own learning strategies and preferences.

Skills for Work – punctuality; absence;

Skills for Life – politeness; courtesy; ability to working with others;

Curricular achievements across a broad curriculum  

Health and Well Being  – knowledge; personal health and fitness; attitudes; health behaviours; participation in physical activity.

A Scottish Certificate of Education – a proposal for change

The recent OECD report on Scottish education contained a recommendation that “a Scottish Certificate of Education be developed to sanction completion of an approved programme of studies or training.” This ‘graduation’ certificate would have defined minimum requirements to reflect the purposes of the new 3-18 curriculum but also substantial flexibility as to content, level and duration of studies to ensure accessibility. This recommendation is reflected in the National Consultation on Qualifications

It was whilst pondering the significance of this recommendation that I was challenged by a secondary teacher about how he was going to keep kids motivated for three years, whilst they experienced an “S1 – S3 curriculum which is broad based and prepares students for the “senior phase of education which provides opportunities to obtain qualifications”.  

The teacher’s challenge to me was that if we can’t motivate kids in 2 years, why is extending that another year going to make a difference – especially if our entire secondary education is driven by the certification system?

The “reality” is that in many teachers’ – and students’ minds – the S1 and S2 curriculum is only given value by its link to the certificated curriculum.  In fact such is the power of this “value through certification” that some schools in Scotland have introduced the certificated curriculum even earlier. The logic for this step is quite compelling and it certainly demonstrates that a school is doing something to address these fallow early years of secondary school.

So if, in reality, most secondary school curriculum models are actually driven by a “trickle down” effect of certification why not recognise the power of such a driver and seek instead to build a different engine – which would still serve the needs of higher education – but which would also serve the needs of every young person and the needs of society.

I’d like to suggest an alternative “driver” for a broad based S1-S3 curriculum, which might have value to parents, teachers and students.

That “driver” would be to create a Scottish Certificate of Education which students would be eligible for at the end of S3. In the OECD proposal such a certificate was to be for the 3-18 curriculum but I believe that some means of capturing a young person’s achievements up to that point before they start to engage with the world of formal qualifications, i.e. 3-15.

What if we could create a Scottish Certificate of Education which was more akin to Duke of Edinburgh Award, or John Muir Award, where it is more about accumulating achievements as opposed to any external exam? A curriculum where schools could be given the freedom to create the content within their SCE course using the headings set out in A Curriculum for Excellence,  e.g. skills for learning; skills for work; skills for life; curricular achievements across a broad curriculum; health and well being and, of course, numeracy and literacy. The only externally assessed element of this certificate would be numeracy and literacy – which would utilise the proposed Scottish Certificate for Numeracy and the Scottish Certificate for Literacy. A school’s S1 – S3 course could be submitted for external moderation to ensure that it met national standards but within that framework there could be considerable freedom.

I know this proposal seems to run counter to the original concept of non-certification before S3 but if we really seek to change our practice we need to recognise the “reality” in our schools and build from there and use “drivers” as forces for positive change – as opposed to ignoring that reality and building upon our “hopes”.

S4/5 Curriculum

The key to envisaging the S4 Curriculum is to see it as part of the senior phase of secondary education – it is not an entity in itself and classes will be composed of students from all of the year groups within that senior phase.

In my Imagine S3 post I set out a possible end point for the early phase of secondary education to be a Scottish Certificate of Education which recognised a broad range of achievements, skills and attributes – which in turn established a very strong foundation for the certificated curriculum – but which also gave a clear indication as to the employability – at that stage – of an individual.

A Consultation on the Next Generation of National Qualifications sets out the following:

8. Every young person should be able to move into the qualifications framework at a level that is appropriate to their needs. For example, vulnerable learners may focus primarily on Access qualifications in S4 and progress either laterally within an SCQF level or through other SCQF levels. The majority of young people should move into the new qualifications at SCQF level 4 or 5 in S4. Some will then be able to progress to Highers at a later point. The most able young people should be free to study for Highers from S4 (see Proposal 4).


Increased flexibility to better meet the needs of young people. Suggestions include:

  • studying National Qualifications over 18 months (or 2 years) as well as one year;
  • introducing a winter diet of examinations; and
  • encouraging the most able young people to bypass lower level qualifications and to study Highers from S4 onwards.

The following clearly sets out the shape of the senior curriculum:

Implications for curriculum planners

13. For young people leaving at the end of S4, the expectation is that they would be able to follow a maximum of five courses leading to qualifications during the year, in addition to taking the awards in literacy and in numeracy. Having demonstrated their literacy and numeracy skills through the new awards, some young people might choose not to take English and Mathematics at the same level, opting to concentrate on subjects in which they may achieve stronger results and on which they might build future learning at college or with an employer. Many young people, however, will still elect to take English and Mathematics at the same or higher levels.

This contrasts with the 8 or even 9 subjects that most students currently sit at the end of S4 – the reason being that it’s almost impossible to offer a mix of time blocks to students of the same year.

However, I don’t see this to be a great problem.  Many students look forward to being able to reduce the number of subjects for which they formally study for qualifications, as all too often the “extras” for which they have no great enthusiasm or aptitude do not enhance their employability nor their life chances.

 The fact that students will have reached a minimum level of literacy and numeracy by the end of S4 will do away with the need for compulsory Maths and English in S4.  Students who wish to enhance their numeracy and literacy skills will have the opportunity to take additional qualifications in these areas – which may or may not be developed through other subjects.

The Course Choice Process

The school offers all students a free choice of subjects – depending upon suitability. The traditional idea of a subject columns and balanced programmes of study will not be a requirement given the broad course that people have followed up to the end of S3. Students will choose courses leading to Highers, Scottish Certificates of Numeracy and Literacy; alternative lower levels of certified courses; work experience; Health and Well Being; and personal learning tutor time.

Timetabling the senior phase

The key to unlocking the senior phase of the curriculum will undoubtedly be the timetabling process. The great benefit which is constantly referred to in this model is the notion of the “two year higher” – contrasting with the current “two term dash” with all the associated problems of delivery, depth of learning and content coverage.

One of the ways in which the “two year higher” can be conceptualised is the traditional idea of a “class”, which stays together for two years and may be taught by the same teacher throughout. Although this seems to be the most sensible model in terms of continuity it places huge limitations upon the timetable.

The alternative – which I would prefer – is to consider the senior curriculum as a “unitised” matrix of units which can be taken at any time over the three year period.

To provide some exemplification of what I mean here I’ll consider how History might be offered in the senior phase in such a format. NB – I’ve used Intermediate level awards for ease of reference

The number of senior students wanting to take History in our model school is as follows:

S4 = 35 x  Higher; 17 x Intermediate 2/1;

S5 = 32 x Higher; 12 x Intermediate 2/1; 1 x Advanced Higher;

S6 = 12 x Higher; 13 x Advanced Higher

Total senior students = 122 (79 higher; 29 intermediate 2/1; 14 advanced higher)

 Class organisation:

A = Higher Units 1 & 2 – 1 class 26 students (this class would be composed of students taking Higher History for the first time)

B = Higher Units 3 & 2 – 2 classes, 26 and 27 students (these classes would be composed of a significant number of students who are in their second year of studying Higher History)

C = Intermediate 2/1 — 1 class, 29 students

D = Advanced Higher — 1 class, 14 students

Rationale for class structure – Students taking History for the first time would join class A and complete Units 1 and 2 over their first year. Class B is primarily for those students who have already completed Units 1 and 2, some of the students in these classes will be able to take the Higher exam at the Winter diet of exams.  Those in class B who were not ready would continue on until the May Diet of exams.

If class A and Class B were not timetabled against each other it would be possible for some students to complete the higher in a single year by switching between classes, e.g. completing Units 1 and 2 in Class A and Unit 3 in class B.

Some choice options:

  • Five Highers over two years
  • Some Highers over one year and Advanced Highers over two years (S5 and S6) – for exceptionally able students
  • A combination of Highers and lower level courses.
  • Lower level of courses linking to college and work experience
  • Various levels of the Scottish Certificate of Numeracy and Literacy – compulsory for those who have not reached minimum standards..
  • Some courses will be available on-line – especially those which extend curricular choice beyond the norm.
  • Work experience; volunteering; college courses. 

The S6 Curriculum


It will be important to see the purpose of sixth year as fitting within the overall purpose of A Curriculum for Excellence. Nevertheless, it will have some distinctive features which make it a worthwhile experience in its own right. It is also important to recognise that much of what students are offered in sixth year will be based upon the knowledge, skills and attitudes which will have been developed in the preceding years.

There is a need to blur the line between school and higher education where a young person can gain additional qualifications which will enhance their employability, gain experiences which will enhance their employability, gain qualifications which will give them entry to university, and gain qualifications which allow them to follow develop areas of personal interest.

Some students will be combining vocational qualifications with serial work experience and college placement.

Exit points

Sixth year should not be seen as the most appropriate end point for every child who enters secondary education.  As described above it will have a strong academic emphasis from which students are likely to enter further or higher education. Leaving school before sixth year should be not be seen as an inferior route.


Sixth year students in East Lothian will become members of a sixth form campus -which will exist in a real and virtual sense.  The campus will include every secondary school in East Lothian, Queen Margaret University and Jewel and Esk Valley College and the community and locality within East Lothian. A student’s curriculum will be delivered within that campus. It will be important to conceptualise a student’s study programme to be very different from a traditional sixth year pupil’s timetable. 

Personalisation and Flexibility

The S4 – S6 phase should be considered as a single cohort as opposed to separate year groups. Students will have access to any course on offer in the senior phase and can construct their own study programme according to their needs and abilities.

A Programme of Study

A programme of study might be composed of a mix of the following:

  1. a  student may spend only a small part of their time in their base school;
  2. a student’s programme of study will extend beyond the normal confines of a school day and week;
  3. employment will form a part of their programme;
  4. courses might be delivered in a much more compressed period of time;
  5. many courses will be delivered through a virtual learning environment – some of which will be supported by workshops, seminars and weekly tutorials;
  6. baccalaureate courses will be a key element of the sixth year experience for many students. These courses will be delivered through the East Lothian Learning Campus.
  7. some students will undertake a formal internship with employers – perhaps for one or two days each week throughout the school year. These internships will be linked to preferred career routes.
  8. an alternative to, or in addition to work related internships, students may undertake formal voluntary service internships to support local community volunteer groups. There may some qualifications related to both of these internship experiences.

It might be possible for some students to engage in study for part of the year in another country by swapping with a “study partner”. Schools in other countries could be matched up with East Lothian Campus and students who are following similar courses could be linked together as “study partners”  – the academic year would be split into three parts – the first term would involve the students corresponding and developing their link; the second term would involve one of the partners going to live and study with their partner; and the third term would involve this arrangement swapping over.

Some sixth year students may leave school at the end of December having sat their exams that month. This would give them a more significant  “gap” period before starting university.

School Responsibilities

Schools might have to rethink how they currently give responsibility to senior students, e.g. prefects, etc. The change to “looking out” beyond the school to life opportunities beyond the school gates and school career might mean that the traditional responsibilities might be undertaken by younger students, e.g. pre-S4.


A lessening in the sense of attachment that students have for their particular school. One of the most  popular aspects of a sixth year experience is the sense of attachment and belonging that students have for their particular year group and school. Yet this very attachment can possibly reduce the capacity of students to operate independently.  The solution might be to try to balance these two competing elements of experience.


Students only register at their classes – there is no school registration for S6 students.

Example Timetables

Here are three possible study programmes of sixth year students:



Maria gained five Highers in S5. She started her Higher courses in S4 and did not sit any exams below that level. She wants to study languages and law at university.

Her study programme is built around her Baccalaureate programme. She is spending one day a week working as an intern with an Edinburgh law company.  She has a study partner in Italy and she intends to spend the second term in Milan – she will maintain her studies via a VLE.  Her study partner will come back to Scotland for the third term. In addition to her Baccalaureate she is taking Higher Italian which is being taught by another teacher in East Lothian which she accesses via a video link with another East Lothian school (the six schools have matched timetables to allow such access).

Maria also attends Queen Margaret University for one a day a week to follow Baccalaureate courses and to experience university life.

Maria helps out in the school’s additional support needs class and participates in the East Lothian wide senior students’ health and well-being afternoon which offers an integrated and comprehensive programme of health and sprts related activities.  She meets her personal learning tutor at the school once a week in a one hour seminar session with fourteen other students.

She fulfils the four aspects of the curriculum as follows:

The ethos and life of the school as a community: Volunteering with ASN unit and representing the school at volleyball.

Curriculum areas and subjects: Higher Italian

Interdisciplinary projects and studies: Baccalaureate

Opportunities for personal achievement: Internship; Bacc programme; County level representation at volleyball.


When Hannah entered S4 she planned to leave school after that year and selected five courses at the level below Higher. However, she did so well in S4 that she decided to try to gain enough qualifications to gain entry to university after S6. She chose to study three Highers over S5 and S6 and to try for one Advanced Higher over the same period in her favourite subject – PE.  Hannah wants to be a PE teacher. Her learning programme in S6 is dominated by her subject studies but she still manages to undertake a work placement with the local council’s Sport and Leisure Department.

All of Hannah’s Highers are taught in school. Her Advanced Higher class is taught at a neighbouring school which she has to travel to over the lunch break. She attends the local further education college on a Friday afternoon to take a Certificate in Sports Coaching.

On a Friday mornings she is working through a self study programme to improve her numeracy.  The university have stipulated that candidates must reach a minimum level in numeracy before they can gain entry.

She fulfils the four aspects of the curriculum as follows:

The ethos and life of the school as a community: Hannah does lunch duty twice a week and coaches the S2 Hockey team which she supervises on a Saturday morning. She is also on the Dance Committee which organises all the various school dances

Curriculum areas and subjects: Higher English, Higher Business Management, Higher Art and Design and Advanced Higher PE.

Interdisciplinary projects and studies: Numeracy programme – one of the key parts of this assessment is a project in which she has to demonstrate a facility to use and apply numbers. Hannah is undertaking analysing a statistical analysis of game stats for her S2 Hockey team and a data review of their fitness levels.

Opportunities for personal achievement: Work Placement; Sports certificate; coaching S2; Hannah is a star of the school show and hopes to audition for a lead role in this year’s school production.




Toby has some learning difficulties which make him quite vulnerable.  He finds the school environment very secure and his parents did not want him to leave.  He would like to work in the building industry.

Toby did not reach the minimum levels of literacy or numeracy when he was assessed at the end of S3.  His learning programme in S4 and S5 focused upon improving these areas and he has now reached the minimum level in numeracy and surpassed that level in literacy.  Both Literacy and Numeracy feature as key parts of the employability programme which Toby has been working on for three years.  The employability programme has involved a three way partnership between the school, Jewel and Esk Valley College and a local building company.  Toby started long term work experience with this company in S3 and has now extended this to two days each week.  The company have placed him on a apprenticeship as a joiner.











 Internship – Edinburgh

 Internship – Edinburgh  Internship – Edinburgh

 QMU Bacc programme


 QMU Bacc programme  QMU study
Wednesday  Meet with personal learning tutor to review the week and to plan ahead.  Higher Italian  Health and Well Being AfternoonDance/Swimming

 Volunteering Helping  students with additional support needs

 Bacc programme – school based  Higher Italian 

 Bacc programme – another school


 Home study  part-time job




























  Work Placement 

Work Placement  Work Placement


Higher English 

 Higher Business     Management   Advanced Higher PE
Wednesday  Meet with personal learning tutor to review the week and to plan ahead.  Higher English  Health and Well Being

Higher Art and Design 

 Higher Business Management  Advanced Higher PE


Numeracy Programme 

 Higher Art and Design  Attends College for Sports Coaching Certificate







 Work Placement

 Work placement  Work Placement


Work Placement 

 Work Placement   Work Placement
Wednesday  Meet with personal learning tutor to review the week and to plan ahead.  Numeracy  Health and Well Being Afternoon


 Literacy  College



 Literacy  College







Task and Coordination Meetings: Learning from each other

I met this morning with two senior colleagues from Lothian Borders Police.   We were considering how we can get the most out of  Getting it Right for Every Child meetings.  These sessions take place on a monthly basis and involve 20+ people who represent various services, agencies and multi-agency groups all concerned with the GIRFEC agenda and who have a role to play in delivering our Integrated Children’s Services Plan.

One of the problems with such a large group is that it struggles to be either strategic or operational.  It was whilst pondering this point that my colleagues described the TAC meeting used in the police service.  TAC or Task and Coordination meetings have a very specific function – I suppose very much in line with “what it says on the tin”, i.e. it allocates, monitors and coordinates action, or tasks. Apparently no minutes are taken at such meetings, only points for action, and what discussion there is focuses upon barriers and solutions.

In some ways this chimes with something we have explored in the department (Task Management Tracker)before but perhaps it’s just the solution we’ve been looking for to make our monthly GIRFEC meetings more focused upon action.

The interesting thing for me in this example is that joint working doesn’t just benefit us in terms of closer working but that we can learn from our different experiences and operational practices – whilst recognising that not all aspects easily transfer from one sphere to another.

Edutopia: it’s a small world.

My good friend Mark Walker, Principal of Elsternwick Primary School, Melbourne, has one of the most interesting and stimulating blogs on education written from a school leader’s perspective.

It was Mark who alerted me to Edutopia through one of his recent posts on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s recent speech on educational revolution in Australia.  There was one extract from Rudd’s speech which jumps out at me from across the other side of the world:

I want school principals to have the autonomy to make more staffing and salary decisions at the local level, to tackle local problems like poor literacy and numeracy.

It’s when you read educational perspectives from throughout the world that you begin to realise just how small a place it really is and how the problems, which we sometimes think are unique and insurmountable, are the same problems facing education systems 12,000 miles away.

Aye, it’s small world.

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Imagine an S1 Curriculum: a rich task approach

For many children the gulf in the type of learning experience on offer in primary schools and secondary schools means that many do not show any progress in the early years of secondary school.

If we are to build a curriculum which flows from 3-18 then S1 provides a remarkable opportunity to capitalise upon the primary experience where children have been encouraged and enabled to be responsible and independednt learners and prepare them for the future.

The building block for contructing the S1 curriculum would relate to Learning Teams.

In this scenario there are 200 children in S1.  Let’s say that the week is split up into 15  blocks of learning (3 per day).

The S1 Curriculum would be delivered by a Learning Team who are  timetabled to only teach S1 classes. A teacher will teach 12 blocks of learning a week.

In Scotland some S1 subjects have a maximum class size of 20 (science, art, Craft and Design; , home economics, maths, english

10 classes (20) x 10 blocks of learning = 100 blocks of learning require

7 classes (30) x 5 blocks of learning = 35 blocks of learning

The S1 curriculum can be delivered in 135 blocks of learning – which would require 11.25 teachers to deliver the curriculum.

A timetable for an individual student might be as follows:








 Social subjects rotation

 Rich task 1



 Rich task 2






 Rich task


 Technology rotation






 Rich task 4



 Expressive Arts


 Rich Task



















Rich Tasks:

Over the course of the year students would complete 15 rich tasks (inter-disciplinary projects).

Argyll and Bute Council have been doing some outstanding work in relation to rich tasks – check it out for more details.

The rich tasks will be created by the Learning Team. Students should be given the opportunity to contribute to the creation and development of Rich Task topics. The tasks should engage and stimulate students to explore issues in depth and take some responsibility for co-creating their curriculum. It will be necessary to identify the desired outcomes to be fulfilled over the course of the year.  Having identified the outcomes the Learning Team will try to map out the most appropriate learning experiences which will allow these outcomes to be fulfilled. 

In each of the rich tasks either literacy or numeracy must feature as key components. Skills for Life, Skills for Work and Skills for Learning and Health and Well Being should be woven into the programme of tasks.

Rich tasks should enable some form of choice for students to select topics which are of personal interest.

The example shown here is from Argyll and Bute Council

 Event or Performance:

Students will work within teams, in different capacities, in planning, organising, creating and performing in a celebratory, festive or artistic event or performance that takes place at or outside the school. 

Hints and Tips

• Performances take various possible forms (e.g. music hall, concert, play, dance, circus act, gymnastics display, magic). An event might even incorporate several of these.


• When student numbers are smaller, the event may well be shorter. Quality, not quantity, is the target.


• An organisational group might take on roles such as overall management, venue management, promotion, finance.
*A performing group might take on roles, depending on the performance, such as acting/directing, music/sound, stage management, lighting, costuming, choreography, animal management.
• A breakdown of roles and responsibilities re event management could be found by researching on the internet.
• This might be a good opportunity to encourage environmentally friendly practices.
• Each student must work as a member of two groups —one with an organisational role and one that contributes directly to the performance. No organisational group is to include most of the members of any performance group and vice versa.
• Each group is to diarise the contribution of each student in it, with the students to sign off on the agreement.

• A precondition for the performance is that the students are to have created what is to be performed. (This might involve rearrangement or resequencing of existing works.)

 Assessment Criteria



Individual pupil performance should be assessed in a formative fashion using the appropriate CfE level learning outcomes. Comment should also be made on their contribution to the task.
The tasks are assessed as ‘high quality’, ‘quality’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘fair’    










A high quality performance is evidenced by:


• enthusiastic, collaborative, multifaceted and sustained contribution to the creation, production, organisation and performance of an event. 

• organisational and entrepreneurial skills (e.g. public relations and marketing).








• display of flair and originality.

An acceptable performance is evidenced by:
• an identifiable contribution to the staging of a relevant


using the following descriptors and interpolation. Where it has been a group performance, all members of the group gain the same award. 
















If colleges of further education can do it why can’t schools?

I had a very interesting meeting on Friday with someone who used to work in the field of further education.  We were discussing A Curriculum for Excellence and the pressure on Scottish education system to have external examinations in order to create a level “playing field” in terms of equality of standards.

As we chatted about this I referred to my Scottish Certificate of Educationproposal where schools might be able to certificate students’ achievements at the end of S3 and for this to be externally validated.

My colleague then described how colleges of Further Education can present students for Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas which in the Scottish National Qualifications Framework have more value than Advanced Highers, e.g. it’s possible to proceed straight to third year at university if you have the appropriate Higher National Diploma.

If universities are prepared to accept HNDs which are not subject to external regulation as we know it in terms of Highers and Advanced Highers, why can’t schools or local authorities be given similar status to award certificates?

Law Breakers

Law Primary School HMIe Inspection Report was published last week.

In what was an oustanding report a highlight of good practice was the use of technology to support the learning and teaching process: 

Effective use of ICT

Staff wanted to be more innovative in their use of ICT. They created a school blog to provide information on all aspects of school life and to encourage a regular dialogue between home and school. Staff worked closely with the local authority ICT team to set up the site and then took on responsibilities for maintaining it.

Pupils were given a key role in providing the content. Pupils at the upper stages displayed and gave an account of their achievements and the range of activities that they had taken part in. Across the school, pupils used the site to provide feedback on school events. At P6 and P7, a pilot programme for homework was introduced with homework tasks and links to helpful educational sites posted on the blog.

The blog also helped parents to keep in contact with their children who took part in the P7 residential trip and let them know about the daily activities. Development and use of the blog has helped to promote pupils’ language, ICT and independent learning skills. It has also proved to be a highly effective way of highlighting and celebrating pupils’ achievements.

Such recognition is just reward for the hard work of teachers (must mention Sandra McNiven here) and our ICT and education team.  It’s examples of collaboration such as this which has a direct result in improving the quality of childrens’ experiences that make all that effort worthwhile.

I can’t finish without mentioning the Pencaitland Primary School report which was released at the same time – another outstanding school. One of the common features of both of these schools is the quality of leadership. Both Neil Barnes and Freda Ross give space, encouragement and support to their colleagues which creates a culture where teachers have the confidence to lead developments in their respective schools – the results speak for themselves.


Post 16 Science and Maths in Scotland

A fascinating report, published on Friday by the Royal Society into the proportion of students in post compulsory education studying maths and the sciences in UK nations, shows that Scotland is performing at a very high level in comparative terms.

I believe it’s crucial we take account of such “good news stories” as we consider Curriculum for Excellence – sometimes we are only too prepared to believe the “worst” and forget the strengths in our existing system.  However, although we seem to be doing well in post compulsory education I still think there is a great deal to do to improve science education in upper primary and lower secondary.



The report highlights that in 2007 12 per cent of 16 year olds in Scotland sat Higher physics, the most beleaguered of the school sciences. This compares with just 3.6 per cent of 17 year olds studying A-level physics in England, 4.8 per cent in Northern Ireland and 2.8 per cent in Wales. 

In the same year 28 per cent of 16 years olds in Scotland sat Higher maths, compared with 8.1 per cent studying the subject in England.

 14 per cent of 17 years olds in Scotland sat Higher chemistry, compared with 5.3 per cent studying A-level in chemistry in England.

For biology the figures were 18.7 percent in Scotland and 7.2 per cent in England.  

Professor Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Royal Society said: “Scotland is currently outperforming its UK neighbours in encouraging young people to carry on their studies in maths and the sciences. The differences are not just a few percent, they are major. 

“This is partly because of the broader curriculum in Scotland compared to the other UK nations. But it may also be related to a stronger tradition of teaching the sciences separately and the fact that practically all Scottish maths and science teachers are specialists. 

“At a time when there is widespread concern about there being enough people with these skills, the other UK countries need to look what they can learn by examining why Scotland is doing so well.” 

However, between 1996 and 2007 the proportions of 16 and 17 year olds in all the UK nations, including Scotland, taking chemistry, physics and mathematics have actually shrunk.  

In Scotland the proportion of 16 year olds students taking Higher physics fell by 7 per cent between 1996 and 2007. The percentage of Higher students studying chemistry and maths both fell by four per cent over the same time period. Biology has fared better, dropping by 1.7 per cent.  

Professor Dame Julia Higgins, Chair of the report’s working group, said: “A high quality education in science and maths is central to sustaining a thriving economy. Unfortunately our report shows that education in the UK is failing to provide the increases in the numbers of school leavers with the qualifications in these subjects required by industry, business and the research community to assure the UK’s future economic competitiveness.”