Was I worried?

My heart missed a few beats this weekend when I found my Learning Log appeared to have been deleted. That’s 728 posts over a three year period and nearly 150,000 words.

Part of me was philosophical about it – “I’ll just need to start again” and the other side was more irrational as if I’d lost a close friend.  It showed me that my Learning Log has become something which sustains and informs my practice – without it I think my working life would be strangely one dimensional.

Anyway panic was eased this morning thanks to the good offices of David Gilmour – our edubuzz guru in East Lothian – who dragged it back to life from a recent back-up. Apologies to anyone who made recent comments as they have disappeared, as have a couple of newer posts.

Was I worried? ?????…………………….you betcha!

Setting free?

Phil Denning, our District HMIe Inspector, gave a presentation this morning to our Head Teachers on the new school inspection process which came into effect at the beginning of this term.

The key change in the inspection model is indicated in the following extracts from the guidance to schools:

For a considerable period now, HMIE has taken increasing account of self–evaluation in its inspections.  This is only right in a maturing system that places improvement through self?evaluation at its heart. 


 As a crucial part of the inspection, the team will engage with you and other members of staff to discuss the school’s use of self-evaluation. 

From a personal perspective I’m delighted to see this shift towards a validation model where the starting point is one of partnership and trust – as opposed to how the inspection was previously perceived as an adversarial encounter where one side set out to “beat” the other.  Now I never subscribed to that notion, but I know many who certainly felt that the HMIe “bogeyman” was out to get them and used the the HMIe as a threat to colleagues.

The new model depends upon schools being constantly up-to-date with their knowledge of themselves – again I’m delighted that we introduced Dynamic standards and quality reporting some time ago and the positive impact that this seems to have made on schools is borne out by the school inspection reports which we have received since that time. 

The new inspection model allows and encourages schools to begin to take risks and innovate as it shifts from “accountability as blame”, towards “accountability as personal commitment“, where the starting point is one of professional trust.  

I truly believe that this model of inspection has the potential to lift the lid off the capacity of schools to improve and meet the needs of children, our communities and our country.




TESS Article 13: A Scottish Certificate of Education

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.

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?

I suppose someone like me has two options in such circumstances: discount his opinion and use my power, position and greater knowledge to justify my judgement; or, try to understand the “reality” of what our schools have become and help to build a new curriculum with that reality in mind – as opposed to discounting it as “bad practice” (when it’s actually the only practice many of us have known throughout our careers).

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 “Dae’n sumthin” 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.

In the interest of flying kites 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.

In my “imagined” curriculum the focus in S1 – S3 would be upon an “employability portfolio”. I know that for some the idea of employability as a focus for education is a step too far, but I’d ask that you go with me here as I think we can flesh out a definition of employability which would be compelling, inclusive, and above all, easily understood by young people, parents and the wider community. Nevertheless, it would remain a fact that the S1 – S3 curriculum would not be certificated – as we currently know it.

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”.

It’s in our hands

I had a chance to speak to some early years teachers today.  They were discussing children’s writing and had a variety of samples out on their desks.  As ever, the range of ability in a single class can be immense but I was particularly interested in the two jotters.

These jotters beloged to two boys could not write but who could dictate a story to a scribe who wrote their story down. The quality of the stories was very good and matched almost everybody else in the class. Yet when we discussed how these boys might progress over the next few years there was general concensus that they will struggle to reach Level A (equivalent of a P3 child) by the time they leave primary school.

It’s not that these children are not bright enough to learn to write it’s seemingly down to the fact that that they can’t (or don’t want to) master the technical elements of holding a pen and practising their writing skills. It’s in considering such a question that the true potential of A Curriculum for Exellence starts to become obvious.  

As our Curriculum for Excellence strategy  proposes – the answer lies in the hands of teachers and schools to consider how we use the flexibility now afforded to us to ensure that no child – aside from those with severe and complex needs leaves primary school without the skills necessary to be “learners”.

I’m not trying to play down the challenge facing us here – nor the complexity of the problem, but at the very least we now have a chance clear the ground to at least see a possible way forwards.


Games Based Learning – making practice perfect

I started my twice weekly visits to schools today with a visit to Wallyford Primary School.

In a tour of classes I was fascinated to see a P7 class engaged in Games Based Learning  with each pupil using a Nintendo DS.  The pupils were using the machines to practice their mental arithmetic.

I can honestly say I have rarely seen such levels of personal motivation in an entire class of individuals. Many of them were trying to improve the level at which they were working so that they could challenge their teacher Paula Hart – I’m just glad they didn’t ask to challenge me!!

The point which intrigued me was that here were children who, if asked to engage in rote learning – such as I experienced as a pupil – would most probably switch off lose interest. Yet in this format – with appropriate levels of challenge, immediate feedback and no shame if they made a mistake – they were content to work on beyond what you might think would be their normal levels of concentration.

The point about practice only being worthwhile if it’s accurate practice came back to me as I observed the children. There is a tendency sometimes in education to set a task for children and as long as they are engaged for us to play down the importance of the outcome. Yet here – using the DS – there was no way that sloppy or careless work would be accepted.

Speaking to the kids there was no doubt that they loved this form of learning and I would certainly support any school who sought to use such a learning strategy as part of their balanced approach to teaching and the setting of high expectations and standards.