Postcode Lottery Explored

“It’s a Postcode Lottery” is a recurring term used to highlight any difference in provision of services between one area and another. 

The underlying assumption in all such cases is that this “lottery” is unfair and that services should not be dependent upon the “luck” of where one happens to live, i.e. they should be exactly the same throughout the country.  I’d started to tease this out in a recent article entitled “Uniformity or Diversity” and wanted to explore this concept a little further. 

“Postcode lottery” is, without exception, employed as a disparaging term.  Here are just a few headlines to demonstrate this:

All of the above use the term “postcode lottery” as shorthand for something which is unfair and can only be rectified by a change to situation where provision is identical – regardless of where you live.  But what if you were to take the opposite perspective, i.e. begin to see variation and diversity as a strength – not a weakness?

You see my problem lies with the fact that things are different from one community to another.  Things have never been identical.  Just because things are different doesn’t mean that they have to be worse – just as we mustn’t think that just because things are identical that they must be automatically better.

I’ll exemplify this using two secondary schools in an authority.  They are both allocated an identical amount of money through a formula allocation. The only way the authority could avoid being accused of creating a “postcode lottery” would be to give each school definitive guidance on how every pound was to be spent in each of the schools.  All of the following (and much more) would have to be identical: the curriculum, the times for each subject identical, the quality of teachers, the extra curricular activities, the discipline system, menus for lunches, the subjects to be taught at all levels, pupil support systems, etc, etc.  Any divergence between the two schools would fall into the trap that is a “postcode lottery”.  Of course, some would claim that I’m being too extreme here only to make my point – but I’d argue you can’t have your cake and eat it.  You either accept variation or you don’t!

Variation within postcodes is a reality – it exists and the sooner we realise that the better.  Surely the real challenge is not so much to ensure that things are identical but to ensure that the quality of service provided in every  postcode is of an exceptionally high standard. 

So if variation exists how might we turn it to our advantage?  It’s here that I would return to the theme I’ve been exploring for some time now i.e. community ownership of schools.  For if a community decides that it wants to see its schools diverge from what the schools in the next community are doing – in order to meet its priorities – why shouldn’t it be allowed to do so?

There are more than enough legislative guidelines in place to ensure that the needs of individuals within each community can be protected within such an autonomous system.  The real challenge lies with the funding body who need to find a way to ensure that each community achieves national and local outcomes – but is given the necessary freedom to find its own approach to achieve these outcomes.  That really is the $64,000 lottery prize!

Coldingham: surf’s up

Popped down to St Abbs for lunch today (Saturday).  Temperature wasn’t much above 1 degree C.  An army of surfers were enjoying the waves at Coldingham beach – looked great fun but boy was it cold!

St Abbs is a beautiful place at the best of times but it took my breath way this morning.

White Ribbon Campaign: Men working to end men’s violence against women


  • There were 49,655 incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland recorded in 2007/08 (an increase of just under 2% on the previous year) 8;
  • 54% of cases reported to the police in 2007/08 involved repeat victimisation 9;
  • Women were the victims in 85% of the reported incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland in 2007/08 10;
  • 83% of rapists are known to the woman they rape 11;
  • In 53% of homicide cases in Scotland 15 over the last ten years, where a woman aged 16-69 was the victim, the main accused was the woman in question’s partner 16;
  • A recent Scottish study involving 1,395 young people aged 14-18 found that a third of young men and a sixth of young women thought that using violence in intimate relationships was acceptable under certain circumstances. The same study found that 17% of young women had experienced violence or abuse in their own relationships with a boyfriend 19.
  • The ‘Raising the Issue of Domestic Abuse in School’ Study revealed that 32% of pupils in one secondary school in Scotland disclosed anonymously that they were currently experiencing or living with domestic abuse 20.

    These horrendous statistics show only the tip of the iceberg that is domestic violence against women in Scotland.  As Chair of the Violence Against Women Forum in East Lothian I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never heard of the White Ribbon Campaign. Yet having found out about it at a seminar I attended yesterday I think this is exactly the kind of thing which could make an impact on reducing the horrendous levels of violence against women in Scotland.

    As part of a range of actions I think the one of the most important things we could do would be to change society’s attitudes – and particularly men’s attitudes – to violence against women. 

    The fact that the White Ribbon Campaign  is focused upon Men Against Violence is a particularly powerful approach and one that I would gladly promote.  To that end I’d like to think we in East Lothian could work towards preparing for the November 25, the International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women.

    It’s important to state that this is only one strategy amongst many which the Forum are promoting but it is – perhaps – something that I could take a leading role and use my position to particular advantage.

    You can make the pledge at the White Ribbon Scotland.

    Subject Learning Communities in East Lothian

    I’m writing this post from Queen Margaret University following an exceptionally positive Subject Learning Community meeting with East Lothian Home Economics teachers.   Fearghal Kelly gives a much more comprehensive description of what constitutes a Subject Learning Community than I could ever manage, so I won’t try to describe them in detail, but I have stolen his first paragraph and copied it here:

    Although Curriculum for Excellence requires us as secondary teachers to make greater efforts to offer our students more interdisciplinary experiences and to place a greater emphasis on the development of their skills, there will still always be a role for subject specialists in the secondary school. It is important to remember that the changes under CfE should be a shift. A correction in balance. A movement towards. It should not be a pendulum swing. We need to find the right balance between subject content knowledge and interdisciplinary learning & skill development, not jump from one extreme to the other.

    In the above extract Fearghal captures superbly our commitment to, and recognition of, the importance of subject specialists to the successful implementation of a Curriculum for Excellence. 

    To that end we have been holding a series of evening seminars at QMU to meet with subject specialists to share our ideas for a Subject Learning Community and to ascertain if any teachers would like to be trained as facilitators.  We reckon that by the time we’ve finished our last twilight session that over 25% of secondary teachers will have met with us and discussed the concept and shared their own ideas for possible areas of focus – which is a remarkable testimony to the professionalism of our teachers.

    The content and programme of seminars and materials are available here.

    Fearghal has established a Blog for these groups and it’s interesting to reflect on the issues they identify at their separate meetings – with primary secondary transition being a very common theme.

    I have to say that these events are amongst my most eagerly awaited times of the week.

    A Framework for Assessment: key messages

    Building the Curriculum 5: A Framework for Assessment was released last week.  The LTS website has a range of materials to support his launch.

    I’ve copied some of the key elements here for ease of reference (bold/italics are my own emphasis).  This area will be a key focus for the CfE Implementation Partnership over the next six months. 

    The Framework for Assessment aims to create:

    > a more effective assessment system which supports greater breadth and depth of learning and a greater focus on skills development

    > through collaborative working, a better-connected assessment system with better links between pre-school, primary and secondary schools, colleges and other settings to promote smooth transitions in learning

    > better understanding of effective assessment practice and sharing of standards and expectations, as well as more consistent assessment

    > more autonomy and professional responsibility for teachers

    Principles of assessment:

    Assessment practice will follow and reinforce the curriculum and promote high quality learning and teaching approaches. Assessment of children’s and young people’s progress and achievement during their broad general education to the end of S3 will be based on teachers’ assessment of their knowledge and understanding, skills, attributes and capabilities, as described in the experiences and outcomes across the curriculum. Assessment practices for the next generation of National Qualifications from S3 (for National Literacy and National Numeracy) and in the senior phase and beyond will be aligned to Curriculum for Excellence

    Standards and expectations:

    The standards and expectations that form our aspirations for all learners from 3 to 18 are set out for the whole curriculum in the experiences and outcomes of Curriculum for Excellence and their equivalent in the specifications for qualifications and awards. Reflecting the principles of Curriculum for Excellence, progress is defined in terms of ‘how well’ and ‘how much’, as well as learners’ rate of progress. This approach will promote greater breadth and depth of learning, including a greater focus on the secure development of skills and knowledge. Assessing progress across a breadth of learning, in challenging aspects and when applying learning in different and unfamiliar contexts, will also help teachers to plan, track progress, summarise achievements in a rounded way and better prepare children and young people for the next stage in learning.

    Ensuring consistency:

    Scottish Government, other national partners and education authorities will work together to build on local and national practices for quality assurance and moderation of assessment. The aim will be to support the development of a shared understanding to achieve consistency in standards and expectations and build trust and confidence in teachers’ judgements. Education authorities will provide assurance that schools in their area are consistently applying national standards and expectations.

    Informing self-evaluation for improvement:

    To enable schools to use benchmarking information, the Scottish Government will develop from its previous work with education authorities a process to enable sharing of information about learners’ performance at school level. The Scottish Government will not collate or publish aggregate information nationally.

    Monitoring standards over time:

    The revised Scottish Survey of Achievement (SSA) will be fully aligned with Curriculum for Excellence and will sample learners’ achievements to measure standards over time and to monitor national performance in literacy and numeracy at P4, P7 and S2. Scotland will participate actively in international surveys of achievement to compare the performance of our children and young people with that of their peers in other countries. The findings of all such national and international studies will contribute to guidance and advice in the National Assessment Resource to help achieve better outcomes for all learners.

    Reporting to parents:

    Parents will get regular information about their children’s strengths, progress and achievements. This will include brief descriptions of progress across the curriculum areas and through the curriculum levels as well as progress towards qualifications in the senior phase. In addition to individual reports on the progress of the child or young person, they will receive information on: how well all learners and particular groups of learners are achieving; the performance of children and young people in the school in relation to expected levels at particular stages in key areas such as literacy and numeracy; and how the school is applying national standards and expectations. 

    CPD and support:

    Staff will be supported by continuing professional development and a new online resource – the National Assessment Resource – which will provide guidance, assessment materials and illustrations of performance and learners’ work to support the development of consistent standards.

    Summary of a Framework for Assessment – see diagram on page 10 of document

    What we assess

    Application of the national standards and expectations of each learner’s progress and achievements in
    • knowledge and understanding
    • skills
    • attributes and capabilities as detailed in the experiences and outcomes within curriculum areas and
    subjects and in the curriculum guidance and specifications for qualifications and awards in the senior phase

    Why we assess

            Supporting learning
    • sharing learning intentions and success criteria
    • high quality interactions and feedback
           Promoting learner engagement
    • learner involvement in reflection, setting learning goals and next steps including through personal
    learning planning
    • self and peer assessment
           Ensuring appropriate support
    • to be fair and inclusive
    • to enable learners to have the best chance of success

    When we assess

    • as part of ongoing learning and teaching
    • periodic (from time to time)
    • at transitions

    How we assess

    • by using a variety of approaches and range of evidence to fit the kind of learning
    • by making assessment fit for purpose and appropriately valid, reliable and proportionate
    • through partnership working

    Informing self-evaluation for improvement

    Information gathered should:
    • contribute to an account of success at local and national levels
    • enable the monitoring of standards over time

    Reporting on progress and achievement

    • involving learners, parents and others, for example, profiles, records and reports
    • describing progress and achievement against standards and expectations
    • giving a valid and reliable account of learning at points of transition as concisely as possible
    • recognising learners’ achievements including through celebrating success, profiling achievement, and
    by using certification, accreditation, qualifications and awards

    Ensuring quality and confidence in assessment

    • developing sound judgements through sharing standards
    • supporting assessment through exemplification and CPD 




    Is transparency worth it?

    Since coming into my post as Head of Education in 2005 and subsequently as Director of Education and Children’s Services I’ve tried to uphold my commitment to conduct our business in an open, honest and transparent manner.  And so it was in that spirit that I met a group of parents in early December 2009 who represented the East Lothian Parents’ Councils Association to update them on the budget consultation process and how it directly related to Education and Children’s Services. 

    I shared with them all the information which I had given to teachers and other employees during a series of “roadshows” explaining the budget challenges we face for this and future years.  I gave details of the likelihood that all public services may have to make budget reductions in the region of 12-15% over the next three years.  I also explained that we wanted to take a proactive approach towards achieving these  savings – should they be required – rather than simply shaving off budgets to the point where services are unsustainable. To that end we had been working on a draft Remodelling Strategy which would take us through to 2013.  I also explained that given the scale of the task that we were considering bringing in some external support in the form of an accountancy and consultancy company to help us translate our draft strategy into a more robust approach – underpinned by a financial rigour which such a company could provide.  I was asked at the meeting with parents where such funding would come from and I explained that the Council had established in October 2009 a “Change Fund” of £1 million which Services could apply to support any initiative to reduce costs. Comprehensive minutes of the meeting were taken by a parent at that meeting and subsequently shared with all Parent Councils.

    In the intervening weeks we have been negotiating with the said company and have come to a formal agreement to procure their services to support an internal team of managers to develop our Remodelling Strategy 2010-2013.  The formal terms of engagement were signed last week and we will be investing £60,000 from the “Change Fund” to support a strategy which may have to possibly generate savings in the region of £11-£14 million in the worst case scenario out of a budget which currently stands at £96 million.

    So you can imagine my disappointment – but not surprise – when last week one of our local papers published a letter from a member of a public who  referred to the minute of my meeting with Parents and claimed that the Education Department were going to spend £1 million on bringing in an external consultancy.  The writer of the letter called for more transparency and questioned how such a level of investment could possibly be justified.  Obviously the writer hadn’t taken the time to read the minute of the meeting but I don’t suppose that should get in the way of a good “story”.  The writer made the leap from the minute that we were bringing in a consultancy (at the time of my meeting with parents that was not definite) and secondly the writer mistakenly associated the money in the Change Fund with the fee for an external consultant for Education. 

    Which leads me to the question of this post – “Is transparency worth it?”  I suppose I could take this as a lesson and keep my own counsel on anything we are thinking about doing until it is all signed, sealed and delivered.  However, this is not my intention and I will continue to operate in the manner which I believe should characterise all of us in public service – regardless of how careless others might wish to be with the truth.

    Postcript: another letter appeared in the paper this week congratulating the writer of the previous week’s letter for “exposing” the authority and proposing that there needs to be an investigation into the spending of £1 million on consultants for education to conduct a “management musical chairs exercise” – (oh if only it was that easy!)

    Community Ownership of Schools: an emerging idea

    Here are all my posts relating to Community Ownership of Schools since August 2006 up to November 2009.

    Do I add value?

    August 19th, 2006 by Don Ledingham


    Over the summer holidays I found myself thinking fondly of my time as a Headteacher. I’d always enjoyed working in schools and got a great buzz from being directly involved in the change process. In my new position I am somewhat – but not totally – removed from the action. During the past year that has not proved to be a problem, and – as my blog demonstrates – I have not been stuck for things to do. Yet three weeks out of the office gave some time for reflection and I have to admit to some sense of loss – although not regret.

    The Virtual College Summer School came at a very opportune time and it gave me a chance to listen to colleagues and others who are dealing with similar challenges. Anton Florek also brought very valuable experience of the changing scene in England and posed some very serious questions about the future of integrated children’s services in Scotland – some of which I’ll cover in the next few posts.

    The question, however, which kept passing through my mind throughout the three days, was “Do I add something of value to the lives of children?” As Headteacher that question was fairly easy to answer and was backed up by an almost daily affirmation in so many forms. However, in my current position it is perhaps more difficult to make that judgement. So how would schools manage in East Lothian if I wasn’t there? (and by me I mean my position). How would they manage if all resources were passed onto schools –-with nothing in the centre?

    As a Headteacher I used to play around with this idea but perhaps it is necessary to look at this not from the point of view of trying to justify a current position or structure but to enable us to understand what we do and how we might do it better.

    Let’s imagine that from next session there is no Education and Children’s Services Department in East Lothian. All of the resources used to fund the centre are then distributed by formula to the schools within the county. What would schools have to do for themselves that is currently done in the centre? And what might be the consequence?

    In my next post I’ll set out the responsibilities given to education authorities.


    Exploring alternatives: Educational Provision

    I’ve separated the statutory obligations for education authorities into four categories:

    Educational Provision; Administrative; Resource provision; Educational Improvement.

    In the next series of posts I’ll consider some alternatives for the delivery of each of the categories and then discuss the merits of the existing arrangements and the possible alternatives.


    Educational Provision: So how could an education authority fulfil its obligation to provide education in a different way, i.e. how could it ensure that there are sufficient school places for all children in East Lothian? (at this stage I won’t offer any value judgements about any of the alternatives) However, I’d welcome your comments.

    Could the local authority sell off the school buildings to an organisation which would operate the schools? By operate I mean the buildings and staff are transferred to the company who would deliver the statutory obligations of the authority under contract.

    Could the local authority retain ownership of the schools but commission someone else to operate schools, in much the same way that PPP is managed?

    In such arrangements it would be the responsibility of the authority to negotiate the contract with the commissioned organisation and to put in place monitoring systems to ensure that service level agreements are achieved.


    Transforming Public Services

    August 27th, 2006 by Don Ledingham

    I was asked a question in my last post about why I was undertaking this exploration of our obligations and some alternative means of delivery. I have explained in an earlier post where the question “do I add value?” came from but it should be noted that there is a wider political drive to ask the same questions. It’s worth reading Transforming Public Services: The next phase of reform from the Scottish Executive.

    I’ve copied a couple of extracts below which give a flavour of the document and its central thrust:


    From the Introduction

    4. We have a window of opportunity in 2006 to agree the direction of change and we would urge all those involved not to be constrained in their thinking about how best to organise our public services for future generations but to embrace the chance to use their imagination and think about what would really make a difference to the people of Scotland. The process of change will be continuous over the long term with the key period for implementation occurring during 2007-2011.

    5. Our ambitions for service transformation apply across the whole public sector. The proposals and options in this paper are relevant to local government, police and fire services, the NHS, the enterprise networks, further and higher education institutions, the justice system, the Executive itself and the range of NDPBs and executive agencies.

    6. We do not propose to adopt a one-size fits all approach to the vast range of public services, and different communities across Scotland. Some services are delivered nationally, some regionally, and others locally. Our challenge to local communities and public services is to work with us to identify the reforms that will transform service delivery in their area.

    7. The challenge to reform applies equally to the Executive. We must transform the way we plan, fund, direct, and oversee public services and remove barriers to service transformation. We want to work in partnership to design a framework for public services that is sustainable, integrated, fit for purpose and user centred.”

    Point 6 is a key element for me, i.e. they are not proposing a “one-size fits all” approach – there is a flexibility to come up with solutions – at least there is at the moment.

    I think the last sentence in point 7 sets out what we should be attempting to create – easy to write – much more difficult to achieve.

    In the same introduction a series of challenges are set out which face Scottish Public Services.

    ” But there is no doubt that our public services have to be more responsive and effective and that we face a number of long-term challenges over the next 20 years, which we cannot meet unless we accelerate the pace of modernisation and reform:

    • We have a more diverse and individualistic society with different aspirations and expectations. People are better equipped to make assessments of service quality and to judge service quality against the best elsewhere, and they expect services tailored to their needs.
    • The unparalleled growth in expenditure on public services in recent years is not likely to continue indefinitely, particularly when our economy faces increasing competition from Eastern Europe, India and China.
    • We are experiencing unprecedented technological change – with opportunities to deliver services in new ways, but also risks of increased inequality.
    • The proportion of people of working age in the population is shrinking. The fact that so many of us are living longer is a cause for celebration, but we cannot deny that it will put public services under increasing pressure if we do not reform.
    • There is declining engagement with the political process and generally with the public sphere. This could fuel a loss of trust in public services unless we can demonstrate that they are valuable and efficient, and match the best that can be found elsewhere.
    • Our determination to improve economic opportunity is informed by the social disadvantage that is still experienced by too many in our country.”

    I think the reasons set out in the paper are very compelling and I reckon we have three option:

    1. put our heads in the ground and hope it goes away;
    2. wait for someone else to some up with the solution;
    3. become directly involved in the debate and be proactive about our future.

    I’m obviously attracted to the latter course of action and hope that this exploration in the area of education can help us in a small way to find some of the answers to the challenges set out above.


    Exploring Alternatives: Administrative obligations

    I included the following obligations within
    Administrative obligations

    School Boards

    Home to school transport

    Placing requests

    Grants – clothing, free school meals, etc.

    Rights of appeal against exclusion


    Alternatives to current provision:

    1. Delegate responsibility to schools or cluster of schools
    2. Ask another authority to provide this service.
    3. Contract it out to a private company
    4. Establish a Scottish central facility which would fulfil these obligations

    Placing requests, school boards (or their replacement) and appeals against exclusion might need more local knowledge and if not devolved to schools or clusters could be managed within a private company which is involved in theEducational Provision


    As stated in previous posts I won’t post or engage in any value judgements or evaluation of any of these alternatives until I have explored all four of the categories.


    Exploring Alternatives: Resource Provision


    In this, the third of my exploration of alternative provision, I'm going to focus on Resource Provision.

    Included within this category are:

    Delegation schemes;


    Employer obligations.

    As has become clear from the previous posts (seeEducational Provision andAdministrative Provision) it isn’t as simple as delegating all the resources to schools unless they are going to pick up the additional obligations that currently reside with the education authority. The problem with a simplistic form of delegation is the potential for schools to avoid some of the obligations which face the authority. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this exercise, I will explore what it might mean to delegate all resources directly to schools.

    If all money which is currently contained within an education authority budget was delegated to schools the central service could no longer operate. In this scenario the authority would delegate the responsibility for their obligations directly to the schools. It would be up to individual schools to satisfy all the requirements of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000 and other relevant legislation.

    The problem which might face the authority is that it would have no means to ensure consistency of standards and any means to improve standards (both issues which I will explore in my next post).

    Yet how do independent schools manage to maintain quality of provision? (well the reality is that they don’t) there are a number of schools in the independent sector which have closed in the last ten years – that is not an alternative for the only school situated within a community)

    The second area of delegation is in relation to property. The money currently used to maintain schools would be delegated to the headteacher to commission local trades to complete required work. The problem here might be in relation to capital expenditure such as school extensions or even new schools.

    The third area is in relation to all budgets relating to personnel. All employees would be directly employed by the school where they work. All personnel issues would be dealt with at that level. Employees would no longer work for the council. Local negotiation would take place at school level and agreements would not operate across the council.

    I should mention at this stage that there is is another budget which is currently held at the centre in East Lothian i.e. ICT. Over 1,000,000 GBP is used to facilitate ICT across all our schools. This sum would have to be broken down to a school level for individual HTs being responsible for the hardware and software they put in place.

    There would, undoubtedly, be a significant sum of money delegated to schools which is currently held in the centre – I look forward to hearing how HTs would like to accept this responsibility and how it might impact upon education.


    Exploring Alternatives: School Improvement (Part 1)


    In this- the last of a series of posts which consider alternatives to current delivery of educational authority statutory obligations – I will explore the category of
    school improvement. Given that this is likely to be one of the longest posts in the series I’ll split it up into three parts.) This is part 1.

    The following obligations could be grouped within this category:

    1. Education authority’s annual statement of improvement objectives
    2. Raising Standards
    3. National Priorities
    4. School development plans
    5. Review of school performance
    6. Inspection of education authority
    7. Integrated Children’s Services

    There is such a degree of overlap between many of these obligations that it will be difficult to consider them in isolation. For example – the requirement of an authority to prepare and submit an Integrated Children’s Services Plan cannot be separated from the Education authority’s requirement to produce a Service Improvement Plan (annual statement of improvement objectives).

    In a similar vein, education authority obligations in respect of National Priorities clearly sets out what an authority must do, which will, in turn, influence the planning process.

    The Review of School Performance links with National Priorities through the need to report on such things as attainment and examination results, which in turn links with Raising Standards. It is worth quoting again the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 section on Review of School Performance:

    “(1) An education authority shall from time to time, after consulting such bodies as appear to the authority to be representative of teachers and parents within their area and giving such persons within that area as appear to the authority to have an interest in the matter an opportunity to make their views known, define and publish, as respects quality of education provided, measures and standards of performance for the schools managed by them; and different measures and standards may be so defined for different categories of such schools.

    (2) An education authority shall, as respects each school managed by them, from time to time review the quality of education which the school provides; and if, having regard to the measures and standards of performance for the time being defined by them under subsection (1) above and relevant to the school, they conclude in any such review that the school is not performing satisfactorily they shall take such steps as appear to them to be requisite to remedy the matter.” (my emboldening)

    I think it’s important here to distinguish between Review of School Performance and Raising Standards

    Raising Standards within the 2000 Act clearly sets out what authorities obligations are:

    ” An education authority shall endeavour to secure improvement in the quality of school education which is provided in the schools managed by them; and they shall exercise their functions in relation to such provision with a view to raising standards of education.”

    A quality assurance model – which many authorities have gone for – would not appear to be sufficient in itself to satisfy the legislation i.e. there must be a means to improving education. In the next part of this post I’ll explore how these obligations might be delivered in an alternative manner.


    Exploring Alternatives: School Improvement (Part 2)


    In Part 1 of this post I set out some of the obligations facing Local Authorities in relation to school improvement.

    In this, the second part, I’ll explore some of the alternatives which might be considered.

    I’d distinguished between school review (quality assurance model) and school improvement (quality improvement model). If an authority only were to adopt the former model it could put in place an arm’s length service which would perform “mini-inspections”. The responsibility for quality improvement would be delegated to the schools with the accountability for improvement being laid at the headteacher’s door – with clear consequences if improvement did not take place.

    The quality assurance team responsibility could be commissioned out to an external service.

    The quality improvement model would involve some form of support team to work with schools -perhaps only those who are identified as being of concern. This could be contracted out to consultants. An alternative might be to devolve the school improvement budget to clusters of schools who would be responsible for supporting each other.

    In terms of national priorities the authority is currently responsible for ensuring the National Priority obligations are addressed and reported. It might be possible to give such responsibility over to a group of Headteachers – as senior officers of the authority – for them to decide upon the service improvement plan and the associated monitoring and reporting to the Scottish Executive.

    The inspection of the education authority is more problematic but if it had been contracted out it would be the private company which would be inspected with the responsibility for their effectiveness or otherwise lying at the feet of the authority.

    If all budgets had been delegated to schools it might be more difficult to get a more coherent picture of the service provided but this would be worth further consideration.

    The authority has responsibility for contributing towards the planning and implementation of integrated children’s services. A key part of this responsibility is the partnership with Health, children’s services and police at an authority level. One of the challenges facing us is to develop integrated children’s services at a local level. Could this be devolved to school or cluster level?

    School development plans are currently influenced and validated by the authority. An alternative would have to be developed which either involved another agency taking responsibility for ensuring quality or some from of peer validation.

    In the next few posts I’ll begin to tease out some of the issues which might emerge if we were to implement some of these possible alternative delivery systems.

    It is my intention to engage in a dialogue with Headteachers and colleagues about our current delivery systems in relation to authority obligations and whether or not we do indeed add value to education in East Lothian?


    Exploring Alternatives: The Private School Model


    In my series of posts about alternatives to education authorities I had explored how educational provision might be provided by private companies. Since then I’ve met a number of people who have expressed the point of view that if private schools don’t need an education authority to manage, monitor or help them improve then why should state schools?

    I think this is a very legitimate question and one that needs serious consideration. But let’s think about it further. The private school provides a service which people pay for.

    I have something to sell – education – and if you are prepared to pay I’ll provide it. There are three conditions to this transaction:

    1. If you the customer doesn’t abide by my conditions of service then I have a right to terminate our contract, i.e. remove your child.

    2. If you as a customer you are not satisfied with the service provided by the school you can terminate the contract at any time and remove your child, i.e. send them to another school.

    3. Many private schools have conditions of entry – selection procedures – this is a bit like a hospital saying we aren’t prepared to take you as a patient because there’s not much chance of us being able to help you – the effect of this quality control system at entry has a significant impact upon the quality of the product which leaves the school at the other end. Many conditions of entry are not necessarily based upon pupil ability but on the level of engagement of the parents in their child’s education.

    Now let’s translate that into the state education environment. A company, or let’s say a board of governors, is given responsibility to run a school in one of our secondary schools in one of our towns.

    If we then consider each of the elements in turn:

    1. Options for the school – As a school we set out our expectations – your child fails to meet them – we ask you to remove your child and send them to another school. In the private sector this works because the parents can either send them to another private school or enrol them in a state school. However, this becomes more difficult in a community where there are no other alternatives within easy reach, or the parents do not have the financial wherewithal to send their child to a private school. If we remember it is an obligation of the education authority to provide education for every child – and the authority has commissioned a company or school to take on that responsibility for a community then that course of action, i.e. removing a child from the roll is not an alternative – unless in extreme circumstances.

    2. Options for the customer – In the private sector if a parent is dissatisfied with a school the parent can remove their child at any time and send them to another school – market forces – I suppose. In the state sector this can still happen but the cost of transportation is borne by the parent who may not be in a position to meet that cost. This option also presupposes that there are vacancies at another school. Schools are under no obligation to agree to a placing request unless there are sufficient spaces, i.e. it can say no – whereas it must provide a space for a child within its own catchment area.

    3. Conditions of entry -This is the area which would cause the greatest problem for state schools – if a child lives in the catchment are of the school the parents have a right to expect their child to go there. The school cannot set out any conditions of entry.

    If we accept that schools would have to fulfil these conditions then it would still be possible for the school to operate like a private school, i.e. independent of the authority. The problem here comes when the school is failing. In the private sector a school would close as pupils left – parents would vote with their feet. As we have established above parents in state schools don’t have that luxury. So what happens? The school when inspected by HMIe (once every 6-7 years), receives a poor inspection and is placed under special measures – which don’t necessarily work. The bottom line is that it’s difficult to turn such a school round. The role of the authority in terms of school review and school improvement – I would argue – is better placed to ensure consistency of provision within all schools within its borders. However, this raises an interesting and debatable point – are education authorities actually making such an impact? – the answer would have to be no – i.e. there are still too many schools receiving poor inspection reports.

    So what’s the alternative? I think the alternative is here already – we just need to be more rigorous in its application:

    – authorities and schools need to work in much greater partnership;

    – schools need to fully understand the role and obligations facing the authority;

    – decision making power needs to moved down to schools wherever possible involving parents wherever we can;

    – partnership between schools needs to be at the heart of development – underpinned by the notion of collective responsibility;

    – authorities need to know their schools in depth and be prepared to take action to support a school where there are signs of any diminution in the quality of service it provides.

    In summary – I think private schools provide a quality service in most cases but they operate within a very different set of conditions of service – comparison between state and private schools is therefore very difficult. Nevertheless, I think there are many things which the state sector can learn from the private sector and many things the private sector can learn from the state sector. Our common goals should be to provide the highest quality of educational experience for every child in our care.


    School Based Management 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    School Based Management 2

     Scotland has had Devolved School Management (DSM) since 1996.  The scheme had four principles:
    1 To improve the quality of decision-making by allowing schools greater flexibility in deciding spending priorities at the local level.
    2 To allow schools to respond quickly to needs, changes and priorities at local level.
    3 To ensure resources were used more efficiently and provide value for money.
    4 To raise the morale of Head Teachers and their staff.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I’d welcome other questions and suggestions. 


    School-Based Management 3: an emerging rationale


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


    The Principles of School Based Management

    School- Based Management is based upon the following assumptions.

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

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

    3. It keeps the focus on learning and teaching.

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

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

    Changing the role of the school

    The school will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Changing the role of the Local Authority

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

    “Would you purchase it yourself?”

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

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


    School-Based Management 5: Self-Governing Schools Revisited

    I’ve been carrying out some further research into school-based management and came across the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act 1989 It’s interesting to read this with a different eye nearly 20 years on from when it first came into being. 

    When the concept was first mooted it was driven by a Conservative Government’s agenda to break the control of Local Authorities.  Michael Forsyth, the last Conservative Scottish Secretary of State,  pushed through the legislation but only three schools applied for and attained self-governing status (one other school had applied but only to prevent closure).  The only remaining self-governing school in Scotland – which is funded directly from the Scottish Government is Jordanhill School.


    Some key points from the Act include:

    1.  ”the duty of the education authority to maintain or manage the school, or to provide school education in the school, or to keep it efficient, shall cease.”
    2. A self-governing school is governed by a board of management  comprising parents, staff, appointed members (by the Board) and the head teacher.
    3. Duties of the Board of Management include managing the school, all contract arrangements with staff and the ability to raise funds

    As I read through the Act I began to wonder if there might be some potential for a scheme which took some of the legislative elements of the Self-Governing Schools Act but involved the local authority as the commissioning agent, in effect the authority would strike a concordat with the school. The major shift from how it was developed in 1989 would be that the scheme would be developed as a partnership between the school, the local authority and the government – as opposed to one which  tried to sideline one of the key members of that triumvirate.

    I think the next stage in my research will be to contact Jordanhill School and try to find out more about how it works in practice, e.g.

    1.  How do the numbers stack up? i.e. is it cost effective?
    2. Jordanhill is in a very middle class area – would such a scheme succeed in a less affluent area?
    3. How do they access support services?
    4. How do staff feel about it?
    5. How do they engage in the quality improvement process?
    6. How do they meet the needs of children with additional support needs?

    David Hartley provides a useful critique of self-governing schools in Scotland within “A Socially Critical View of the Self-Managing School” Edited by John Smyth, 1993


    Implementing A Curriculum for Excellence – Situation Statement

    Apologies for the squint photo of the above model.  I’ll post something a bit more comprehensive later in the week.  Click on the photo for an enlarged version.

    In the following post (which will – eventually -be very long) I’ll attempt to use the Program Logic Model to describe a possible national implementation strategy for A Curriculum for Excellence.

    Stage 1 Situation Analysis

    Description – The situation is the foundation for logic model development. The problem or issue that the program is to address sits within a setting or situation–a complex of socio-political, environmental, and economic conditions. If you incorrectly understand the situation and misdiagnose the problem, everything that follows is likely to be wrong.

    Take time to understand the situation and carefully define the problem. This may be the most important step. As you do so, consider the following questions:

    1. What is the problem/issue?
    2. Why is this a problem? (What causes the problem?)
    3. For whom (individual, household, group, community, society in general) does this problem exist?
    4. Who has a stake in the problem? (Who cares whether it is resolved or not?)
    5. What do we know about the problem/issue/people that are involved? What research, experience do we have? What do existing research and experience say?

    Situation Analysis of Scottish Education (the following situation analysis draws heavily upon the Executive Summary of the OECD Report on the Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland ,Dec 2007)

    A major challenge facing Scottish schools is to reduce the achievement gap that opens up about Primary 5 and continues to widen throughout the junior secondary years (S1 to S4). Children from poorer communities and low socio-economic status homes are more likely than others to under-achieve, while the gap associated with poverty and deprivation in local government areas appears to be very wide.

    A second challenge relates to the need to build on the strong platform of basic education through socially broader and more successful participation in upper secondary education and greater equity in Scottish higher education. Inequalities in staying-on rates, participation at different academic levels of national courses, and pass rates in these courses are a concern. So, too, are the number of young people leaving school with minimal (and in some cases no) qualifications and the  comparatively high proportion in precarious transition.

    A third challenge relates to static levels of achievement in national qualifications over the last eight years at a time when other countries are showing improvement in comparison to Scotland.

     Local authorities have only limited influence over the curriculum in schools and over the full range of learning opportunities available to the communities they serve. Promotion of change in schools is hampered by the vulnerability of schools to adverse perceptions and judgements based on examination results. Although local authorities are the  employers of teachers and the builders of schools, their influence is limited by wider arrangements which have a centralizing and conforming effect.

    Schools need substantial freedom of action within a framework of agreed goals and  outcomes to vary the courses and to offer programmes which best address these challenges. Greater management freedom in these two areas needs to be part of a compact with local government which establishes expectations in exchange for autonomy, and encourages and protects innovation and risk-taking through an authoritative mandate.

     The OECD review considers that greater flexibility is needed in arrangements linking local councils to the Scottish Government, and linking schools in turn to local government. But without greater flexibility in arrangements relating to curriculum, examinations, and qualifications, more autonomy for councils and schools will not go far.

    Any analysis of the situation in Scottish Education must also recognise  that budgets are under extreme pressure and this is likely to be the case for a number of years as the global recession impacts upon the Scottish economy and public services in particular.

    Stage 2 Priority Setting

     Description: From the situation comes priority setting. Once the situation and problem are fully analyzed, priorities can be set. Seldom can we undertake everything so we have to prioritize. Several factors influence your determination of focus; these include your mission, values, resources, expertise, experience, history, what you know about the situation, and what others are doing in relation to the problem.

    Priority Setting for Implementing A Curriculum for Excellence

    • Greater school autonomy within a local government framework
    • Improving learner attainment and achievement
    • Local authority Curriculum Frameworks within swhich schools can develop their own curriculum
    • Closing the achievement gap

     Stage 3 Assumptions

    Description: Assumptions are the beliefs we have about the program and the people involved and the way we think the program will work. This is the “theory” we are talking about: the underlying beliefs in how it will work. These are validated with research and experience. Assumptions underlie and influence the program decisions we make. Assumptions are principles, beliefs, ideas.

    Assumptions about the Implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence

     I’ve already explored this in a previous post – see Clarifying Assumptions



    • Teachers are professionals who want to make a positive difference to children’s lives;
    • Where teachers are empowered to work together they can create outstanding learning environments for children and young people;
    • Teachers naturally want to talk and learn from each other about their practice;
    • Teachers want to engage in dialogue about their own educational practice with a view to improving their craft.
    • The school is the key unit of curricular creation and professional development.
    • Schools should be encouraged to create curricular models which suit their own context
    • School leaders can create environments where teachers want to learn.
    • Teams of teachers working collectively towards a common purpose can have a more positive impact upon practice than any other strategy.
    • Teachers are partners in the curriculum development process.

    More to follow……

    Learning from the Past: Taking a line of sight from Scottish parish schools



    Perhaps the time is right to explore alternative delivery models for education where we shift our thinking from people being users or consumers, to being participants? Ironically there is much to learn from our Scottish educational heritage as we consider our future.

    The shift from School Boards to Parent Councils – which surely must be one of the best things to happen in Scottish education in the last twenty years – begins to provide an insight into the potential of true community involvement in the delivery of education at a local level.

    Our current system – as it has evolved – has been dominated by the tenets of centralised control – both from the government and, in their turn, local authorities. The dependency culture, which this has created, is not the fault of those who work in schools, yet – in an ironic twist – it has become one of the key barriers to enabling teachers and school leaders to grasp the opportunity provided by a Curriculum for Excellence.

    So how might we release the potential that so clearly exists in our schools and our communities?

    Maybe the answer lies in our past? For when Scotland led the world in education it was through schools that were “owned” by their communities. The Scottish parish schools, which originally were purely elementary, were encouraged to provide at least the elements of secondary education. These schools played this role so well, that the Argyle Commission in its report of 1868 reported that over fifty per cent of the students attending the four Scottish universities came direct from parish schools. Parish schools were later joined by the establishment of burgh schools, essentially secondary schools, and in this way both types of schools became universal education providers, and gave to Scotland an education system that was the envy of Europe.

    I want to make it clear here that I am not relating the traditional parish school with any religious affiliation – but instead see the concept as a powerful one where a community’s emotional bond to their schools is matched by an opportunity to translate that affinity into an active and substantive role in shaping and improving the quality of education delivered in their name.

    What I have in mind is community-based management of schools. To a certain extent this concept has been trialled in certain areas of Scotland. This is where the local primary schools and secondary school work to promote links to smooth the journey for children and to benefit from sharing good practice. In some areas these developments have had dedicated management time allocated in the form of Learning Community manager or leader. However, the governance of these schools still lies with each of the respective head teachers. But what if we could establish a Community Educational Trust to which was devolved the entire budget for running education within that community? The main change that such a system could introduce is the notion of the schools being “owned” by their community. The shift in the perceived ownership of the school would actually match what people feel about their local school but where the perception of a centralised power base still keeps them removed from the real running of the school.

    The reason I opt for community- based, as opposed to school-based management, is drawn from the lessons from South of the Border where schools have actually sought to limit their intake to particular types of student. This has resulted in huge variations in terms of the quality of education provision, with “magnet” schools and “sink” schools existing in close proximity to one another. The community-based model perceives the provision of education to be a much more inclusive and universal process. This is where the concept of “these are our bairns” underpins and permeates policy and practice.

    Of course, the practicality of community-based management of schools throws up as many questions as it does answers. Not least of which would include how such schools would relate to their local authority? How would they manage budgets and systems that currently benefit from large-scale procurement? How would such communities relate to other Council delivered services and other agencies: and; How would the authority ensure that the needs of ALL children were being met?

    Despite these, and many other such questions, I’d like to think that the potential of such a scheme is worthy of serious consideration and exploration. Even if such an idea comes to nought, it may indeed allow us to create different forms of educational delivery that might emulate the genetic traits that so characterised the success of the Scottish parish school system.


    Closing the accountability gap

    Public services need to be held accountable to the public they serve. Such logic is inescapable and leads countries across the world to create national bodies to inspect and audit services to ensure that high standards are maintained and that society gets value from money invested in the service. In Scottish education we are fortunate to have such an internationally respected body in the form of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education to provide such a function.

    Yet the inspection/audit landscape of Scotland in currently under inspection itself following on from the Crerar Review which considered how we might reduce the burden of inspection both in terms of running costs – and more importantly – in terms of the additional burden repeated forms of inspection/audit have upon public bodies such as local authorities.

    It is with this in mind that I would like to explore the potential of an alternative system for inspection/audit which closes the gap between the service being inspected and those who use the service.

    If we consider existing inspection formats the “gap” between the users and the service is filled by the inspection body who undertake to scrutinise the service ”on behalf” of the public who pay for and use the service. Of course good inspections/audits make significant use of evidence gathered from such user groups and organisational self evaluation will often engage in productive 360 degree gathering evidence from a wide range of “stakeholders”.

    But what if we could develop a model whereby the users were much more involved than simply being “consulted” about the service they use?  What if  they were directly involved in helping to make public judgements about the quality of that service?  Of course those of us involved in the delivery of public services can see many problems arising from such an initiative.  These would certainly centre upon the reliability of non-professionals’ judgements; issues of fairness and objectivity; potential for abuses of power; small interest groups having a disproportionate effect upon a judgement ( and subsequent direction of travel); and the potential for bullying/intimidation of staff.

    In addition to these concerns from the professionals, there would be queries about the burden that such an expectation might place upon those stakeholders who might be interested in participating in such a process.  These burdens would arise from the need for time to be given for training; the pressure to present a positive picture of a local service; the fear that a negative judgement on quality could backfire in some way upon them as users;  and the possible stress that engagement in such a process could engender.

    Nevertheless,  I would argue that the potential benefits emerging from “stakeholder” involvement in  inspection far outweigh any of these concerns – all of which can be addressed through a clear and well developed model of practice.

    At it’s most basic level the process could be described as follows:



    1. A range of stakeholders are invited/volunteer/ are nominated to participate in the evaluation process.

    2. These stakeholders could involve some of those who deliver the service to evaluated but they would be in a minority compared to those who benefit from the service.

    3. The process would be based upon nationally agreed quality indicators and levels of performance such as the HMIE How Good is Our School documentation.

    3. The stakeholder group are provided with training to allow them to undertake the evaluation.

    4. The stakeholder group are assisted by an externally appointed objective adviser (such as an HMIE) who has experience of national standards of performance.

    5. The stakeholder group evaluate the internal performance judgements and associated evidence provided by the service to be inspected.

    6. The stakeholder group scrutinise the evidence and engage with other users in order to validate the judgements made by the service.

    7. The stakeholder group submit a quality report following a nationally agreed template which is nationally validated through reference to nationally available data.

    8. The report is published and shared with the local and national community.

    The principal of the above process clearly differs from current practice in that it uses external validation and support to empower a local community to judge the effectiveness of a local service – as opposed to taking it out of their hands.  In such a way it builds capacity and an on-going improvement process which extends far beyond the legacy of the traditional ”snap-shot” external inspection.

    My hope is that in East Lothian within the coming year we will have at least three schools where we can trial and refine a stakeholder evaluation process along the lines I’ve described.  The reward for such participation would be a reduction in the external scrutiny of the school throughout the year by the authority and – more importantly – an improvement agenda arising from the process which is focused and benefits from the shared ownership of the entire community.


    Community Ownership of Schools

     I’ve been approached by quite a few people over the last couple of weeks about our ideas relating to Community Ownership of Schools.

    I thought it might help to gather together in one place a number of related posts which provide an insight into the evolution of this idea and the underpinning rationale.

    The first point to emphasise is that we are encouraged by our elected members to “think out of the box” in relation to policy development in East Lothian.  The following links track the development of an idea which is not yet fully formed nor planned to Nth degree.  In that respect I have been adopting the role of the leader as a sculptor:

    “The alternative to the technically focused leader’s vision is to see vision as an outcome which is not ’set’ from the beginning. Instead the sculptor has an idea; a notion; a picture in mind – e.g. to create a sculpture of a human form – but as the sculptor commences work the final outcome may be very different from what they had in mind at the beginning but is all the more successful for that variation.

    What the sculptor is doing is to constantly check on the quality of the developing work. By checking it against a desire to produce the “best” work possible the sculptor shifts the vision rather than carrying on working towards something that will not be as high a quality as what will be created through a more flexible approach towards the final outcome.”

    Please note that the first of these posts dates to August 2006, i.e. long before our current financial status.



    Community Ownership of Schools Conference

    It looks like our conference to explore the concept of Community Ownership of Schools will hopefully take place on the 1st April (no joke) at Queen Margaret University.

    I’m working with Professor Richard Kerly to pull the conference programme together. We intend to invite all East Lothian Headteachers, all elected members, a parent representive from every school, representatives from our communities, a range of managers from other council services, key Council Partners, union reps, local employers, staff from QMU and some representatives from the Scottish Government.  That will take us up to nearly 200 with another 50 spaces available for people from other authorities.

    QMU are going to try to livestream the conference.

    I’ll post the programme here by the end of next week.

    Suggestions for the conference programme are welcome.

    Radical Efficiency: ‘different, better and cheaper’

    I’ve been corresponding with David Jackson of the Innovation Unit who has referred me to the work the Unit has being doing in relation to what they describe as “Radical Efficiency”.

    The basic premise is that it’s possible to reduce costs and improve services. As someone who’s at the sharp end of making reductions in budgets I know how sceptical people are when you suggest that this must be our goal.  It’s good to find a model which actually sets this out ina coherent manner.

    Thew following is lifted from their wikisite

    From operational efficiency to radical efficiency

    All of these elements are important and powerful. But it is how these components are combined that determines whether or not an innovation is just operationally efficient (‘same for less’) or radically efficient (‘different, better and cheaper’). For an innovation to be radically efficient, it must employ components both above and below the line.

    Operational Efficiency: ‘same for less’
    Innovations that employ only the two components that lie below the dotted line offer new solutions to old problems. This is using different resources and maximizing the usefulness of existing ones to offer ‘same for less’.

    This kind of innovation basically takes the system – or desired ends – of public services as given and static. This is not to say that exciting innovation is not possible here. User involvement, as discussed earlier, is evident in all segments of the model and is capable of reshaping existing services with dramatic results.

    The Arizona Department of Corrections[1] offers an excellent example of this kind of innovation in practice. By engaging recent inmates in the design of programmes that help prisoners to re-integrate into society, savings are made both in the short term and the long term. In the short term, resources are not wasted on expensive programmes that have little impact. Less money can be used on different inputs. In the long term, the prevention of recidivism could have a major impact on the budgets of many public services – from health to policing.

    But in any example of this type, prisons are still prisons. The effectiveness of service delivery has been improved but something even more significant is still possible.

    Radical efficiency: ‘different, better and cheaper’

    Innovations that employ three or four components of the model – that is, above and below the dotted line – offer something truly different, better and cheaper.

    Radical efficiency turns the role of provider on its head – they are no longer solution ‘deliverers’, crafting better answers to decades-old questions about how to provide a standardised welfare state for mass consumption. They are pioneers of a new type of public service, asking sometimes difficult questions about who they are trying to serve and what they are trying to achieve.

    We only have to look as far as the success of The Open University to see the power of rethinking the possible clients of higher education and the resources best suited to doing so. Designing a system around previous ‘non-customers’ who were unable to participate in expensive, full time, residential education, and taking advantage of cheap, unused bandwidth on public television (amongst other things) has resulted in a system which today serves over 150,000 undergraduates. Unit costs per student are significantly lower than those in the traditional system.

    Some of the world’s most well respected, game-changing innovations clearly fit here. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh did not keep hammering on the question of how the question of adverse selection (unreliable borrowers defaulting and making loans too expensive for reliable members of the community) could be solved in its existing micro-finance system. Instead it asked afresh how capital could be made available cheaply for the small business investments that play a major role in development. It reconceptualised who its customers should be (mostly women – the ones responsible in practice for family business investments), it reconceptualised who its suppliers should be (members of the local community who know each other) and what its available resources were (close-knit groups of women who know all about each others lives, their reliability and who were able to issue meaningful social sanctions against defaulters). All this was initiated not by the old system-designers (private lenders) but by a new ‘knowledge-generator’ – Professor Muhammed Yunus – an economist who has since been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. This was a whole new system in microcosm, which has since been replicated throughout and beyond Bangladesh.

    So Grameen represents radical efficiency that re-thinks the challenges its community faces (and the outcomes it wants to see) as well as employing different resources to make those outcomes happen more effectively. In doing so, it seeds a whole new system, rather than perpetuating the existing one.

    In health, education and social care, we can see equally compelling examples from across the globe. In the UK, School of Everything[4] starts from the premise that ‘everyone has something to teach, everyone has something to learn’, offering a new conception of adult education and new tools for teachers and students to connect and agree fees. In a totally different context, a mental health first aid kit developed in Australia enables friends, colleagues and family to help keep people healthy (and prevent costly, crisis interventions), whilst lunar powered street lights in San Francisco (that dim when the moonlight is sufficient to illuminate the area) help save money and the environment.

    Incorporation of Scotland’s Colleges: A Scottish example of local automomy and accountability in action

    John McCann, Director of Next Practice at Scotland’s Colleges, has kindly provided me with a piece on the development of Scotland’s Colleges from their Incorporation in 1993 when they gained their own autonomy. 


    I will be returning to this on numerous occasions over the next few months.




    Any reasonable commentator on the lifelong learning landscape in Scotland would conclude that colleges are in a good place. The most recent (2009) HMIe Report on Improving Scottish Education concluded that there were no systemic weaknesses in the sector and anticipated colleges being at the forefront of contemporary education challenges. Further, and while these things are always transitory, there has been significant political goodwill recently reflecting college reputation for responsiveness to changing contexts.

     There are a number of factors which have contributed to this position – strategic leadership, flexible curriculum arrangements, staff development, funding drivers, …. However, the significant structural element has been the ability of colleges, as autonomous institutions, to act with agility in addressing changing circumstances.

     Formally, colleges became incorporated institutions in 1993 when they moved from local authority control and the modern college movement begun. It required legislative action with momentum generated by a combination of political will, a particular vision for public services and educational rationale. While the legislative procedure was accelerated, it was seen as the next stage in a process.

     Political Context

     The political context throughout the 80s was one of significant reform of public services with encouragement of private sector thinking to public service provision. Some public services were ‘privatised’ while all were required to be customer focused and to reflect this in the quality of service delivered and the accountability mechanisms developed. Competition became the driver for efficiency gains and quality improvement. The prevailing thinking was that of a shift away from central control towards provision of local services to provide local solutions which met local needs and had local accountability.

     A further political driver was that of the unpopular ‘poll tax’. This was introduced in line with the prevailing political philosophy and never attained acceptance as a fair way of contributing to the costs of public services. One tactic was to take services out of local authority responsibility and, in so doing, remove an expenditure burden providing an opportunity to reduce local taxation. The political judgement was of a more favourable perspective on poll tax.

     Finally, there was significant activity in reforming the university sector. As part of the ‘liberating’ ethos, the binary divide was removed with a large number of institutions becoming universities. The regulating body for degree awards was abolished and the country turned away from an elitist approach to higher education to one of widening access in line with other developing countries. Access to education and, from that, provision of a highly qualified workforce, was seen to be critical to success in the new context of knowledge economies and emerging demands of globalisation.

     The political conditions were right for incorporation of colleges; a number of boxes were ticked and a number of helpful steps had been undertaken on the road. For example, college councils had been formed and, in some authorities, there was significant delegation to individual institutions – schools as well as colleges.

     Educational Context

    During the 80s, educational systems had to respond to new demands created by major shifts in the economy. Scotland’s traditional economic base – manufacturing, engineering, shipbuilding, mining – collapsed to be replaced by a service economy. The extent of this shift was such that it has attracted the descriptor ‘revolution’ by some contemporary commentators. A second set of demands was generated by the ubiquity of technology with the ready availability of cheaper, more powerful processors. Business processes were being fundamentally restructured.

    In contrast to the pace of change in society, educational systems were ‘measured’ in their response to changes. Inevitably, change was demanded to make the system better suited to modern demands. In schools, the age of the initiative was born. In colleges there was two major changes.

    The first was reform of the ‘non-advanced’ qualification structure. It took many forms and subject to perspectives of a multitude of employer bodies. ‘Action Plan’ was designed to bring coherence to the curriculum and to change the delivery paradigm to ‘student centredness’. The National Certificate ‘module’ was born which described provision in terms of the outcomes which learners were to achieve and the standards for certification. The availability of the module as the unit of learning (nominally 40 hours) opened up new possibilities for curriculum design and delivery.

    The second change was the devolution to colleges for quality assurance including assessment. The qualifications body owned the qualifications specification and so national standards were preserved. Colleges, who had developed systems and processes to assure assessment methods met required standards, assessed and, subject to verification, awarded credit. These delegated powers opened up new possibilities for flexible delivery.

    The change management processes related to Action Plan might be described as power-coercive. Courageous decisions were made that the existing curriculum would cease to exist at a particular point in time to be replaced by new modules. The pace was fierce – part of the change management process – with the whole non-advanced curriculum replaced in a couple of years.

    These changes were also introduced for HN ‘units’. By the end of 80s, colleges had a unit-based, flexible curriculum with significant delegated powers. A significant degree of ownership of the curriculum had passed to colleges with the expectation that provision would meet local needs. Colleges were empowered to become the type of responsive institution to meet these new demands.

    There was also in the sector, a cohort of managers who had been through significant change and who had led much of it. There was capacity (and appetite) within the sector for greater accountability, responsibility and autonomy. In other countries, particularly the American Community Colleges, and elsewhere in the UK colleges had become or were becoming autonomous. In the UK, central institutions had demonstrated the value of autonomous operation with appropriate mechanisms for accountability. Incorporation was an obvious next step.

     Enabling Incorporation

    With the political will in place, the educational rationale sound (and proven in other contexts), processes were put in place for colleges to be removed from local authority control and become autonomous institutions. The break was to be clean and comprehensive – there were no qualifications to autonomy.

    Colleges became accountable to their own Boards of Management. Board responsibilities included all matters related to the functioning of the organisation – strategic direction, finance, human resources, property, quality, curriculum,….. Core funding was to be provided from central government based on a transparent formula related to student activity with these arrangements phased in to allow colleges to adjust. (initial allocation was based on historic allocation from local authorities). Central control on curriculum provision (eg approval of HN provision) was removed.

    Boards were to be made up of 16 members. Some were prescribed – Principal, Academic Staff member, Support Staff member and student. Not less than half the Board were to be experienced in “industrial, commercial or employment matters or the practice of any profession”. Limitations were placed on local authority influence; explicitly neither an elected nor an appointed member of a local authority could chair the board.

    Support available to colleges was considerable and critical with SFEU (as was) playing a very significant role and well supported by government. Support took the form of understanding new responsibilities and new appointments in colleges provided the necessary specialist expertise – the balance of academic/support staff was to change dramatically. Specific support was made available to colleges where necessary and steps were taken to ensure there were no college failures.

    An attempt was made to preserve national bargaining. However, given that staff costs represented much of a colleges’ expenditure, national mechanisms broke down to be replaced with local bargaining. There are occasional calls for its restoration.

    As might be imagined, colleges exploited incorporation differently. All grew in terms of student numbers – some much faster than others. Each developed their own corporate identity and there were significant competitive pressures around. The quality of management and leadership improved in response to new opportunities and responsibilities and this has been a key aspect of current success.

    National policy demands were addressed through funding mechanisms (grant-in-aid conditions, specific funding allocation, strategic development funds) and quality regimes. There is a high degree of awareness within the college community that addressing policy is not only a requirement of funding but also required in order to retain autonomy.

    For all colleges, a high level of innovation became characteristic of their work. This was necessary given the competitive forces which around and the challenging issues being addressed. There were also internal forces driving innovation as staff became empowered to take forward their own ideas with minimum reference to external bureaucracies.


    No-one doubts that the process was a successful reform of an increasingly important public service – it was the right thing to do. Apart for some calls for a return to national bargaining, there is no serious attempt to return to pre-Incorporation times. There remain tensions between national policy and local autonomy; however, these are to be anticipated. Generally, we have found a way by which national policy demands can be quickly implemented with local provision shaped to meet local demands.

    The conditions (political, public service, educational) which led to incorporation of colleges remain and, indeed, have become more imperative. These are

    1. The pace of change is such to require responsive, agile institutions continually adapting to new circumstances;
    2. Innovation is best achieved within a dynamic, challenging environment where individuals are unencumbered by unnecessary, distant bureaucracy;
    3. Local solutions work best;
    4. National interests can be served well through enlightened funding and quality levers.