Wanted: Thought Leaders

A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognized for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights.  The term was coined in 1994, by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the magazine, Strategy & Business. The term was used to designate interview subjects for that magazine who had contributed new thoughts to business.

 Among the first “thought leaders,” were British management thinker, Charles Handy, who advanced the idea of a “portfolio worker” and the “Shamrock Organization”, Stanford economist Paul Romer, Mitsubishi president, Minoru Makihara, and University of Michigan strategist, C.K. Prahalad, author of a number of well known works in corporate strategy including “The Core Competence of the Corporation” (Harvard Business Review, May-June, 1990); and his co-author, Gary Hamel, a professor at the London Business School. And at the turn of the millennium Chris Harris in his trend leading insight book Hyperinnovation.

 The first treatise to begin the address a rapidly interconnecting, growing, technologically innovative world. Since that time, the term has spread from business to other disciplines and has come to mean someone who enlivens old processes with new ideas. As a result, there are thought leaders in the sciences, humanities and even in government. (Wikipedia)

Apply within.

Challenges and Opportunities for the Scottish Physical Education Profession

I was invited to speak at yesterday’s  National Conference on Physical Education in Scotland held at Edinburgh University.

After an initial preamble, where I indulged myself with a few personal reminiscences, I set out what I thought to be the some of the main challenges and opportunities facing the profession.  As I explained at the conference there is a huge challenge to be faced by all of us in education relating to the fallout from the recession and associated reductions in public service budgets.  I will not focus upon these here as I regard that to be an essentially non-productive line of enquiry – as opposed to focusing upon those things that we can change and over which we can actually have some control.

Here they are in no particular order of priority: (please note that  these challenges and opprtunities are not intended to be an exhaustive list)



There is a danger that the profession see the target of 2 hours of high quality physical education as a charter for the profession – as opposed to an entitlement for children and young people.  If we narrow the definition of high quality to be only something which can only be delivered by qualified PE teachers then it unnecessarily limits the huge potential support we can gain from others who have much to offer, e.g. primary class teachers.


I was once described as a “radical traditionalist” and was flattered by such an imaginative and oxymoron-ish sobriquet. I believe there is much to be gained from reference to the values and standards which can be characterised as “traditional”.  However, if “traditionalism” is simply used as an excuse to limit children’s experiences to what the teacher feels comfortable with then it becomes a significant barrier to progress.


The concept of 2 hours of high quality physical education is based upon a premise/assumption that children’s lives will be enhanced by exposure to such an experience.  If the profession take such a time allocation for granted  and does not engage in enhancing the quality, then it may be that at some later date – when research evidence possibly suggests that there has been no positive impact upon children’s lives – that some other alternative mechanism for improving the health and well being of children is devised, which may not depend to the same extent upon the profession.

Guidance reliance:

Arguably the  physical education profession has seen Guidance teaching to be a route for progression.   Whether one agrees with this or not there is a strong likelihood that the future of Guidance provision in Scotland will change radically over the next ten years.  If this does happen then many in the profession, who would have previously seen this to be there preferred route ,may have to look elsewhere.


I’ve written before about the “mile-wide, inch deep” phenomenon. Such an arrangement runs counter to the principle of “deep learning” which underpins curriculum for excellence. 


Has the profession unwittingly excluded a large number of children by seeing the core programme as being a precursor to the thing that really matters, i.e. the certificated programme?

Risk Averse:

Where are the thinkers, the writers, the innovators in the profession?  If they are out there they are silent!


Learning and Teaching

In the 1980’s Physical Education was the one of the leading subject areas when it came to analysis, experimentation and development of teaching and learning approaches. This focus, exemplified by Muska Mosston’s spectrum of teaching styles , enabled PE teachers in Scotland to reflect upon their practice as never before. 

Yet in the last decade the subject area has been remarkably silent as Assessment is for Learning and other associated developments have been mainly located in other subject areas, and the primary sector in particular.

It would seem to that there is a significant opportunity or the Physical Education profession to drive forward practice by engaging and promoting their pedagogy using the wide range of contexts available to them within the subject.  I see no particular obstruction to the profession taking on a leading role in pedagogical development and sharing this expertise with other teachers and subject areas .

Sport and the Community:

Over the next decade the boundary between school and community will become blurred.  As schools possibly become more accountable to their communities the importance of sport and extra-curricular activity will be increased.  There will be an opporunity for forward looking departments to engage much more closely with community sports groups to provide an integrated sport and physical activity programme which meets the needs of the young people and the community.

Leadership and Management:

In previous generations many Physical Education teachers progressed to management positions either due to their organisational abilities, or through their ability to engage positively with young people which often led to management positions in Guidance.

Yet in the new millennium high quality teaching and learning within the Physical Education environment is an excellent  preparation for developing the skills and aptitudes necessary for a successful leader and manager within the wider world of education. If aligned with an intellectual rigour in terms of reflecting upon that practice and an associated capacity to modify one’s practice accordingly then Physical Education teachers should be well placed to make a significant contribution to the leadership of Scottish Education.


Physical Education teachers should have a well developed knowledge of the stages of child development and be able to relate that to their practice and the associated curricular programme. By sharing their expertise with primary class teachers and working in close association with primary schools it should be possible for PE to be a principal contributor to the concept of a coherent 3-18 educational experience as articulated within Curriculum for Excellence. This aspect has particular resonance in relation to promoting health and well being as a lifelong habit.

The key to capitalising upon this opportunity will be to look beyond what has traditionally been the limits of responsibility for secondary school Physical Education teachers. 

Deep Learning:

There are huge opportunities for the Physical Education profession to enable young people to experience the joy of “deep learning”. Nevertheless, this will require significant change to the current way in which the curriculum is structured and offered in schools.


Physical Education could become much more inclusive of it could shift from it’s current focus on preparing young people for the certificated curriculum.  Make it the goal that every child that comes through your door achieves and feels positively about themselves and their relationship with physical activity and sport and you will have much to share with the rest of the educational world.


Take risks with your practice;  imagine and implement; read, research and reflect;  write and engage in dialogue;  stand up and speak out; but above all make good use of the incredible flexibility which is afforded through a Curriculum for Excellence.

Community Based Management of Schools 2017 – Witness Statement (2)

This is the second of 6 witness statements reflecting upon Community Based Management of Schools from the perspective of 2017. See Witness Statement (1)


Witness Statement (2)

So you want me to give you an honest opinion on the debacle that has been Community Based Management of Schools? Do you really mean that?  OK – you have been warned!

I had been the Headteacher of a school in one of the first two clusters in East Lothian to take on Community Based Management status in 2011.  I’d been reluctant about getting involved from the very start.  Partly due to the lack of clarity about what it meant for us as Headteachers and the fact that I really enjoyed my job and didn’t want to take on any more responsibility for schools which really didn’t have anything in common with my own, aside from the fact that we were in the same town.

Given the inital publicity about the proposals a lot of parents and community members generated a momentum which we couldn’t really hold back but I knew from the start that it was destined to be a disaster. 

I’d always set my ultimate career goal to be a Headteacher and I think I was really good at my job.  Our school had received a very positive HMIE inspection report in 2010 we were judged to have a good capacity for improvement.  I had a great Parent Council and we were managing our resources within the budget which the authority allocated to us.  However, at that time around 2010 the entire country was overwhelmed by the deepest recession which the UK had experienced since the war and we were all caught in the headlights of that crisis. I reckon it was this concern that panicked us into taking such a drastic step.  Nevertheless, I was confident that we could have managed to chart a course through that time if we had been left to get on with by ourselves.

My biggest issue with the proposal was that I saw it to simply be a system for the authority to pass on all the risk and responsibility for budgets to the schools.  Over the previous few years more and more of the budget responsibility had been devolved to us but there were still some key budgets which were retained at the centre.  I had always thought that to be fair as I believed it to be important that we needed to be protected from the burden of unexpected costs.  It was my job to manage the quality of learning and teaching in my school – anything which detracted from that focus could only be of detriment to children in our care.

The second problem I foresaw was the inevitability of ill-informed parental interference in the educational process and operational management of my school (in fact it was to be worse than that as it wasn’t just parents but members of our community who were given the power to interfere!).  Our Parent Council had been a great success and was certainly an improvement on the previous School Board.  We had a group of parents who were representative of all stages within our school and I provided them with monthly reports on all aspects of the school.  They took great interest in our curriculum and the learning and teaching process and helped us on numerous occasions to liaise with the authority on issues of mutual concern.  They also provided a excellent social unit to bring parents together and also to fundraise to assist the school.  So why change? – I’m still trying to work that one out!

That first  Board of Management was skewed towards a particular type of parent.  If I were to be generous I would describe them to be evangelical in their desire to “improve” the school.  It was as if the leash had been released and all of a sudden an incredible range of  initiatives and programmes – most of which were driven by individuals who had their own specific, and very personal, interest in that topic. In addition to this we had some members of our community who became members of the Board who held long time grudges against the school – dating back to well before my time.  They saw this as an opportunity to “fix” the school – even though it had moved on during the intervening years.  A consequence of that was that individual teachers were often identified as being the problem and entire meetings were taken up with trying to work out what could be done about “Ms ……”

You can imagine the difficulty that such a situation created.  I tried to protect my Parent Council from the Board of Management but it was inevitable that tensions would grow as the Board saw it necessary to go one way whilst we – as a school – felt it necessary to go another.  A key contributor to those earliest problems was the fact the the authority no longer provided each school with their own budget but allocated a budget to the entire cluster in a single lump sum.  Well, you can imagine the bun fight that ensued as each of the Heads and their parental representatives tried to argue for a greater proportion of the diminishing resources.  I’ll never forget on one occasion how one parent arrived at the meeting having worked out that they had 15% more children who lived in the most deprived areas in our town – and tried to use that for a reason for gaining a funding advantage.  It was things like this that started to set Headteachers against each other.  I’ll never forgive the authority for that as we had always previously got on so well and had even socialised together on many occasions.  As you know, once relationships have broken down there is no easy way to build them up again.

Another consequence was the complete undermining of my authority within the school. I no longer could make quick decisions about matters which previously I could have taken in a couple of minutes.  The fact that we were expected to follow common policies within our community made us lose some of the valued systems that we had built up over a number of years. This was particularly the case with some of our curricular programmes which we had to drop in order to fit in with the rest

The other real issue I had with the whole idea was how it forced us to apply common behaviour support practices.  The cluster had also decided to invest in some additional support for young people outside school and had decided to pay for two Community Learning and Development leaders who were paid to work with children outwith the school following reference from staff in the school.  What really got to me was the fact that a significant part of their salaries was actually coming from my budget!

I could go onto list some of the myriad of problems we encountered: refusal of the authority to take responsibility for repairs and maintenance (they said we had the money); having to manage the long term absence budget with no back stop; no authority curricular support officers; a parental expectation that they could get anything they wanted if they just spoke to the Board; an expectation that extra-curricular activities were now part of every teachers job; and a reluctance for anyone in the authority to accept any responsibility for anything.

The final straw came when the Board of Management decided they wanted to appoint a Chief Operating Officer from amongst our Headteacher ranks.  They had increased the remuneration for this post by nearly 25% through the job sizing process but also by adding an additional premium from our own resources.  I did feel obliged to apply as the longest serving Headteacher in the cluster but was not surprised when they appointed another of the Headteachers in the cluster to the post.  I resigned/retired not long after that time but I have heard from friends that things have continued to go from bad to worse.  It won’t surprise me in the least when I hear that this crazy scheme has been abandoned and that someone has come up with the bright idea of a system where schools – once again – are given their own independence to operate solely to meet the needs of the children who attend their own school.

Community Based Management of Schools 2017 – Witness Statement (1)

This is the first of six Witness Statements from 2017 reflecting upon the implementation of Community Based Management of Schools in East Lothian.


I’ve been asked to reflect upon our experience of establishing a Board of Management for our Community Cluster of schools.

Looking back it’s hard to believe that we first started to talk about this over seven years ago. At that time the education system had remained virtually unchanged in Scotland for nearly 40 years, characterised by what most of us now recognise to be the cosy inter-dependency between between schools and local authorities.

In 2011 I was an innocent member of a our Parent Council and had stumbled into becoming one of the PC representatives on our Cluster Management Board. I didn’t have any particular expertise but I fulfilled one of the criteria they had set down in that I had a background in local voluntary service. On reflection the matrix approach whereby the Board had to be made up of a mix of people with different backgrounds and areas of expertise has perhaps been one of the most important things in making it the success it has eventually become.

I remember when we were setting up the Board for the first time how threatened Headteachers had been by the thought  that they were going to be accountable to a bunch of amateurs who would only serve to interfere in their business. I suppose that was a legitimate concern and it might have been the case had we not been given the support in the initial stages to develop our expertise and capacity to understand our role and the world of education.

Our Cluster had been the third East Lothian community to volunteer to establish a Board of Management. We’d left it a year as we wanted to spend time developing our skills and understanding prior to making the leap. I know that one of the two initial communities who volunteered really struggled due to their resistance to accept any external help in the development phase. They had leapt into making key strategic decisions without properly understanding the consequences of their actions on the long term viability of education in their community. Perhaps their key mistake had been to see themselves in opposition to the other communities in East Lothian and that their success would only come about of they were able to draw in pupils from other areas, thereby maximising their income at the expense of other communities. However, they had not taken into account that the authority had changed the funding system to only fund a student from outwith a community to the sum of 50% of a similar student from within the community. The result was that although schools rolls had increased, their equivalent budget was greatly reduced.

A second problem with the early adopters had been that they had not grasped the change in relationship between the authority and the schools. In the previous system the authority always held back a sum of cash in the centre to cover unforeseen eventualities such as long term absence, emergency repairs, or even sending children to residential homes. The new system had seen all of that funding stripped out of the centre and devolved to the Board of Management and Headteachers in the Cluster. Yet six months into the first year one of the Clusters had come back to the authority asking for more cash as they had run up a huge bill for paying for an enhancement to their ICT system. Of course the authority had no option but to refuse to help out as remaining funding was now directed to the other schools who had not adopted the Community Based Management status.

This had proved to be an important lesson and had certainly focused our minds when we decided to embark down this path. It has proved to be a steep learning curve for our headteachers who have become much more independent and business focused which has led to much improved use of assets and budgets than had been the case previously.

This leads me neatly into describing the management structure which we have developed in our Cluster. The early adopters had moved quite quickly to appointing a Chief Executive/Principal of their Community Cluster from one of their Headteachers. Having seen how this system had so quickly centralised power and disenfranchised the other Headteachers we wanted to avoid a similar scenario in our own community. We were perhaps fortunate to have a group of outstanding Headteachers, who despite managing schools of disparate natures and sizes, seemed to to appreciate the benefits of working together as part of a team. Following advice from the support team which the Authority had put in place to help our transition we established a system of leadership rotation on an 18 month cycle. The Cluster Leader does not receive any more pay but does receive additional management support in their school for the duration their responsibility.

The wonderful thing about our Management Meetings is that they really do focus upon the education process as it affects our community. As someone who has a natural leaning towards the early years it’s been great to have discussions which sees this stage clearly within a 3-18 perspective. The other remarkable outcome of the change has been that it has reduced the workload of staff in our schools. The fact that most of our developments are shared across our schools means that we avoid the repetition of effort which so characterised the previous system.

Our Board meets once every two months but the various sub-committees meet in the intervening months. I’ve served on the Community Engagement; Literacy Development; and Finance Committees over the last five years. Each committee has a range of representatives and at least one of the Headteachers as an advisor. One the great successes has been to involve young people as members of our committees. The fact that they see that they can influence policy and associated budgets has really changed how they perceive their place in our community. The second advantage of the Cluster approach is how we have been able to capitalise upon the incredible range of expertise within our community. I was always a bit worried that the approach would just ask parents on Parent Council do have to do even more – with the result that it just scared people away. The fact that we have eight schools to draw parent representatives from, plus the fact that we can draw in a similar number of community representatives, has really strengthened our capacity to conduct our business in a professional manner. Oops – just about missed out one of the most important groups on the Management Board – the teachers themselves. This has been a revelation, particularly in relation to budget issues, where the financial transparency has helped to create a true community solution focused approach to meeting some of our key challenges.

I know one of the other concerns people had with the initial proposals was that Parent Councils would become marginalised by the establishment of a Board of Management. The key to avoiding this has been in the protocols and rules of governance which we and the Local Authority put in place at the outset. By having real clarity regarding responsibilities and duties have avoided some of the problems which plagued the early adopters – namely what happens when some schools want to do their own thing. By ensuring that we all signed up to a collective partnership has ensured that such an outcome has been avoided.

Our relationship with the Local Authority has waxed and waned over the last five years. I think they have had as many problems with the shift as we have had and have particularly found it difficult to realise that they have to “let go”. Nevertheless, I think we now have it just about right with the Authority having established a clear set of outcomes for us to achieve and a clearly understood funding mechanism. In the first few years the funding seemed to have too many strings attached and we felt that we were just replicating the previous system in another guise. However, as the Authority has become more confident in our ability they have also realised the benefits to be had from giving us more autonomy.

One of their biggest concerns related to how we would support the needs of the most vulnerable in our community, whether they have learning difficulties, behavioural problems, disabilities, social or emotional problems, or issues in home circumstances. It’s probably in this respect that we have all had to make the most significant changes in our outlook. I know that when I first came onto the Board I was of the opinion that the Authority was simply shifting the financial burden from the themselves to the local communities. However, as we became more experienced we began to see that many of the extra costs for which a budget was retained at the centre could be better managed if devolved to us. One of our great successes has been in relation to residential care budgets. When we asked how much had been spent on children from our community to provide them with residential care either in East Lothian or beyond over the previous four years we were staggered by the total, e.g. up to £4000 per week per young person. We negotiated with the Authority to devolve this budget to us based upon an average of the previous five years. They agreed to devolve this to us less 15% – on account that they reckoned that they needed to keep some capacity to manage eventualities elsewhere in the Authority.

We have used this money to invest in our child and family support system in our community. This is a specialist team of employees who work in our schools in an the community to support our vulnerable families and children. The fact that it’s done by us for us has also enabled us to establish a team of volunteers who enhance our provision. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that this has had a really positive effect on how we feel about our community.

Of course finances have been incredibly tight over the last few years. The fact that our budget reduced by nearly 10% in the first three years didn’t help but the fact that we were able to gather together some of the funding streams into a single community pot helped us to create some very creative solutions to our problems. This was particularly the case when we established a shared administrative support team for the schools in our community and linked them with the Business Manager in the secondary school who now supports all of our schools. We also have a large number of staff who work either between primary schools or between primary schools and the secondary school. This has really enhanced the notion of a collaborative community and has dramatically changed the idea of there being different sectors – certainly our kids don’t see it as being a huge shift – particularly as the curriculum for P7 and S1 curriculum is delivered by a single team of staff.

Of course, we are still looking at the potential of seeking Charitable Trust status. The real incentive is that it would save us from paying non-domestic rates which currently amount to nearly £600,000 for all of our schools. I know that there are members of staff who worry about that transition but their concerns are certainly a lot less now than they were when we first embarked upon this journey.

I know that I’ve only been able to touch upon just a few of the vast range of challenges and opportunities that have emerged since 2012. Nevertheless, I doubt whether any of us would want to return to the previous system. As I recall the original proposal was to promote community ownership of schools – I can assure you that although that journey has been bumpy it has certainly been worthwhile – both for the children and staff who have benefited from the change – and most certainly for our communities who have been drawn together as never before in a common enterprise.

If you have any questions I’d be glad to try to answer them if you leave a comment.

Aspiring to be “good” – would this provide space for improvement?

Amongst a number of  other duties the Standards in Scottish Schools Act 2000 sets out two key responsibilities for Scottish Local Authorities in respect to school education, namely Raising Standards and Reviewing School Performance.

Yet I was wondering if it’s time to reconsider these duties in light of the impact – or otherwise – that Local Authorities have had upon schools in their charge? As a headteacher, and in my ten years a member of school senior management teams in a variety of schools,  I would have to question what impact Local Authorities had upon raising standards in the school and whether or not the School Review process made a positive contribution to the raising of said standards. I want to make it clear that I am not denigrating in any way the efforts and support given to schools by Local Authority colleagues but that the very assumption that an external force can drive improvement within a school is perhaps founded upon a false premise.

For the reality is often that the standards in a school are directly related to the quality of leadership and commitment from staff in that same school. However, by giving responsibility for raising standards to the Local Authority it creates an expectation – from all – that the authority can make an impact from an external position.  This is turn gives rise to what I’ve previously described as the “Dae Sumthin”  mentality where Local Authority managers are under pressure to be seen to be taking action – even if this action doesn’t necessarily result in any observable consequence.  The important thing is that action is taken. 

In a similar fashion Authorities have gone to considerable trouble to create a range of means of “Reviewing School Performance”  . These mechanisms have taken many different forms all with the intention that we can “know our schools”.

What I want to question is the assumption that there is a direct causal relationship between how well we know our schools and how well we can raise standards? ( in the case the “we” are those outwith the school).

It would be my contention that the responsibility – and much more importantly the capacity – to raise standards lies with those who work in a school.  That was always my belief as a headteacher, a principal teacher, or even as a teacher and I’ve seen nothing in the last five years as an educational administrator to change that opinion. I’m not saying here that all of our efforts in Local Authorities are wasted but that there is an unintended consequence of our adherence to the notion that the more we do from “outside” the school the better things will be “within” the school.

So if the responsibility for raising standards should lie with the school does that mean that the Authority can abdicate from it’s responsibilities for school education?  I would argue that the quality of school education should still lie with the Local Authority – yet the responsibility to raise standards should lie with the school.  Now if this seems like “having one’s cake and eating it” I can understand how such an assertion might appear peculiar.  Yet what I have in mind is much more of a commissioning approach, whereby the Authority commissions the school to deliver education on its behalf.  Just as Children’s Services currently commissions a charity to deliver an aspect of its service, the overall responsibility still lies with the  commissioning body. It is the role of the commissioner to ensure that those who are commissioned are delivering the service to the agreed standards – it is not the commissioner’s responsibility to raise standards, simply to ensure that the standards set out in the agreement is achieved.

This actually chimes with something which Pasi Sahlberg said recently at a  conference when describing the success that is Finnish Education. For Pasi said that in Finland to be “good”  is “good enough”.  They do not aspire to excellence as a system but focus on ensuring that everyone is at least “good enough”.  I know this seems to lack the aspiration of our Journey to Excellence – but I actually think that this provides exactly  the kind of space in which teachers and schools can flourish. 

So in such an environment what should happen to the Authority’s responsibility to “Review School Performance”? Perhaps the clue lies with the last couple of sentences in that particular section of the Act when it describes how where the Authority concludes that following a review that where:

” the school is not performing satisfactorily they shall take such steps as appear to them to be requisite to remedy the matter.”

It’s here that I would want to refer to the model of practice which is emerging from many directions, namely Risk Assessment.  What I’m wondering is whether or not a Risk Assessment approach might provide schools with much more space to innovate and develop local solutions to raising standards?  Would it be possible for an Authority to assess the “Risk” relating to the quality of education provided by a school.  Rather than stating that a school’s performance is somewhere on the six point scale we instead provide a simple statement to parents and others that the risk that the school is not providing a “good” education is low, medium or high.  Schools would aspire to be in the “low” risk category.   I would reckon that only around 5% of schools would fall into the high risk category and that the Authorities’ resources could be targetted on those same schools – with others being given ever more freedom to innovate and create local solotions without external interference.

The Water Dilemma: Game Theory – is win,win really possible in our modern world?

The challenge presented by the financial situation as set out in my last post should focus the mind of any of us involved in public service.  Nevertheless, the temptation will always be to approach any problem – regardless of how potentially devastating that problem might be – from the point of view of self-interest (and not necessarily enlightened).  Yet the concern must be that without some dramatic change in mindset we face a situation where the entire system defaults.

I’ve always been attracted to the notion of Game Theory and thought it might be useful to try to construct my own “game” to enable us to explore our own unfortunate reality! 

Answers on a postcard.

Lake Punto Morto

Two countries are in conflict over a lake which extends equally on either side of their respective borders.  The lake is the only source of water for each of the countries.  Each of the countries seeks to extract as much water as possible from the reservoir each year so as to prevent the other country from gaining an advantage.

This has never really been a problem as the winter rains have always refilled the lake.  However, over the last two years there have been no winter rains and the lake is dangerously low.  There are no other means of storing significant quantities of water in either of the countries.  The countries do not speak the same language and will not meet under any circumstances

The countries have two options:

1.   Extract as much water as they can, as quickly as they can in the hope that the other country will be destroyed. 

2.   Reduce their own rate of extraction from the lake in the hope that the winter rains will replenish the lake’s water level.

Which option should the countries take?

Campaign against budget cuts in Scottish education

Net Local Authority Revenue Expenditure by Service (%)

The Educational Institute of Scotland is running a campaign against any budget cuts in Scottish Education.

A march was held in Glasgow today at which thousands of teachers, parents and lecturers joined to protest against any education budget reductions under the banner “why must our children pay?”

As a teacher and passionate advocate for education I understand and support the sentiment and motivation behind the campaign but I can’t quite see how it’s going to be possible to ring fence any single service within the Scottish public service environment – for all that it might make my job a lot easier.

No less a person than Sir John Elvidge ,  Scotland’s senior civil servant, speaking at an event on the 29th January, warned that public service spending in Scotland is likely to be reduced by 10 per cent in real terms in three years time and 20 per cent in seven years compared to current levels. He went on to say:

“I think one of the hardest questions that faces us all as managers is how will the trend of real terms reductions last. 

 I think, without getting into political territory, it’s difficult to identify the point of certainty at which one says: ‘Ah, yes, it will      definitely have turned round by then.’ And all I’d say is, that if one looks beyond four years, at that rate of annual real terms reduction and taking into account compounding, it doesn’t take very long to get to 20 per cent instead of 10 per cent.”

Taking Elvidge’s figure of 10% (which will be closer to 12% with the compounding effect) I thought it might be useful to explore the impact on public services in Scotland.

The most recent figures we have available for Scottish education expenditure relate to the financial year 2007-2008.  In that year the revenue expenditure was £4.7 billion.  Using this figure , although it’s likely to be much closer to £5 billion in the current year, a 10% reduction would equate to £470 million.  The logic must be that if this sum is not to be picked up by education then it must be passed onto some other Scottish public service.  So who would be best placed to pay this bill?

The Scottish Health service had expenditure of £8.9 billion in 2006/2007.  Their share of the 10% savings would be £890 million – so perhaps they have their fair share of the challenge and the focus should lie elsewhere?

So how about the cost of running the Scottish Government?  The 2010/2011 draft budget for running the core administration of the government is £258.3 million – which is dwarfed by the £470 million three-year saving which would be required of education.

Of course Scottish education (apart from further and higher education) is funded though Local Authorities – there must be significant opportunities for the burden to lie with other Local Authority Services? 

Education’s average share of the total revenue expenditure for Local Authorities in 2007-2008 was 42.6% . The table shown above describes how education and and social work – which includes child protection and community care – takes that proportion up to 65%. Then add police, fire and emergency planning and you’re up to nearly 80%.  Throw in roads and transport, economic development and environmental services and the total is well beyond 90%.

The reality is that Local Authorities cannot meet a 10% saving from its net revenue expenditure of £11.1 billion, i.e. £1.11 billion, from the remainder of those services which might not be deemed as sacrosanct as some of those listed previously.

Perhaps John Elvidge gets close to the truth when he suggested:

“This is going to be an enormous challenge for any system – and it tells us that the right thing for all public sector managers to be doing at the moment is to err on the side of pessimism in their forecasts, and radicalism in their thinking.” (my emboldened type)

For me it’s this latter trait which will require all involved in education to adopt if we are to safely navigate these difficult waters over the next few years.

I’ll leave the last words with John Elvidge:

“I think the shape of delivery of at least some public services is going to look completely different. I wish I knew which ones they were and which ones will look different, but it’s obvious that we can’t simply continue to run the models that we run for delivery of various public services,”

It’s not the quantity – but the quality of educational outcomes that really matters!

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What are the features of high performing education systems?  Andreas Schleicher of the OECD speaks on the findings of a recent report on “The High Cost of low educational performance”.

“High aspirations;

back up with strong support to schools;

give schools room to manouevre;

systems of intelligent accountability to enable them to intervene when things go wrong;

basically very open and flexible education systems.”

 “It’s not the QUANTITY of educational outcomes but the  QUALITY of educational outcomes that makes a difference.

 “It’s about new ways of thinking;

 it’s about creativity and innovation, problem-solving, critical thinking;

 it’s about new ways of working, collaboration;

 It’s about new tools for working, infromation technology and how we get people to capitalise on the potential of new technology;

and, very importantly, how do we live in an increasingly hetergeneous world?

The world is changing fast.

It’s specifying education in those terms – not just what we have done in the past but the kind of skills that will matter in the future.”

If this doesn’t capture the essence of Curriculum for Excellence I don’t know what does.

The real question should be asking ourselves isn’t  “Should we be delaying Curriculum for Excellence?” but “Can we really afford to delay Curriculum for Excellence?”. 

I’ll leave the last word to Andreas Schleicher “Improved performance in education will have a huge effect on the economic performance of European countries.”

Learners Leading Learning: Speaking up for Scottish Education

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Alison Taylor, Principal Teacher and Primary 3 teacher at Stoneyhill Primary School, Musselburgh, takes time out to describe how she gets learners to lead their own learning.

We followed this up with an interview which showed how Alison uses this same approach to promote deep learning in Science.

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