Job swap

Do any East Lothian teachers or social workers fancy a job swap for a day?

Over the last few years I’ve had a number of colleagues from the Department come into shadow me for a day. Typically they have been senior or middle managers, or on occasions managers from Scottish Government.

Here’s an insight from one of those observers on what they made of their shadowing experience.

I’d like to open up the shadowing offer again this year – this time to non-promoted staff, but with a bit of a twist. The twist is that I’d like to come to your place of work for a day, engage in your preparation work and perhaps undertake some predetermined tasks, perhaps teach a class, conduct an interview, or whatever we agree.

Given the challenges we face in public service I need to fully understand what it’s like to be on the frontline if I am to fully represent this perspective in strategy and policy decisions.

If you are interested drop me a line, explaining why you think it would be good for me to job swap with you for a day. I intend to undertake two job swaps, one with a teacher and one with a social worker. The swaps would take place between January and June of next year.

My e-mail address is

The impact of repealing legislation: the role of local authorities in education

The juxtaposition at the recent ADES conference of Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Scotland, and Steve Munby, Chief Executive of the English National College for School Leaders, provided an interesting perspective into the possibilities for the future of Scottish education.

Mr Russell was very careful not to give away anything about changes to the governance of schools post local elections scheduled for May 2012. However, the general consensus is that change is on the horizon and that it will see more devolution of power to schools and headteachers; a change to funding mechanisms to schools and the associated role for local authorities; and an associated change to the role of local authorities in setting policy.

No-one reckons that there will be wholesale changes along the lines that were experienced in 1995 when the most recent local government reorganisation took place. Primarily due to the fact that any externally driven change requires the government to pick up the tab for the change process, etc.

This is where a comparison between what has happened in England over the last 25 years or so can prove useful. I must emphasise that I do not think Scotland will follow the English model in terms of the final outcome, e.g Academies, Trust schools, etc, but rather that we might follow the change strategy.

For it seems to me that one of the main means adopted in England has actually depended more upon repealing legislation, as opposed to the starting point being the creation of new legislation. That’s not to say that new legislation won’t be necessary but that the starting point could be to consider which pillars of the existing system could be pulled away, which in themselves might lead to radical change.

This is certainly what happened in England in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which saw a range of powers for Local Authorities being removed and either passed down to schools and their governors, or passed upwards to the government. Over the next 23 years those twin directions of travel have been inexorable. This is most recently evidenced in the 2011 Education Act, which further repealed the duties of local authorities.

In that period the government have not had to legislate for change in the organisational structure in local authorities, but rather by changing the responsibilities of local authorities the government created an environment where the local authorities had to adapt themselves to their changing role.

So what might be the duties currently undertaken by Scottish local authorities which, if removed, might lead to the most significant change?

To my mind there are four duties outlined in the “Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000“, which, if removed, might result in dramatic change to the education system in Scotland.

The first of these duties relates to the role of the local authority in relation to school improvement. This would be a fundamental shift in practice and would transform at a stroke the role of the local authority.

Section 3

(2)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.

The second duty which could be removed might be in relation to the local authority’s role in determining educational objectives for schools in their area.

Section 5

Education authority’s annual statement of improvement objectives

(1)For the purposes of their duty under section 3(2) of this Act, an education authority, after consulting such bodies as appear to the authority to be representative of teachers and parents within their area and of persons, other than teachers, who are employed in schools within that area and after giving children, young persons and such other persons within that area as appear to the authority to have an interest in the matter an opportunity to make their views known, shall, by such date in 2001 as the Scottish Ministers may, after consulting the education authorities, determine (one date being so determined for all the authorities) and thereafter by that date annually, prepare and publish a statement setting objectives.

The third associated duty which could be removed might be in relation to school development planning, which would remove the obligation of the school to take account of the local authorities statement of educational objectives. (although this would be superfluous if section 5 (1) were removed.

Section 6
School development plans

(a)a development plan which takes account of the objectives in the authority’s annual statement of education improvement objectives published by that date in the year in question and sets objectives for the school;

Finally, the last duty which could be removed might be in relation to the delegation of budgets to schools. This presupposes that the delegation scheme is devised by the authority. However, if this were removed it could be replaced by a national scheme of delegation which is simply overseen by the authority.

Section 8

Delegation schemes

(1)An education authority shall have a scheme for delegating to the headteacher of a school—

(a)managed by them; and

(b)of a category of school which is stated in the scheme to be covered by the scheme,
management of that share of the authority’s budget for a financial year which is available for allocation to individual schools and is appropriated for the school; or management of part of that share.

    Of course, these are simply personal musings on the future of local governance of education and are not based in any inside knowledge of what will happen once the local elections have taken place. Nevertheless, it’s important for people in my position to have some view of how the things might change and how we could adapt if these were to come pass.

Schools leading schools

I’ve just returned from the Association of Directors Education Scotland (ADES) annual conference. This year’s theme was “Leaders Advancing Learning” and the conference proved to be one of the best events I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.

The highlight for me was Steve Munby, from the National College of School Leadership. Steve is directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and as such has no locus within Scotland. Nevertheless, there is much to admire from philosophy and approach adopted by the college – and Steve in particular.

Steve’s central point (at least for me) was around the question of how to improve a school facing challenging circumstances. He identified three possibilities 1. Close and reopen the school 2. Insert a “Hero” Headteacher 3. Build the capacity of the school from within.

Steve pointed out that evidence would suggest that the most effective solution is linked to option 3 but that it needs a particular form of support if that to be achieved.

Taking teachers’s out and putting them on courses – doesn’t work

External “experts” coming into the school – doesn’t work

Expecting leaders within the school to change their practice, when they don’t really know what good leadership looks like – doesn’t work.

Linking such a school in partnership with a successful school – does work. I didn’t quite catch the rate of improvement this approach leads to but it was of a very significant order compared to any other model of school improvement. But what was particularly interesting was that the improvement was also measurable in the supporting school – wow!

What an incentive for developing such an approach in Scotland.

Here’s a lift from their website:

The National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and National Support Schools Programme (NSSs) draws upon the skills and experience of our very best school leaders, as well as their schools, to provide additional leadership capacity to, and raise standards within, schools facing challenging circumstances. The programme is underpinned by the powerful notion of schools leading schools.

The National College oversees the quality assurance of NLEs, provides ongoing support to NLEs and their schools and helps to broker the support of NLEs and their NSSs to maximise the impact of the programme.

Since the first group of NLEs and NSSs were designated in 2006, the programme has gathered momentum quickly and has been one of the most successful levers of sustainable school improvement. Crucially the schools and academies supported by NLEs are improving at a significantly faster rate than other schools nationally, and the results of the schools providing support continue to rise.

The programme also helps to utilise the powerful contributions that NLEs are able to make at a strategic level, to education policy and the future of the school system.

Steve pointed out that the bar is set very high for schools to become National Leaders of Education.

So could such a system work in Scotland? I believe it could but I’ll explore some of the barriers which may have to be overcome in a future post.

Lastly, in response to one of my questions, Steve identified the importance of the Parent body, in England they are governors, but I think it can translate to our Parent Councils in Scotland where they are supported by the local authority to promote local accountability. This links back to recent evidence from the OECD which clearly shows that improved student performance directly correlates with increased levels of school autonomy with associated public accountability.

Such evidence suggests that our direction of travel towards Community Partnership Schools is, at the very least, on the right lines.

“Don’t do as I say, do as I do” – the role of leadership in promoting the use of social media

I have an admission to make. I joined Twitter 90 days ago today. There – it’s out in the open. I’d put it off for nearly three years as I thought it was either a vehicle for shadowing celebrities, or a mindless activity in which people spent their time telling each other what they had for breakfast.

How wrong I was!! In fact the title of this piece could just as easily have been (with apologies to the Ettrick Shepherd) ” Confessions of an unjustified sceptic”.

For in the intervening period I’ve come to realise that Twitter is actually a unique learning resource. By discovering others throughout the World who share a passion for education, tracking their thoughts, following their links, and engaging in productive conversations – I have been inspired, challenged and professionally invigorated.

I’m now following teachers, school principals, education managers, superintendents, and policy makers in Scotland, Finland, USA, Canada, Singapore, China, India, Australia, and many other countries around the globe. In no more an 140 characters these people are able to point to resources, places, research, articles and share something of their own challenges, ideas, solutions and successes.

I first started using social media in 1997 when I was part of an online research community. To find that there were others around the world struggling with the same issues made a huge difference to my work at that time. Since then I’ve continued to use social media networks, more particularly a blog as a secondary school head teacher, a learning log as a head education and then director, and most recently my Twitter account.

I think I’ve only come to realise how important such engagement is to me in my leadership role in the last year when I decided to take a year abstaining from social media of any kind.

So what did I find out from my year out? Firstly, I missed the opportunity to reflect upon my work and to be able to try to make sense of my world and to be able to share and check that meaning out with others. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly I missed the opportunity to learn from others.

On reflection my year out was a year without learning. I did my job, I solved problems, I led the service, but I’d go so far as to say that I didn’t learn – and without learning we are not professionals.

The underlying question which remains for me is that if such a discipline can make such a difference to me, in my role as an educational leader, then how might it benefit colleagues in similar roles – and I would include teachers in this?

The bottom line here is that the decision to engage in social media must always lie with the individual but ironically one of the safety valves that could make a difference to an over-worked and stressed profession is to begin to develop a routine which includes moments of public reflection and sharing one’s practice.

For such practice to extend beyond the technically passionate, the early adopters, and the professionally curious requires people in leadership positions to lead by example, yet all too often we conform to the old teachers’ adage – “don’t do as I do, do as I say”. It’s difficult to work out exactly why this is the case and it must be something to do with the fear that we may be perceived by our employees (and employers) to be wasting our time on something which perhaps appears to be peripheral to the “serious” business of management.

Consider the reaction from the press when it was “discovered” that Sir Peter Housden, Scotland’s top civil servant, kept a regular blog. One headline read “How to talk mandarin (even if it is drivel)”. Is it any wonder that leaders in any field are reticent about expressing their thoughts in public if the press appear to be waiting to pounce?

This may explain why it is that when educational leaders in Scotland have attempted to use social media it has all too often been in a secure space, where their collective thoughts are held within an “echo chamber”, where others, not of their ilk, are to be kept out.

The second obstacle is the legitimate concern that many leaders just don’t feel they have the time available to engage in anything new and possibly tangential to their central function. This concern will only be overcome if leaders are able to see that social media can actually allow them to achieve their goals in an even more effective and time efficient manner than their current practice – if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be used.

Nevertheless, for all that lack of confidence, and concerns about time are powerful disincentives to using social media, the most significant barrier is the way in which we think about communication itself. For most Scottish educational leaders have been brought up within a highly hierarchical system where communication is typically in the linear vertical plane and just as frequently controlled by others.

However, that world is changing as we move from a controlled linear view of communication to more distributed and dynamic networks, where the notion of control gives way to transparency, true engagement, and creative thought, regardless of position.

Perhaps the old teachers’ adage does need to change to “Don’t do as I say, do as I do”.

School Autonomy and accountability can lead to improvement in student learning

I recently had the pleasure to listen to Michael Davidson a senior statistician from the OECD. I was particularly fascinated to hear that the 2009 PISA results suggest that some features of school autonomy and accountability are associated with better performance.

In countries where schools enjoy autonomy over their curricula and assessments, students tend to perform better, after accounting for national income. School autonomy over these matters accounts for around 25% of the performance differences among countries that participated in PISA.

While other relationships between a single feature of school governance and student performance are harder to discern, analyses of PISA results have concluded that:

In countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.

Within those countries where schools post achievement data publicly and, in so doing, are held accountable for performance results, those schools that enjoy greater autonomy over resource allocation tend to perform better than those granted less autonomy over their curricula.

However, in countries where there are no such accountability arrangements, the reverse is true.

Twittershare: Using Twitter to improve education (Part 1)

We held a brainstorming session on Thursday with a view to exploring how we could maximise the potential of Twitter for teachers, learners, parents and other stakeholders. The initial thoughts we explored on Twitter – see #twittershare

What follows is a thought-piece (Part 1) on suggestions which emerged during the course of the meeting with a view to helping us establish an implementation strategy.

It’s important to stress from the outset that Twitter is only one tool in the box, and as such, regardless of it’s potential benefits, should always be seen as part of a wider systems based approach to educational improvement.

1. Give Twitter A focus; don’t make Twitter THE focus.

Ironically when attempting to promote the use of Twitter there is a tendency to focus upon the tool itself – as opposed to what the tool can do help us achieve our educational objectives. These objectives could be: improving student learning; creating a network of collaborative professionals; promoting partnership and understanding between parents and schools; involving stakeholders in creating new policy; sharing valuable experiences, ideas and sources with others; etc. The list of objectives is only limited by our imagination but the basic point remains the same – “Don’t make Twitter THE focus, but give Twitter A focus.”

2. Look beyond early adopters or willing volunteers

If you look at the profiles of many Educational Tweeters they often profess to have an interest in technology. That’s probably to be expected and yet to base a strategy on people’s passion for technology is to alienate a huge swathe of the population. I’m sure there are lessons to be learned here from the likes of Steve Jobs who tried to focus on making his tools align with the needs of the user – even if the user wan’t initially aware of their needs.

The second element of this principle is that so many educational initiatives across the globe have foundered on the forlorn belief that we can create change by growing beyond a band of willing volunteers. It was Professor Richard Elmore who most eloquently identified this fundamental flaw in the majority of educational change strategies. For the reality is that such change models rarely extend beyond that self selecting group leaving the majority of professionals to continue with their practice relatively unscathed. The unspoken philosophy adopted by such individuals can be captured by the phrase “I won’t get on this one as there be another one coming along soon”, i.e. if they keep their heads down their practice will go unchallenged.

3. Help leaders to lead by example

This is an imperative for changing the practice of the profession yet all too often we (leaders) expect and even encourage others to adopt practices when our own continues to conform to what we know – “don’t do as I do, do as I say”. It’s difficult to work out exactly why this is the case and it must be something to do with the fear that we may be perceived by our employees to be wasting our time on something which perhaps appears to be peripheral to the “serious” business of management.

The second obstacle is the legitimate concern that many leaders just don’t feel they have the time available to engage in anything new and possibly tangential to their central function. This concern will only be overcome if leaders are able to see that the tool can actually allow them to achieve their goals in an even more effective and time efficient manner than their current practice – if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be used.

4. Overcome the fear factor

We must never underestimate the fear that people have for exposing themselves to the public on an open network. Most professionals have been brought up within a highly hierarchical system where communication is decidedly up-down in nature and just as frequently controlled by others. This is not necessarily a bad thing as teachers, and even managers, can be protected from themselves, and others, in such a controlled environment.

The idea of sharing one’s thoughts, or being immediately accessible to young people or parents can be enough to put off even the most intrepid professional.

That’s why training must accompany any attempt to encourage teachers and leaders to use Twitter. That training should be aligned with the focus (see point 1) and should happen in conjunction – as opposed to the “here’s a Twitter course”.

5. Hand over the training process to our students

Teachers and school leaders are used to the traditional top down, cascade model of training which has been the dominant training approach for the last fifty years. However, by encouraging our students to become the teachers we achieve two things. Firstly, we model to students that we are also learners and that no single group has a monopoly on knowledge. Secondly, the training we would receive could be collaborative and once again model the kind of learning and teaching approach we would hope to promote in our classrooms.

6. Seek out the Ryan Giggs effect

It’s a sad fact that Twitter use exploded in the UK when people wanted to find out information about the mystery footballer at the centre of a news scandal. Not that I’m suggesting that we mirror Mr Giggs’ behaviour but that we look for events, news and possibly personalities that people can only get access to through the medium of Twitter.

7. Create the tipping point though lots of tiny steps

Promoting Twitter use will never be achieved through the traditional single BIG project approach. The approach we should be taking is to build its application into everything we do to the extent that it eventually permeates everyone’s practice. By seeking to achieve that tipping point, the group of “late” or even “never” adopters – as described in Point 2 – are much more likely to begin to make of use of the tool and, in so doing, achieve the more important underlying objective of improving educational practice.