Five years ago I thought I’d recorded my  earliest sighting/hearing of a Skylark .

That  was  until today.

Seven Sides of Educational Leadership






Over the last 17 years I’ve been working on a leadership model which captures some of the complexity of the change process but which can be applied in any situation in a simple and useful manner.

What has evolved is the Seven Sides of Educational Leadership which can be used by any educational leader to devise and refine a change strategy.  Over the years I’ve used it extensively myself and continued to refine the methodology through trial and error.

The model does not attempt to suggest that one behaviour is any more effective than another but simply that successful leaders deploy a range of behaviours to effect successful change depending on the context and the stage of the change process.

I hope the model is of some use to other people as it is intended to fit with and complement any leader’s personal preferences and strengths.

Good luck.


Curriculum for Excellence – refocusing on purpose

Some 2,372 years ago Plato suggested that necessity was the mother of invention. To be more precise Plato was actually quoting Socrates, whose actual words were “A State, I said, arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind”. . .”let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.”

Up until the “invention” of Curriculum for Excellence Scotland did not have anything that resembled a national curriculum that covered the school age range from 3 – 18. Instead it had disconnected blocks of curricular, assessment, and design guidance, which included: The Munn and Dunning Reports (1977) 16-18 Action Plan (1983); Standard Grade (1984); 5-14 Programme (1993); Higher Still Programme (1994) Curriculum Design for the Secondary Stages (1999), and Review of Higher Still (2001).

To use a good Scots word the curriculum was a complete “guddle”, a mish-mash of well intentioned programmes and projects which layered sedimentary systems one upon the other. It was no wonder then that in 2002 the Scottish Executive undertook the most extensive consultation ever on the state of school education through the National Debate on Education. This was followed in 2004 by the publication of the first single, connected curriculum for young people aged 3-18 in the form of a Curriculum for Excellence.

Throughout the intervening years I’ve observed, led, written about, and engaged with the implementation of the curriculum. What is particularly interesting at this point in time is how  it is target for criticism from all sides – it was ever thus – as any historical analysis of correspondence and professional response to any of the aforementioned curricular programmes would attest.

In reality I’m relaxed about the on-going debate about the assessment and certification arrangements- in fact I’d have been surprised if such a healthy debate had not ensued. Assessment and certification are integral elements of any education system. But the bottom line here is that these are matters in which we have proven skilled at resolving over the years – and they will be resolved again.

No, my concern is not so much about that debate but that we collectively seem to have lost sight of the bigger opportunity presented by Curriculum for Excellence. I refer here to its over-arching purpose and aspirations.

And before you despair again as someone tries to mix and match together the adjectives and nouns of the four capacities, e.g. confident learners; responsible contributors; successful individuals and effective citizens, I’d like to stop you there.  For over the last few months I’ve been worrying about the uncertainty and adversity facing our young people.  I recently wrote about my fears for a generation of young people who are in danger of “learned hopelessness”, where their destiny is marked out in front of them – but to this group I would also include here those who leave school with a clutch of qualifications.

As I reflect upon the four capacities I begin to wonder why it is that the words seem to be so inter-changeable and I’d like to suggest an answer. For on further analysis I believe there is a unifying purpose which connects and gives meaning to the four capacities – and that purpose is “resilience”.

My point is that if we didn’t have Curriculum for Excellence then we would have had to “invent” it. Curriculum for Excellence is not another initiative – it’s an imperative, a necessity, something which we as a society should be backing and demanding on behalf of our children and young people. I am continually sustained by the fact that there are so many people in Scotland who do “get it”. Despite the lone voices who claim to represent their profession and hark back to the good old days of curricular certainty (regardless of how disconnected it was) – there so many more teachers who believe passionately in the values and aspirations of a coherent and purposeful curriculum

Those teachers know that our young people face a complex and uncertain future. They know that young people will be faced with challenges and opportunities which will be quite different from previous generations. The kind of curriculum required to equip young people with the necessary personal and interpersonal skills and qualities to render them resilient is quite different from a one designed for a stable and unchanging world – regardless how much simpler that might have been for teachers.

I see teachers and school leaders struggling to come to terms with this reality on a day-to-day basis, professionals who have the respect and trust of  parents who understand that their children must have a more “rounded” education . Teachers understand that true change requires us to engage with and embrace complexity and uncertainty, and although this is an uncomfortable truth they are making immense strides to create an education system which has the potential to be the envy of the rest of the world.

So at a time when 14% of students are dropping out of university education surely it’s time for University Principals to begin to support the wider aspirations of Curriculum for Excellence and break free from their out-dated focus on achievement at Higher Grade at a single sitting. Perhaps if they took a more enlightened view of education there might be more chance for young people to have developed the necessary resilience to meet the demands of university life?

Such a statement would have incredible resonance throughout the Scottish education system and would give confidence to those who are so single-mindedly committed to preparing young people to succeed in an uncertain future.

Community Police- “the flying squad”

Stenton Primary School is a true community school, so it was no surprise yesterday when I popped in that they were working with PC Ross (an ex-pupil of mine) and PC Hughes.

The two officers are working with our schools in the Dunbar area and developing very positive relationships with all young people.

Here they are helping two pupils to put up a bird box. Thanks.

Shoe design

During my visit to West Barns Primary School (Dunbar) I encountered some incredible design work in a P2/3 class.

Each of the children had designed and made their own shoes – and before you ask the task had been completed in school (no parents!).

I’ve never seen such high quality work from such young children.

Kirsten Doherty – thanks

I visited West Barns Primary School yesterday and was privileged to meet Kirsten Doherty who helps out in the school one day a week. Kirsten is an inspirational character who makes light of her own disability to help the children and staff in the school.

It’s quite obvious that her presence in the school adds so much to the children’s education and not just in terms of the support she offers in the classroom.

Kirsten – thanks.

Using Glow Meet (Adobe Connect)

I had reason this week to set up a three-way video conference with two other directors of education from other parts of Scotland.  I have to say that this was my first experience of using such technology for such a purpose and I’m now officially a fan.  If they had come to visit me it would have taken the best part of day’s travel time and a combined journey distance 0f over 900 miles.

I asked my colleague David Gilmour to describe the techie bit; but I’m seriously thinking about using this for some face-to-face meetings in East Lothian. Anybody out there interested in taking part in my first GLOW MEET Listen and Learn?


It’s a very up-to-date, good quality web conferencing system which enables Glow users to hold online meetings between any number of participants, in any location. It’s used to link classes hundreds of miles apart, offer national teacher CPD sessions and simply to share events and performances within individual schools. It can be used from any computer on the web, in or out of school.

Often people think it’ll be awkward to use, but the new version, based on Adobe Connect, is proving easy to use and popular with staff. There’s no longer any need for special software to be installed, and no complicated start-up wizard to get through.

Most of the time, people just use it in a Skype-like way, with voice, video and perhaps a simple chat box. But it’s capable of much more than that: participants can share presentations, sketch on a whiteboard and even share a view of applications running on their desktop. The meetings can be recorded, too, for replay in the Glow Group or for sharing more widely as a simple video.

What do you need to take part?

You can join a Glow Meet with as little as the URL of the right Glow Group, and your Glow username and password. If you want to talk, or to be seen, you’ll need a microphone and webcam, but they’re not essential. You click a link, Adobe Connect starts up, and you’re in.

Here’s a “Getting Started” guide:, or contact David Gilmour or Shirley Lawson in Curriculum ICT at East Lothian Council.

Making Space for Change

I’m scheduled to speak at our Early Years Conference on Tuesday 7th February.  “Healthy Happy Bairns” This event is aimed at service providers, community members and elected members with a role, or interest, in tackling health inequality through a focus on the early years of life and supporting parents/carers.

The title of my input is Making Space for Change:

Scotland is a country with ambition and in East Lothian I think we have aspirations for excellence – to be the best of the best – we are good but we can be better.

For me the journey to excellence starts with getting it right for every child in East Lothian – and we need to get it right from the start – from the very start – not only from pre-birth but from pre-conception.

We cannot be excellent, and we cannot get it right for every child, unless we tackle the inequality in outcomes for education, health and social well being that exist in Scotland and are mirrored in our own community. For many of you this is a straight forward social justice issue –  the level of inequality in our community is wrong and we have to do something about it. However, speaking as someone with responsibility for running a major public service – it is also about efficiency and effectiveness and ultimately the resilience of public service in a time of reduced government spending. The resource costs of dealing with the consequences of inequality in our community are huge and ultimately unsustainable.

Report after report has called for greater emphasis on early intervention – and to achieve this we need to change.

The Chrsitie Commission has recently helpfully summarised some of the key pillars of change.

  • Shift towards prevention
  • Local integration of public services, driven by better partnership, collaboration & effective local delivery
  • Investment in people who deliver services by enhanced workforce development & effective leadership
  • A sharp focus on improving performance, through greater transparency, innovation & use of digital technology.

Shift towards prevention

This seems such an easy objective but in reality so much more difficult to achieve.  So much of our budget is spent addressing outcomes for children when we haven’t got everything right, for example, a child placed in secure accommodation for ten weeks costs East Lothian Council £50,000, a year would be £260,000.  Such young people are at the extreme end of negative outcomes but surely we have to believe that if we had taken earlier collective action as a community so much earlier that such outcomes need not be a child’s destiny.

Local integration of public services, driven by better partnership, collaboration & effective local delivery

The first law of corporate inertia reads: “for every action there is an equal and opposite objection”. Corporate organisations, such as councils, do not find it easy to naturally forge partnerships especially when it means giving up some power. We say we do but if you look for substantive success in partnerships such as shared services and it’s much easier to point to failures than achievements. Of course this has real resonance for us in East Lothian as we move towards shared service provision for education with Midlothian Council. Underpinning all of that work has been a recognition that the status quo is not sustainable, especially if we wish to maintain front-line services and focus an even higher proportion of our budgets on prevention.  

Investment in people who deliver services by enhanced workforce development & effective leadership

When budgets get tight the one area which comes under immediate pressure are training and workforce development budgets. I’ve done it myself as a head of service – cutting a training budget and maintaining a teacher in a classroom. Such dilemmas are going to be an ever-present for us in the short to medium term so we need to think creatively about how we develop our workforce – for with out such development we cannot hope to improve. Ideas such a peer support; learning communities; networking; and protected learning time are required if we are to make progress. Such thinking has to be embedded in the minds of leaders at all levels, i.e. “How do I help my colleagues to work together and learn from one another?”  But it’s not just learning from other professionals which is going to make a difference, it’s got to be learning from and with a wide range of other service providers where collaborative learning is the order of the day.

A sharp focus on improving performance, through greater transparency, innovation & use of digital technology. 

In East Lothian we have a notion to become the most improved authority in terms of outcomes for children and young people.  Many of these outcomes can be easily measured, such as attainment, exclusions, positive destinations for school leavers. Yet at a community level there’s a danger that we impose a simplistic “bean counting approach” solely focused upon quantitative data. I would argue that if we are really to empower our communities and trust them to come up with solutions which work for them we must come up with an alternative to methodology that works on a larger scale. That alternative must be based upon the cumulative impact of lots of small actions (outputs), none of which might have an observable impact, but taken together add up to contributing to the overall well being of the community. We need to tell our little stories, and together these stories will add up to a big book.  By linking how people are feeling with the outputs and hard outcomes we have areal chance to making a real difference to our communities.

Don’t underestimate this – to make these kind of changes will be very difficult. For positive change to happen we have to create the right environment or space that will foster and support it.

Being an Equally Well test site has helped to develop our thinking about how we create a space for change

Firstly, the importance of a shared vision or understanding about what  we are trying to change and why – I would like to take this opportunity to suggest that the concept of resilience should be part of that vision and shared understanding about what we want to achieve.

Secondly the test site has shown the importance of being ‘connected’ – Dr Harry Burns tells us about the importance of being connected socially for good health – but it is also vital in creating a space for change. We need to allow our staff from across the range of agencies to connect with each other if we expect them to be creative in the way they work with communities and each other. This doesn’t mean endless meetings and talking shops, but mangers need to support staff to achieve the kind of connectedness that will deliver better outcomes for children and parents. Shared learning space that helps staff from different backgrounds and agencies develop ‘connectedness’ is an important practical step that can help create a space for change.

Thirdly the test site has emphasised the need for involvement or engagement with the community. We need a new partnership between community and public service that is more equal and recognises the strengths that are in our communities as well as their needs and problems. In government policy documents this is being termed co production. The next phase of Support from the Start seeks to try and create that sort of partnership and you will hear more about this from my colleague Ronnie Hill this afternoon, and hopefully through the workshops you will be participating in creating that new partnership.

Fourthly, you need a bias for action – do what you can now and plan for what you can do tomorrow but be prepared to take some risks. Doing nothing fails children. A plan that doesn’t come off quite right is something you can learn from. Having a bias for action helps people identify the often small changes which can have big impacts – that impact may be for only one or two children – but that doesn’t matter, what matters is those children’s lives have been changed for the better.

Finally – a bias for action leads me onto the importance of leadership in creating a space for change – or as I would prefer to call it ‘space for innovation’.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and I could spend a day talking about styles of leadership, but the key thing is that leadership is a quality and a skill set we can all develop – it is not invested in a few special people.

The changes that we want to see don’t tend to happen without people driving them or making it happen.  Those people might be managers they might not be, it may be a parent, it may be a child who is driving innovation – whoever it is they are the champions we need, and we have to link them to others who can help and support them. The test site developed a model of champions for innovation because  we recognised from the outset the importance of leadership at all levels. We want to help more and more people be champions for early years in our communities

Strategic leaders have a particular leadership responsibility in creating the space for innovation. The ethos and rules that staff and community members work within set the parameters for engaging in change. If you want change keep the rules simple, and give people permission to try.

Overall being a test site for Equally Well has been positive for East Lothian and I hope others can find something in our experience that is useful to them. It’s too early to be specific about the impact that the test site has or hasn’t had on inequality in East Lothian but we have a positive story to share and that narrative doesn’t end with the test site – we will add to it and develop it in the next phase of Support from the Start