Solving the Recruitment Gap

A Scottish Government Report on the Recruitment and Retention of Headteachers in Scotland  (2009) evidenced the growing crisis in recruiting headteachers in Scotland:

There is an increasing focus on these issues in many countries where recruitment and retention of senior leaders has attained “crisis” status, impacting with particular force in areas seen by aspirants as less desirable, such as schools located in inner cities and less accessible rural communities.

Three years on the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better – particularly in the Primary School setting.

A combination of factors including, a relatively small pay differential between primary Headteachers and Deputes; relatively few principal teachers who have sufficient management experience to make the jump; and a perception by many that the job is too demanding.

In the next few weeks East Lothian is to advertise 7 headteacher vacancies and I am concerned that we won’t receive sufficient interest for all of the posts.  It was with this in mind that had a chat with a colleague who is a Principal Teacher in a secondary school.  An exceptionally talented individual she is concerned that the reduction in senior management posts in secondary schools will limit her prospects of gaining further management experience.  I asked her if she would be interested in a management post in a primary school. Her reaction was very positive and it seems to me to be a worthy of consideration – especially with the 3-18 focus for Curriculum for Excellence. In fact I wrote about this possibility a few years ago for TESS Leadership Skills – are they transferable?  I am convinced that such scheme would create a surge of interest from committed teachers who have significant management experience which would transfer successfully to a primary school environment.

The main obstacle for such a thing to happen is the qualifications barrier – secondary teachers are not qualified to teach in primary schools. However, perhaps there is a solution. What if a person wishing to be considered for a Management post in primary school had undertaken – or committed to complete the On-line post graduate certificate in primary education offered by Aberdeen University? What if the authority paid for half of the £900 fee? Are there any people out there who would be interested in such an opportunity?

And before anyone asks – yes I do think that primary teachers could manage in a secondary school environment!

Drop me an e-mail if this is something you would like to follow up.




The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas

“It’s easy to stop making mistakes. Just stop having ideas.” Unknown

“Too many people run out of ideas long before they run out of words.” Unknown

“The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.” John Maynard Keynes

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”
Linus Pauling

“Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience.” Hyman Rickover

“A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.”
Sir Barnett Cocks

“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Albert Einstein

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” Oscar Wilde

“New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done; 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing; 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!” Arthur C. Clarke


Learning to Lead – in a new environment

My new responsibilities require me to adopt a clear and consistent leadership approach. However, if I am going to add value I need to “learn to let go” and provide my leadership colleagues with the necessary space and support to allow them to drive and lead their respective services, teams, schools, etc.

I’m not just about talking here about letting go in terms of operational control but also moving away from the approach which is characterised by self-preservation of the organisation, which can often be to the detriment of the needs of the people whom we serve. I know that loyalty to a group, or an organisation is a powerful means of motivating and holding together potentially disparate individuals. However, the new world in which we live is not going to be dependent upon the power of the group, but on the capacity of the group to adapt, change and, above all, form strong partnerships with others who share the same purpose. Consequently the traditional leadership approach, which builds group allegiance, often represented by a “we’re better than others” mentality, does not fit with our new environment. (If in fact, it ever did.)

Learning to Lead: some building blocks

1. Know that I can do SOME things better than others, but that others can do MOST things better than me.

2. Have the confidence not to know the answer and the willingness to say “I got that wrong”.

3. Realise that my principle role is to keep our focus on the needs of the people whom we serve.

4. Recognise that modelling leadership behaviour isn’t enough on its own to lead to system improvement, but that it can have a significant influence upon others.

5. Encourage others to tell me to STOP doing things if it’s getting in the way of their goals.

6. Encourage others to use my role as necessary to remove barriers or challenge practice.

7. Focus my attention upon enabling others, encouraging innovation, championing our values, and ensuring that we get it right for every person.

8. Think before I act and ask myself if my taking action undermines or supports my colleagues.

9. Talk openly with my colleagues about our respective roles and how I can enable them to their jobs even more effectively.

10. Demand an “outward facing” perspective focused on meeting the needs of the people we serve which is not limited by personal, professional or organisational boundaries.

S3 Graduation Certificate?

TESS have published an excellent article by Danny Murphy entitled How should we measure improvement in the future?

In the article Danny explored the notion of establishing a Scottish Graduation Certificate.

This was a strange coincidence as I’ve recently been reviewing a number of posts I’ve previously written on the idea of an S3 Certificate. Perhaps the idea is worthy of resurrecting?

Here are some a link to these posts and a copy of an article published by TESS in 2008:

The recent OECD report on Scottish education contained a recommendation for a Scottish Certificate of Education for pupils in S4-6. While pondering the significance of this recommendation, I was challenged by a secondary teacher about how he was going to keep kids motivated for three years while they experienced a broad-based S1-3 curriculum. The teacher’s challenge was that if we could not motivate kids in two years, why would extending that by another year make a difference, especially if our entire secondary education is driven by the certification system?

The “reality” is that in many teachers’ – and students’ – minds the S1 and S2 curriculum is only given value by its link to the certificated curriculum. In fact, such is the power of this “value through certification” that some schools in Scotland have introduced the certificated curriculum even earlier. The logic of this step is quite compelling, and it certainly demonstrates that a school is doing something to address these allegedly fallow early years of secondary school.

So if, in reality, most secondary school curriculum models are driven by a “trickle down” effect of certification, why not recognise the power of such a driver and seek instead to build a different engine.

That would be to create a Scottish Certificate of Education, for which students would be eligible at the end of S3. In the OECD proposal, such a certificate was to be for the 3-18 curriculum. But I believe that there must be some means of capturing a young person’s achievements between the ages of three and 15 before they start to engage with the world of formal qualifications. This would form a junior Scottish Baccalaureate.

What if we could create a Scottish Certificate of Education which was more akin to the Duke of Edinburgh Award, or the John Muir Award, where it is more about accumulating achievements as opposed to any external exam? Such a curriculum would give schools the freedom to create the content within their SCE course, using the headings set out in Curriculum for Excellence, for example, skills for learning; skills for work; skills for life; curricular achievements across a broad spectrum; health and well-being; numeracy and literacy.

The only externally-assessed element would be numeracy and literacy, leading to the proposed Scottish Certificate for Numeracy and the Scottish Certificate for Literacy. A school’s S1-3 course could be submitted for external moderation to ensure it met national standards but, within that framework, there could be considerable freedom.

In my “imagined” curriculum, the focus in S1-3 would be on an “achievement port-folio” where employability would be a key component. I know that, for some, the idea of employability as a focus for education is a step too far. But we can flesh out a definition of employability which would be compelling, inclusive and, above all, easily understood by young people, parents and the wider community.

I know this proposal seems to run counter to the concept of non- certification before S3, but if we seek to change our practice we need to recognise the reality in our schools and build from where they are.

Visiting Schools

Gillian Grant (HT Gorebridge Primary School), Me , Colin Taylor (Head of Schools)

Colin took me round Midlothian this morning for an orientation tour.  We popped into Woodburn Primary School and Gorebridge Primary School.  Fantastic buildings but even more importantly the young people seemed to be so engaged and positive about their education.

This is going to be fun!


P.S. Doesn’t Gillian look too young to be a Headteacher.


The Secondary School Curriculum – “we can know more than we can tell”

Why are Scottish schools finding it so difficult to break free from the dominant (and simplistic) 2+2+2 secondary school curriculum design model?

There’s a lot of chaff flying about at the moment that doesn’t help the debate but I wonder if the answer lies in what Michael Polanyi (1967) termed as “tacit knowledge”, i.e. knowledge where “we can know more than we can tell”. For I would suggest that there exist deeply embedded unspoken and implicit assumptions – which if not exposed to rigorous analysis – will continue to reinforce the current curricular inertia.

From a personal perspective the 2+2+2 model shaped my own curriculum options back in 1970, 1972 and 1974, mmm, that’s 42, 40, and 38 years respectively – not exactly cutting edge design!

So what are the undeclared forces acting upon the secondary school curriculum that have made it so difficult for schools to change?

We should perhaps begin by exploring the possibility that the 2+2+2 model just happens to be the best, or, as it has been described by some, “the most sensible” for young people and that it has led to effective and successful teaching and learning, which has resulted in Scotland being one of the highest performing school systems in the world – unfortunately that’s just not the case.

So if it’s not a system which is delivering then what forces could be in action?

Recurring national curricular guidance has complied with the dominant model, e.g. 5 -14 (first 2 years of secondary), Munn and Dunning (years 3 and 4); Higher Still (years 5 and 6), and to these could be added a number of other curricular guidance papers and reports which following the 2+2+2 scaffolding.

I’d actually argue that the 2+2+2 model has evolved without any rationale other than it gives every subject a “fair chance” to have access to students – their lifeblood in maintaining their place in the curriculum. For without students taking your subject, your subject is history (and, history teachers, I don’t mean this literally!).

I write this from two perspectives – firstly as a former principal teacher of a subject – who saw my subject’s place on the curriculum (measured purely by student choice) improve dramatically over a ten-year period. The outcome of this increase was clear to see – it led to an increase in the number of teachers, increased per capita allocation, and an increase in capital spend to develop new facilities to meet the increasing demand. Now imagine what might have happened if we had not seen an increase in students choosing our subject i.e., an exact reverse. Who in their right mind wouldn’t take action to seek to avoid students not taking their subject? (Apologies for the double negative here)

Of course, there is a higher and more altruistic reason for ensuring your subject’s place on the curriculum and that is that you believe that a young person’s education and life experience are dramatically compromised by not having sufficient access to and knowledge of your subject.

My second perspective is that of having been a headteacher and school timetabler. For it was as a headteacher that I saw the same pressures being played out on all Principal Teachers.

It was from this toxic mix that the market place economy model of the curriculum became embedded. By market place economy I mean a model that enables each subject an equal chance to display their wares and have access to the consumer (the student). I’d argue that this was the key driver for the first two years where subject teachers go to great extremes to ensure and demand equivalent time allocation. But it also explains why there is such resistance to any change to the middle years through a narrowing of certificated choice – see the reaction to any shift from choosing 8 subjects at the end of S2 to fewer certificated subjects at the end of S4.

The unfortunate reality has been that many subjects have seen their curriculum only really taking off in S3 once young people have “selected their subject” – the fact that time has been so evenly spread and hence limited for each subject means that the students’ experience is often compromised to meet the needs of the market. The fear for many subject teachers is that the broad curriculum unnecessarily extends the thinly spread model for three years – as opposed to the current two, before students’ get down to the real job of “studying” their subject.

Imagine the consequences then for any subject which previously had it’s guaranteed place on the curriculum in S1 and 2 – regardless of how useful that time was; guaranteed time in S3 and S4 – even if pupil numbers were low; and at least a good chance that some of the students who had studied the subject in S3 and 4 would take the subject in S5 and 6. Anyone can see why this is attractive for teachers of a subject about which they are passionate and have studied themselves in great depth. The opportunity to teach interested, motivated and able students a more complex and demanding level of content is appealing and understandable – as so is any objection to any change to the system which preserves this “entitlement”.

The pressure on any headteacher to change a curriculum model which challenges these “entitlements” to students is extreme and cannot be underestimated, so it’s perhaps no surprise when the TESS reports that 50% of schools are sticking with the traditional model in the meantime. However, curricular inertia is a powerful force and it will take continued commitment and courageous leadership from leaders at all levels in Scottish education if we are to see a curricular model that doesn’t reflect what I experienced 40 years ago!

Midlothian Council – Director of Education and Children’s Services

Midlothian Council has appointed me as Director of Education and Children’s Services until 31 December 2012. I will also continue in my role as Executive Director at East Lothian Council.

I feel exceptionally privileged to be given the opportunity to build upon the legacy of Donald MacKay.   Donald and I are quite different individuals in terms of personality but having worked so closely together over the past few years it has become apparent that we share the same fundamental values which place the needs of children and people at the centre of our work.

Throughout my career I have adopted an open and transparent approach to my work and it will be my priority to meet as many of my new colleagues as possible over the next four months.

My personal objectives for the job are simple and can be captured in three simple statements:

  1.  To enable Midlothian and East Lothian to become the most improved Local Authorities in Scotland in terms of outcomes for children and young people;
  2.  To build our services around the idea of creating resilient individuals – children, families, communities, employees, leaders, teams, schools and organisations – who can successfully sustain themselves in times of adversity and uncertainty; and
  3.  To build our success upon the quality of our people, our creativity, and our relationships with others.
I’m excited by this unique opportunity and look forward to working with so many exceptional colleagues in both authorities.