Political Scrutiny

We had our second Policy, Performance and Review Panel (PPRP) Meeting of the session this afternoon.

The panel is made up of elected members who are not part of the political administration. It’s their job to publically scrutinise the work of the department.

I was delighted that they have agreed to focus upon our Standards and Quality Report. At future meetings we will present our self-evaluation of the various performance indicators. The Panel will examine our practice, review our evidence and validate (or otherwise) our own evaluation. It’s only by this kind of public scrutiny that we can really show that we are committed to providing an improving and high quality service.

The other advantage of this approach is that it will demonstrate to schools that we are subject to (and welcome) the same kind of validation process that our Quality Improvement Team provide for schools’ Standards and Quality Reports.

The probable, the possible, and the actual

A group of us (some Secondary HTs and Quality Improvement Officers) met this afternoon to consider how we might develop attainment targets for schools.

One of the things we are all agreed upon is that the notion of plucking figures out of thin air and saying to a school “this is what you need to achieve next year” is nonsensical, damaging and anti-professional. After some very positive discussion we agreed to meet again with some more colleagues to flesh out out a process built upon the following principles:

  1. We will start small  (perhaps one year group) and grow our system building upon evidence
  2. We will implement the agreed system across all schools
  3. We will try to use work on MIDYIS related principle (all schools now test S2 pupils using MIDYIS) this score provides reliable predictive data about how pupils will perform at Standard Grade level in S4.
  4. We will use the ScotXed box plot data which shows how a school is perfroming in relation to other similar schools.
  5. We will try to identify and use as models departments who are adding significant value to predictive data and performing strongly in relation to similar schools – we will share this within and between schools.
  6. Head teachers will negotiate targets for departments using a similar data driven model
  7. We will ask principal teachers to negotiate targets with individual classroom teachers using a similar data driven model
  8. We will develop a targets setting model for individual pupils which is based upon a dialogue between the teacher and the pupil where the probable and the possible attainment is discussed – parents will be involved in this process.
  9. We will compare pupils possible(aspirational targets) with their actual attainment on an annual basis
  10. We will link the entire system to the the learning and teaching process in the belief that this is the only way in which we can truly raise attainment. 

Our next meeting will involve HTs, DHTs PT and members of the department – we believe that we can develop a system which is founded upon our three key areas of focus leadership, self-evaluation and learning and teaching.

SQA (self questioning anxiety)

Unless you’ve been there I don’t think it’s possible to imagine the anxiety which teachers, principal teachers and head teachers experience at the time Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) results are published.

I’ve been in there in all three roles and now in my wider role as Head of Education.

Over my 27 years in the business I’ve experienced a wide variety of highs and lows – but it’s impossible to describe the desolation of a year when children have significantly under-performed in comparison to what you expected.

Perhaps contrary to public opinion teachers always blame themselves when this happens and the low is even more pronounced when you feel you have been working flat out through the previous year.  Then there are the other years when attainment completely outstrips your expectations and for a short time everything is rosy – this feeling lasts about a week until the new cohort starts their course.

I’m busy analysing our East Lothian SQA data at the moment and was waiting for the national results to be published today in order to get a handle on how well we had performed in comparison with national figures and our comparator authorities.

The good news is that it looks like our Standard Grade and Higher attainment has improved in comparison to both national and comparator figures. However, it’s possible to take too much gratification from how you compare against others and lose sight of the overall attainment of individual pupils in East Lothian – which, in relation to attainment, must be our point of focus.

However, I’m convinced that the positive and collaborative culture we are developing; the focus on consistently high quality learning and teaching; our application of ICT; the support systems we have for pupils with additional learning needs; the improving links between our schools and sectors; the wide range of extra-curricular opportunities on offer; the support we get from parents; our staff development programme; and the commitment from everyone who works in East Lothian education will enable us to make almost exponential progress over the next few years. What’s more I think we can have fun doing it!

School Standards and Quality Reports


We’ve completed the template which schools can use to complete their Standards and Quality report.

The background and rationale behind to this development can be accessed here

We will be launching the new format for all schools on the 21st March at our Head Teacher Conference.  Those schools who volunteered for the on-line version will receive additional training but all schools will be able to use the new format in a Microsoft Word version after the 21st March.

If you would like to see a draft version and be willing to provide some quick feedback just use the comment box. Thanks

Dynamic Standards and Quality Reporting?

We have been trying to use this blogging platform to fulfil our statutory obligation to complete our Standards and Quality Report on education in East Lothian.

The reasons for exploring this format were threefold: improve accessibility to the report; cut down on environmental impact of producing a ‘glossy’ report; enable people to interact with the report.

However, another reason has emerged which wasn’t so obvious when starting out. Each year authorities and schools enter into the “reporting season” where they gather together evidence and spend a significant amount of time into pulling together the report. Yet there is an alternative!

What if the report became a dynamic document capable of being updated on an on-going basis? For example, an authority might only be able to award a level of performance for a quality indicator as being “good” but find that after a particular survey that it has gone up to being “very good”. Rather than waiting for the time for writing up the report the level of performance could be changed immediately.  In this way the report is accurately reflecting reality in ‘real-time’.

The on-line reporting format allows that level of responsiveness. It also turns the theory of on-going evaluation into a practice. 

As an after-thought – this format also has potential for pupil reporting where parents and pupils have “real time” access to progress. I know GLOW will be picking up on this but as a teacher I would have liked to have been able to enter pupils’ marks into a data base and for the marks and comments to be automatically transferred to the pupils’ on-line record. All instead of staying up to 3.00am completing reports!!

Standards and Quality Reports

I’ve been working on our Departmental Standards and Quality Report. I’m trying to set up a template which can be used by schools – with a view to reducing workload but improving the impact it makes.

One of the other differences is that I’ve used this blogging platform to present the plan on-line. There will be a front page with links for people to drill down if necessary. I’ll post a link here in a c ouple of days.

The key to the approach we’re developing is making use of the statements for quality indicators and using highlighter to show if we have evidence, possibly have evidence or just don’t agree, e.g.

How well do we meet the needs of our stakeholders?
QI 2.1 Impact on learners

This indicator relates to the impact of the education service on learners, including pre-school children, school-aged pupils and adult learners, focusing in particular on their current experiences. 


From this analysis – and in light of an absence of some data – we would score this as a 4 (Good).

“Knowing” each other

Prestonpans Primary School

Originally uploaded by Don Ledingham.

I visited Prestonpans Primary School this afternoon to find out about some of the exciting plans they have for the coming session. Learning and Teaching, Curriculum and Timetabling were all on the agenda. A member of staff challenged me to “know” the school better at a personal level.

I’ve been thinking about this “knowing” of a school.  From a teacher’s perspective – the “knowing” of a school depends on a person – in this case me – being in the school and knowing them as individuals before any judgement can be made about the school. At this level I can understand what people mean by this. When I was a teacher, or even a Principal Teacher – I had very little contact with the “Authority” save a few in-service days and later Principal Teacher Meetings. In fact I remember some colleagues at that time describing themselves as being self-employed people who happened to receive a cheque from the local authority at the end of the month.

This issue ties in neatly with a discussion I had with a colleague from a school today who talked about – “the authority” as a distinct entity – quite separate from their day-to-day business, i.e. “them” and “us”.

There’s something of a paradox here with the move to more of education budgets being devolved to schools, the number of people employed in the “centre” will become fewer and fewer. Yet unless people in school see a person – they don’t feel that the connection exists to make it anything other than “them” and “us”. I think this is where the relationship between social media and self evaluation begins to form an important alliance in helping us to create a different culture – which might meet teacher’s needs and yet enable the authority to “know” its schools in a robust and rigorous manner.

Over the last few months as more teachers and other colleagues in schools begin to blog I’ve been gaining an important insight into their worlds – and perhaps they are gaining an insight into mine. The sense of community, shared values and shared sense of purpose can be developed through social media in a way that would be impossible through traditional means. If we link this partnership dimension with a self-evaluation culture which starts with the child at the centre  i.e. “what are the outcomes for children?” and develop valid and reliable ways of evaluating our practice the role of the authority becomes twofold:

  1. Leading, supporting and verifying the development of such a culture;
  2. Adopting a proportionate approach towards school support, i.e. a focus on schools where the “outcomes for children” are not what might be expected. (The key to enabling the authority to fulfil such a role is the ability to access “real time” outcome data – which does link with my post this week about formative and summative assessment.)

Just as HMIe will, and are, starting to focus more upon an authority’s ability to know its schools – so the authority should focus more upon schools’ ability to know themselves. The role of the authority is therefore one of establishing the culture and practice of self-evaluation.

Having said all that we must recognise that personal contact is a key factor in helping us to create such a culture – that’s why I put one morning and one afternoon each week aside to visit schools – the highlight of my week – to look at learning and teaching.

Standards and Quality Report

The schools are on their October break. I’m working on two major tasks this week. Firstly our department’s Standards and Quality report and secondly, some research and reflection on ‘Curriculum for Excellence’

I’m taking a similar approach towards the department’s S&Q report as I did with a school’s. When I was at Dunbar I pulled apart “How Good is Our School”, identified all the statements which related to very good practice and then compared the school against that standard using all the evidence available. It soon became apparent that there was a need to improve our data collection procedures at school and this led to many of the self-evaluation tools which we successfully developed.

As far as a department’s S&Q report goes they often simply report on outcomes of the service improvement plan, national priorities or other specific actions being undertaken by the authority. This differs from an authority’s inspection as the HMIe go into things in much greater depth. One of the problems we face is that the authority inspection process is about to change. However, I believe it is appropriate for us to measure ourselves against the existing standard and use some of the data gathered in that exercise to judge our practice against the new standard when that is published.

I’ve taken a number of recent authority HMIe inspection reports, most notably East Renfrewshire and Aberdeenshire and looked at their reports pulling out the key factors which HMIe reported upon. From that analysis I’ve identified a series of questions which we might consider and ask a variety of stakeholders to answer. For example, four of the performance indicators are consultation, communication, deployment of and effectiveness of centrally deployed staff, and resource management. The questions which we might ask are as follows:


Does the depertment regularly seek out the views of stakeholders including staff in establishments, school boards, pupils’ forum, staff and trade unions?
Does the department use a variety of consultation methods including meetings and questionnaires?
Do officers analyse responses to consultation exercises and keep elected members fully informed of the outcomes?
Do stakeholders see that appropriate action is taken in response to consultation exercises?
Does the department ensure that teachers are fully informed and involved in consultation exercises?
Do schools boards and parents’ representatives feel that they have a chance to influence the aims and plans for education?
Do all staff feel that they are well involved in the decision making process?


Are the Director and Head of Education seen to be readily accessible and responsive to queries?
Do all staff below Head of Education respond speedily to complaints or queries?
Does the department use a range of appropriate methods to communicate with staff and parents?
Does the department make effective use of information and communications technology to communicate with staff?
Is the department’s Standards and Quality Report informative and well-presented?
Are all schools’ Standard and Quality Reports easily available to parent?
Are all schools’ Standard and Quality Reports of a consistent quality and easily understood?


Is the deployment and effectiveness of centrally employed staff good?
Do education officers have frequent and rigorous contacts with schools?
Do education officers “know the schools” they are associated with?
Do Headteachers understand the roles of education officers?
Do education officers have a good understanding of their respective areas of responsibility?
Do education officers operate consistently?
Are education officers able to appropriately support and challenge schools where there is obvious underperformance?
Does the pupil support section operate effectively?
Are newly qualified teachers well supported?
Is Continuous Professional Development effectively co-ordinated?


Does the department regularly undertake a Best Value review with a view to improving the service or to make savings to the authority?
Does the department make changes to practice as a consequence of these reviews?
What is the condition of East Lothian schools?
How well are East Lothian schools equipped and provided with facilities well suited to education?
How comprehensive is the Council’s asset management strategy?
Has the Council implemented its asset management strategy?
How effective are schools links with property services?
How well does the department carry out its responsibilities in relation to health and safety?
How well has the department implemented the Teachers’ Agreement?
Does the department ensure that there are sufficient core levels of staffing?
Do support staff feel valued by the department?
Do schools feel that ICT is fully supported by the Council’s corporate ICT department?

The other areas are: Vision, values and aims; Effectiveness of leadership and management; Policy development; Service Planning; Financial management; Measuring, monitoring and evaluating performance; and Continuous improvement in performance.

I would suggest that we use the new HMIe six point scale, i.e. Unsatisfactory 1; Fair 2; Adequate 3; Good 4; Very Good 5; Excellent 6, and ask respondents to give their response to each question using the scale.

I’d like to set up a draft questionnaire using SELS. In this way we could e-mail all our Headteachers and other major stakeholders, such as a sample of parents and students, provide them with a user name and password and ask them to complete the online questionnaire. The software would automatically process the data and present in a manner which would enable analysis. All this could be completed by the end of next week – a task that would normally take between 5-6 weeks and a huge number of admin hours if was a normal paper based questionnaire.

If you are interested in helping us out with this possible survey please get in touch and I will include you in the exercise.

This exercise would prove useful on three counts: 1. provide very robust data upon which we could base our Standards and Quality report and identify points for action; 2. enable us to trial the SELS software and allow Headteachers and others to experience it for themselves; and 3. demonstrate to Headteachers and others that the department is prepared to take a lead in rigorous self-evaluation.

Attainment analysis

8.15-9.30am Weekly Education Officers Meeting. Each person reports on issues that have arisen in schools over the past week. It proves to be a very useful forum to share information and to pick up on concerns.

Colin Sutherland (HT North Berwick HS) arrived at 9.30am to help us develop our attainement evaluation procedures. I'm keen that we develop a process which reinforces the idea of collective responsibility as opposed to reinforcing the idea of compeition between schools – is this too idealistic?

Before we got going we took 5 minutes out to allow me to give the second weekly departmental briefing – these seem to be well received and the fact that the idea arose from our communication group ensured that there was a good attendance.

Back to our attainment evaluation meeting for the rest of the morning. We explored the idea of looking at authority attainment from a subject perspective. For example, we looked at Higher English results from all of our six departments. Using the % of S4 roll who achieved a Higher we were able to create a spreadsheet which showed the decile for that department; the % As, A-Bs, A-Cs; progression value; and relative value. This analysis threw up some very interesting and unexpected results. At first glance this approach might appear to be reinforcing the idea of a league table mentality which forces departments to compete against each other. However, we intend to use this data to reinforce the connections between schools by sharing ideas, good practice and materials on a subject by subject basis.

We are considering bringing subject PTs or reps together to present the data and to look at ways in which we can learn from each other with exc-el being a possible vehicle. Pauline Sales is going to work on producing the data over the next couple of weeks and will presnt the data in the three year average which gets rid of the variation which occurs fomr a year to year basis. Having Colin at the meeting with Sheila McKendrick, Ruth Munro and Pauline Sales was a very effective strategy as Colin has exceptional ability and experience in this area.

I took Colin out to lunch to thank him for his contribution. Back to office for report from Adam Whyte regarding the Investors in People Award. Adam informed us that we haven't quite achieved the revised standard which is much more difficult to achieve than the previous stndard. However, he had some very positive words to say about our department and has recommended that we complete a few action points and will return within three months by which time we should have reached the standard. I have to admit to being slightly unsure of IIP (as someone once described it to me “Investors in Paper”). However, having seen the process close up I think it is an accurate measure of how effective an organisation is in looking after the welfare and development of its members – I'd recommend it to anyone who might be thinking about applying.

Then on to meeting with Callum Stewart (DHT Preston Lodge) and Derek Simpson (DHT Dunbar Grammar). They have been looking at a pupil tracking and monitoring software system known as “On the Button” There have been a few concerns about the system from a technical point of view but these concerns have now been resolved. They are going to make a presentation to HTs and others on the 10th November although PL are going to make a start straight away.

Meeting finished at 3.45pm and then had the luxury of a couple of hours at my desk – I almost enjoyed the experience. Met my brother for a pint on the ay home – looking forward to the weekend.

PS – welcome to Richard Wilson

Thursday 13th October

9.00 – 11.30am Departmental Management Team Meeting. A significant part of this meeting was taken with discussion of the restructuring of the department. Things are gradually beginning to take shape. I’ve been charged with writing up the cluster purpose paper; the integration team link to cluster; and the education structure.

12.00-1.20pm Meeting with Provost Pat O’Brien and Councillors Peter Ford, Willie Innes and Margaret Libberton. These councillors represent the areas comprising the Preston Lodge cluster. I found the meeting to be very worthwhile as we discussed a range of issues most of which pertained to the attainment action plan. They were very supportive of the idea of looking at attainment from a cluster perspective and liked the notion of collective responsibility. Amongst other things we reflected upon: budgets; teaching and learning; standardised testing; school linkage with East Lothian Council; 5-14 attainment; and leadership. From this meeting I’m going to offer to meet with the councillors representing each of our clusters on an annual basis.

1.30pm Back to the office for meeting with Liz Morriss, EIS District Representative. Range of issues which I’ll follow up and get back to Liz.

2.00pm Met Eilish Garland to finalise complaints policy ready for final publication and circulation.

3.00-4.30pm Finance Meeting – this is proving to be a very valuable monthly meeting with our three finance officers. We explored a range of matters – I’m keen to find ways in which we can reinstate the funding for childcare strategy which was removed at our last meeting; fund finance officers for primaries; and cover a projected overspend in our predictable needs budget. I’ll be taking up these matters with Alan Blackie.

4.30pm – 5.45pm Fifth Deputes’ seminar. Smallest group so far but no less worthwhile – from a rough guess I’d reckon we have over 85% of deputes attending the sessions which is remarkable given they are voluntary and after school. I received an E mail from one of the depute’s after the event. She – quite rightly – challenged me for giving the impression that the only good depute is one who is seeking to become a Headteacher. Undoubtedly I had been exploring why people didn’t want to become HTs and also looked at ways in which we could help people to become HTs However, it had not been my intention to characterise anyone who wished to remain a DHT as someone who was not fulfilling a very worthwhile role in education – I must be more careful!!