Working together?

 

I’m just back from the Association of Directors of Education Scotland (ADES) annual conference which was held in Aviemore.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for Education and Lifelong Learning, was speaking and was stressing the importance of everyone involved in education working together, particularly in the new world of local outcome agreements.

As she was speaking I couldn’t help feeling that we in educational leadership positions in Scotland need to work a lot closer than we maybe have done in the past to ensure that we provide a united front to represent the needs of children.  Just last week the Headteachers Association Scotland, HAS,  (secondary sector) held their conference, and I’d been speaking at the Association of Headteachers and Deputes Scotland, AHDS,  (primary sector) just a few weeks ago.

All of our respective organisations have their place in Scottish education and HAS and AHDS do a great job representing the needs of their members as formal trade unions. However, it seems to me that there are such huge overlaps between our concerns, visions and backgrounds that we would have a huge amount to gain from working together in a more strategic manner – particulary in relation to some of the big issues facing Scottish education and children’s services. The direction of travel set out by Fiona Hyslop for the journey facing education over the next ten years suggests that we could collectively make a much greater impact if we looked for points of synergy and worked together to influence, transform and protect Scottish education. I’m not suggesting for one minute that any of the organisations forfeit their own identity -simply that we enhance our impact by forming a more strategic partnership on points of mutual interest.

Just a thought.

Corporate Parenting

 

A teacher said to me last week that we (in education) seem to have to play, more and more, the role of parents as well as educators.  I had to point out to this person that that is exactly what we have to do – especially for some of the most vulnerable children in our communities. 

One of the duties I have as Head of Education is to ensure that we meet the educational needs of Looked After and Acccommodated Children.  The duties are set out in Through care and after care

1.1 Local authorities have a duty to prepare young people for ceasing to be looked after (“throughcare”) and to provide advice, guidance and assistance for young people who have ceased to be looked after over school age (“aftercare”).

There are around 11,000 children and young people looked after by local authorities in Scotland, of whom about 1,500 are over 15 years old. About 1,200 young people aged 16 or over cease to be looked after each year.

The concept of corporate parenting is set out in Looked After Children and Young People: We Can and Must Do Better:

1.4 Local authorities have a role as corporate parents to these young people, particularly those who cannot return to their families. This means that the local authority should look after these children as any other parents would look after their own children.

1.5 The role of corporate parent is not restricted to the social work department of the local authority but applies to all departments and agencies, who should recognise their own responsibility to promote the welfare of looked after young people and ensure that their needs are adequately addressed by each department.

We have named contacts in each of our schools who have responsibility for tracking and being the link for other services in relation to Looked After and Accommodated Children but I’m not convinced that our commitment extends much beyond that.

The reality in schools that such children are often some of the most challenging to educate.  Without a significant mind shift – mine included – I don’t think we will properly take on our corporate role as parents.

I wonder of there would be anything to be gained from meeting all of our secondary age Looked After and Accommodated Children with a view to gaining their perspective on how education has fulfilled its parenting role and how it might get better?

Lowest attaining 20%

At the Musselburgh Cluster meeting today we discussed our strategy for supporting the lowest attaining 20% of students in East Lothian.

We had a very stimulating debate about this issue and a number of questions emerged:

1. Is there a difference between the lowest attaining and those with the lowest ability?

We thought there was – it is possible to have low attaining pupils who have plenty latent ability but who underachieve due to a variety of complex variables

2. Are the lowest attaining 20% of pupils in East Lothian in the lowest attaining 20% of pupils in Scotland?

The statistics would suggest that they are not. In fact only around 5% of our pupils would make into the national group.

3. Will all the work – e.g. tracking, curriculum, planning. target setting, learning and teaching –  we are doing on raising the attainment of all pupils help our lowest attaining 20%?

We reckoned it will.

4. Can we identify children who at risk of failing later in school at earlier stage?

We all could – the tell-tale signs are all too obvious?

5. Could we identify the factors which contribute to a child being more likely to fail at school?

Yes

These questions linked with a discussion we had had earlier in the morning where we had spent time considering how the poor behaviour of a small number of pupils can have a detrimental impact upon the learning of many others.

We explored the possible impact of a strategy which looked to intervene snd support children and families at an early a stage as possible.  If it’s possible for a nursery teacher to say with confidence that a child will not be able to cope at secondary school why do we wait until that crisis emerges ten years later when it’s too late to do anything about it?

For our next meeting each HT will try to identify such vulnerable children in their school.  We will also look at some of the research about variables which exacerbate that vulnerability. Next we’ll consider some things we could do collectively to develop a strategy which operates through the age spectrum from 0-18 including how we engage with other agencies in the development of this strategy. Finally, we will look at some case studies of children in the secondary school who are now disengaged from the learning process and try to identify why and what might have been done to avoid this consequence.

Some of the words which characterised this discussion were “radical” , targetting”, collective action” and “partnership” – I have to admit to being uplifted by such a professional and solution focussed dialogue.

Secondary School Guidance Systems

Guidance?

Throughout my career I’ve been impressed by a succession of outstanding Guidance Teachers. Without fail they are driven by a commitment to support and help children and to solve any crisis which comes their way.

However, (you were waiting for that) does the system which has been in place for so many years – certainly throughout my career – need to change? “But surely it has changed – just look at how structures have changed with faculty heads, first line guidance structures, tracking and monitoring, inclusion teams, etc, etc?”

I would concede that superficial changes have been made and maybe that’s been enough. But I’ve been reading For Scotland’s Children again there are a number of things in that report which we should be considering – and upon which we should make a judgement.

It’s really to do with targeting services – in a time when resources are under pressure and schools need more and more support to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families can we continue with the existing dominant Guidance model which characterises most of our secondary schools?

For Scotland’s Children challenges us to target services:

“Each children’s services plan should set out how two main aims will be achieved:

  • Providing excellent universal services for all
  • Targeting additional services to meet need and reduce inequalities.”

The recent report into Guidance and Pupil  Support in Schools identified two models of Guidance:

Two models of organising guidance/pupil support emerged from the case studies: one, we have referred to as an ’embedded’ approach, and the other relies on the deployment of specialist guidance/pupil support staff. The primary and special school case studies all embedded pupil support within the school, its ethos, policies and practices. Primary and special school teachers all viewed pupil support as an integral part of their professional role and an integral part of learning and teaching. In contrast, guidance/pupil support in the four secondary school case studies relied on different variations of a ‘specialist model’  8.2.4

What is interesting is that the researchers found no evidence to suggest that one model was better than another:

“There is no evidence from this study than one way of organising guidance/pupil support was more or less successful than any other. Pupils and their parents were equally satisfied with the model they had experienced. We found no association between approaches to guidance/pupil support and absence levels or attainment.”8.2.9

Nor was there any evidence to show that changing the model of guidance/pupil support necessarily encouraged more pupils to discuss their problems/issues of concern with guidance staff, but that it merely redistributed the caseload to more and different members of staff.

The Report noted that Guidance/pupil support is costly:

Although providing a cost and benefit analysis is beyond the scope of this current study, it is evident that many teachers believe that guidance/pupil support is making increasing demands on schools and teachers’ time at the expense of valuable teaching time. The value for money of alternative approaches to guidance/pupil support needs exploring. 8.3

The last sentence in this bullet point under implications of the report needs to be properly considered. My own gut feeling is that we should be considering more of an ’embedded’ structure more akin to primary or special schools as oppsed to a ‘specialist’ model. I don’t believe that all pupils need a dedicated Guidance Teacher, nor do I think that PSE should be delivered as a separate subject – it should be embedded in the curriculum. All pupils should have a link with a teacher – and there are numerous ways in which this can be acheived thgough the development of  systems where all pupils have an entitlement to support when required.

The report considers Generalist Versus Specialist Teachers and found that pupils were equally satisfied with each.

In  my next post I’ll explore some alternative models which might enable us to target our resouces more effectively upon those pupils who are the greatest need.

Children’s Panel

Children's Panel

I was invited to address the members of East Lothian Children’s Panel this evening.  We spoke for 90 minutes about how we approach attendance, exclusions and inclusion in our schools.

A key theme which emerged in the course of the evening is the perception that there are still issues to do with consistency between how our schools approach each of these complex issues.  I explained how our 5Cs Consistency; continuity; collegiality; creativy; and collective responsibility are addressing these issues.  I was delighted to be able to refer to the HTs’ Conference last week where we explored the issue of attendance and how we share good practice and work effectively with other agencies with the aim of promoting a consistent approach.

If you would like to volunteer to serve as a panel member I would urge you to download an application from the above link – you would be made most welcome. It was interesting to see that several teachers are Panel members.

For Scotland’s Children – next steps

We’ve been working on a paper which explores the next steps we need to take to fulfil our obligations set out in For Scotland’s Children 2001.

The first part of that exploration is an appreciative inquiry perspective on the Integration Team.

I found it really helpful to adopt this type of thinking as opposed to focussing on any negative aspects.

INTEGRATION TEAMS – AN APPRECIATIVE PERSPECTIVE

Over the last six years the Integration Team has had a significant impact upon how East Lothian meets the needs of vulnerable young people. In almost every community the Team can identify key successes which include: 

  • improvements in multi-agency working;
  • support for vulnerable children and their families;
  • development of inclusive strategies;
  • positive examples of integrated pupil support systems;
  • improved pupil attainment;
  • improved pupil attendance;
  • reductions in exclusions;
  • improved outcomes for Looked After and Accommodated Children
  • successful joint training; and
  • consistent implementation of the Staged Assessment and Intervention process. 

Such has been the success of some of these developments that the Integration Team has often been perceived as an entity in its own right, with responsibility for children being “passed” to them by various agencies such as schools and health, as opposed to fulfilling the role of integrating Children’s Services and Education, where responsibility for children’s welfare is seen as shared commitment. Such a perception runs counter to the growing shared commitment by chief officers towards integrated services.  

In addition to the need to challenge the notion of the Integration Team being a separate entity there are other compelling reasons for us to develop a model which builds upon our successes, these reasons include: 

  • the mainstreaming of Changing Children’s Services Fund (CCSF);
  • the development of Integrated Pupil Support Teams in our schools;
  • the continuing evolution of our Inclusion and Equality Team;
  • closer working between education and children’s services;
  • the need to further develop a focus and locus for self evaluation;
  • the need to make efficient and targeted use of all of the resources allocated to work with disadvantaged children 

In order to develop and build upon our continuum of service to support vulnerable children and their families there is logic in developing sustainable local multi agency area teams built around our six distinct communities, or clusters of schools. 

The cluster approach, which was   approved by the Education Committee in September 2006, outlines a way of working which could also underpin the development of our continuum of service involving all agencies with a commitment to improving children’s lives through the principles of consistency; continuity; collegiality, creativity, and collective responsibility. 

Our challenge is to find a way to build upon the best examples of practice in East Lothian which depend upon true integrated working between partner agencies. 

If you have any suggestions about how we might do this please feel free to leave a comment.

Adopting a Positive Perspective

I’ve been working on the Multiple Metaphor Model of change for a few weeks and was indebted to Rob Lewis who suggested some key questions which could compliment the metaphors.

Around the same time that I received Rob’s questions I came across the notion of Appreciative Inquiry. In order to try out the model I used the metaphors and some of Rob’s questions to reflect upon our current Integrated Children’s Services Plan. The difficulty I was finding was that I kept coming up with problems and areas of need. As the work went on it became more and more negative, to the point where I wondered how we could possibly put a successful change strategy together. My solution was to adopt an Appreciative Inquiry approach and consider each of the metaphors in turn but to seek three concrete examples within each which demonstated good practice, for example, using the sculpting metaphor I considered our medium – which is people, and identified these three strengths:

  1. Our colleagues are committed to providing the best possible service for children, young people and their families.
  2. Our people will continually work beyond the expected parameters to benefit children, young people and their families.
  3. Our people care about their colleagues in their immediate situation.

By considering each of the parts of the metaphor model in turn I began to develop a much more positive perspective on what we have been doing – and – more importantly – a number of things which we could build upon to imrove our service. Such an approach has the added benefit of maintaining morale, engaging postively with people and creating a culture where the focus is on success – not failure.

I don’t see this as being a “happy clappy” way of working and if we can find a way of linking this approach with the rigorous Performance Indicator model mentioned in the previous post then I’m excited by its potential.

Perhaps the greatest problem that we face – and this isn’t “Appreciative Inquiry” – is the tendency for Scots to see the downside and also to be more comfortable with that approach. I’m going to continue exploring this area over the next few months.

PS – I’ve made a start at putting together a list of related literature which people might like to dip into for additional infromation – or feel free to make addtions.

Integration

8.30-9.50am Directorate Meeting. We had missed Monday’s slot due to my attendance at the ICT Summit. Our meeting scheduled for this coming Monday will be focussing upon the four proposed structures for the department – of which more later.

10.00am Department Briefing

10.10 Senior students from Knox Academy, who included my neice BJ raided the department dressed in their pyjamas to raise funds for Children in Need.

10.30-11.30 Meeting with Liz Morriss of the EIS to agree the agenda for the Local Negotiating Committee for Teachers. Number of key issues coming up for consideration including our plans for meeting the additional non-contact time due to come into force next session; management structures; Supervision of NQTs; and Business Managers for primary schools. I also asked Liz to nominate one of her members with a background in ICT and Learning Support to join our ICT group who are due to meet on the 20th December.

My meeting with Phillip Rycroft was then cancelled – he had to attend a funeral – rescheduled for 8th December. The questions we will be addressing at that meeting are as follows:

Will we receive funding for the reduction in class contact time?

Will the pay award of 2% for 2006/2007 be met externally?

Will we receive funding for Chartered Teachers?

Will we receive funding for the planned reduction in class sizes in S1 and S2 Maths and English classes?

I’m also keen to explore what the Executive’s expectations are in relation to monies identified in Grant Aided Expenditure (GAE) and what council’s then allocate to education departments.

Met Sheila Ainslie, our Pupil Support Manager and my former SMT colleague from Dunbar Grammar School. Sheila was responsible for creating one of the first integrated pupil support teams in Scotland which included Guidance, Learning Support; Inclusion and external agencies. The success of this development was recognised in Dunbar’s Inspection report from 2004. The current debate in the department is whether or not to bring together our Pupil Support Section and our Integration Team together into a single entity under the line management of the Head of Education.

The Integration Team, started off its existence in Education but migrated to Children’s Service’s for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact that it was deemed not to be working effectively under Education. The team is now well established and (almost) fully staffed. It is well led, by Raymy Boyle and morale within the team has never been better , whilst it links well with the “hard end” of Children’s Services. It is therefore ironic, or should that be unfortunate , that the current debate is undermining that confidence and growing uncertainty is leading some of the team to seek alternative employment.

There are many persuasive arguments to leave things as they are – in fact there is argument to move pupil suppport to Children’s Services. So I thought it might be useful to give my reasons for supporting the eventual bringing together of Pupil Support and the Integration Team. One of the challenges we are addressing is a change in culture within our schools. We want to move towards a notion of our “ownership” of every child in our community. We would like to develop systems which enabled us to “keep” vulnerable children in our communities and provide co-ordinated support to enable them to take their place in society. At the same time we don’t wish to compromise the education of other, less vulnerable children. For this to happen we need to develop systems which are seamless and which have no points where children can either drop through the net or be “handed” on. The current system of schools and their associated school based support systems and associated Integration Teams varies from cluster to cluster. However, there is a dissonance between what schools think they are doing and what Integration Teams think they are doing. We could, and some do, argue, that this will all be resolved in the fullness of time – and they may indeed be right.

One of the challenges often put to schools is that they need to take “ownership” of integration. The problem with this concept is that when Education does say “OK let’s get our hands dirty” it can be construed as a desire to gain control. I see a huge difference between ownership and control. For me ownership is about accountability. Without accountability it is too easy to pass on responsibility to another agency when you feel you have done everything in your power to solve a problem. This, it seems to me, is the core of the problem. If Integration Teams can be perceived, or characterised, as being outwith education then the mental model of handing something over is simply reinforced. This model goes all the way through education – where teachers say to guidance “get this kid out of my class” as opposed to taking some of the responsibility for helping the child to change their behaviour.

Of course, education in this scenario is open to criticism – “so why don’t you tackle your own problem?” – “why should Integration Teams change to help you solve a problem within your own system?” I understand such sentiments but it should be recognised that we are changing . Our recent committment to adopt the concept of Collective Responsibility lies at the core of a changing Education and Children’s Services Department. However, collective responsibility needs some form of collective accountability. For example, if a school cluster suggests that they have not been given the appropriate support from the Integration Team they might complain to me. If an Integration Team decides that a school cluster is not conforming to agreed practice they might complain to Alan Ross (Head Of Children’s Services). The easy response to this is to say that Alan and Don will sort to out but this is to miss the point that the sort of cultural change we are engaged in needs coherent and clear lines of accountability.

The next obvious question is why should Education “take control?” Again we need to explore the mind set in schools. If we agree that there is still a tendency in schools to “Hand on” problem children to other agencies, then by moving school-based pupil support to Children’s Services merely serves to reinforce the perception which must be challenged. The challenge if Pupil Support and Integration Teams come under Education is to ensure Education is held accountable for an integrated system which reinforces the concept of Collective Responsibility.

Finally, if the Integration joins with Pupil Support, will it not not merely serve to increase the gap between education and “hard end” Children’s Services e.g. LAAC, children in residential care, child protection cases?

For me this is the big challenge – we are currently exploring how we might look at the huge amounts of money being spend on care programmes for such children and for us think about how we could use this money for alternative programmes which kept the child in education and within the community.. There is certainly a perception from staff in Children's Services that Education does “abandon” some children. I don’t think I can defend education here but again – we are committed to changing. Instead of looking at how things used to be, we should challenge our own perceptions of our colleagues’ practice and values.

Alan Blackie, Alan Ross, Myself and Clare O’Sullivan (our consultant) will be considering all this on Monday.

Lastly – I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading on the concept of social mobility – you might like to take a look at some of these research papers.

Rob Lewis popped into my office late in the afternoon to suggest that we might like to set up a section in Exc-el for admin’ support staff. Great idea – see
admin support. We have finalised a date for our admin support conference 15th February 2006 in the Brunton Hall.

Full HTs Meeting

Full day meeting for Primary and Nursery Headteachers. As I’ve set out elsewhere in this weblog it is my intention to establish a culture amongst East Lothian schools which is characterised by a shared purpose, belonging, openess and mutual trust. This is the culture I’ve always set out to create whenever I've had the opportunity to take the leader’s role. It was relatively easy as a PT – achieveable as a Headteacher, but I’m not sure if it’s possible to do at an authority level. However, we are going to have fun trying. What are the obstacles?

  1. A “them” and “us” mentality between schools and the centre.
  2. Poor communication.
  3. Directorate giving orders without any clear rationale or sense of purpose.
  4. Headteachers running their schools as personal fiefdoms with no respect shown to colleagues in other schools or anyone else outwith their own sphere of interest, i.e. seeing themselves and their schools as operating autonomously and not belonging to a wider community of professionals.
  5. Pressure of work which prevents anyone from lifting their nose from the grindstone.
  6. A focus upon the negative.

I'm sure there will be others and I'd welcome observations, such as “idealistic Heads of Education” but this list will suffice in the meantime.

Anyway the feedback from my colleagues was very positive and the early signs are encouraging. What are the challenges? Sustainability – can we keep this going?- particularly in times of stress – or will we retrench into “them” and “us”. Can I/we deliver?- people hear so many promises throughout their careers from leaders who come in say they'll do this and that and never see it through. It's vital that everything doesn't depend upon one person, i.e. me. We must distribute leadership; we must establish long-term strategic plans which are not dependent upon particular personnel; and we must link change to long-term budgetary planning.

We sat , 45 of us, in a circle. This was both symbolic and practical. It prevents a front and back from setting up; it engages with all the group; it enables people to make a contribution; it enables everyone to listen to contributions; and it allows leadership of the group to move around, as opposed to being located at the front.

The morning was given over to an description of, and discussion about our attainment action plan. Some excellent points were raised and we also made significant progress in a number of areas which we can now take forward as agreed action. We also shared the department's budget and discussed the communication paper – both of which were well received. There is a concern that primary schools have been/are discriminated against in comparison with secondary schools. I'd like to open up this debate by looking at the facts and engaging primary and nursery Heads in discussion with their secondary colleagues. If we don't tackle this perception head-on (if you'll excuse the pun) and either demonstrate that it's incorrect, or that is does exist and that we need to put a plan together to rectify the situation, we will only make peripheral progress in seeing ourselves as belonging to a unified whole. All groups must be prepared to put aside their traditional interests and look at it from an objective standpoint – told you I was an idealist!! – but what fun we'll have.

The afternoon considered emergency scenarios and what we would do in such situations. This proved very interesting and should help s put together very useful emergency plans.

Back to the office at 4.00 for e-mails and correspondence. I had a chat with Alan Ross, Head of Children's Services. I was still chuntering on about what we should be trying to do with integrated community schools. I value Alan's prespective – he has exceptional experience at the “hard” end of children's social work – where children's lives are at risk. Educationalists sometimes have the luxury of being idealistic and adopting a higher moral group perspective. A child social worker has incredibly difficult decisions to make about whether to remove a child from a family or not. I can chat all I like about whether or not we should be trying to give all children the same opportunties and support – Alan cuts to the heart of the issue and asks “Can I stop this child from being “broken” any further”. The problem is that when a child is “broken” can anyone – including education “fix” them? I'll look forward to more in-depth discussion about this with Alan and other colleagues over the next few weeks, especially as we look at how we might better integrate education and children's services.