Curriculum Architecture Conference

Our curriculum architecture conference proved to be a great success.

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The evaluations from the 100 participants has been exceptional. It validated the approach we selected to involve a wide range of participants – HTs, DHTs, PTs, Primary HTs, elected members, parents, students, business people, community services and members of the department in the development of policy.

Our sincere hope is that this format could provide a model for further such debates at school and cluster level. The contribution made by the senior students to the debate was incredible and showed how learners have such an important role to play in co-creating their curriculum.

I’ll be publishing the outomes of the event here once the feedback has been typed up.

Writing – do we have to accept that boys will be boys?

I had a great visit this week to King’s Meadow Primary School in Haddington. At the beginning of my visit I had a chat with Headteacher Donald McGillivray about boy’s writing. Donald has done a fascinating analysis of boys’ attainment across the school and the statistics show that boys’ writing is of a much lower standard than girls’ writing – in what is a very high performing school. This situation is matched in most schools in East Lothian.

As I visited classes around the school I concentrated on classes which were being taught language. As it happened the classes were all working on spelling -which was being taught in a very engaging and imaginative manner -but I managed to get a chance to talk to most of the teachers and asked them about why boys were underperforming in writing. The concensus was that boys need tasks which are related to a context and that these tasks must challenge and engage their imagination. For me it demonstrated once again that it is the learning task which teachers select that holds the secret to improving learning – the challenge for us is to experiment with and work out the kind of tasks that will lead to a sustained improvement in boys writing. As it stands at the moment boys are behind girls by between 15-20% so the risk is certainly worth taking.

I came across this video from which showed a class where boys had closed the gap on girls. The key points  were:

  • Speaking and listening form a solid foundation for written work
  • Multimedia techniques ease reluctant students into writing
  • Role-play encourages boys to participate

One of the main things to emerge for me when I was speaking to Donald McGilliivray is one that Steven Heppell had been referring to last week and which I’d repeated at our Headteachers’ Conference is that the answers lie in our own hands and in our own schools. We need to move away from the idea that we will resolve problems such as boys writing by buying a package, training all our teachers and then expecting them to implement the programme. The reality is that all our schools are different and what might work in one school would not necessarily work in another. I also believe that such an approach only serves to foster a dependency culture which is anti-professional and ultimately self defeating, as teachers feel  deskilled and are not encouraged to reflect upon and take responsibility for their own practice.

I’d much rather see a school work out some key principles which would guide the type of learning experiences which teachers would provide for boys, then evaluate the success of these approaches then discuss, share and develop these ideas within schools, within clusters and within the authority.

Last thought – if we could close the gap between girls and boys in respect to writing we would – in a single act – raise the levels of attainment in East Lothian by an unprecedented amount, with all the corresponding impact that such a lift would have on children’s life chances.

Head Teachers – making an impact

We held our first Head Teachers East Lothian Head Teachers’ Conference of the session at Musselburgh Racecourse this afternoon.

This was the first of five conferences which will take place over the session and adopted a new format following feedback from HTs last year. Each conference has a particular theme and has two distinct parts, the morning session will involve presentations whilst the afternoon offers a range of workshops run by Head Teachers for Head Teachers.

Today’s theme was “Making and Impact Upon your Community”. I led off the morning with an hour and half slot on how HTs make an impact upon their community. Contrary to the popular focus I concentrated on what the leader does – as opposed to the distributed leadership model. You can access my powerpoint here – although it really served as prompt for me, so I don’t know what sort of sense people can make of it in isolation. I was followed by our District HMIe Phil Denning who spoke – with real ethusiasm, insight and knowledge – about HGIOS3. People responded very well to Phil’s encouragement to engage actively in the self-evaluation process which linked nicely with our own self-evaluation and validation model that we are developing in East Lothian.

The afternoon offered four workshops – people could choose two – Creating and Positive Ethos; Developing links with parents; managing people; and Development Planning. Two Head Teachers had volunteered to lead each of the sessions.

The feedback from the day has been very positive and I’m already looking forward to our next conference on the 7th November where the  theme is to be “managing resources”.

Principal Teacher Conference – some reflections


So the PT Conference is over.  How did it go?

The feedback from the 76 participants has been incredibly positive – both the formal evaluations and the verbal comments – but did it meet our objectives?

There were three key objectives of the conference:

  1. promote the concept of Principal Teachers  as leaders of learning;
  2. create, promote and extend a community of principal teachers;
  3. develop and explore a range of ideas for developing the curriculum for excellence.

I’ll post the ideas which emerged from the conference here tomorrow but I think we made significant progress towards fulfilling our objectives.

The focus on Appreciative Inquiry proved worthwhile and provided a foundation for the 24 hour programme.

People seemed to get something from my presentation on culture; accountability; seven sides of leadership; and Leading from the middle, which linked with Alison Wishart’s stimulating session on possibilities for approaching the Curriculum for Excellence.

The Engine Rooms were dynamic and although some people thought it might have been better to stay in clusters I think we just about got the balance right.

The ideas which emerged at the end of the Engine Room were better than any working group could have achieved even working over a six month period.

The last session which culminated in the Dragon’s Den seemed to be good fun and the practical ideas which cluster teams suggested were exciting and very relevant.

As for the Dragon’s Den – I’m not sure – people seemed to enjoy it but we had one comment which made me think it might have gone too far – basically the person was concerned that such an antagonistic environment did not live up to our aspirations to treat people with unconditional positive regard.  It will be interesting to hear other peoples reflections on this aspect of the programme.

Of course, the best part of the course – bar none, was the opportunity to meet colleagues and who share a real passion for their jobs – we are indeed fortunate to have such people in East Lothian.

Principal Teachers: Leaders of Learning

Our response to the Curriculum for Excellence initiative has been to concentrate on developing the learning and teaching process. Part of that strategy is the forthcoming Principal Teacher’s Conference to be held on the 23/24th February.  We have 60 participants already signed up and hope to hit 80 by the end of next week.  This figure is remarkable given that the conference takes place in their own time and indicates the professionalism and commitment with which our teachers approach their work.

Our intention is to encourage much higher levels of engagement in the learning process by children and to promote deeper levels of understanding. The purpose of the conference is to give shape and form to our strategy by building upon the knowledge and expertise of our Principal Teachers.

The conference is split into four inter-connected parts:

Session 1. Using Appreciative Inquiry try to imagine what the learning and teaching process and the curriculum might look like in the future.

Session 2. Using the Engine Room approach work out what we need to do to allow that vision to be fulfilled.

Session 3. Using a Solution Focused approach establish how we might capitalise on our existing strengths to enable the actions identified in Session 2 to be achieved.

Session 4. Dragon’s Den: teams of delegates will have to come up with practical suggestions about how they would enable the solutions identified in Session 3 to be translated into reality.  The ideas will be presented to a group of ‘social capitalists’ who will judge likely success and award prizes.

Throughout the conference each group would have access to a laptop on which they would enter their ideas.  These ideas would be collated and used to from our strategy for the next couple of years.  It is likely that we will form a representative group of Principal Teachers who will take the ideas forwards in a strategic manner.

Principal Teacher Conference – appreciative inquiry

Just before Christmas we sent out invitations to all of our Principal Teachers for our inaugural PT conference to be held on the 23/24 February. It was gratifying that on returning after the break that over 30 people had alrady put their name down for the event.

The event is entitled “Principal Teachers: Leaders of Learning” and starts at 3.30 on Friday afternoon and finishes at 4.00pm the next day.

I met this afternoon with Maragaret Wright of Resolution, Scotland, to discuss Appreciative Inquiry. We are considering using this as an introductory activity to set the scene for the rest of the conference.

“Appreciative Inquiry is about the search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them.”

We certainly believe there is much to gain from adopting such an approach towards our lives and our work.

Principal Teacher Conference

We have finalised the date for the Principal Teacher Conference for the Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th February. Invitations will be coming out next week to all PTs (nursery, primary and secondary)

The event will begin on Friday afternoon – with a keynote address and some time for discussion; then dinner in the evening.

The Saturday will probably have three sessions and finish about 3.30pm.  

The conference theme will be PTs as “Leaders of Learning” with an emphasis upon leading Learning and Teaching; A Curriculum for Excellence; our emerging strategy for developing the skills of Principal Teachers; Networking; Subject development; and links between PTs working 3-18.

We would welcome your suggestions for sessions. 

Principal Teachers – Leaders of Learning

We held our third Principal Teacher seminar on Monday. This was the third in a series of five  and our development strategy is emerging through these discussions.

We have agreed to organise a conference in the new year for all PTs in East Lothian starting on a Friday lunchtime and finishing on the Saturday afternoon. The theme of the conference will be the title of this post and we’ll use it as a launching point for our development of PTs.

The conference agenda will be generated by the PTs through these seminars and a small working group which we’ll convene when the last seminar has been completed in early December. The conference will be for PTs at all levels i.e.nursery, primary and secondary.

If you have ideas about conference programme items please drop me a line.

P.S. I’ll be inviting Chartered Teachers to a seminar in January.

Public Service Reform: A New Agenda for Education and Children’s Services

I’m attending a 24 hour conference on public service reform.

Colin Mair – CEO of the Improvement Service for Scottish Local Government set out the national context:

The comprehensive spending review of government spending will result in flat financial settlements to the public sector over the foreseeable future. The result of this will be limited real growth of budgets.

Set against this will be a rising objective demand for specialist services for those with acute needs – which will require public services to prioritise where money is spent.

Paralleling these demands is the political change which will take place next year which is more likely to be much less politically aligned.

Colin set out a number of challenges which will be presented by the above:

Efficient Government:

“Focus on efficiency – not cuts”
“Review business processes”
“Share service development”
“Minimise duplication and overheads”
“Efficiency needs to become a core value” Integrated service Delivery:

“Focus on outcomes”
“Organise around the service NOT around the producers”
“Improve ease of access”
“ Share customer information”
“Re-engineer the customer service chain” – lost me on that one

Strategic issues:

“Consider numbers, capacity, boundaries, utility”
“Look for links within and between sectors”
“Organic evolution Vs Big Bang” – Big Bang wastes peoples lives + costs more
“Are you fit for purpose?”


“How is a demand led system managed with a cash limited budget?”
“”Consider the costs of integration Vs Collaborative Gain” – not integration at all costs
“”How do you create a momentum for evolutionary change?”


“There are coherent and agreed principles of reform”
“We recognise that there needs to be variable operating contexts” – not uniformity for its own sake
“The improvement Service will support local innovation”
“There is a climate for change and space for change” – can we take it?

The bottom line here is that everyone of us involved in Public Service will be affected by these issues over the next few years. I always reckon it’s better to be actively involved in the change process as opposed to waiting for it to be ‘done’ to you.


I’ve had some great feedback from head teachers this week about the swapshop session we ran at the recent head teachers’ conference. I think the photos show how engrossed people were in sharing their ideas. Take, for example, this photo showing Willie Galbraith HT Preston Lodge HIgh School and Anne Burke, HT Lorretto RC Primary school.


As a child (perhaps that should read teenager) of the 70’s my Saturday mornings were incomplete without with Noel Edmunds Multi-Coloured Swapshop.

Our swapshop idea required each head teacher to write down ten things they were doing in their own school to develop learning and teaching. After 5-10 minutes they were asked to move from their table and find another HT. Their task was to find as many other ideas which did not appear on their existing list – with a view to finding as many ideas as possible. They kept moving around the until time was called.  The winner had amassed a total of 26 ideas – including her own – well done Sheene Richardson – the bottle of wine is on its way. 

The result was incredible – far better than anyone might have imagined – and certainly worth remembering!!

Last point – as a result of this experience a number of HTs have arranged to go to visit their colleague’s school – most of which are outwith their immediate community. We talked about the positive impact such visits can have upon a school to have a visitor come to see good practice – a real example of win-win!