Parents as customers?


Let me put my cards on the table.  I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of seeing parents as customers.  For me it only served to reinforce a subservient model where we – professionals – would be told what to do by parents. The second difficulty was the transactional nature of my understanding of the relationship – “we provide – the parents consume”.  The latter of these models was even more unsatisfactory if we were referring to public service schools – as the buying of the “product” was not as immediate as it might be in the private sector school system. These teacher concerns are captured (somewhat extremely) in a response to my recent post as this extract demonstrates:

“…….the idea that somehow unknowing, inexperienced, untutored, hormone-ravaged, naive, self-centred, arrogant products of the weak state education of the past twenty years and their children are to be elevated to the status of customers – and the comical fallacy of “the customer is always right” – has me switching between rolling on the floor laughing and smacking myself hard on the forehead in disbelief.”

However, I am seriously reconsidering my point of view and have been doing so for a number of years but only perhaps crystallised my thinking over the last few days – perhaps time away from the office has allowed me to step back a bit?

The perspective that helps most here is to make the mental switch from being the professional, or provider, to the customer. I am the customer of many businesses and public services.  I’ll take few examples before considering my role as a customer of the education system – and my expectations.

The examples are: banking; rubbish collection; internet provision; health; and hotels.

Banking: I am a customer of the bank.  I have been with the same bank for 26 years.  I am comfortable with the service they provide; they don’t seem to make errors; they compare quite favourably with the oppposition in terms of interest rates; they communicate with me  (probably too much); I use digital banking and this helps me track our finances in way I couldn’t a few years ago; they offer additional products which I can select if I require them. on the down side, I miss the type of counter service you used to be able to get but as I rarely go into a bank it’s not impacted too negatively upon my perception.  I will probably stay with this bank unless they offend me; charge too much; make a mistake which they don’t own up to.

Rubbish collection: I pay my council tax and expect my rubbish to be collected.  They recently changed to wheely bins – which has proved a challenge to our family but it was well publicised and the reasons were very convincing.  The pick-ups are regular and the men will pick the bin up from inside the gate if we forget to put it out. 

Internet provision: we switched internet providers last year – I wasn’t happy with the service as they kept putting up charges without any apparent improvement to the service. My new providers were cheaper and are regularly improving the service and offering more for the same price.  I’ve been able to tie my phone and internet charges together. I would be prepared to change my provider if the costs were significantly cheaper elsewhere.

Health: I go to the doctor (too frequently over the last couple of weeks!); we have been with them for 20 years; they know our family and the welcome you get from the doctors and practice staff treat you with respect; the doctors listen and are rigorous, they take time to explain; if I am ill I expect them to diagnose it and to treat the illness – or to access someone who can; we receive regular  information about additional services and have made use of them; they also provide advice about how to maintain my own health and I follow that advice because I trust them.

Hotels: we like to spend the occasional weekend away in a hotel; there are several hotels we’ve been to where we would never go back – almost always due to the way in which we were treated by the staff; there are just as many hotels where we would go back and once again the quality of the service we received would the critical factor.

So I have a customer/provider relationship with a number of organisations/services – but do I expect to have do the following:

1. Tell them what to do? – no

2. Work in partnership with them? – perhaps – but only in relation to my own needs

I am self-centred in my relationship with all of the above. I want my needs to be met.  I can understand why my needs might not be being met if people take the time to explain why that might be the case.

Now let’s take the Education example: I have to admit here to having been a satisfied customer.  I pay my council taxes and income tax, and access the local provision provided by my local authority. My children have been well provided for, we have had regular opportunities to speak to their teachers; information from school has been satisfactory (as long as it’s not been lost in the bottom of the school bag); we’ve been kept up to date with how they have progressed; I feel that if we have ever had to make a complaint that we have been given a fair hearing; my children have been able to access extra-curricular activities throughout their school careers.

So is being a “customer” of any of the other services different from what I expect of the education service? On reflection I don’t think it is.  My needs, as a customer, can perhaps be summarised as follows:

  1. fulfil my needs – or at least fulfil what you said you were going to do;
  2. treat me with respect and don’t take me for granted;
  3. try to see my side if we have a disagreement;
  4. respond quickly to my concerns;
  5. provide value for money;
  6. explain things clearly if there are changes or why my needs might not be able to be met;
  7. keep me regularly informed – don’t talk down to me;
  8. look for new ways of extending and improving your service to anticipate my needs;
  9. offer me choices to meet my needs;
  10. have expertise in your field and make decisions;
  11. seek my opinion and take account of my opinion;
  12. try not to make errors but of you do let me know as soon as possible and admit the mistake;
  13. put yourself in my place and improve services from that perspective

(this list is by no means exhaustive, nor hierarchical,  but it at least starts to capture something of what a customer might expect)

Where I’ve seen problems with schools or individual teachers is that some, or all, of the above have been missing – people have not been treated like customers but as obstructions to the teacher or the school.

Perhaps this is worthy of further exploration? – although I’m not naive anough to think that either teachers or parents will immediately empathise with this position.

A Doctoral Profession?

We held the second Leadership Development Network (renamed Ideas Forum) yesterday afternoon.


Once again it was great to speak to teachers about their ideas and suggestions about how we can improve education in East Lothian and also help to develop careers.

So what did we discuss?

Promote teacher exchange – but rechristen it “Learning Exchange” – it’s more about what it says on the tin, i.e. it is an exchange but with a learning focus.

Sharing Practice – create a video bank of formative assessment by recording many different examples of formative assessment taken in a variety of contexts.

Learning Partners – develop the Learning Team concept and link interested people with fellow learning partners

Coaching for all – establish a coaching programme where interested people can coach and receive coaching.

Masters/Doctorates for teachers – we discussed the possible benefits of enabling every teacher to gain a Masters degree or Doctorate with a possible focus on Mind, Brain and Education.

Stephen Heppell had floated the idea of a Doctoral profession at the Scottish Learning Festival. I have to admit to really being excited by this idea and feel it would make a hge impact upon the quality of practice in our schools. The challenges are funding, time for teachers, and willingness to participate. I wonder if we could link in with this development?

The other alternative is to develop a course ourselves in conjunction with a Higher Education Institution?

Curriculum Architecture Conference

Our curriculum architecture conference proved to be a great success.

P1010675 P1010672 P1010667

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.

Professionalism means sacrificing some autonomy

I went along to meeting this afternoon to find out more about the Standard Council for Community Learning and Development. (CLD)

The new council will have three main functions:

• to approve professional qualifications and courses for everyone involved in CLD

• to offer a registration system for everyone delivering community learning and development

• to support induction to the profession and provide access to continuous professional development

My old friend Rory McLeod led the session and explored in more depth the three functions of the council.

As is my habit I scribbled down some thoughts as he was speaking and raised them in the discussion group which followed Rory’s presentation.

One of the many challenges facing CLD is how they develop an inclusive approach towards their standards, i.e. how do you impose standards upon volunteers? Perhaps the answer doesn’t lie in imposition but more in the development of a culture where the full time professionals model the kind of behaviour which would be characterised as “professional'”- such behaviour might then be replicated by volunteers oif they are to be associated with professional groups.

The second area of interest for me was the idea that some people in CLD – although if today was anything to go by a very small number of people – are uncomfortable with the concept of themselves as professionals.

I think I was able to link this to what Richard Elmore had been talking about in the summer where he suggested that autonomy does not equate with professionalism.  Just as there are many teachers who believe their practice is their own business and that they should be free to practise as they please,  so there are some in CLD who believe that it should be their own personal judgement about what constitutes ‘good’ practice and that this is a matter for them and them alone.

I suggested in the group that becoming a professional means giving up some of your personal autonomy in order to adhere to a set of agreed principles, values and behaviours. In fact as I thought about this further it is, ironically, this giving up of personal autonomy that gives the professional body more autonomy from political or external interference. For example, lawyers, accountants, dentists and even teachers are, and have become,  much stronger and independent groups through the establishment of a body which sets out the agreed standards to which members must adhere.

The challenge for CLD is to wrestle with the baseline expectations which they might expect from any “professional” in the field.

Building a Curriculum for Excellence

We are holding a conference in October entitled:

Curriculum Architecture in East Lothian Schools: Building A Curriculum for Excellence

Objective – To provide direction for policy decisions relating to curriculum architecture in our secondary schools.

Some of the issues which will be discussed at the conference will include:

Timetabling; Class Organisation (setting); Age and Stage; Choice and Personalisation; Transition from Primary; Transition beyond Secondary school; Learning Teaching; School Buildings; Disciplinary and Inter-disciplinary Approaches; Organisation of teachers.

Who will attend? All Secondary Head teachers, Two Primary Head Teachers per cluster; One Depute Head Teacher per secondary school; One Principal Teacher per secondary school; six elected members – one per cluster; Two senior pupils per secondary school; One local employer per cluster; Two parental representatives per cluster; Teachers’ Union representative; Community Learning and Development representatives; Representatives from JEVC and QMU; Representative from voluntary sector; and officers from Education and Children’s Services Department.

As things stand the programme will be as follows:
8.45 Coffee/Tea
9.15 Welcome and Introduction, Peter Mackenzie, Convener of the East Lothian Education and Children’s Services Committee (provisional)

9.30 Reflecting upon curriculum structures for the future: TBC
10.15 Some Options for the future: Don Ledingham, Head Of Education, East Lothian Council

10.45 Coffee/Tea

11.15 Task 1
Groups made up of a cross section of representatives from across the County will discuss and consider the following questions:

— The questions will be derived from the Literature Review Paper – see attached
12.50 Indicating Preferences: Following Task 1, members of the group will have the opportunity to indicate their personal preference in response to each question

1.00 Lunch

2.00 Summary of responses to Task 2 by Secondary Head Teacher – what would these preferences mean?

2.10 Introduction to Task 2

2.30 Task 2

In the same groups as the morning session representatives will consider a second series of curricular questions:

— The questions will be derived from the Literature Review Paper – see attached

3.50 Indicating personal preferences

4.0 Summary of responses to Task 2 by Secondary Head Teacher – what does would these preferences mean?

4.10 Summary of conference and next steps; Alan Blackie, Director of Education and Children’s Services

4.30 Close of conference

Next steps: The conference will be followed up by a working group who will design a policy paper which will go to the Education and Children’s Services Committee for approval.
We are using the comprehensive literature review undertaken by Professor Brian Boyd et al as a key resource. I’m having a go at providing a precis of this review with a series of options linked to each issue. Our hope is that each of the 100 delegates will have the chance to express their opinion – following discussion – about the various options. Delegates will have a series of green, amber and red dots with which they will indicate their point of view – green – agree, amber – unsure, red – disagree.

There’s still plenty of time to shape this up over the next few weeks but of you want to contribute ideas please leave a comment here.

Behaviour Policies – a consistent approach

I had a very enjoyable morning at Loretto RC Primary School this morning to help them update their Behaviour Policy.

We looked at their own policy and compared it with another school’s. It proved to be a very useful exercise as we were able to identify strengths in both. 

The key to the success of any policy is the willingness of those who have to implement it to adopt it wholeheartedly and consistently.

On this morning’s evidence the school is going to come up with something which will make a real difference.  That’s not to suggest that behaviour in the school is bad – in fact far from it – however, young people need to be “trained” in how to behave in a positive manner – it doesn’t just come naturally – and this requires consistent expectations, reward systems and sanctions – consistently upheld and consistently implemented.

The school will be involving pupils and parents in the development of the policy.

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

Exc-el Parental Roadshow


We held an Exc-el Open Group meeting this evening.

We discussed the permission forms which parents will be asked to sign to enable their children to participate and have their images displayed on school websites.

Christine – AKA guineapigmum – suggested that it would be good to speak to school boards about blogging/use of images/learning through the web.  The idea quickly developed into a Parental Roadshow which we intend to offer to each cluster group in the summer term. 

We thought me might be able to link this with the associated developments surrounding the Parental Involvement Bill

The evening might look something like this:

  • start with a presentation by teachers, parents and children relating to how they use the web.
  • Followed by a “come and try” session.
  • Rounded off by an opportunity for questions and answers

This might prove to be a popular event and enable schools to draw more parents into involvement whilst also reinforcing  cluster identity.

Who wants to go first?

Dunbar Primary School Provision

We held our second public meeting in Dunbar Primary School on Tuesday to discuss the proposed primary school provision in Dunbar.

We tried a “post-it” exercise for the first time to try to capture the opinions of every person who attended the event. Everyone completed ‘post-its’ with their ideas, questions and possible solutions and stuck them on a notice-board. 

The results of the excercise can be accessed here

I’ll be working on replies to the various queries during next week.