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I attended the National Education conference on Thursday. The event was organised by the General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS).

I’ll make a few posts on some of the things I learned during the day and the first of these will relate to the OpenLearn website which gives free access to Open University course materials.  By accessing site you will find hundreds of free study units, each with a discussion forum.  You can study independently at your own pace or join a group and use the free learning tools to work with others.

At a time when teachers are looking for new resources to support student learning and don’t have the time to make up the resources themselves then it’s incumbent upon us as managers to identify other cources of support.

There’s even a nice section on Education which teachers can use for their personal development.

The site uses Moodle to create the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

The Innerwick Experience: “A Space to Grow”


A couple of months ago I joined my colleagues on the Leadership Team of East Lothian Council on a weekend course entitled “The Innerwick Experience”. The Leadership Team is made up of: all Heads of Service, e.g. Head of Education, Head of ICT and Finance, etc; the four Directors – Finance; Planning; Community Services; and Education and Children’s Services (me); and Alan Blackie – the Chief Executive.

Back in October 2007 East Lothian Council received a negative Best Value Report:

Accounts Commission deputy chair Isabelle Low said: “East Lothian Council has so far made limited progress in establishing Best Value for its local population, which is of particular concern considering its advantages. And its lack of openness and lack of leadership have not served it well.

Since that time there have been huge changes in the Council, and the Leadership Team have been working on developing a more positive culture which is focused upon the needs of the population of East Lothian. I wrote about our first meeting back in July of last year when  we considered the kind of culture we would aspire to in East Lothian.

Building upon the work started by Alex McCrorie, our team, led by Alan Blackie have been gradually developing our capacity to work together – as opposed to the silos which were a characteristic of the past.  A key step in that journey was our “Challenge for Change”conference held in April that was exceptionally well received and which began to develop a sense of belonging to a worthwhile organisation that could make difference to people’s lives. I don’t think anyone would claim that we are anything but at the beginning of that road – especially with the impact of Single Status, and the associated feelings of being under-valued; the challenge of meeting efficiency savings; and the fact that our customers haven’t yet been able to see a difference.

Having only created the Leadership Team in July last year and with only one meeting a month the “team” dimension was fairly limted – and so it was that we decided earlier this year to organise an event which would allow us to build our capacity to operate as a real team where we knew, valued, trusted and supported each other – but most importantly improved the way in which we led our colleagues and delivered our services.

We made a conscious decision to devise and deliver the course from within our own resources – some similar management team building courses can cost up to £4000 per person. We used the Innerwick Field Study Centre (£10 per night per person) and aside from the contribution of two drama coaches the programme was delivered by East Lothian staff. 

I think all of us had some reservations prior to attending the event, but on reflection the programme was a great success and more than met the outcomes we had set ourselves. I won’t go into the actual detail of the programme but it put us in a variety of situations where we had to rely upon each other, care for each other, make use of each others’ strengths and -most importantly – work together. Throughout it all we kept coming back to how might we work more effectively in the future and change the way in which we currently did things. It was the creativity, courage and honesty which emerged that made it such an exceptionally powerful team experience. 

It all came together when we were asked to try to create a collective metaphor to represent our vision for the kind of service we would like to provide for the people of East Lothian Council. We started off trying to create an arrow, showing a sense of purpose and direction but this was felt to be too focused upon us as opposed to our customers; then we tried a shape which involved supporting people and moving them from one place to another, but this was thought to be too much like a conveyor belt and created a dependency culture; then we struck upon the idea of a doorway, through which people could choose to enter and which led into a space where they were welcomed and supported – we also created high above our heads (and out of sight of users) a network of canes which linked us all together.  As we discussed the idea it reinforced the idea of a single doorway to services, a customer facing organisation, an organisation which was well connected (but where the connections are out of sight), and, lastly, an organisation which welcomed others to join it.  One of the observers commented that she really wanted to go through the doorway and enter the space. This led back to the discussion back in July of last year when one of the possible strap-lines had been “East Lothian: A Space to Grow”. Certainly it seemed to strike a chord with all of us present – a place which enabled people to grow and develop. The idea of giving people space is also a critical concept in creating a healthy public service, i.e. to choose and have a personalised service.

The difference between now and July ’07 is that we now have the bond, the capacity and the shared commitment to actually deliver such a vision.  As is normally the case I’d like to thank all those who worked so hard to put this event together but without any doubt the group which made it the success it was were my colleagues who showed such immense commitment towards each other and who, above all else, showed that they care about delivering a high quality public service to the people of East Lothian.

My last hope that we can consider ways in which we could allow others within the organisation to benefit from such a transformational experience.

You’re Welcome

East Lothian Council, in partnership with Lothian and Borders Police, will be hosting a series of Internet safety and responsible use training sessions for parents with pupils in P5 – S6 across the county.  This is in response to growing concerns, expressed by individual parents and parent councils, about how to make sure young people use the internet safely and responsibly. The sessions are also designed to show parents how they can protect their youngsters from on-line dangers.

The training sessions will be led by Ollie Bray (Depute Head at Musselburgh Grammar School) and PC David Gunn from Lothian and Borders Police. Both Mr Bray and Mr Gunn are accredited Ambassadors of the Child Exploitation Online Protection Agency (CEOP).

The training session has already been piloted within the Musselburgh Cluster and received positive response from over 200 parents. The content of the evening includes background information on new technologies and information about computers and mobile phones and the law. But the main part of the presentation involves Mr Bray taking the parents into some ‘real’ social networking spaces that young people use. This includes Habba Hotel, Teenspot, MSN Instant Messenger and Bebo. The session also gives advice on how you can protect your home computer and advice on on-line gaming.

Everybody who attends the training will have access to a comprehensive on-line handout.

The sessions will be held at:

    ·       Preston Lodge High- 3 June 2008
    ·       Ross High – 10 June 2008
    ·       Dunbar Grammar – 11 June 2008
    ·       Knox Academy – 18 June 2008
    ·       North Berwick High – 24 June 2008

All training sessions will take place between 7 – 9pm.

Ollie Bray, Depute Head at Musselburgh Grammar School, says:
‘This is a very exciting time for East Lothian to be leading the way in Internet Training for staff, parents, families and pupils.  We are going to use the feedback we gain from these sessions to inform good practice nationally through the Scottish Learning Festival.’

These evenings will start promptly at 7pm and have a limited availability. If you have any queries or you would like to book a place on one of these sessions, please email Tess Watson, (Acting Education Support Officer) at or log onto

Classroom Observation – shifting the focus

We had a very productive discussion this afternoon at the secondary headteachers meeting about classroom observation.

I was delighted to see the range of strategies being implemented in our schools but the overwhelming point which emerged from the discussion was the shift from observation with a focus on judging competence to one where the focus is on learning about the practice in our schools and how we can share and develop what we see.

When formal classroom observation first appeared as part of the school evaluation process it borrowed from the only models that we really knew – the HMIe observed lesson,  and the more pervasive model of the university/teaching college “crit” lesson – where the observer sat in a corner and took notes about the  entire lesson.  Feedback was provided through the “crit” which identified good and weak aspects of the lesson.  As someone who was a teaching tutor for three years at university I know from experience that the feedback provided was so extensive and ranged across so many aspects of practice that it was practically worthless.  The crit therefore became a right of passage which the teacher had to endure but was rarely seen to be a productive aspect of teaching practice.  Now I’m sure (or shoupld that be hope that)  I made some impact over the three years I delivered these crits but I don’t think I actually provided any feedback which was focused enough for teachers to really change them.

As I’ve written about before the current focus of my observations – Learning intention and learning tasks – have opened up a new world for me in terms of what I see and what I learn.  The beneficiary of the process is not the person being oberved – its the oberver! – a direct opposite of the traditional model where the beneficiary is supposed to be the person being observed.

Now if we could just develop this concept and establish a more substantive link between what we observe and how we improve the quality of the  learning and teaching which goes on in a school then I believe we could take the lid off our schools.

So how do we judge if someone isn’t competent? My response here is simple – there are so many other indicators available to us to judge whether someone is doing damage to children’s learning that we need not depend on classroom observation to be the tool of choice. Where such concerns arise the classroom observation process takes on a different slant but is part of a very different process and one which had been clearly set out beforehand – our classroom observation policy actually captures this very well.

Probationers and parental confidence

One of the issues facing schools these days is the concern expressed by some parents about a probationer teaching their child’s class.

A probationer is a newly qualified teacher (NQT) and in the past they would have just started teaching as a teacher – but without  any of the support systems we now have in place.

I would just like to reassure parents that the quality of new teachers coming into the profession has never been higher – nor has their commitment to develop their skills.

In that regard I need to mention Susan MacKay and Lisa Craig as two examples. Susan and Lisa were NQTs at Aberlady last year.  We were fortunate enought to be able to offer them permanent posts in the same school this year – and what an impact they are making in conjunction with their colleagues in the school.

This ties in with a session I led for half of the current NQTs on Thursday – again I was hugely impressed by their knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for the job – but perhaps the most important feature – and the one which gives me the most confidence about the future was their apparent determination to continue learning throughout their careers.

There is certainly something exciting developing within our schools at the moment as I listened to story after story of how newly qualified teachers were being encouraged and supported to develop their teaching skills  by their more experienced colleagues in our schools.  Thanks. 

John Muir – an inspiration


(John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt above Yosemite Valley)

I’ve been researching some of John Muir’s writings to establish core values for our proposed John Muir Leadership Programme.

The quotations certainly provide direction and form to any development:

“Most people are on the world, not in it; have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them, undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.”

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

“One day’s exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books. See how willingly Nature poses herself upon photographers’ plates. No earthly chemicals are so sensitive as those of the human soul.”

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” “There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.”

“There is not a “fragment” in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself.”

“It is always sunrise somewhere”

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life!”

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

 If we could even try to follow half of the principles outlined in the above we would come up with something very special.


Teachmeet is the ‘unconference’ approach to professional development in East Lothian. TeachMeet, involves short, sharp demonstrations of one technology, showing its whole potential in no more than seven minutes. The team then reverse engineer what went into the product of the teachers’ learning, leaving plenty of time to play and discover new skills. Crucially, they leave time at the end for planning to integrate the new skiills into the teachers’ learning and teaching.

You can catch up here with some of the outcomes of the recent Teachmeet held at Ross High School, Tranent, for primary and secondary teachers.

Who says you can’t have fun and learn at the same time?

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”.

The John Muir Leadership Centre?

I met Bill Stephen and Ollie Bray on Friday to explore how we might build upon some of the experiences I had at the Project Adventure programme in the summer.

We started off exploring how we might use some of these ideas at one of our Head Teacher conferences in the coming session but quickly extended into considering how we could develop a facilitated leadership programme for a wide range of individuals – teachers, private sector leaders, local authority leaders and young people.

East Lothian is well placed geographically to offer leadership programmes which make use of our wonderful environment yet is close to a major city with relatively good transport connections.

Our emerging idea went as follows:

  1. Develop our leadership approach around the principles, personality and achievements of John Muir;
  2. Develop a series of programmes which would be acccessible to mixed groups, i.e. not just educationalists – cross fertilisaton would be a key feature of our approach;
  3. Make use of the outdoor environment of East Lothian;
  4. Train facilitators in a leadership philosophy which would permeate the programme;
  5. Support public sector engagement through commerical rates;
  6. Offer our programmes to a local, national and international clientele.
  7. Make use of public sector and private sector facilitators.

We are pulling together a management group to further develop these ideas but if you feel you could make a particular contribution to such a group just drop me a line.

As Alan Blackie (he joined us during our meeting) suggested our strap line, which might underpin the type of leadership approach we would seek to develop, should perhaps read “Leave no Footprints” – which was one of John Muir’s most famous sayings about people who visit the wilderness.

Exciting stuff!

Leadership for learning: The challenges of leading in a time of change

The HMIe have recently published a fascinating report into educational leadership in Scottish education.

It starts out by asserting that 85% of educational leaders in all sectors are good or very good – which obviously leaves a question hanging about the remaining 15%.

I really like Graham Donaldson’s foreword where he says something very important about the type of culture to which we should be aspiring:

“Developing leadership is not just about honing the skills of those in the most senior positions, important though that undoubtedly is. It is also about releasing the energies of every member of staff and every learner and about giving each of them a sense that their contributions are valued.”

He also makes an important statement about responsibility and accountability:

“A desire to take responsibility and to accept accountability is part of good leadership. Ultimate accountability rests with the person at the head of the formal structure but all members of staff must be committed to and feel accountable for their own development and performance. Such commitment lies at the heart of professionalism.”

In his conclusion he reaffirms the notion of the culture to which we should be aspiring:

“…build a leadership culture in Scottish education which encourages initiative, tackles difficult problems directly and is genuinely aspirational.”

The report chimes with something I was recently writing about when it states:

“It adopts a cross-sectoral approach which asserts that the principles of effective leadership are common to all sectors although the challenges and methods of approach may well vary depending on context”.. pg 2

I wonder if this opens the door for primary and secondary leaders to operate in their counterparts’ context?

The Report sets out to:

Provoke discussion

Identify key issues in leadership and management

Identify and disseminate features of good practice

Encourage all those with a stake or interest in education to consider their contributions to leadership.

There’s a very useful summary section included in the introduction.

I think the document manages to summarise and exemplify many important leadershipattributes and actions. I particularly like the notion that there is no single leadership style is being promoted.

The report emphasises that the development of vision must be part of a collaborative process. However, I have worked in organisations where it’s quite obviously that the leader has no particular vision themselves and this can be debilitating when this happens.

The report quite clearly sets out the danger of over-simplification and of the downplaying of management and management practices and the over-used word and under-used reality of operating strategically is well defined:

“Strategic thinking is a demanding task that requires leaders to consider competing priorities and make the hard decisions about those issues that are absolutely central to future development. It requires the ability to look some way ahead and to understand the factors that will have an impact. An effective strategist is able to see the big picture: pg 48 -with some very useful examples being drawn from inspection reports.

I found a lot of the section on developing people and partnerships to be a bit shallow. It’s all very well to describe the importance of creating an “empowering” culture – quite another to translate it into reality. Reference is made to Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline but I was surprised that it completely missed out the most important concept of systems thinking – i.e. seeing the inter-connections between all the various things we do as leaders – I feel this is a critical element to successful leadership practice.

I was also disappointed that the relationship between “challenge” and “support” was not fully explored. These are key phrases used by the HMIe and local authorities yet no definition was offered. I’m keen that we move on from the notion of challenge and support to validation and support – which would sit much more neatly with the focus on valid and reliable self-evaluation. There was also an important omission about the difficult conversations that leaders need to have to people who are quite obviously underperforming.

However, I liked the emphasis on high leverage activities such as:

  • regular opportunities to observe what is happening in ‘classrooms’ along with immediate, face-to-face feedback to staff;
  • rigorous analysis of data to highlight trends in performance, pinpoint areas of under performance and develop plans of action linked to priority areas;
  • simple and effective target-setting and tracking systems to monitor the performance of learners;
  • opportunities for staff to meet in teams and review and develop the quality of provision on offer; and
  • effective and targeted CPD linked to the process of professional review and focused on improvements in learning, teaching and achievement.

The report concludes with a very powerful section with some very useful advice about the type of Leadership CPD which proves worthwhile – and is worthy of repeating here:

  • Learning ‘on the job’ through shadowing and team teaching.
  • Coaching and mentoring experiences.
  • Teaming up with another member of staff or organisation or establishment to exchange practice and ideas (at times, by buying in supply cover to allow staff to undertake peer observations or visits).
  • Secondment opportunities.
  • Opportunities for team teaching/team presentations followed by review and agreement on action points.
  • 180° or 360° feedback to identify strengths, areas for development and aligned CPD opportunities.
  • Being involved in chairing a working group or project or committee.
  • Leading a development project.
  • Attendance at leadership seminars, master classes or conferences.
  • Attendance at agreed ‘core’ leadership and management courses in local CPD directories.
  • Professional review and development which is effectively tied into a leadership framework such as the Standard for Headship in schools.
  • Multi-agency professional development to share best practice and take forward the children’s services agenda.
  • Away days and retreats.

The accompanying Case Study exercises should prove very useful for schools and authorities although I’m not sure that they will result in significant change unless implemented within cultures which seek to nurture and support their staff. If leaders are instructed to complete the self-evaluations then it’s unlikely to have any real impact.

In conclusion I think this document will prove to be a very useful tool for schools and authorities to use in well considered and “strategic” manner