Is it safe?

We had been out at the weekend and I met two teachers who work in different local authorities – neither of which are East Lothian.

One teacher talked about their authority’s Curriculum for Excellence co-ordinator and the other referred to a School Review which she was going back to after the holidays. It made me think about what we do in comparison:

Curriculum for Excellence

  • What some other authorities do  –The Curriculum for Excellence Co-ordinator chimed with something which had been referred to in TESS a couple of weeks ago, in that most authorities now had a dedicated co-ordinator for Curriculum for Excellence.

  • What we do in East Lothian – We’ve gone for making a Curriculum for Excellence the responsibility for all of our authority team – myself included. 

  • Why we do it ? – We hope to permeate the thinking which underpins a Curriculum for Excellence across everything we do in schools. We also think that by making a single person responsible for an initiative reinforces an impression that it exists in isolation from everything else.

  • Potential downside – By spreading responsibility across a number of people there is a danger that no-one actually takes on responsibility for such an important development.

School Review

  • What some other authorities do – The School Review, which is like a local authority inspection requires a formal visit to the school by a review team which will also include some peer reviewers.

  • What we do in East Lothian  – In East Lothian we don’t have a school review process – our alternative is to develop our validation process whereby we rely upon the school’s own self- evaluation and use our evaluation visits which take place throughout the year to validate that evaluation.

  • Why we do it? – We are trying to develop the process of self-evaluation in our schools as we believe that such honest and rigorous evaluation has much more potential long-term benefit than a process where school review is “done” to the school.

  • Potential downside – Schools don’t actively engage in rigorous and honest self evaluation.  Our validation process might not pick that up compared with a “mini-inspection” which might lead to some schools to provide a standard of education which might be unsatisfactory.

So to the question “is it safe?” The connection between this question and the above two strategies might seem obscure but I happened to watch Marathon Man last night.  There is a scene in the film where Sir Laurence Olivier tortures, for want of a better word, Dustin Hoffman, whilst asking a recurring question – “is it safe?”

In our business we often make decisions about health and safety and work out risk assessments for trips or other potientially dangerous activities. But some of our other strategic decisions also carry a risk – such as the two examples quoted above.  What if they don’t work? Perhaps we should be taking a line which reduces risk?


So farewell Exc-el.


We had very useful Exc-el Open meeting this evening.

Look out for our forthcoming skype (or equivalent) conference – Ollie Bray will be setting this up – participants are welcome.

For me one of our most significant decisions was to move from to during the Easter break.

I was personally fond of Exc-el as it’s been with us from the start of this development which started nearly two and half years ago. Exc-el (which stood for Excellence in East Lothian) was maybe a bit cheesy but I remember coming up with the name driving over Soutra one wet and windy evening and thinking it was very clever. Anyway – we’ve decided – and I wholeheartedly agree – that it’s not the most user friendly name and edubuzz more accurately reflects what we are trying to do. 

With over 660 bloggers and nearly 4000 visits a day to Exc-el (soon to be edubuzz) sites, we are really on a point of take off.  We are committed to the concept which drives open source software in that everything we do is open to colleagues in other authorities – or countries for that matter – and hope to share our ideas and practice as widely as possible. I think the following extract from the Wikipedia definition says it all:

The open source model of operation can be extended to open source culture in decision making which allows concurrent input of different agendas, approaches and priorities, in contrast with more centralized models of development such as those typically used in commercial companies.

“Open source” as applied to culture defines a culture in which collective decisions or fixations are shared during development and made generally available in the public domain- – – as seen with Wikipedia. This collective approach moderates ethical concerns over a “conflict of roles” or conflict of interest. Participants in such a culture are able to modify the collective outcomes and share them with the community.

Frae masel, tae masel


For those of you not familiar with the Scottish Borders dialect this is a little gem.

If you are ever out shopping and you see something that you would like to buy for yourself – then you would say it’s  “Frae masel, tae masel” or “From myself , to myself” – Gill, my wife, uses it regularly.

I used this phrase this week in an adapted form when speaking to Scottish ICT Development Group (SICTDG), who met at Musselburgh Racecourse on Friday.  It was my pleasure to welcome the members of the group to East Lothian and Karen Robertson had asked me to outline some of the things we are trying to do with ICT and education in East Lothian.

I wasn’t sure how my presentation was received as I had to leave early to get to a school for HMIe feedback but I had made a point about a key element of our development strategy being based around “Frae oorsels, tae oorsels”.

So much of what we are attempting to develop in East Lothian is built upon expertise which resides in East Lothian. This strategy has many advantages a number of disadvantages:

Advantages: sustainability; raises self esteem; promotes a sense of community; challenges the dependency culture; promotes confidence; encourages independence – and many others

Disadvantages: miss out on external expertise; small town thinking (There’s another Scottish phrase which captures this perfectly – “Here’s tae us, wha’s like us” and the associated arrogance that goes with such a mentality); groupthink – there’s only the East Lothian way; unwillingness to enage in national developments – any many others

The reality is that we would like to make the best of internal and external expertise whilst at all times trying to avoid the notion of “Here’s tae us; wha’s like us”. For East Lothian to develop it must see itself as part of a much larger whole both nationally and internationally – both in terms of making a contribution and in learning.

Anyway I’m off to the shops to try and get something “Frae masel , tae masel” (well it seems to work for my Gill!)

Imagining a culture

Imagining a Culture

An over-emphasis on hierarchy has a debilitating influence upon an organisation. If people can only do things because they are given approval by their leader then there exists an in-built limit to the potential of the organization.

Hierarchies are important structural elements of a successful organization – enabling clear lines of responsibility and accountability. However, hierarchy must not signify any implication that the opinion of someone further up the hierarchy is likely to be “better” than anyone lower down. 

Such an approach values the potential contribution made by everyone in the organization and encourages ‘real’ participation. In this sense we are attempting to create a culture which shares responsibility for success.

The belief is that by encouraging participation we are tapping into people’s intrinsic desire to do something fulfilling in their working lives. Such an enabling culture connects with the values of duty, service and commitment which underpin every person who works in education, although sometimes lurking beneath the observable behaviour of some people.

Such an organisation has faith in people and trusts that by providing such an environment that people will respond in kind.

A common characteristic of an overly hierarchical organisation is the way in which it handles information i.e. “knowledge is power”. The culture to which we aspire is one where all information – aside from personally confidential information – is shared with everyone, and, more importantly, where leaders are prepared to engage in dialogue about that information. Through dialogue we shape our future together.

This idea of shaping our future together provides a foundation for success by recognizing that together we achieve much more than if we were to do it by ourselves.  The development of a community of people who value and care for each other regardless of position is a fundamental element what we seek to build.

Yet such a culture cannot be created overnight, it requires patience, stamina and a capacity to see long-term consequences for short term actions.

Within such a culture everyone is accountable for the success of the organisation. The aim is to move away from the dominant definition of accountability as liability and blame – towards an understanding which sees accountability as personal commitment, where people can operate at a level far beyond any negative line of consequence which can paralyse and destroy creativity and personal satisfaction.

By adopting an appreciative approach towards people, ideas and practice we build an optimistic and enthusiastic culture where anything is possible. If such a mentality is combined with a reflective and ‘critical’ eye – where ideas and opinions are open to dialogue and improvement -then an exceptionally powerful momentum can be created – a momentum which is characterised by a determination to do things “well”.

For such a culture to be introduced, developed and sustained the leader must ensure that their behaviour reflects the values which have been outlined above. It is this consistency in personal behaviour which provides the greatest leadership challenge, for the temptations to make quick changes for personal benefit; relying upon hierarchy to push things through; denigrating others;  dismissing alternative opinions; and adopting a management-centric perspective towards the change process are difficult to resist.

Yet, I would argue, leaders who are committed to substantive change in their organisation would do well to resist these temptations and concentrate on translating the above theory into  daily practice.

Key words  

Hierarchy; participation; sharing; enabling; creative; open; committed; duty; service; caring; connected; professional; long term; stamina; patient; humble; substantive; critical thinking; promote autonomy; optimistic; appreciative; trusting; ambitious; intentional; accountable; humane; people-centric; courageous; enthusiastic; living out in practice

Managing Change

This morning’s session looked at strategies for managing ICT. I enjoyed listening to Kathleen Gormley, Principal, St Cecilia’s College, Derry. She is obviously and outstanding leader and provided and inspirational perspective on successful school leadership.

Kathleen outlined 6 steps of a strategic map for change. These steps were:

  1. Vision;
  2. Planning;
  3. Partnership;
  4. Development;
  5. Leadership;
  6. Learning Environment.

She then quoted Kotter 1996 “Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces satisfactory results”

On hearing Kathleen speak I don’t think she really sees these steps as being sequential or separate but the quote certainly gives that impression.

This set me to thinking – what is my strategic map for change?

My problem is that I see change as being messy – if you try to make it too rational and scientific I believe you are destined to fail. I thought back to how I led the change process as a headteacher and now as a Head of Education. I know this flies in the face of all accepted practice but I would like to suggest a multiple metaphor model for change management – MMM? (aghh mixed metaphors the English teachers cry!!!)

Please regard this as a work in progress and I’d love to hear from you if you have suggestions for amendments or additions – or if you just plain disagree.

My multiple metaphor model for change has seven metaphors – why seven? -well why not – it was the number which Alan McLuskey used yesterday, it worked for Steven Covey and there were seven brides for …..

My metaphors are:

  1. Gardening – with apologies to Vygotsky
  2. Sculpting
  3. House Building
  4. Child rearing
  5. Hill walking
  6. Inventing
  7. Belonging

Gardening – gardening needs long term thinking, we need to defer reward just as the gardener does with faith that our efforts will be rewarded; we need to spend time preparing the gound; there are environmental factors which conspire to ruin our crops; we need to tend our crop- weeding, supporting, feeding, watering and selective removal of plants which aren't flourishing; there is a reward at the end of the day but there is also pleasure to be had in the process – and so it can be with the process of collaborative change.

Sculpting – a sculptress has a vision; they are creative; they have an expertise; they adapt their ideas in response to the material they are working with; there is a finished product which people appreciate; the finished product might be very different from the original vision.

House building – we select a design or a commision an architect; we take affordablity, convenience, personal requirements into account; the build has a timescale; it involves integrating different groups with a variety of expertise; there is a snagging process once the build is complete and people have moved in.

Child rearing – I once wrote a piece of doggerel about my son and the pleasure I got from holding his hand:

Take your child by the hand

And hold the future there

Keep him upright if you can

Release him if you dare

Change management can be like this – we need to nurture, encourage, support, provide opportunities to succeed and fail; provide unconditional positive regard; and eventually release from our control.

Hill Walking – we might have a map, or we might have a guide, or just follow signposts; we use a compass to help us know which direction we are going in; we have appropriate equipment, foood and water, perhaps a means of shelter, a communication tool; we let people know where we intend to go in case we get lost – but the view from the top of the hill makes everything worthwhile.

Inventing – when faced with a need human beings have a capacity to invent a solution – Scots have a reputation as inventors; we need to be prepared to step into uncharted territory, use our expertise and come up with ways of doing things which have never been done before.

Belonging – people need to belong; we need to take pride in our comunity – Belfast has reinforced this with the people taking an enormous pride in their community; people are valued within their own community; a community shares values – above all a sense of belonging is built upon a mutual sense of trust.

For me change management is a sophisticated combination of all these metaphors where we might merge any number of them together to fulfil our goals.

I intend to develop these metaphors as The Seven Sides of Educational Leadership.

Ross High School

8.30-9.15 Met Claire O’Sullivan to discuss how we might develop a coaching programme for our school leaders. Claire will put a proposal together for us to consider.

9.30-12.30pm Visit to Ross High School. Interviewed three groups of staff, teachers, subject principal teachers and curriculum leaders. I concentrated on four areas: How connected to you feel to East Lothian Council?; What could the council do to enable you to do your job more effectively?; Consideration of the poratable aims; Consideration of the culture of Ross High School using the 5Cs.

It came as no surprise to me that people felt little affinity to East Lothian. This is a major challenge for us over the coming years if we are to truly create a community of learners.

ICT and PPP came out as the things that most impact negatively upon people's work.

The aims were well received – I was particularly pleased that they liked the idea of making staff 'Happy' to be an appropriate outcome for the department.

The 5Cs – consistency; continuity; collegiality, creativity, and collective responsibility – provided a very useful means to reflect upon the culture of Ross High School. I met Willie Carroll after the meeting to discuss the results. I was really taken by the staff I met and convinced that the school is fortunate to have so many committed and enthusiastic teachers.

Back to the office for a meeting of the communications group – made up of admin', support and development staff from within the department. These are proving to be very worthwhile meetings. I bounced the portable aims off the group – suggestion came that it would be good to discuss these with small groups of staff.

4.15 Met Yvonne Binks to pick her brains about how we can improve pupil support within East Lothian.

7.30 – out to Musselburgh Grammar School to attend the school concert – great atmosphere and powerful performances – confirmed my thought that I should meet with the music instructors as soon as possible.

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.

First thoughts

Hopefully my year in post will be characterised by a focus upon:

Culture: trust; belonging; purpose

Empowerment and engagement at all levels

Data – generating; analysing; acting

My priorities for the year are as follows:

  1. Service Improvement Plan
  2. Exc-el website – teaching and learning
  3. Budget management
  4. Restructuring
  5. Teacher Exchange
  6. Leadership development
  7. Talent identification
  8. Student Evaluation of Learning
  9. Authority culture
  10. School cultures
  11. Departmental communication
  12. Standardised testing
  13. Project management
  14. Curriculum for Excellence
  15. Early Years
  16. Timetabling
  17. Staff deployment analysis
  18. Integrated community schools – promoting an action focus

All good fun so far!!