Release them if you dare

See – Curriculum for Excellence – senior phase options

Option 37. No parent/teacher meetings in senior phase – replace with student/teacher review meetings – parents can shadow.

This might appear to one of the more extreme options to be considered but it’s worth holding back on an immediate reaction until further explained.

By the time students get into the senior phase (the last three years of upper secondary school education) they will have spent 13 years in the formal education system – with at least one, if not two, parent teacher consultations/interviews each year.

Parents are keen throughout that period to know how their child is progressing, know how they can help their child, and generally show an interest in their child’s education. In the early years of education this can be very helpful and builds a strong partnership between the student , the school and the parent.

Yet we still think that by attending parents evenings with our 16 or 17 year old child and think that we can influence them when we get home to up their rate of study or change their attitude to school. Some hope! (I know – because I was that parent!)

So perhaps it is time to consider alternatives?

I wrote a poem when my brother’s son was born which seems quite appropriate for this topic:


Take your child by the hand

and hold the future there

Keep him upright if you can

Release him if you dare

It’s this last line which most of us as parents have difficulty with, i.e. letting go. 

Yet within a year or two they are off to university, or college, or employment and we no longer have the influence we thought we had when they were at school.

So why is it that we don’t try to prepare young people for that transition from the claustrophobic atmosphere of  parental control (even if it is a fallacy)  – where we are metaphorically sitting on our child’s shoulder?

The concept of helicopter parents  has been well documented in the world of higher education – or “overparenting” – yet we, as parents, have been conditioned over the previous 15 years to think that we have to step in to protect and shape our child’s future.

Perhaps we need to consider breaking this umbilical cord whilst our children are still at school and get them to take more responsibility for their own progress? It’s at this point that the change from parent/teacher consultations to student/teacher consultations begins to take on more of logical perspective.

The idea would be based on a dialogue between the teacher and the student, at a time when the parent is available, but where the parent shadows their child and doesn’t interview the teacher.

In this way the responsibility for the learning process shifts from the parent to the child and the learning partnership between the teacher and the student is reinforced.

Of course, I know that many teachers and students would find this observed discussion to be extremely difficult. The tongue-tied student and the teacher who is uncomfortable speaking to the student as an equal is very easy to imagine. But if well managed through a conversation template. e.g Student: “this how I feel I’m doing in this  subject”; “This is how you could help me learn better” and Teacher: “You seem to be having problems with ……..” and “You are showing real promise in ………” and “If you were to try to ……………….”

The role of the parent is essentially observational but could have a concluding element where the student speaks to their parent in front of the teacher about their progress or otherwise.

I know this seems like a radical idea but when you see how ill-prepared young people really are for going off into the world of higher education or employment then anything which prepares them to be more independent and responsible learners has to be a good thing.




Microfinance: supporting social enterprise for student and community benefit


Option 29 described in the curriculum for excellence senior phase post was described simply as: Establish a microfinance investment fund for student application.

I’ve been asked by a number of people to explain what I meant by this and how it might work.

This option has a number of threads but the starting point is founded upon a perceived need to encourage students to actively create social enterprises which will benefit their communities, and in turn,themselves.

The idea is not new and is rooted in the Grameen Bank  concept, although with more of a focus upon community benefit and personal/group development, rather than tackling poverty. The scheme should certainly tackle some of the symptoms of poverty within communities.


The concept is based upon the establishment of a microfinance fund using donations from local business people and other sources – councils included.  This money would be placed in a trust to which students, or other members of a community, could submit an application for a micro loan which would allow them to establish and develop their social enterprise. The only stipulation – aside from the viability of the plan – would be that the proposal must have a direct benefit to their local community.

An example we have been developing relates to an Elders Buddy Scheme. Let’s say that a student (or students) at the school applies to the fund for an interest free loan to set up the buddy scheme, which will involve families or individuals paying a minimal fee for a young person to spend 5 hours week making an evening home visit to an elderly person. The social entrepreneur/s, would use the loan – to a maximum £1000 – to pay for advertising, information materials, recruitment, training, disclosure fees, and other costs.

The microfinance fund would seek to provide additional support through a business /community mentor and a further network of relevant contacts  and fellow social entrepreneurs.

Areas of possible community benefit include; early years and child care; elderly care; youth programmes; disability support; and environment.

Obviously there are numerous working details missing from this description but in order to keep this post brief and to the point I’ll focus upon the benefits to the indviduals and the community they inhabit, and the possible problems.

Here’s a list of possible benefits:

  1. Young people are introduced to the world of work and enterprise in a real and meaningful manner.
  2. Communituties would benefit from the services provided.
  3. Experience in developing and running a social enterprise would be highly regarded on applications for employment or further/higher education.
  4. Young people develop real experience in financial management.
  5. It gives meaning to other academic studies as they become contextualised in a world of work and social duty.
  6. If  recognised as part of a young person’s senior phase curriculum it would enhance and  deepen that experience.
  7. It would promote comunity engagement and awareness of young people with/about their community.
  8. It woukd raise the positive profile of young people in their communities.
  9. Encourages young people to take the next step into running businesses for themselves.
  10. Promotes and entrepreneurial spirit in a community/school.

And possible problems:

  1. Loans are not repaid
  2. Enterprises collapse as young people leave their communities for further study or employment
  3. Services to vulnerable groups are not sustained
  4. Existing services with full time employees are placed at risk due to competition.
  5. Schools do not recognise the value of the scheme and only allow high achieving students to particpate or do not facilitate time  for involvement.
  6. The scheme does not offer sufficient support in the initial stages
  7. The bureaucracy of the application process is too off putting and complex.
  8. Funding is too short term.
  9. Insufficient number of financial backers.
  10. Works only in areas of high net worth and not in communites which might really benefit.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Further reading:

What can social finance learn from microfinance

Social innovation

Peer to peer microfinance for young people

Youth enterprise

Microcredit for young entrepreneurs

Overcoming curriculum inertia: a zero based approach

Arguably the most difficult stage to implement significant curricular change is in the senior phase of secondary education.

The “high stakes” nature of the upper secondary school assessment system combines with other factors, such as self interest, fear of change, rigid staffing and timetabling models, and avoidance of potential conflict to create a state of “curriculum inertia” which is incredibly difficult to shift.

There is no blame to be attached to this inertia. It is a natural consequence of a system which has laid down sedimentary layers of practice, structures and expectations one upon the other, from one generation to the next – regardless of changes to examination arrangements.

In my recent post on senior phase options I listed a number of possibilities, which, if combined, could radically change the way in which we meet the needs of senior students. Yet regardless of how good these ideas might be, curricular inertia will make it incredibly difficult to see any more than a few translated into practice and certainly not enough to reach a tipping point in favour of the needs of the student – as opposed to the needs of the system.

The orthodox approach to senior phase curriculum planning has been to adopt an incremental approach where tweaks are made from one year to the next but which in reality result in minimal and cyclical change.

An alternative approach to be considered is borrowed from the world of financial budgeting – Zero based budgeting:

“Zero-based budgeting is an approach to planning and decision-making which reverses the working process of traditional budgeting. In traditional incremental budgeting, departmental managers justify only variances versus past years, based on the assumption that the “baseline” is automatically approved. By contrast, in zero-based budgeting, every line item of the budget must be approved, rather than only changes.[1] During the review process, no reference is made to the previous level of expenditure. Zero-based budgeting requires the budget request be re-evaluated thoroughly, starting from the zero-based”

Zero based curriculum planning adopts similar a similar philosophy i.e.schools start the planning process from scratch based around the needs of students and build from that point, with no reference to what was done before.

Of course, this would be an enormous change for schools and the reality is that we ARE limited by the staffing profiles which have evolved to suit our existing curricular models, even if they don’t facilitate the needs of young people.

Nevertheless, I reckon that by adopting at least some elements of zero based curriculum planning we can begin to envisage a model of delivery which is very different from what we have today. It is only by describing that vision that we can begin to plan a coherent change strategy to translate that into practice.

Curriculum for Excellence – senior phase options

The Curriculum for Excellence senior phase. The Senior Phase can be characterised as that which takes place in the final stages of compulsory education and beyond, normally around age 15 to 18.

The following options have been generated in East Lothian for consideration by senior managers, staff, students, parents, elected members, and other interested parties such as universities, employers and colleges of further education.

Over the next few months we will be consulting with the above groups to help us develop a policy document which will set out the broad direction of travel we intend to take in relation to the senior phase.

We would be interested in people’s top ten selection from the following 41 options.

I’ll be exploring some of these options in more depth over the next few weeks.



Option 1. Students must be involved in the design of the senior phase curriculum/programme of studies.

Option 2. Evening lessons or distance learning must be available for some subjects

Option 3. All East Lothian students must have access to the Scottish Baccalaureate.

Option 4. All students in a school’s senior phase should be regarded as a single group and timetabled accordingly.

Option 5. students should be able to integrate day-time employment, work experience, internships, etc, with their studies.

Option 6. East Lothian students should be able to access Advanced Higher courses on offer at any East Lothian school.

Option 7. Students should be exposed to some large lecture group presentations – to reflect what they will experience in HE.

Option 8. Students need only be present for classes – reflecting HE and FE practice

Option 9. Local employers must be invited to be involved in the design of the senior phase curriculum/programme of studies.

Option 10. Students should have a free choice of subjects from the full range, with no subject column restrictions.

Option 11. Students should have the opportunity to spend at least one day a week at FE or Queen Margaret University.

Option 12. Schools should publish the individual SQCF points total of the top 30% of each year group in the senior phase

Option 13. Every student in the senior phase should have an annual 30 minute appointment with a health counsellor.

Option 14. All teaching should take place in 2 hour sessions.

Option 15. Some students should be sponsored by local companies – particularly looked after or accommodated.

Option 16. Register classes or year group tutor groups should be replaced by intergenerational groupings in the senior phase

Option 17. Peer group assessment system should be introduced to complement reporting and assessment . see

Option 18. All students should have opportunity to take part in an annual outdoor expedition

Option 19. The 13th year of school should be treated as a transition year to employment, further, or higher education.

Option 20. Parenting classes and active engagement with early years groups should be compulsory for all students.

Option 21. Students should have access to previous achievement data for each course of study, prior to subject choice.

Option 22. Some teachers should be ascribed to solely teach the senior phase in any one year.

Option 23. 10% of the courses offered by a school should be drawn from the HN qualifications catalogue

Option 24. Senior Students (S4 – S6) will be “matriculated” into the EL Learning Campus including all schools, FE + QMU

Option 25. All students will be assisted to set up their own bank account with regular sessions on financial management.

Option 26. Schools should be able to present information on the delivery/running costs for each senior phase subject.

Option 27. Every class to have a “mentor link” – a person from the community who has/had related employment in that area.

Option 28. All students to experience one day in an old people’s home; an early years class, and a complex needs

Option 29. Establish a micro investment fund for student application – something like this –

Option 30. Organise EL student conferences for subject interest groups to encourage networking and intellectual curiosity.

Option 31. EL should enable up to 10 students per school to study abroad for their final year on an international exchange.

Option 32. Some teachers in East Lothian to be dedicated to working with senior phase students across a number of schools

Option 33. East Lothian to establish strategic senior phase partnerships with education districts in other countries

Option 34. Support students to set up a Facebook page for every senior phase course of study. Tie up with twitter accounts.

Option 35. Support/encourage students to create on-line tutorials for fellow students across all schools.

Option 36. Replace paper textbooks with downloadable textbooks –

Option 37. No parent/teacher meetings in senior phase – replace with student/teacher review meetings – parents can shadow.

Option 38. Additional support for parents/carers of looked after children about home learning, next steps, and leaving home.

Option 39. Students to be made aware of the delivery costs for each of their courses of study, and total sum for entire year

Option 40. Wednesday afternoons given over to sporting, cultural, recreational, interest activities for staff and students.

Option 41. Students to rate each course of study on completion e.g. on-line support, teaching, learner involvement, interest

Education and Children’s Services – “stretching” and “reaching”

I had cause to ponder the other day whether or not education is enhanced by a direct link with children’s social work (children’s services) as part of an integrated department – and vice-versa.

In East Lothian the two services were brought together nearly eight years ago. It was formed by hiving off those members of staff who worked in children’s social work from those who worked with adult social care. The simple – and continuing logic – was that there was much to be gained by enabling all those who worked to meet the needs of children to be linked together into a “seamless” service. Of course the theory in such cases is always easier than the practice but over the years the benefit to children has been recognised as a positive – most recently in the inspection of services to protect children in East Lothian.

Nevertheless, it’s important to continually review whether such logic stands up to scrutiny in changing circumstances. And so it was on Thursday that I listened to Angela Constance speak to Scottish Directors of Education. I was encouraged by what she had to say about the aspirations of the government to focus upon Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) as a cornerstone for improving the outcomes (achievement and attainment) for children and young people being educated in Scotland. I suppose this is reflected in the Government’s decision to place Children’s Services under the portfolio of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning – whereas the responsibility for older people lies with the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-Being and Cities.

Angela Constance’s input was preceded by Sir Peter Housden, the head the civil service in Scotland, who made a powerful case for adopting an outcome focused approach to public service. In relation to education in Scotland he highlighted the huge discrepancy between highest performing 20% of young people and the lowest performing 20% – which is the amongst the highest in the developed world. For me the only way we are going to address this scandalous statistic is to see education within the wider context which is Getting it Right for Every Child.

Teachers and schools cannot – and will not – be able to dent these figures alone. Simply thinking that Curriculum for Excellence – even if taught by fantastic teachers – is going to be enough to help Scotland compare favourably with other countries is doomed to failure.

That’s why we are working in East Lothian to create a service which is genuinely built around the needs of child and not around the needs of the service. Such an approach requires professionals to think very differently from how they have in the past where the first thought was often to think of the professional boundaries – which would prevent them from working in a certain way – as opposed to adopting a positive perspective on how to solve problems.

What we are attempting to build in East Lothian is a way of working which meets the needs of people and their families from pre-birth to 18 (and beyond) which has “stretch” and “reach”. By “stretch” I mean a journey for every child that is not characterised by “clunky” transitions from one discrete organisation/agency to another, which only serve to hold them back, but a service, which can stretch forwards, and back in anticipating the needs of young people and understanding the impact of their developmental history. By “reach” I mean a way of working which can reach beyond the professional location and traditional parameters of practice, e.g. a school which can reach out to the family, or a social work team who can reach into a school.

By seeing ante-natal care, early years, parenting, health and well-being, additional support for learning, severe and complex needs, social and emotional behavioural difficulties, attainment, the curriculum,  corporate parenting adoption and fostering, alcohol and drug misuse, positive destinations, etc, as inter-connected issues which impact upon children –  as opposed to discrete elements which need to be managed in isolation from one another – we have a much greater chance of really making a difference.

Are we adding value?

I met with a couple of colleagues from schools  today (one primary and one secondary) to discuss how we can make better use of the data we collect through our MIDYIS and PIPS assessment system from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring based at Durham University.

We now administer these assessments for all children in P1, P3, P5, P7 and S2.  The S2 results act as very accurate predictors of how students will perform in their formal subject examinations in S4. 

Pauline Sales, our Research Principal Officer has been doing some outstanding work to allow us to make judgements about how groups of children progress against the national averages for reading/verbal skills as they move through our schools system, for example “Do children from one primary school improve, decline or remain the same against the national average after two years of secondary school?”  This data offers huge opportunities for school managers and teachers to better understand the impact they have upon children’s literacy levels.

The basic premise is that if we can develop this system further we can make judgements about how much value we add – or otherwise – throughout a child’s educational experience in East Lothian schools. It’s important to emphasise that this data is most useful for judging the progress of groups of children – rather than individuals.  Obviously the form of assessment that makes the most difference to the individual child is that of a formative kind undertaken by the teacher and used to support the learning process. We will be discussing this further with headteacher colleagues with a view to how we make best use of this data.

It’s not the quantity – but the quality of educational outcomes that really matters!

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What are the features of high performing education systems?  Andreas Schleicher of the OECD speaks on the findings of a recent report on “The High Cost of low educational performance”.

“High aspirations;

back up with strong support to schools;

give schools room to manouevre;

systems of intelligent accountability to enable them to intervene when things go wrong;

basically very open and flexible education systems.”

 “It’s not the QUANTITY of educational outcomes but the  QUALITY of educational outcomes that makes a difference.

 “It’s about new ways of thinking;

 it’s about creativity and innovation, problem-solving, critical thinking;

 it’s about new ways of working, collaboration;

 It’s about new tools for working, infromation technology and how we get people to capitalise on the potential of new technology;

and, very importantly, how do we live in an increasingly hetergeneous world?

The world is changing fast.

It’s specifying education in those terms – not just what we have done in the past but the kind of skills that will matter in the future.”

If this doesn’t capture the essence of Curriculum for Excellence I don’t know what does.

The real question should be asking ourselves isn’t  “Should we be delaying Curriculum for Excellence?” but “Can we really afford to delay Curriculum for Excellence?”. 

I’ll leave the last word to Andreas Schleicher “Improved performance in education will have a huge effect on the economic performance of European countries.”

Learners Leading Learning: Speaking up for Scottish Education

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Alison Taylor, Principal Teacher and Primary 3 teacher at Stoneyhill Primary School, Musselburgh, takes time out to describe how she gets learners to lead their own learning.

We followed this up with an interview which showed how Alison uses this same approach to promote deep learning in Science.

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Assessment Moderation and Quality Assurance: How do we avoid creating a monster?

Curriculum for Excellence Building the Curriculum 5 a Framework for Assessment: Quality Assurance and Moderation – which must win the title for one of the longest titles for any educationally related paper – sets out the practiuces and purposes of quality assurance and moderation.

In the Strategic Vision and Key Principles of Curriculum for Excellence it states that:

“The aim will be to achieve consistency in standards and expectations and build trust and confidence in teachers’ judgements. Education authorities and national partners will work together to develop the most efficient and effective approaches possible for quality assurance and moderation.”

Following some discussion with colleagues on Friday I thought it might be worth trying to work out how we might avoid creating a bureaucratic assessment monster which weighs down the real business of learning and teaching.

The remarkable and ironic thing here is that we need to protect ourselves from ourselves.  For it seems to me that we are in real danger of recreating the same reporting industry which characterised 5-14 – just because it’s what we have come to know and expect. Yet if one reads the document there does appear to be enough space for us to create something which does not sink under its own weight.

However, for us to create an efficient and effective system we need to start from a basis where we trust teacher judgements – particularly where they are locally moderated.  Yet the reality is that our automatic default position is to create systems which are designed to catch the tiny minority who might be tempted to distort assessments.

Our next national CfE Implementation event will be focussing on this issue but I hope to explore this further over the next few weeks.

Planning for integrating skills from existing core programmes with Curriculum for Excellence: Speaking Up for Scottish Education

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Katie Nelson, Principal Teacher at King’s Meadow Primary School, Haddington, talks about the school’s Curriculum for Excellence planning. She explains how skills from the existing core 5-14 program are being integrated with the outcomes and purposeful applications of CfE.