High Standards are an outcome of high teacher expectations: Speaking up for Scottish Education

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Robert Virtue, Principal Teacher of Craft, Design and Technology at Musselburgh Grammar School, speaks up for Scottish education when he describes some of the work completed by 14 year olds at the school.  He shows us an example of integrated project work where rather than following one unit of study with another the department integrate a variety of elements into a cohesive whole.  The outcome – which builds upon work done in the two previous years – is outstanding and goes to demonstrate how Curriculum for Excellence can really lead to incredibly high standards of work. We shouldn’t settle for anything less!

Speak up for Scottish Education

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Link: Speak up for Scottish Education

I’d be delighted to accept positive examples of your practice  (in fact it doesn’t even have to be about your practice – it could be a colleague, your child’s teacher, or someone you know is doing brilliant things) .  All you have to do is set up a video camera and speak for up to two minutes on something that you think is making a positive impact.  It could be something from your daily practice with a class; something from your school or a larger scale project.  You could be a teacher, a parent, a young person, a member of support staff, headteacher, someone who works in further or higher education, or anyone with an involvement in the Scottish education process.  It doesn’t have to be new and shiny – just something which is leading to positive outcomes for learners.

If you are fed up only hearing negative stories about Scottish education or Curriculum for Excellence and want to provide some balance then send in your clips and speak up for Scottish education.

If you upload your video to You Tube and send me the URL  at dledingham@eastlothian.gov.uk I’ll attempt to categorise your submission so that others can find it easily.  The only fear I have is that our natural Scottish reticence will prevent people from speaking up in the belief that what they are doing is nothing special.  Believe me what you do is very special. It will only be by sharing this that we can counter some of the wilder assertions about how bad things are in our schools.

Good luck – and don’t be shy!

Curriculum for Excellence: Stand up and speak up

In 2002 the then Scottish Executive undertook the most extensive consultation ever of the people of Scotland on the state of school education through the National Debate on Education. In the debate, many people – pupils, parents, teachers, employers and others – said that they valued and wanted to keep many aspects of the current curriculum. Some also made compelling arguments for changes to ensure all our young people achieve successful outcomes and are equipped to contribute effectively to the Scottish economy and society, now and in the future.

Features of the curriculum which people valued were: the flexibility which already exists in the Scottish system – no one argued for a more prescriptive national system; the combination of breadth and depth offered by the curriculum; the quality of teaching; the quality of supporting material that helps teachers to deliver much of the current curriculum; and, the comprehensive principle

People argued for changes which would: reduce over-crowding in the curriculum and make learning more enjoyable; better connect the various stages of the curriculum from 3 to 18; achieve a better balance between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ subjects and include a wider range of experiences; equip young people with the skills they will need in tomorrow’s workforce; make sure that assessment and certification support learning; allow more choice to meet the needs of individual young people.

The above description of the genesis of a Curriculum for Excellence is taken from the Purposes and Principles of the Curriculum 3-18 (2004).

Here we are six years later in 2010 and it’s of interest to reflect on the progress that’s been made. I think two key points that are often missed by people when they set out to attack Curriculum for Excellence are contained within the two complementary sentences highlighted in the opening pargraph, i.e. it set out to keep many aspects of our existing curriculum, whilst recognising that there was also a need to better prepare children for a changing world

On reflection perhaps the most remarkable thing about Curriculum for Excellence in 2010 is that it does does so closely match our aspirations identified from the 2002 National Debate on Education, informed – as it was – by unions, headteachers, local authorities, parents and academics. Yet so much of the criticism which seems to be now directed towards CfE appears to suffer from a form of collective amnesia, where the original imperative and drivers for change have been conveniently forgotten. Not only that but there are a range of myths which are continually perpetuated – without rebuttal – until they almost take hold in our collective conscousness.  An example of such would be the claim that CfE is committed to the destruction of subject specialisms and subject specific content.

As someone who is currently conducting a series of seminars with East Lothian secondary school subject specialists, where I’ve been highlighting the importance of their subject expertise, I’ve been mystified by claims that subject specialisms are being watered down by CfE. I’d actually argue the other way – in that there is a much greater likelihood that young people can study subject areas in real depth instead of the “mile wide inch deep” approach that often characterised the previous curriculum. 

What we now have is an opportunity to provide real scope to meet the needs of all learners.  The other key dimension which I’m seeing in our schools is a growing intellectual ambition to stretch our children in a way that will give our economy a leading edge in the next 20 years.

Where implementation is at its most successful I see a capacity to build upon the traditional strengths of the Scottish system: hard work; a passion for learning; commitment to high standards; outstanding teaching; and one other which has not been in evidence over the last 30 years in our schools – innovation.  This latter point is so ironic given Scotland’s international reputation for invention.

Certainly if we listen to observers from outwith Scotland we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a real lead in world education – yet it’s as if there exists some self destruct mechanism deep in the Scottish psyche which needs to undermine and attack anything which is vaguely aspirational.

These attacks appear to take on three different forms:

The first of these is characterised by those who select a singular aspect of Curriculum for Excellence for which there may be reasonable grounds for informed critique.  However, that  singular point is then extrapolated from the specific to the general and in the process an attack on everything under the banner of CfE – which covers the entire 3-18 programme.

The second form of attack is from those who seek to represent the silent majority.  I would refer to these as those who claim to be courageous enough point out that “the emperor wears no clothes”.  Yet in my experience its actually quite the reverse, in that the real majority are those who support the change.

The final category of attack comes from those who claim to be “agnostic”.  This is probably even more corrosive that the previous two as it is based upon an assumption that we will judge the success of CfE once it has been completed.  Yet the reality is that CfE is a dynamic development and needs to be continually developing if it is to truly meet the needs of children in a society that is in itself ever changing. 

The bottom line here is that no one is suggesting that Curriculum for Excellence is a “fully formed” solution for Scotland’s education system. No one I speak to would suggest that there are not there are many things that need to improve.  Yes – we need more clarity in some areas.  Absolutely we need continuing support for implementation.  But the reality is that I’d rather be where we are now, than where we were in 2000 faced with a moribund curriculum, disconected assessment systems, static levels of atttainment,  disempowered teachers and, most importantly, disengaged learners.  What we must constantly remind ourselves and others is that CfE – for the first time in our history – is tackling the entire curriculum for children and young people aged 3-18.  The scale of the endeavour is mind numbing – which makes it all the more remarkable that such progrees has been made to date.

We stand on an exciting threshold but it needs more people to start to speak up for the positives – without the need to preface their comment with an apology or some qualifying statement. My greatest fear is for the children whom we teach.  For the risk is not so much that Curriculum for Excellence is implemented , but rather that it isn’t implemented.

Curriculum for Excellence – what’s it all about?

Here’s what we are trying to achieve through Curriculum for Excellence in East Lothian:

Long term outcomes:

1. To contribute towards the creation of a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.

2. Improve the achievement levels of all children and young people in comparison to national and international standards

3. Reduce the achievement gap between children of different backgrounds within schools.

A Curriculum for Excellence – what will it mean for my child?

1.  We will give your child the best possible start by working in partnership with you to develop their enthusiasm and confidence as learners, e.g. pre-school, nursery, and early years of primary school.

2.  We will work together to ensure that your child is literate by the end of P6  (if a child can’t read by that age their ability to access the rest of their curriculum is severely limited).

3.  We will ensure that your child develops confidence and competence in numeracy in all parts of their curriculum.

4.  We will maintain a strong focus on your child’s health and well-being throughout their school career.

5.  Your child will get the chance to personalise their own curriculum to enable them to follow their own interests and passions.

6.  We will recognise and encourage your child’s wider achievements – both in and out of school.

7.  We will create a secondary school curriculum that builds upon your child’s primary school experience.

8.  The first three years at secondary school will focus upon ensuring that your child has developed a set of skills for life, work and learning which will make them “employable”.

9.We will create an upper secondary school curriculum which will enable your child to have a much greater chance of maximising their success in formal qualifications, preparing them for further academic work, or leading them directly towards employment.

10. We will ensure that your child’s upper secondary school experience is “outward” facing to prepare them for joining society, their local community, higher/further education and the world of work.




Community Ownership of Schools


I’ve been approached by quite a few people over the last couple of weeks about our ideas relating to Community Ownership of Schools.

I thought it might help to gather together in one place a number of related posts which provide an insight into the evolution of this idea and the underpinning rationale.

The first point to emphasise is that we are encouraged by our elected members to “think out of the box” in relation to policy development in East Lothian.  The following links track the development of an idea which is not yet fully formed nor planned to Nth degree.  In that respect I have been adopting the role of the leader as a sculptor:

“The alternative to the technically focused leader’s vision is to see vision as an outcome which is not ‘set’ from the beginning. Instead the sculptor has an idea; a notion; a picture in mind – e.g. to create a sculpture of a human form – but as the sculptor commences work the final outcome may be very different from what they had in mind at the beginning but is all the more successful for that variation.

What the sculptor is doing is to constantly check on the quality of the developing work. By checking it against a desire to produce the “best” work possible the sculptor shifts the vision rather than carrying on working towards something that will not be as high a quality as what will be created through a more flexible approach towards the final outcome.”

Please note that the first of these posts dates to August 2006, i.e. long before our current financial status.

















Developing a 3 -15 Assessment and Reporting System

I have been working with a group of colleagues to develop our assessment and reporting system for East Lothian to match the new curriculum.  We need to come up with an agreed system to replace the current 5-14 testing regime. 

What we have agreed is that we – the authority – will commission a group of headteachers to devise an assessment and reporting  system which will cover children aged 3 – 15.  The tender document is in the process of development but the system must meet the diverse needs of learners, teachers, parents, headteachers, the local authority, elected members and HMIe.  I’m very keen that we also involve parents, teachers, learners and elected members in the development of this system but the “starter for 10” will go to the headteacher group. Exciting stuff!

Our system must:

1 -make use of formative assessment as a key element in assisting the learning process;

Why? – this is what makes the biggest difference in the classroom.  It allows learners to be clear about how they can improve their learning.

2- provide clear information to learners about their progress;

Why? – children should to be able to measure their progress against a clear set of standards where they clearly understand what they have to do to meet the next level.

3- provide reliable information to parents which allows them to assist their child’s learning;

Why? – parents want to help their children but need clear advice from professionals about what they should do to help.

4- provide a means of proving the reliablity of assessment against an objective measure;

Why?- any doubts about the reliability of teacher or school assessment has the potential to fundamentally undermine confidence in the process – particularly at key transition points e.g. infant to upper primary, primary to secondary.

5- provide a clear means of measuring the value added by the teaching process;

Why?- teachers need to know if they are making a difference and the impact of any changes they make to their practice

6- enable parents to judge how their child’s learning is progressing over a period of years.

Why? – parents want to know if their child is making progress in line with the “bandwidth” of child development that might be expected for someone of their child’s age.

7- enable school managers at all levels to make judgements about the effectiveness of the curriculum and the learning and teaching process.

Why? – we need to check if what we are collectively doing is making a differnce – if not we need to try something else.

8- enable the authority to make judgements about the capacity of a school to add value to the learning process in relation to every child’s starting point;

Why? – the public needs to have confidence that it is getting good return on the investment made in that school.  The authority also needs to have confidence that the learning needs of every child is being met by the school.

9 – provide clear statements about progress in relation to literacy, numeracy and health and well being

Why? – these are building blocks to successful learnming but their eminence should also reinforce the collective resposibility of all teachers to promote achievements in these areas

10- provide a valued means of formally recognising children’s attainments and achievements at key stages between the age of 3 – 15

Why? – formal recognition can  motivate and enhance the perceived value of certain aspects/stages of the curriculum

11 – articulate with the Curriculum for Excellence assessment framework

Why? – our system must comply with national guidance

12 – be valued by all stakeholders, e.g. learners, parents, teachers, managers, authority officers, elected members, and HMIE.

Why? – this is a challenge – but what a prize!

PS – we could really do with some help in developing this tender document – so suggestions/comments are most welcome

Accumulating Credit for Learning

One of the conclusions I’ve gradually come to over the years is that in order to facilitate real change in any system it’s necessary to change the landscape.  It’s come to me slowly and for all that I believe that focusing upon cultural change is still fundamentally the correct route to improvement – I’ve also come to recognise that we just tinker at the edges if we are asking teachers to change their practice within a system where the fundamental features remain static. 

So when it comes to a Curriculum for Excellence I fear that little will change unless we shift some of the key building blocks upon which our practice is based, e.g. how we give credit for learning; how we organise learning, and how we deliver learning. 

My thinking on this has been influenced by a recent trip to New Zealand where I encountered their qualifications system. Much like our Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) their system is based upon levels and associated credits for learning.  However, there are two important features of their system, which appear to have an advantage of our Scottish version.  Firstly, their levels and credits equate exactly with university entrance requirements, whereas SCQF has to be translated into UCAS points; and secondly, they differentiate outcome by a simple system of Pass, Merit and Excellence in any unit of study. A New Zealand student needs 80 credits to gain a National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) at any level.  That certificate can be endorsed with “Merit” if 50 of these points are achieved with “Merit” and likewise for the student who gains 50 points or more with “Excellence”.

It was while this was fresh in my mind that I recently visited Jewel and Esk College of Further Education with a group of our secondary Headteachers and senior staff. In something of a damascene moment I began to see how we might begin to change the landscape for organising and delivering learning in our schools and the example has been under our nose for a number of years now – you don’t even have to go to the other side of the world!

One of the understandable strategic elements of the Curriculum for Excellence implementation process has been to try to keep the qualifications issue separate from the curriculum development – as it was feared that the focus of secondary teachers would always swing to what was going to be tested and ignore some of the more fundamental questions about the experiences and outcomes of the courses they taught.  However, with hindsight this may have been a mistake as it denies the reality of secondary education and its links to access to employment and further and higher education. 

The other lesson to be learned from our New Zealand cousins and, more pertinently, from our colleagues in further and higher education – is how to trust internal assessment.  I’ve written before how colleges in Scotland can give credit for learning up to Higher National Diploma (which is a couple of notches beyond Advanced Higher level) without having to rely upon any form of external assessment) – while schools continue to have to rely heavily upon external assessment – at levels of learning significantly below HND.

So how might we use this knowledge to create a framework within which our schools can innovate, develop practice and improve the outcomes for learners? Perhaps we could create a common assessment and accreditation that could overlay the curricular model being developed in our schools?

Imagine a scenario where each relevant unit of work taught in S1 – S3 carried a credit for numeracy, literacy, health and well-being – and skills for work, i.e. all those experiences and outcomes that are the responsibility of all teachers. By creating a matrix of learning experiences learners could, through moderated internal assessment, which builds upon formative assessment strategies, be awarded credits at a range of levels of learning with outcome being recognised through Pass, Merit and Excellence. As these credits are accumulated the learner could achieve a local Certificate of Achievement that could be endorsed with Merit or Excellence. By the end of S3 a learner will have undertaken a broad education and will also have a record of their achievements in these crucial building blocks for learning.

Such a system would provide teachers with a clear framework; yet enable them to create innovative and challenging learning contexts where these outcomes can be achieved. Some schools may create units of study which fill identified gaps in provision, which may not sit clearly with a single subject domain.

Finally, such a system would enable students to become familiar with the likely curricular structure and national accreditation model, which they will encounter, in the senior phase of learning and beyond school in further and higher education.

Open Learn

LearningSpace Home

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)

Improving Scottish Education – 12 action points

HMIe have just published their most recent report on Scottish education in the form of Improving Scottish Education The report is based upon the findings of HMIe inspections and reviews of schools and local authorities in the period 2005-2008.

HM Senior Chief Inspector Graham Donaldson, in a very comprehensive commentary, sets out some the main challenges facing the Scottish education system. I’ve had a go at identifying twelve key action points from his commentary for local authorities to consider, with a particular emphasis upon the implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence.


“Scotland’s future economic prosperity requires an education system within which the population as a whole will develop the kind of knowledge, skills and attributes which will equip them personally, socially and economically to thrive in the 21st century. It also demands standards of attainment and achievement which match these needs and strengthen Scotland’s position internationally.”


“I am encouraged by the extent to which The Early Years Framework, Curriculum for Excellence, Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy and Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) address these findings. The challenge remains, however, to translate aspiration into action.”


“The best of our local authorities are already leading curricular change and ensuring that high quality experiences and outcomes are being provided for learners. The challenge remains, particularly in a demanding economic climate, for all local authorities to use their increased freedom in innovative ways which address difficult issues and raise standards”


“Curriculum for Excellence embodies a new way of working. It recognises that sustained and meaningful improvement should, to a significant extent, be shaped and owned by those who will put it into practice.”


“Self-evaluation should not be seen simply as more effective monitoring by managers but as the commitment of a staff team to reflect and improve. The increasing extent to which teachers are sharing, analysing and comparing each other’s practice, although still limited, is encouraging.”


“We have to place professional development, covering both subject content and pedagogy, at the centre of our approach to change if we are to achieve better experiences and outcomes for learners. The onus will be on local authorities, centres, schools and individual teachers to make optimum use of the time and expertise available for professional development.”


“Curriculum for Excellence proposes to address literacy and numeracy directly, emphasising the need to develop these fundamental skills across the curriculum and to provide formal recognition of progress up to the end of every young person’s school career.”


Formally accredited attainment and broader forms of achievement are sometimes portrayed as alternatives. They are not. Both are essential to the future success of individuals and of our society and economy as a whole.”


“Sound assessment is integral to the learning and teaching process and to our ability to be confident about standards. A prerequisite is for educators to ensure that they are secure in their judgement of pace and progress in learning. That means actively and rigorously seeking to develop and share knowledge, data and other intelligence about performance in order to be confident that each learner is achieving fully.”


“Scotland’s lifelong skills strategy draws upon the agenda set by Curriculum for Excellencein the pre-school and schools sectors, and requires partnership working between schools and other sectors, including colleges and community learning and development, in developing skills progressively.”


“The (OECD) report Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland3report highlighted the limited success of Scotland’s schools in tackling those differences in outcomes that are associated with socio-economic disadvantage. A number of important steps are being taken to address this fundamental issue, particularly through early intervention. Curriculum reform should also, in time, make an impact by improving motivation and relevance.”


“In our last report we said that systems of accountability must themselves adapt to reinforce the kind of changes in practice and in culture which the new ways of working demand. Since then, HMIE has significantly reformed inspections and reviews to focus on what matters most in terms of outcomes for learners, building directly on self-evaluation and enhancing capacity by promoting well-judged innovation.”