Making Space for Change

I’m scheduled to speak at our Early Years Conference on Tuesday 7th February.  “Healthy Happy Bairns” This event is aimed at service providers, community members and elected members with a role, or interest, in tackling health inequality through a focus on the early years of life and supporting parents/carers.

The title of my input is Making Space for Change:

Scotland is a country with ambition and in East Lothian I think we have aspirations for excellence – to be the best of the best – we are good but we can be better.

For me the journey to excellence starts with getting it right for every child in East Lothian – and we need to get it right from the start – from the very start – not only from pre-birth but from pre-conception.

We cannot be excellent, and we cannot get it right for every child, unless we tackle the inequality in outcomes for education, health and social well being that exist in Scotland and are mirrored in our own community. For many of you this is a straight forward social justice issue –  the level of inequality in our community is wrong and we have to do something about it. However, speaking as someone with responsibility for running a major public service – it is also about efficiency and effectiveness and ultimately the resilience of public service in a time of reduced government spending. The resource costs of dealing with the consequences of inequality in our community are huge and ultimately unsustainable.

Report after report has called for greater emphasis on early intervention – and to achieve this we need to change.

The Chrsitie Commission has recently helpfully summarised some of the key pillars of change.

  • Shift towards prevention
  • Local integration of public services, driven by better partnership, collaboration & effective local delivery
  • Investment in people who deliver services by enhanced workforce development & effective leadership
  • A sharp focus on improving performance, through greater transparency, innovation & use of digital technology.

Shift towards prevention

This seems such an easy objective but in reality so much more difficult to achieve.  So much of our budget is spent addressing outcomes for children when we haven’t got everything right, for example, a child placed in secure accommodation for ten weeks costs East Lothian Council £50,000, a year would be £260,000.  Such young people are at the extreme end of negative outcomes but surely we have to believe that if we had taken earlier collective action as a community so much earlier that such outcomes need not be a child’s destiny.

Local integration of public services, driven by better partnership, collaboration & effective local delivery

The first law of corporate inertia reads: “for every action there is an equal and opposite objection”. Corporate organisations, such as councils, do not find it easy to naturally forge partnerships especially when it means giving up some power. We say we do but if you look for substantive success in partnerships such as shared services and it’s much easier to point to failures than achievements. Of course this has real resonance for us in East Lothian as we move towards shared service provision for education with Midlothian Council. Underpinning all of that work has been a recognition that the status quo is not sustainable, especially if we wish to maintain front-line services and focus an even higher proportion of our budgets on prevention.  

Investment in people who deliver services by enhanced workforce development & effective leadership

When budgets get tight the one area which comes under immediate pressure are training and workforce development budgets. I’ve done it myself as a head of service – cutting a training budget and maintaining a teacher in a classroom. Such dilemmas are going to be an ever-present for us in the short to medium term so we need to think creatively about how we develop our workforce – for with out such development we cannot hope to improve. Ideas such a peer support; learning communities; networking; and protected learning time are required if we are to make progress. Such thinking has to be embedded in the minds of leaders at all levels, i.e. “How do I help my colleagues to work together and learn from one another?”  But it’s not just learning from other professionals which is going to make a difference, it’s got to be learning from and with a wide range of other service providers where collaborative learning is the order of the day.

A sharp focus on improving performance, through greater transparency, innovation & use of digital technology. 

In East Lothian we have a notion to become the most improved authority in terms of outcomes for children and young people.  Many of these outcomes can be easily measured, such as attainment, exclusions, positive destinations for school leavers. Yet at a community level there’s a danger that we impose a simplistic “bean counting approach” solely focused upon quantitative data. I would argue that if we are really to empower our communities and trust them to come up with solutions which work for them we must come up with an alternative to methodology that works on a larger scale. That alternative must be based upon the cumulative impact of lots of small actions (outputs), none of which might have an observable impact, but taken together add up to contributing to the overall well being of the community. We need to tell our little stories, and together these stories will add up to a big book.  By linking how people are feeling with the outputs and hard outcomes we have areal chance to making a real difference to our communities.

Don’t underestimate this – to make these kind of changes will be very difficult. For positive change to happen we have to create the right environment or space that will foster and support it.

Being an Equally Well test site has helped to develop our thinking about how we create a space for change

Firstly, the importance of a shared vision or understanding about what  we are trying to change and why – I would like to take this opportunity to suggest that the concept of resilience should be part of that vision and shared understanding about what we want to achieve.

Secondly the test site has shown the importance of being ‘connected’ – Dr Harry Burns tells us about the importance of being connected socially for good health – but it is also vital in creating a space for change. We need to allow our staff from across the range of agencies to connect with each other if we expect them to be creative in the way they work with communities and each other. This doesn’t mean endless meetings and talking shops, but mangers need to support staff to achieve the kind of connectedness that will deliver better outcomes for children and parents. Shared learning space that helps staff from different backgrounds and agencies develop ‘connectedness’ is an important practical step that can help create a space for change.

Thirdly the test site has emphasised the need for involvement or engagement with the community. We need a new partnership between community and public service that is more equal and recognises the strengths that are in our communities as well as their needs and problems. In government policy documents this is being termed co production. The next phase of Support from the Start seeks to try and create that sort of partnership and you will hear more about this from my colleague Ronnie Hill this afternoon, and hopefully through the workshops you will be participating in creating that new partnership.

Fourthly, you need a bias for action – do what you can now and plan for what you can do tomorrow but be prepared to take some risks. Doing nothing fails children. A plan that doesn’t come off quite right is something you can learn from. Having a bias for action helps people identify the often small changes which can have big impacts – that impact may be for only one or two children – but that doesn’t matter, what matters is those children’s lives have been changed for the better.

Finally – a bias for action leads me onto the importance of leadership in creating a space for change – or as I would prefer to call it ‘space for innovation’.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and I could spend a day talking about styles of leadership, but the key thing is that leadership is a quality and a skill set we can all develop – it is not invested in a few special people.

The changes that we want to see don’t tend to happen without people driving them or making it happen.  Those people might be managers they might not be, it may be a parent, it may be a child who is driving innovation – whoever it is they are the champions we need, and we have to link them to others who can help and support them. The test site developed a model of champions for innovation because  we recognised from the outset the importance of leadership at all levels. We want to help more and more people be champions for early years in our communities

Strategic leaders have a particular leadership responsibility in creating the space for innovation. The ethos and rules that staff and community members work within set the parameters for engaging in change. If you want change keep the rules simple, and give people permission to try.

Overall being a test site for Equally Well has been positive for East Lothian and I hope others can find something in our experience that is useful to them. It’s too early to be specific about the impact that the test site has or hasn’t had on inequality in East Lothian but we have a positive story to share and that narrative doesn’t end with the test site – we will add to it and develop it in the next phase of Support from the Start











Dr Harry Burns on “Support from the Start”

Photo of Dr Harry Burns

Dr Harry Burns

This powerful video shows Dr Harry Burns, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, speaking at length about early intervention and East Lothian’s joint Support from the Start development.

He was the speaking in the Brunton Hall, Musselburgh, at the invitation of Musselburgh and Inveresk Community Council, who kindly shared this recording.

Dr Burns speaks for the first 45 minutes of the video.

Reconfiguring services – meeting the challenge

We held a very successful “Corporate Parenting” Conference today at the Marine Hotel, North Berwick. .

Adam Ingram MSP , Minister for Children and Early Years gave a  well informed and committed keynote address and emphasised the need for us to collectively address the needs of Looked After and Accommodated Children and to focus upon the improving outcomes for such children, namely:

  • Raising Attainment
  • Improved Leaver Destinations
  • Reducing offending
  • Improved Health

In the follow up questions Adam was asked a question about the need to reconfigure services and his vision for the future.  He alluded to an extensive vision but focused upon Early Years support and intervention encouraging us to reprioritise around this point if we are to make a difference to chidren’s lives.

In recent discussions with colleagues from many different fields I’ve found a similar willingness to engage with this agenda – although it remains to be seen if we can begin to reprioritise budgets to this area. Having said that we had a very useful example last week when we were able to redirect some work towards early years.  In a meeting with Diane Littlejohn we were discussing our parenting strategy and Diane was telling us about the transition work she is doing in one of our clusters to help all parents make the transition from being the parents of a child to the parent of a teenager (which any of us who have been parents will tell you is quite an adjustment). Nevertheless, we were able to connect the conversation to a recent meeting we had about a desperate need to support parents of very vulnerable young children to help the child adjust from home to nursery and nursery to primary school.

The emerging proposal was that we would be better directing Diane’s expertise to this age group with a view to making a long term impact – as opposed to trying to intervene in a situation which might be beyond help.  Now I know the danger here is that we have a “lost generation” but if we are serious about making a difference we need to move from “trying to fix” to “trying to prevent”.  As I’m finding out the consequences of reprioritising funding from previous areas of emphasis to other areas can cause significant distress and concern amongst those who perceive themselves to be losing out in this adjustment.

I reckon the solution/challenge here is to engage with all interest groups to describe what want to do, why we are doing it and involve them in the solution – without this dialogue the system can begin to break down with single issue groups only focusing upon their own needs and challenging the wider agenda which is to advocate for the needs of all children.

It’s this agenda which I’m finding professionally challenging but the potential rewards for taking this approach seems to me to be too good to miss.

Solution Focused Planning


The power of our strategic groups came to the fore this week at our 3 -18 Strategic Learning and Teaching Group.

This group has 25 members who represent a wide cross-section of those of us involved in education in East Lothian.  I know its accepted logic that such a large group can’t operate successfully but it’s the very size of, and representation within the group that actually makes it effective.

We started the meeting reflecting upon the impact of our Learning and Teaching policy in the last year.  By splitting up into groups of 3 we were able to identify a wide range of observable changes in our practice throughout the authority that would evidence our emphasis on learning and teaching.

The second part of the meeting was given over to considering our Service Improvement Plan for the coming session. I showed the group a range of the possible outcomes which we have been exploring.  One of the draft outcomes read as follows:

“All children will achieve Level B in reading by the end of P4, level D by the end of P7, and Level E by the end of S2.”

We discussed the thinking behind this desired outcome and the reaction it might stimulate amongst teachers. The problem lay in the notion of “All” and the idea it just seems to reaffirm a focus on attainment – which many teachers just see as a means of keeping the Authority and HMIe happy – as opposed to helping individual children learn.

I’ve written so many plans for departments, schools and authorities now that I’ve become acutely aware of the dissonance between what the writer of the plan might intend and the perception of the plan by those who have to implement it.

The idea behind the outcome is that we would like every child to be able to read by the age of 9 – at least well enough that their reading ability does not limit their progress in any other area of the curriculum. As we wrestled with the problem of how we might come up with an outcome which was clear, kept our focus on reading, but didn’t antagonise teachers we struck upon a solution. That solution was to take the problem to the teachers – let them know what we wanted to achieve, why it was important, and  some guidance on the characteristics of an outcome – and let them come up with the answer.

The power of this idea is that has so many advantages:

  1. It engages teachers with the rationale of the outcome approach;
  2. It will enable us to generate an agreed outcome which has a wide range of stakeholder ownership;
  3. It will enable us to have the impact we desire, i.e. make reading a central focus of our practice in schools.

It’s only through talking through a problem like this with such a wide ranging group that such solutions can be generated.

Getting it right!


I was invited to a COPS meeting this afternoon.  No they hadn’t eventually caught up with me! COPS is a an acronym for Co-ordinators of Pupil Support.

This group meets up five times a year to share practice and highlight common areas of concern.  I was invited to take part in a discussion about the role and future of the group. 

Perhaps the main point I made was to repeat an opinion I expressed in November 2006 about the need to refocus and reshape our support systems in schools to allow us to fully target our resources upon those who need it most.

We have a lot of work to do to share the agenda of For Scotland’s Children and Getting it Right for Every Child

One key starting point is that one of the group will join our Integrated Children’s Services Operational Group, which meets on a monthly basis to ensure a link between secondary schools and multi-agency approach we are developing

Avoiding the pack mentality


I had a very enjoyable vist this week to Preston Lodge High School to observe five S1 pupils being taught a science lesson.  Amy, Sean Michael, Steven, Dale and Jade showed tremendous understanding and application, and were fortunate to be taught by a great teacher in Gillian Binnie, supported by Mandy Reid.  The class overcame a variety of significant personal learning challenges in such a positive manner that it was genuinely uplifting to watch the lesson.

In the course of the visit I also spoke to to some staff about how their combined Guidance and Support for Learning Department is impacting upon the school – particularly in relation to behaviour support. In the past the school had operated a support base where pupils were supposed to be referred for short period with the assumption that the time out of class would “cure them”.  The reality was that the longer the children were out of class the greater the likelihood that they no longer saw themselves to be part of the school. The consequence that a “pack mentality” was created with it almost becoming a badge of honour to say “we’re all out of English”. I’ve always fought shy of creating such a mentality so it was great to hear that the new system of staff working with children in class as opposed to extraction is having such a positive impact. 

I know that many teachers facing such challenging behaviour just want these types of kids out of their class but the long term effect upon the culture of the school and size of the disenfranchised group which just gets larger and larger  – as does their negative impact upon the school.

Of course there are still some children who learn to manipulate the system to get their own way – i.e. to get out of class.  What I found fascinating was that almost without exception such children have significant reading difficulties. Such evidenmce makes me all the more convinced that ensuring that all children can read by the age of 9 is an absolute imperative.

Developing a developmental approach


It’s peculiar how sometimes things just seem to come together in an unexpected and unplanned manner but I had a meeting today where that very thing happened – and I would put it down in no small part to the discipline of keeping a Learning Log.

The various elements of this web of connections are as follows:

  1. My observations of classes with a focus on learning intention and learning task;
  2. The early years Active Learning approach which I have observed having such a positive effect upon children’s learning;
  3. The developmental approach being used in Maths Recovery;
  4. Our strategic decision to place Learning and Teaching at the heart of A Curriculum for Excellence;
  5. The notion of universal and targeted intervention strategies.
  6. The importance of children being functionally competent by the age of 8-9 to access the rest of the curriculum
  7. Our emerging early years strategy which will link pre-school education; child care; nursery and early years at primary school; and focussed care for vulnerable children and families

There are probably many other possible connections but the above will suffice for the purposes of this post.

The meeting I had this afternoon was with Mike Jess and June Murray, from Edinburgh University and some colleagues from our Active Schools Team. The focus of the meeting was the Basic Moves programme which has been operating in East Lothian Schools promotes an innovative approach towards teaching physical education.


“The Basic Moves Programme sets out to help all children develop the basic movement competence that lays the foundation for lifelong physical activity. The importance of basic movement competence cannot be overemphasised as it means children are able to pass through the proficiency barrier between the simple activities of early childhood and the more complex activities of late childhood witconfidence. As Seefeldt, Haubenstricker and Reuchlien (1979, cited in Graham, Holt, Hale and Parker, 2001, p. 32) have said,

Children who possess inadequate motor skills are often relegated to a life of exclusion from organised and free play experiences of their peers, and subsequently, to a lifetime of inactivity because of their frustrations in early movement behaviour.

Simply, developing children’s basic movement competence as the foundation for a lifetime of physical activity cannot be left to chance and must become the focus of children’s programmes in the future (Jess and Collins, 2003)……

The programme is based on the need for adults and children to have a shared understanding of the Basic Movement Framework and for adults to consistently offer children developmentally appropriate, inclusive and integrated experiences that lead them to develop this critical foundation. Children’s basic movement competence has been left to chance for far too long and we must now take the opportunity to rectify this situation once and for all.”

The purpose of of our meeting this afternoon was to consider the next steps when the current programme in East Lothian comes to an end in 2009.

Emerging from the meeting was a fledgling strategy which begins to tie together some of the strands I mentioned at the begining of this post:

1.      Basic Moves needs to be embedded within our evolving developmental approach towards ensuring that every child reaches a level of competence in literacy, numeracy, movement, and social and emotional development to enable them to fully access the educational opportunities provided for them beyond the age of 8.


2.      The strategy needs to adopt a focus upon pedagogy and a shared understanding of a developmental approach which builds from where children are starting from.


3.      We need to develop and implement a range of proactive intervention strategies which target and support children whose rate of development might be compromised by socioeconomic reasons or other family circumstances.




Corporate Parenting


A teacher said to me last week that we (in education) seem to have to play, more and more, the role of parents as well as educators.  I had to point out to this person that that is exactly what we have to do – especially for some of the most vulnerable children in our communities. 

One of the duties I have as Head of Education is to ensure that we meet the educational needs of Looked After and Acccommodated Children.  The duties are set out in Through care and after care

1.1 Local authorities have a duty to prepare young people for ceasing to be looked after (“throughcare”) and to provide advice, guidance and assistance for young people who have ceased to be looked after over school age (“aftercare”).

There are around 11,000 children and young people looked after by local authorities in Scotland, of whom about 1,500 are over 15 years old. About 1,200 young people aged 16 or over cease to be looked after each year.

The concept of corporate parenting is set out in Looked After Children and Young People: We Can and Must Do Better:

1.4 Local authorities have a role as corporate parents to these young people, particularly those who cannot return to their families. This means that the local authority should look after these children as any other parents would look after their own children.

1.5 The role of corporate parent is not restricted to the social work department of the local authority but applies to all departments and agencies, who should recognise their own responsibility to promote the welfare of looked after young people and ensure that their needs are adequately addressed by each department.

We have named contacts in each of our schools who have responsibility for tracking and being the link for other services in relation to Looked After and Accommodated Children but I’m not convinced that our commitment extends much beyond that.

The reality in schools that such children are often some of the most challenging to educate.  Without a significant mind shift – mine included – I don’t think we will properly take on our corporate role as parents.

I wonder of there would be anything to be gained from meeting all of our secondary age Looked After and Accommodated Children with a view to gaining their perspective on how education has fulfilled its parenting role and how it might get better?

Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology

I met Ian McGowan today who is one of the Directors of INPP in Scotland.

I was interested to find out more about this programme which I’d heard can have positive outcomes for children with Developmental, Specific Learning and Behavioural Difficulties.

I hope to invite Ian to Haddington to speak to him with some colleagues before we make any commitment to active involvement. However, I am convinced that motor difficulties can have a very negative impact upon a child’s development and that there is potential for using such programmes in an early assessment and intervention programme.

 I will back this up with a research literature review.