Prestonpans Infant School – school visit


I’m just getting round to completing some posts about recent visits to schools. Part of the delay was connected to the problem of uploading some photographs from my phone to the web.

The above photograph shows a P3 pupil using numbers to complete a mental paths challenge.  Each child has a set of numbers in front to them which they must use to answer mental maths questions from their teacher. The teacher would ask a question, such as – 6 less than 32. – they then held up a 2 and a 6 in one hand. The speed at which they worked and the degree of participation and lack of following others was remarkable – I couldn’t keep up!!

I then came across an interesting writing lesson with P1’s where they were writing letters – I’d never the seen the technique of some parts of letters being underground or in ther sky – the teacher had picked this up from

Prestonpans Infant School is also doing some really exciting work in relation to Learning Stories where teachers are taking a lead role in reflecting upon their practice and encouraging children from a very young age to explore how they learn and to reflect upon their learning process.  What struck me most about my visit to the school was the sense that here is a place which is comfortable with examining their practice.  I look forward to coming back very soon.

Catching a glimpse

I visited St Martin’s Primary school watched active learning in action when I observed a P1 class doing maths. I watched spellbound as the children showed incredible enthusiasm, confidence and focus towards the tasks set by their teacher Cath Nairn.

Cath explained how the pupils were probably three to four weeks ahead of where they would normally be for this time in P1 – so what’s the difference for the children? “Children don’t have to worry about writing it on a piece of paper” “It takes away the stumbling block of getting a mark on a piece of paper” “They’re not worried about making a mistake – it liberates them to engage and enjoy learning maths”


What’s the difference for the teacher? – “You get to see children making progress on a day-to-day basis, where you can set challenges to continually extend their learning”

The photographs show some of the activities that the pupils were engaged in during the lesson – which link to the plan on the last photograph.

Coin recognition

Cathy used the Interactive Whiteboard to great effect with small group of pupils where they dragged and dropped coins to make sums of different values.

Shopping lists with tally marks

When I spoke to the children they all used the same word – “FUN”

Cath stressed how important it was that she was able to build upon the work undertaken in the nursery. Cath doesn’t spend as much time marking jotters but she does spend more time planning what the children will be doing next – I would suggest that this time well spent.

Weekly plan

Daily plan

Using the coaching model in the classroom

I was out in Humbie Primary school yesterday afternoon.

Humbie have embraced the active learning approach for early years which have seen the introduction of pre-school approaches into early years of primary.

The school are now exploring the use of the coaching in the learning and teaching process. Some of the teachers in the school were exposed to the GROW model and now want to extend the active involvement of learners into the upper primary school.

One of the lessons I observed was one of a series which had been planned by the teacher in conjunction with the pupils using the GROW approach.  The topic was the body.  Here’s an example of how the GROW model was being used in relation to the heart:

Goals: What do we want to find out? – How does your heart work?; is the heart soft or hard?

Reality: What do we know/have already? – We have a model of a heart; Sara knows an experiement; Our teacher knows an experiment.

Options: What might we do? Loook at a model of the heart; research; interview a doctor; use stethescopes.

Will do/Wrap up: What will we do? – We’ll do all of the things we identified under options.

The teacher had generated the entire topic through this form of dialogue with the pupils.  In this way they had co-created the curriculum and were actively engaged in, and responsible for, it’s success.

It is the quality of this dialogue that makes this approach so successful – with the teacher being a partner in the learning process – as opposed to the director.

This was experimentation in action and I gave out one of my “Permission to Learn” cards for the first time as the teacher was worried about taking risks.

If you are interested in trying out the approach in your own classrooms I suggest you contact the school.

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.

Midyis, PIPS and ASPECT

We made a decision last year to introduce Midyis baseline testing for all our secondary schools for a test which all S2 pupil sit. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been analysing the data and its has thrown up some very interesting results.

Such has been the success that we have now agreed to use the PIPs test for P5 and are now piloting a pre-school test.

All this data will allow us to identify any pupils who are obviously operating below their potential and enable us to actively track progress over their school career. Such information supplements the on-going assessments and judgements made by teachers.

We used Midyis at Dunbar Grammar School and it provided valuable supplementary information for parents and pupils when it came to course choice in terms if offering an accurate prediction of likely attainment at Standard Grade.

This example comes from New Zealand who have been using Midyis for many years: 

Standard for Headship

8.30-10.00 Directorate Meeting: Helen McMillan was at the meeting to discuss Early Years and Childcare, with particular reference to line management issues. The remainder of the meeting was taken up with routine business matters.

10.00 – 10.30 Met Maureen Jobson to reflect upon
The Standard for Headship – this is a useful document and sets out clearly the expectations for school leaders.

11.00-12.00 Met with a member of staff to discuss an issue.

12.00-12.30 Met Valerie Irving to discuss education officer remits – only Ruth Munro to go, then we will discuss the new remits colectively.

1.00-1.40 Maureen Jobson to go over Early Years issues

2.00-3.30 Sport and Education Meeting – this was a challenging meeting – the impact of the decision to break the link between the visiting specialist and the classroom teacher due to budget savings was discussed. It’s an interesting position to be in but I’m determined to continue to provide accurate and honest accounts of budget situations and the challenges they will present to all of us.

4.-00-4.45 Popped round to Meadowpark – our severe and complex unit for primary age children. The staff wanted to express their desire for the facility to remain in Haddington, as opposed to the planned move to tranent which has been on the cards for the last five years. I did not hold out any false hope but I promised to provide answers to all of their queries and suggestions. I was very impressed by the passionate views and obvious commitment to the needs of our children.

Philip Rycroft

9-12.00 Business Continuity scenario exercise This exercise had been set up by Steven McLachlan (the Council’s Emergency Planning Officer) and Chris Lawson (our Health and Safety Officer). When I first met Steven and Chris to chat about emergency planning I was worried that we didn’t seem to have any emergency plans in place in the event of a school being destroyed, etc. The point of the exercise was to work through such a scenario with a view to pinpointing our weaknesses and hopefully taking some action to address them. The event was a great success and certainly did prove that there are a number of things that we could put in place which would help us in the event of such an emergency.

12.30-1.00pmMeeting with Jill Dryburgh , Chair of the East Lothian Early Years and Childcare Partnership about our failure to fulfil our promise relating to early tears due to budget reductions to pay for the nursery nurse pay rise. I think the meeting was useful but the committee is keen to find out more about why funds have been redirected form their original target.

1.30- 5.00pm Meeting with Philip Rycroft, Head of Schools, Scottish Executive. Alan Borthwick, responsible for all our job-sizing, NQTs and students, came with me and Donald Henderson, Head of Teacher’s Division was also in attendance. I’ll post up the results of our chat next week once I’ve had a chance to confirm a few points.

To share or not to share

8.30am -9.30am Directorate Meeting – only agenda item was the restructuring of the department. The process is leaving a lot of people fairly sore. However, today seemed to be a turning point. Basic agreement about the education side of the department – now just needs finalcostings and timescales. Alan Ross and myself are to work together to resolve the middle ground. The “hard end” children's services will not engage in any significant change. Alan and I both agree that there is an opportunity to come up with something which really gets to the heart of the notion of integrated children's services – perhaps even to the point where we can be seen as national leaders in the field. So much depends upon people's willingness to actively engage in the process.

10.00am -11.30am Single Status Roadshow. This was a presentation from Sharon saunders – Head of Personnel and some key figures in the single status working group. Single status is something which all authorities are having to work towards. It will certainly have a significant costs attached to it but at least it will resolve some of the pay anomolies which have plagued local government for too many years.

11.30am -12.30am ASL Nursery Nurse job description meeting. Met with Maureen Jobson, Helen McMillan, Derek Haywood, Susan Smith and Sheila Ainslie to discuss the ASL nursery nurse job description – very useful and worthwhile meeting.

1.00-2.00 Met with Alan Blackie and Roger Thomas – Roger has a consultancy business and wanted to share some of his services with us. We are interested in developing our own coaching programme and we may need the services of an external person to help us put it all together. I'm going to draw up a more detailed plan of our vision for our coaching programme.

2.45-5.15pm With Pauline Homer visited Tranent wrap-around after school provision; Cockenzie After School Club (met the management team of the school whilst at the school- thanks for the coffee) and then on to Aberlady after-school club which meets in the Bowling Club whilst the town hall is renovated.

Now to share or not to share – that is the question? Weblogging – how open can we be? When does a commitment to transparency and honesty lead to conflict and unhappiness? Should some of my day remain secret? So far I've tried to be as open as possible – with the exception of things which are obviously confidential, such as personnel and personal matters. Should I keep my thoughts to myself and just describe events? What should I do mmmmmmmmmmmm?

5-14 assessment

8.30 am Met Clare O’Sullevan, the consultant helping the department with its restructuring process. Alan Ross joined us for the first 45 minutes. I get the feeling we are beginnning to make some real progress. Undoubtedly there are going to have to be some key decisions made in the next few weeks but the signs are looking positive that we will create something that will enable us all to carry out responsibilities more effectively

11.00am Out to Brunton Hall to watch 350 P1s take part in a musical performance in conjunction with the RSNO. I have to admit to being intrigued as to how so many five year olds would respond to such a challenge. In the event it was a great success and I thought the sympathetic way in which the professional musicians worked with the children was a great credit to the initiative. It just goes to show that we should have high expectations for our chiildren and not be afraid to take on such ambitious projects.

Back to the office for a meeting with Helen McMillan and Pauline Homer about the impact of the proposed cut in their budget. I am distressed about this situation and I'm looking at ways in which we can try to reinstate this funding. I'm going out with Pauline on Thursday afternoon to look at a couple of child care and out of school clubs we are running.

Straight out of here to a meeting of the 3-14 Assessment Group. This proved to be a very productive meeting with a couple of key ideas being generated. Firstly, we will be looking at two standardised tests for our P4 cohort. The two options are NFER and the MIDYIS equivalent for that age group. We will make two presentations at the next HT meeting scheduled for the 25th January and make a decision there.

The second idea was in relation to the external moderation of 5-14 results. We started off with one thing and by the end of the discussion had shaped up something which might just work. The basic concept will involve six schools (4 primary and 2 secondary) being selected at random to partciapate in the exercise. We will focus on moderating one particular curricular area, probably writing in the first instance. A group of students will be chosen, at random, from a particular year group, e.g P3 in primary and S1 in seondary. Their work would packaged up and sent into the department. A group of teachers and department staff (probably no more than 4) would meet for a couple of days and review the material. Where ther is an apparent discrepancy in a schools massemment it would be taken up by the appropriate education officer but in the main we would be looking at the level of consistency across the authority. At the same time the exercise gives confidence that levsl of attainment are reliable – someting which noone of us are particularly confident of at the moment.

Met with an HT after the meeting then worked on a cluster working paper before tomorrow's meeting of the primary/secondary executive.

What do you make of the following?



Current cluster practice is characterised, to a greater or lesser extent, by the following:

Schools within a cluster tend to operate discretely more frequently than they do in partnership

There is a tendency to perceive schools to be in competition with each other

Cluster meetings often lack focus

Clusters are seen by some as being peripheral to their core business

Clusters are not seen to be providing a proper interface between the schools and the department

Schools rarely take collective responsibility for all of the children in the cluster

Cluster representation on authority groups is often ad hoc or not present


We propose that future cluster practice should be characterised by:






CONSISTENCY: There will be an expectation that there will be some consistency of practice within a cluster and between clusters. The drive for that consistency should be led by a commitment to provide the best quality of learning experience for every child in our care, as opposed to a slavish adherence to uniformity for its own sake.

CONTINUITY: There will be a need to ensure continuity of learning experience within a cluster, particularly at key transitions, e.g. nursery to infant; infant to upper primary; primary to lower secondary and lower secondary to upper secondary.

COLLEGIALITY: For clusters to operate successfully there is a need to recognisethe importance of personal commitment to the process. Cluster effectiveness will be compromised if any one Headteacher gives a half-hearted contribution. Collegiality should be encouraged amongst all staff within a cluster.

CREATIVITY: Clusters will be encouraged to adopt an enterprising approach towards their practice. Ideas should be generated, applied and shared at cluster level. In this way we will promote a learning approach across the authority with clusters developing and sharing new solutions rather than waiting for solutions or good ideas to be generated from the centre.

COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY: This is arguably the greatest challenge to our existing practice. Current practice reinforces the separation between schools, even in the same cluster. Headteachers are often isolated and carry the burden of responsibility for the all that goes on in their school. We are seeking to change this practice by encouraging Headteachers to see themselves as having a shared responsibility for every child in their cluster. By sharing practice, problems and solutions we hope to generate a more sustainable model which will capitalise on the strengths of co-operative practice.

Prestonpans Primary

Met with David Scott and Donald McGillivary fro the Association of Headteachers Scotland (AHTS) from 8.30 – 10.00am. Very enjoyable meeting and characterised what I hope will be my relationship with unions. We solved a lot of problems and they made some very useful suggestions. One of the key suggestions was that we develop a set of guidelines which would help teachers and headteachers to manage students who have behaviour problems.

Then met Helen McMillan about Early Years budget. We had had a finance meeting when helen had been on holiday and shifted some money from childcare strategy to nursery schools to cover the nursery nurse payrise. I apologised to Helen for not having discussed this with her on her return to work but it had slipped my mind. It reinfroced for me the importance of really getting on top of the budget, as the suggestion had been made during the meeting and had not been properly thought through prior to the meeting.

Out to Prestonpans Primary School for another drop in visit. Florence Brydon took it in her stride and after a cup of coffee and chat showed me round the school. Met some really great kids who had some real spark about themselves. The teachers seemed very committed to their jobs and I got the feel of a place which was determined to give every child the best start in life they could. The school canteen has won awards for healthy eating and I'm sure Jamie Oliver would have been impressed.

Back to office to meet with Pauline Sales about developing a database for recording complaints and incidents of bullying. Pauline will contact Angus, Aberdeenshire, East Renfrewshire and North Lanarkshire Councils to find out about their attainment evaluation procedures. Colin Sutherland, HT North Berwick, Pauline and myself are looking to imrpove our evaluation procedures and these councils are reckoned to be amongst the best in Scotland.

The met Norma Mcpherson – our Maths support officer and Ronnie Summers – HT Musselburgh Grammar – about 5-14 maths results. Norma has done some really interesting analyses of maths results and was able to share that with Ronnie. We agreed that perhaps the most important thing we can do to improve maths attainment is to cincentrate on formative assessment and the creation of an interactove learning environment.

Then 45 mins with Alan Ross about the philosophy behind integrated children's services – once again very stimulating and challenging.

Straight from there to third depute's seminar. Another great session – of course that's my opinion. We reflected again upon the luck involved in gaining promotion. Agreement that we need a proactive means of identifying talent. It was also a common feature that almost everyone had acted up at some stage in their career. Chris Peyton – North Berwick – talked about a system in Beeslack where one of the assistant heads was always an acting appointment – I really liked this idea. The proposed coaching system was also well received.

Back home for a parents' night for my youngest son. Why was I so upset by a teacher who was chewing a sweet as he spoke to us? Must be getting old!

PS I've updated Wednesday's entry by adding my Tuesday weblog