Don’t judge my potential – you have no right

One of the goals we often espouse in education is to help children reach their potential.

Perhaps our greatest problem is that we actually think that potential has a limit!!!

If you have 11 minutes to spare watch these videos and take some time to think about how often you have used the phrase – “I want to help children to reach their potential”

I’m guilty as charged!

The Moon Comes Up

A Credo for support

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?

Promoting good behaviour – a tipping point

If learners aren’t paying attention they can’t learn. If they are being distracted by others in the class they can’t learn. It follows that for learning to take place then there must be a purposeful and focused environment in the classroom.

I was talking with a couple of colleagues this week about classroom behaviour and how it sits with our commitment to treat all learners with “Unconditional Positive Regard”. From a personal point of view there is nothing more important than classroom behaviour which supports effective learning. I don’t see any conflict between our commitment to unconditional positive regard and tackling bad bahaviour. In fact I think for us to ignore bad behaviour lets all children down – including those who are misbehaving.

There are many factors which play a part in encouraging good behaviour – e.g. an appropriate curriculum; good planning; enthusiastic teaching; appropriate pace of learning; effective assessment; reward systems; clear expectations; consistent application of these expectations in the classroom;  and the consistent application of expectations across a whole school.

It is the last of these points which I think is the most important. I remember when we went through a difficult time with a particular year group at Dunbar Grammar School. The tipping point came at a principal teachers meeting where we agreed to implement a totally consistent approach with this year group regarding our expectations and sanctions. As a senior management team we set out to support the staff in a variety of ways. Part of that was to adopt a zero tolerance approach towards low level classroom disruption – we used the human rights act as a lever with the pupils by explaining that the rights of an individual pupil – who wishes to disrupt a lesson – do not take precedence over the rights the majority who wish to learn.  However, the thing that made the biggest impact was the fact that all members of staff “bought in” to what we were doing – when things are applied consistently across a whole school it does make a real difference.

As a consequence I ended up excluding some pupils for very minor misdemeanors – such as answering back to a teacher. These exclusions were often only for a half day with the pupil returning the next day. The most important thing was the readmission meeting which involved the parents or carers. The result was a significant transformation in pupil behaviour – and the subsequent quality of learning. 

I’ve never been in favour of long term exclusions – they should not be used as punishments. However, we do need to drop our tolerance threshhold regarding low level disruption – there’s a really interesting section in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” where he described how New York tackled violence in their subway by adopting a zero tolerance approach – the effects were remarkable.


Children’s Panel

Children's Panel

I was invited to address the members of East Lothian Children’s Panel this evening.  We spoke for 90 minutes about how we approach attendance, exclusions and inclusion in our schools.

A key theme which emerged in the course of the evening is the perception that there are still issues to do with consistency between how our schools approach each of these complex issues.  I explained how our 5Cs Consistency; continuity; collegiality; creativy; and collective responsibility are addressing these issues.  I was delighted to be able to refer to the HTs’ Conference last week where we explored the issue of attendance and how we share good practice and work effectively with other agencies with the aim of promoting a consistent approach.

If you would like to volunteer to serve as a panel member I would urge you to download an application from the above link – you would be made most welcome. It was interesting to see that several teachers are Panel members.

For Scotland’s Children – next steps

We’ve been working on a paper which explores the next steps we need to take to fulfil our obligations set out in For Scotland’s Children 2001.

The first part of that exploration is an appreciative inquiry perspective on the Integration Team.

I found it really helpful to adopt this type of thinking as opposed to focussing on any negative aspects.


Over the last six years the Integration Team has had a significant impact upon how East Lothian meets the needs of vulnerable young people. In almost every community the Team can identify key successes which include: 

  • improvements in multi-agency working;
  • support for vulnerable children and their families;
  • development of inclusive strategies;
  • positive examples of integrated pupil support systems;
  • improved pupil attainment;
  • improved pupil attendance;
  • reductions in exclusions;
  • improved outcomes for Looked After and Accommodated Children
  • successful joint training; and
  • consistent implementation of the Staged Assessment and Intervention process. 

Such has been the success of some of these developments that the Integration Team has often been perceived as an entity in its own right, with responsibility for children being “passed” to them by various agencies such as schools and health, as opposed to fulfilling the role of integrating Children’s Services and Education, where responsibility for children’s welfare is seen as shared commitment. Such a perception runs counter to the growing shared commitment by chief officers towards integrated services.  

In addition to the need to challenge the notion of the Integration Team being a separate entity there are other compelling reasons for us to develop a model which builds upon our successes, these reasons include: 

  • the mainstreaming of Changing Children’s Services Fund (CCSF);
  • the development of Integrated Pupil Support Teams in our schools;
  • the continuing evolution of our Inclusion and Equality Team;
  • closer working between education and children’s services;
  • the need to further develop a focus and locus for self evaluation;
  • the need to make efficient and targeted use of all of the resources allocated to work with disadvantaged children 

In order to develop and build upon our continuum of service to support vulnerable children and their families there is logic in developing sustainable local multi agency area teams built around our six distinct communities, or clusters of schools. 

The cluster approach, which was   approved by the Education Committee in September 2006, outlines a way of working which could also underpin the development of our continuum of service involving all agencies with a commitment to improving children’s lives through the principles of consistency; continuity; collegiality, creativity, and collective responsibility. 

Our challenge is to find a way to build upon the best examples of practice in East Lothian which depend upon true integrated working between partner agencies. 

If you have any suggestions about how we might do this please feel free to leave a comment.

Inclusion = liking children

Following on from my posts about
Children need to be liked and
Being positive about inclusion have set me to thinking that this is perhaps the key to the inclusion agenda. In my experience where a teacher, or a school for that matter, adopt an “Unconditional Positive Regard” for children, then the inclusion responsibility is effectively discharged. Whereas, if the relationship is characterised as being “transactional” , i.e. you do something for me and I’ll do something for you” then inclusion will not happen. For those who are worried that this sounds like children can just do as they please, I would repeat that I’ve never been soft on discipline – if fact I tihnk we should use short-term exclusions much more frequently (half to two days) for very minor events i.e. lower our tolerance threshold for poor behaviour, whilst always wanting to our best for the individual child.

Chief Officers’ Group – couple of presentations to start the meeting – the first was on Healthy Respect (Improving the sexual health of young people) – I was interested to learn that drop-in services are much more effective than just providing information. We currently don’t have any such services within any of our schools – in one of my previous schools we had such a service which provided C-cards (access to condoms) – teenage pregnancies in the area dropped significantly. I understand the reservations of many people and groups about such easy access to condoms but the facts are difficult to dispute.

The second presentation was on transition of children with additional support for learning needs to adult services. Apparently this is a very difficult transition – there seemed to be a proliferation of groups trying to sort this out – which set me to thinking – is there any way we can manage to tackle problems in a more action focused manner as opposed to setting up yet another group?

The main agenda item was the Changing Children’s Services Fund – followed by a reflction on our INtegrated Children’s Services Plan – we have received feedback from the Scottish Executive who want more detail – this will make the document over 200 pages? I’m a bit worried about this – a few years ago the HMIe judged school effectiveness by measuring the weight of the development plan – I wonder of the Exec’ might be better to spend their time reflecting upon impact – rather than the plan?

I had hoped to get out to visit a school but a number of issues hit my desk. Out to North Berwick High School for a meeting about pupil support – Sheila Ainslie chaired the meeting – Sheila uses the
solution focussed approach in much of her work and I was mightily impressed with how she managed the meeting.

Back to the office for a communications group meeting which reflects upon communications issues in the department. There is understandable concern about any changes in accommodation when we finally settle on our restructuring process. Nothing unsettles people more than moving desks. We hope to engage all staff in this dialogue – we will probably need some movement but we’d like people to work out the solutions rather than imposing any masterplan.

Mr Ted

I referred yesterday to Mr Ted. He used to live in Dunbar Grammar School where he was awarded each week to the first year class with the best attendance. When he retired I brought him with me to John Muir House. I took him to yesterday’s SLG meeting – he’s the intelligent and attractive one in the photograph.

However, the presence of Mr Ted at meetings could actually fulfil quite an important purpose. All too often it’s possible to forget that we are here to serve the best interests of children. If Mr Ted – just by being there – can keep reminding us of that purpose – then he will play an important role.

8.15 – 10.00 Education Officers Meeting. Usual update of school-based issues. I gave updated on – promoted post protocols for acting up appointments;PT seminar programme; budget; 23rd January visist to schools; exc-el – David Gilmour taking over as editor; NBHS interviews; recent inspection reports on HMIE website; visiting specialist meeting.

10.00 Briefing – I gave an update on the restructuring of the department; info’s; re’ three members of staff; NBHS interviews and Richard Parker gave the results of the end of term quiz.

10.15-12.00 Correspondence and update of exc-el site.

12.00-2.00 Met with Alan Ross, Head of Children’s Services, Raymy Boyle, Integration Manager, and Sheila Ainslie, Pupil Support Manager – to discuss inclusion and integrated services.

The meeting proved very useful. We identified a need to reflect upon the background to inclusion and the need for us to be clear about the responsibilities we all have. As a headteacher I reckoned I had three key responsibilities when trying to create an inclusive school:

  1. Educational/moral responsibility
  2. Legal responsibility
  3. Financial responsibility

The first of these responsibilities is by far the most important. I don’t think people respond well to being told to do something because it’s a law. That doesn’t mean they won’t do what they have to, but that it’s much more powerful to be motivated by a commitment to the principles underpinning the law – as opposed to fear of a legal challenge – I suppose this could be characterised as Inclusive practice should come from personal conviction – rather than fear of conviction. Having said all that it’s critical that headteachers are aware of their legal responsibilities towards inclusive practice –to that end it’s worth reading
For Scotland’s Children; and
Count us in.

We are going to try to explore these responsibilities, for schools and authorities, and the effects of exclusion on children at our HT conference on 25th January.

2.00-2.30 SELS demo to education officers. The SELS software has arrived for all schools and the authority. I hope to launch this in the next couple of weeks.

3.00-3.30 Met with Gillian Reilly to discuss our Investors IN People action plan. We also explored a possible coaching programme for HTs and prospective leaders. Gillian and I are to discuss this further with Clare O’Sullivan.

3.30-4.00 Went round the office and gave out stickers to all staff for surviving the first week.

4.00 Popped into my Mums for a cup of tea and then met my brother in the Goblin Ha’ for quick pint (shandy) on my way home. He’s a police inspector – it’s funny how we are both involved in similar issues despite being in very different professions.