Revolution, not Evolution


A Curriculum for Excellence provides us with a singular opportunity to radically transform our secondary school curriculum. It seems to be taken as a fact in education that change should be something that evolves over time “Evolution not revolution” – I’ve used the term myself on many occasions. But there are times when evolution just means more of the same – it’s safe, conservative and often results in no change taking place at all.

So here are 33 ideas for the secondary school curriculum, some of which might not be revolutionary in themselves, but taken collectively would certainly constitute a revolution:

1. Children and Young People will take tests and exams when they are ready – not because of the year group to which they belong.

2. The majority of learning will not be delivered in year group blocks, i.e. not age specific. Students will access learning opportunities as a consequence of prior learning.

3. There will be significant opportunities for young people to follow areas of personal interest during the school week.

4. Home and school learning will be considered to be of equivalent value and be reflected in the learning programmes developed by each young person.

5. Each young person will have a unique learning programme (timetable) which will include home and school learning in it’s widest sense.

6. Supplementary courses (delivered in the evening) will be available for parents to enable them to support their child’s learning.

7. Parents will be encouraged to “shadow” their child’s learning at any time they might be available.

8. Teachers will have personal timetables/contracts which will enable them to work from home – supporting online learning; at school during the day – supporting Learning Teams, delivering courses, and supporting core activities; at school during the evening – delivering courses and supporting core activities.

9. We will develop a “Learning Licence” model of progressive courses where children and young people “learn how to learn” for which they will receive accreditation.

10. Each child and young person will be part of a Learning Team (20 members), which will represent a cross-section of ages. Each Learning Team will be supported and facilitated by a teacher who will help guide them in their progress through their own curriculum. Learning Team’s will meet for one hour each day and will also encourage and enable peer coaching.

11. Young people over the age of 14 can apply for up to one day work experience which can be paid or unpaid employment.

12. Young people over the age of 16 need only attend the courses they are following – they can apply for up to two days work experience which can be paid or unpaid employment.

13. We will break the traditional inter-locking and restrictive nature of the timetable by ensuring that teaching staff spend the majority of their teaching time working with a “horizontal” level of work.

14. Young people over the age of 16 may devise their own curriculum by accessing courses available at their own school, other schools,  further education and higher education institiutions  learning and on-line learning environments.

15. Children and young people will be progressively taught, from an early age, how to make the best use of virtual learning environments.

16. All courses and materials will be made available on-line via GLOW.

17. Schools can use voluntary mentors who – following appropriate disclosure – can support the independent learning of students.

18. The maximum size of any Learning Group will be 100 learners, e.g. the traditional year group; or house group would be too big. It will be possible to  belong to a “vertical” and “horizontal” Learning Group. Teachers and other members of staff will be associated with a Learning Group

19. All pupil support staff  (including guidance staff ) should be focused upon the needs of children with additional support for learning needs. All other children and young people should be supported by their Learning Team. PSE will be embedded in the curriculum.

20. The learning needs and curriculum for a group of young people will be delivered by a Learning Team of teachers and support staff.

21. All secondary schools will adopt a common structure for the school day to enable shared on-line learning to take place and for common timetabling to be established for some subjects.

22. We will create an East Lothian Learning Campus where children and young people can access learning suited to their needs regardless of geographic location.

23. We will form a strategic partnership with further and higher education institutions to offer distance learning and on-site courses.

24. Some courses for senior students will be delivered in the evening.

25. We will seek to double the current range of certificated courses available to young people in East Lothian – many of which will have a vocational focus.

26. We will offer a wide range of learning opportunities for adults to access during the school day and in the evening.

27. We will work with local employers to support modern apprenticeships where young people can access learning and training.

28. We will develop specialisms at all of our secondary schools which will enable some young people to focus their education on particular attributes which they are seeking to develop. 

29. All learners will have their own personal computer with wifi capacity which they can use at home and at school to access their learning.

30. Teachers will be members of staff of the East Lothian Learning Campus and can be deployed in any location with their agreement.

31. All young people must achieve Level E in Reading, Writing and Maths by the age of 14 – unless they have specific learning needs – their curriculum would be modified to enable additional time in these areas to facilitate learning

32. Schools will develop and promote their identity through a strong emphasis upon wider achievements such as music, creative arts, performing arts, sport, community volunteering, local politics, outdoor education, community leadership – these will be referred to as “core activities”

33. There will be no ability groupings for any classes, although differentiation within classes will be encouraged.

Assessment is For Learning – secondary style

I had a very interesting and rewarding day yesterday visiting Dunbar Grammar School and Musselburgh Grammar School, concluding with a visit to Ross High School to meet a group of teachers from the cluster.

I know the common perception is that secondary schools are significantly behind primaries in the implementaton of formative assessment but I saw enough today to suggest that the gap is closing – and closing quickly. The Learning Team approach is bearing great rewards at DGS where a group led byLiz Layhe, a Chartered Teacher, who is having a remarkable impact on the quality of learning and teaching in the school.  What I found particularly interesting was the role of Gavin Clark, the Depute Head, who acts a a faciltator to the group as opposed to being its leader -if  there was any strategy I would recommend to schools in this area – it’s that such group is led by a teacher.

At Musselburgh I saw some very innovative practice and a real desire to actively engage children in their learning. I’m convinced that one of the ways in which we can consolidate good practice in our secondary schools is to pick up on the Learning Team approach.

Onto Ross High School where we had a wide ranging discussion. One of the points we focused on was the need to improve the links between primary and secondary staff with a focus on learning from each other.

Building our community


I attended two separate events today which demonstrated the professional community we are building in East Lothian.

The first of these was a cluster in-service day at Preston Lodge High School. The theme for the day was A Curriculum for Excellence and it was great to see teachers working together from so many backgrounds.

I was privileged to be asked to give the welcoming address and focused upon the tremendous practice I am seeing on my visits to schools.  I stressed the need to build upon these strong features of our practice and used the quote from Natalie S4 about how the Art Department work in the school “They take what we know and help us learn more” – as I said at the time I couldn’t summarise better our aspirations for learning and teaching in East Lothian.

The second event was our first Conference for classroom support staff which we held at the Marine Hotel, North Berwick and which was entitled “Supporting Excellence in Education”.  A small planning group had put together an innovative programme and reading through the feedback at the end of the day it seems to have been very well received.

I closed the event by stressing the impact that teaching support staff have upon individual children – I referred to our commitment towards treating every child with unconditional positive regard – an approach which most people in the room adopt as second nature.  Thanks.

A Curriculum for Excellence – Learning Teams

I can recommend the blog of three Primary Teachers from East Lothian who are seconded for two days a week to promote A Curriculum For Excellence within East Lothian.

The Learning Team approach is key feature of how we intend to take forward professional and curricular development in our schools.

Here’s what they say about themselves:

 All About Us…..We are:

Sheila Howat – Acting Principal Teacher at Ormiston Primary School. I currently share a Primary 3 class with our probationer. I was seconded for one day a week last year to work on Mathematics within East Lothian and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with different schools, classes and teachers. When the opportunity for this secondment arose I was excited by the challenge and keen to learn. I was eager to explore how we could offer more personalisation, choice, relevance, challenge and enjoyment to the children in our classes. Watch this space to find out more!

Jackie Hunter – Class Teacher at Prestonpans Primary School. This year I am teaching Primary 4 with a probationer. This is the first time I have ventured out on a secondment and I am looking forward to developing my own teaching and learning skills as well as working with the children in a different way which will hopefully give them more opportunities to personalise their learning in a relevant and challenging way.

Katherine Macnaughton – Class Teacher at Campie Primary School. I am the third secondee and I am currently sharing a Primary 2 class with a probationer. I put myself forward for this secondment as I wanted to discover and develop good practice within the authority in relation to the Curriculum for Excellence. I am hoping this will benefit my own professional development and in particular my teaching which in turn should really benefit the pupils. I think it is an exciting time where the children are personalising their learning which should not only motivate them to succeed but raise their self esteem.

I’m looking forwards to tracking their progress over the rest of this session.

Learning Teams – worth thinking about?

I’d been planning to write this post a little later in this series about disciplinary and inter-disciplinary learning but needs must.

In yesterday’s post I reflected upon the constricting and enabling features of how we deliver disciplinary learning in secondary schools.  Even the strongest proponents of disciplinary learning would agree that the current system does not actively engage learners in their own learning, does not promote ‘deep’ learning, nor encourage learners to consider the connections between one discipline and another.

In this post I’d like to fly a kite for Learning Teams in schools. Ann McLanachan, Head Teacher of Longnidry Primary School, established and led our Learning Team Initiative in East Lothian. I wrote about this project in November 2005 and since then it has an incredible impact upon teachers’ practice. The project has ignited a firestorm of activity across our schools where teachers have been empowered to work in collaborative groups experimenting and developing their practice.  There is hardly a primary school in East Lothian which remains untouched by this ‘bottom -up’ approach.

Back in 2005 I pondered whether the Learning Team approach might be something we might build upon in the future and now with a mass of evidence to indicate it’s positive impact perhaps we are duty bound to practically explore how it might be taken forwards on a more formal basis.

Learning Teams 10-15

An example: (apologies to those of you who find this too detailed or those of you who find this not detailed enough)

  1. Let us imagine a secondary school with 100 pupil in S1 (12 year olds)
  2. We establish a learning team made up of the learners and 10 teachers – support for learning staff would also be linked with the team.
  3. The teachers in the team would deliver all of the disciplinary and inter-disciplinary learning.
  4. For example the same maths teacher would teach every class (20 pupils) for the 75% of their maths classes – horizontal consistency
  5. That maths teacher would also teach some classes outwith S1 (25%) – vertical continuity and enabling the teacher to contextualise the S1 curriculum.
  6. Other disciplines would be taught by teachers dedicated to that year group, e.g languages, social stuidies, expressive arts, RME, health and well being, sciences, technologies – these teachers woiuld also have some vertical continuity but would predominatly teach this year group.
  7. Each teacher would have a tutor group of pupils who they would meet with on a daily basis to reflect upon indiviudual and class progress, and future learning.
  8. The Learning Team of teachers would meet as a group to plan learning, discuss methodologies, reflect upon progress, discuss individual pupils and explore inter-disciplinary learning, etc.
  9. The year would be split up into 8 BIG QUESTIONS – one question for each month which would from the basis for inter-disciplinary work , for example, Why does poverty affect Africa but not America?;  Why does Scotland need it’s own parliament? Why do boys do less well than girls in schools?
  10. Some of the disciplines could be taught by non-specialists – for example – there might be a health and well-being afternoon where the staff members of the team lead activities in which they are interested and have expertise – perhaps led by the subject specialist in the team. Such a model could extend to all subject disciplines where the normal timetable might be superceded to do some in-depth work collective work.
  11. There would be a weekly meeting of the entire learning team- teachers and learners to reflect upon the week complete learning logs and plan the coming week or month.
  12. Teachers would belong to their learning team in the first instance and their subject discipline second.
  13. There might be a principal teacher responsible for leading the learning team or leadership could be rotated around the team.
  14. Each class would have a Learning base (classroom)  – where up to 50% of the curriculum would be delivered.
  15. Such a model of delivery would mean that classes could not be set.
  16. Units of learning time would range from 30 minutes (tutor group) to 2 hours
  17. The learning team (teachers and learners) would devise their own programme and curriculum for the week/year making use of the teachers in their team and the available rooms – teachers would know beforehand when teachers would be unavailable and which rooms would be unavailable
  18. Learning Teams from P6, P7, S1, S2, and S3 would collaborate to ensure progression, continuity and challenge.
  19. Learning Teams from different schools would link together to share ideas and practice.
  20. Teachers would spend no more than two year’s in any Learning Team but some continuity would be preferable to support pupils in their progress.
  21. The S1 – S3 curriculum would be delivered through the Learning Team approach.
  22. The S4 and S5 curriculum would focus on the certificated curriculum and be delivered in much the same way as at present.

So would this kite fly??????  – my thanks again to the Deputes who came up with many of these ideas last week at their conference.