Learning from each other – overcoming our reticence


I visited Dunbar Primary School this afternoon and observed a nursery class and two P3 classes. I was particularly interested in the planning process for nursery classes as I’d sat in on a session during yesterday’s In-Service at Preston Lodge where a group of nursery teachers had been discussing how they lan their work over the session, term, week and day.  I was fascinated to learn how they manage to weave the huge variety of experiences into a meaningful and coherent whole – mind maps played an important part. Contact Cockenzie Primary School for more info’.

When I followed this up this afternoon I saw co-creation of the curriculum in action when Rachel Muray showed me how they involve the children in the planning process – three year olds!!! – brilliant stuff.

I also heard how there might be need to extend the range of staff development opportunities for our early years staff. The range of courses on offer is relatively limited and once you have attended them there is nothing left in our brochure as these tend to repeat from year to year – perhaps a solution might be to ask teachers and nursery nurses to offer to lead a short session on an area they are developing . From what I’ve seen over the last few weeks we have a huge range of exciting things going on in our nursery classes which would be well worth sharing with colleagues – the problem is that many people don’t want to ‘”push” themselves forward as being anything special. If only we could overcome this “Scottish” trait!

Out of the mouths of babes!!!


During my visit to Preston Lodge this morning I asked a class why they throught they were able to produce such outstanding work in the Art Department – and believe me it is outstanding.

The answer blew me away!!

“They take what we know and help us learn more” Natalie

Jim Cram, the Principal Teacher, explained that the teachers in the department try to give the learners space to work things out for themselves and to act as “waiters” – there to serve and anticipate the next step. I gave this more thought on the way home and I quite like this analogy – the (good) waiter provides a menu, provides advice and guidance, provides the tools and resources with which to eat, anticipates the needs of the diner throughout the meal and try to remain as unobtrusive as possible. As ever with metaphors – the more you strecth it the weaker it gets but I certainly know what Jim meant – and, what’s more, so did the class.

As Jim pointed out such a process involves significant preparation but the rewards are worth it – from what I saw today they certainly are.

Integration of services – or – delivery of integrated services?

One of the responsibilities I have – in fact which I volunteered for – is to co-ordinate the East Lothian Integrated Children’s Services Plan.

Now that the schools are off I can turn my mind to this although we’ve been involved in preliminary work for the last couple of months. One of our goals is to try to reduce workload for people whilst enhancing the impact we have – more for less- is it possible?

At a really god meeting today we agreed that our goal is not the integration of services but the delivery of integrated services. Our emerging aim for Integrated Children’s Services reads:

To ensure that services for children and young people are delivered in a well-integrated, seamless manner, which result in positive outcomes for children and young people.

Our outline plan shows how we would like to link up our Community Plan, with our Integrated Children’s Services Plan by making use of themes which we will address through inter-agency teams and in our particular services. It’s this latter element which is different – by recognising that single services – such as education – will contribute to themes in some of their day-to day practice as opposed to always having to set up yet another inter-agency group.

Agile Software Developments


One of the delights of keeping a Learning Log are the comments and suggestions you receive from other people.

And so it was when Kenneth McLaughlin left a comment on one of my recent posts.

Kenneth pointed us in the direction of Agile Software Developments:

The modern definition of agile software development evolved in the mid 1990s as part of a reaction against “heavyweight” methods, as typified by a heavily regulated, regimented, micro-managed use of the waterfall model of development. The processes originating from this use of the waterfall model were seen as bureaucratic, slow, demeaning, and inconsistent with the ways that software engineers actually perform effective work.

I was fascinated to read about the Agile model of development as I think it corresponds, in many ways, to how we are trying to take things forward education in East Lothian.

Without access to the Learning Log such a link could never have been made and an opportunity of reflecting upon our practice would not have emerged. It’s this kind of lateral engagement with other fields of study and enterprise that can help education to break free from some of the more traditional development models which have so singularly failed to bring about productive change.

Creative Arts and Education Group – creating a dynamic


We held our first meeting of the Creative Arts and Education Group.

As has become a pattern for first meetings it was more of a conversation about what people thought should be the purpose of the group.

The essential focus of the group is to enable us to give some shape and consistency to the wide variety of creative arts for young people in East Lothian. We talked about entitlements for children and how we might link school based activities with out of school activities.

Our next meeting will try to emulate the 3-18 strategic Learning and Teaching group by extending its membership to create a “tartan” with horizontal and vertical connections which will also include parents and pupils. The more I think about this there is definitely something in having much larger groups than has been the conventional approach. I think the key is to make the group part of the process i.e. to create a dynamic itself by engaging a large number of people – such meetings become workshops and creative opportunities, rather than staid mechanisms only there to fulfil bureaucratic functions.

Our next meeting, which will have over 25 people in attendance,  will consider our purpose and the approach we wish to take towards the development of the creative arts and education.  We intend to evolve our strategy as opposed to go for any “big bang”.

Translating policy into practice – a “tartan” approach

We held our 3-18 Strategic Learning and Teaching Group this afternoon. The key strategic item was how we translate our Learning and Teaching policy into consistent practice in our schools.

The “traditional” management approach to such a conundrum would be to issue an instruction that it should be implemented by all teachers – as Captain Picard (for Trekkies out there) might have said, “Make it so” – if only it was that simple.

The beauty of our group is that it is made up of people representing all levels in education in East Lothian: 6 Head Teachers; 6 classroom teachers; 4 Quality Improvement Officers; 3 Education Support Officers; 1 Educational Psychologist; 1 Head of Education; 2 Librarians; and 1 LTS New Technologies Research Practitioner. The richness of perspectives provided by such representation means that “simplistic”, “managerial”, “top-down” strategies are much less likely to emerge – and so it was today.

Following a tremendous discussion and small group brainstorming session focussing on – how we translate policy into practice? – the following stategy began to emerge.

We reckon that real change in practice depends upon following:

  1. shared and distributed responsibility for improving and leading the development of learning and teaching
  2. the generation of a momentum which will feed and drive the change process
  3. the creation and membership of groups which extend beyond people with similar experience/expertise/interest/
  4. the identification of short-term points of focus – rather than just trying to implement the whole policy all the time
  5. constant reminders of what we are attempting to achieve – awareness raising
  6. a flexible approach which takes account of context and people
  7. absolute willingness to get rid of all “closed” doors – sharing
  8. the encouragement and modelling of professional reflection
  9. the use of technology to share ideas and support our teams/communities
  10. the promotion of the concept of teachers as learners

Each of the above can be fleshed out and developed but a sucessful strategy would need to have all of the above features if policy is to be translated into practice.

A successful strategy would also have to recognise and tackle the following barriers:

  1. time limitations
  2. the pressures exerted by the existing secondary school curriculum
  3. the physical barriers presented by school design

For those of you wondering what on earth the “tartan” approach might be – then my apologies, but I just can’t help thinking in pcitures.  On listening to my colleagues talking this afternoon – particularly when speaking about the impact “learning Teams” have had in East Lothian I couldn’t help but imagine sub-sets or venn diagrams where people can belong to one group but also belong to others, e.g

 So a secondary teacher might be a member of a department, part of a group of teachers developing an aspect of learning and teaching across their school; and also a member of a group made up of primary and secondary colleagues.

However, rather than lots of circles the thought of tartan popped into my mind – I suppose it could be a matrix – but that seems a tired metaphor. Tartan is made up of vertical and horizontal lines – and so perhaps might our strategy? By creating networks of people at various levels, sectors, areas of interest, etc, we create a community which is connected, aware and self-sustaining – where leadership can come from anywhere on the tartan.

PS – it’s East Lothian tartan.

Linking evaluation with development planning


One of the tasks we need to complete this week is the Service Improvement Plan update.  This is the document which provides guidance to schools about any priorities they should be including in their own School Development Plan.

Our Service Improvement Plan covers a three-year timespan and uses the National Priorities as a scaffold to give our plan some sort of coherence and shape.

However, it struck us today that the National Priorities are perhaps not the best way to present our plan – particularly given Journey to Excellence and the revamped version of How Good is Our School?

As Graham Donaldson, HM Chief Inspector of Schools, wrote just last month in the foreword to the third version of HGiOS?:

“The set of quality indicators continue to provide the core tool for self-evaluation for all schools, but they are now complemented by the very useful materials in other parts of The Journey to Excellence series.”

I think this gives a strong clue as to the most appropriate route to take in relation to linking planning and evaluation – i.e. use the ten dimensions identified in the Journey to Excellence as a planning framework – and HGIOS? as the evaluation template. This is not to say that we ignore the National Priorities but just that these are now embedded within the other two documents.

We’ve hopefully have moved a long way towards promoting a strong self-evaluation culture in our schools and authority but we need to develop a framework for planning which gives schools enough flexibility to address their own specific needs whilst ensuring consistency of approach across East Lothian. Hopefully our ideas will enable there to be a clear and coherent link between the planning framework and the self-evaluation framework – which is not currently the case.

Physical Education Policy

It was back to my roots today when I chaired a group looking at the development of a Physical Education Policy for East Lothian. The group was convened in response to the apparent disparity in PE provision across our schools. The Scottish Executive has recommended that children experience 2 hours of ‘high quality’ PE each week. Our policy will eventually set down some baseline expectations for PE in our schools.

Our starting point was to explore the intended outcomes from our PE programme across schools within East Lothian.

We used the four capacities identified within A Curriculum for Excellence to build and shape our intentions:

Successful Learners – we would like learners to:

  1. develop a positive attitude towards their own participation in regular physical activity
  2. acquire a range and depth of physical skills and physical capacities
  3. develop an active appreciation and understanding of their own physical development and health and well-being

Effective Contributors – we would like learners to:

  1. be able to make a positive contribution towards successful team and group activities
  2. make a positive contribution towards other people’s learning in physical activity
  3. make a positive contribution through physical activity to the life of the school and the wider community

Responsible Citizens – we would like learners to:

  1. demonstrate fairplay, respect and tolerance of self and others, including equipment and facilities
  2. develop positive attitudes towards health and safety
  3. demonstrate perseverance in the face of challenge and adversity

Confident Individuals – we would like learners to:

  1. be prepared to explore opportunities to participate in physical activity outwith school
  2. develop a positive self image
  3. be prepared to actively engage in a wide variety of diffrent activities

It was really interesting using the four capacities in this way and although there is significant overlap between the capacities it may help schools to see how PE can contribute to something which is broader that just physical fitness and skill development.

We did have an interesting discussion about whether or not changing time should count in the two hours. If it doesn’t count for PE where should it count (which is a challenge in an already over-crowded curriculum)? By undertaking the above exercise and taking a broader view of PE’s contribution to the curriculum it becomes quite clear that things such as changing, travelling and and showering do play a role.

The list of intentions are, of course, draft at this time but by taking this approach towards curricular and policy development we hope there is less chance of things just being “bolted- onto” the curriculum – which has often been the problem in the past.

Implementation Strategy – a eureka moment

We had two key meetings today where the implementation strategy we are developing in the authority became more explicit.

By implementation strategy I mean the way in which we move initiatives and developments forward within the authority.

For example, if we consider three different initiatives such as A Curriculum for Excellence; Leadership Development; and Learning and Teaching.

The Implementation Strategy for each of these has some fundamantally common features:

  1. Recognise and take account of the different contexts in which we work;
  2. Seek to embed within existing practice as opposed to “bolting on”
  3. Promote shared responsibility for implementation – try to avoid a ‘central/authority’ person to whom is given the responsibility for implementation.
  4. Make best use of existing expertise at all times unless absolutely necessary
  5. Promote organic and long-term development over short-term unsustainable development
  6. Always attempt to build upon existing good practice and reaffirm the connections between new and existing practice
  7. Always focus upon meeting the needs of children – what difference will this make?
  8. Find ways of measuring and judging the impact.
  9. Continually reinforce links between other developments and areas of practice.
  10. Build teams to develop and share practice.
  11. Link theory to “nuts and bolts” i.e. reinforce the practical applications and impact.

Exc-el Development

I’ve spoken to a few people this week who expressed some concern about the recent Exc-el board meeting.

The problem centres on the meaning people ascribe to a “Board”. Unintentionally such a term smacks of a hierarchical and controlling body.  On reflection I can see why people see such a thing as being contrary to the emerging principles of Exc-el which has been about organic growth and shared responsibility.

So how about the “Exc-el Advisory Group” or the “Exc-el Focus Group”?