Next Practice

As part of my research into alternative school governance systems I’ve been directed towards work being undertaken by the Innovation Unit.  One of the key features of the Unit is their focus on the concept of Next Practice.  Here’s how they define some of the characteristics of Next Practice:

  • significantly changed methods of service delivery, organisation or structure, which, if shown to be successful, would hold implications for the wider system
  • in advance of hard evidence of effectiveness
  • not (yet) officially sanctioned and therefore maybe entailing some risk
  • consciously designed with an awareness of the strengths and limitations of conventional ‘best’ practice
  • generated by very able, informed practitioners aware of the existing knowledge base
  • informed by critical scanning of the wider environment
  • directed at serious, contemporary problems
  • user focused.

Next Practice is keenly aware of conventional good practice – its strengths and limitations – but sets out to move it to a new level. In some cases, Next Practice will disrupt, profoundly evolve or revolutionise good practice. 

Best Practice asks what works? Next Practice asks what could work better?

I’m very impressed by this approach and feel it has huge potential for the Scottish system.

Community Ownership of Schools


I’ve been approached by quite a few people over the last couple of weeks about our ideas relating to Community Ownership of Schools.

I thought it might help to gather together in one place a number of related posts which provide an insight into the evolution of this idea and the underpinning rationale.

The first point to emphasise is that we are encouraged by our elected members to “think out of the box” in relation to policy development in East Lothian.  The following links track the development of an idea which is not yet fully formed nor planned to Nth degree.  In that respect I have been adopting the role of the leader as a sculptor:

“The alternative to the technically focused leader’s vision is to see vision as an outcome which is not ‘set’ from the beginning. Instead the sculptor has an idea; a notion; a picture in mind – e.g. to create a sculpture of a human form – but as the sculptor commences work the final outcome may be very different from what they had in mind at the beginning but is all the more successful for that variation.

What the sculptor is doing is to constantly check on the quality of the developing work. By checking it against a desire to produce the “best” work possible the sculptor shifts the vision rather than carrying on working towards something that will not be as high a quality as what will be created through a more flexible approach towards the final outcome.”

Please note that the first of these posts dates to August 2006, i.e. long before our current financial status.

Learning from the Past: Taking a line of sight from Scottish parish schools



Perhaps the time is right to explore alternative delivery models for education where we shift our thinking from people being users or consumers, to being participants? Ironically there is much to learn from our Scottish educational heritage as we consider our future.

The shift from School Boards to Parent Councils – which surely must be one of the best things to happen in Scottish education in the last twenty years – begins to provide an insight into the potential of true community involvement in the delivery of education at a local level.

Our current system – as it has evolved – has been dominated by the tenets of centralised control – both from the government and, in their turn, local authorities. The dependency culture, which this has created, is not the fault of those who work in schools, yet – in an ironic twist – it has become one of the key barriers to enabling teachers and school leaders to grasp the opportunity provided by a Curriculum for Excellence.

So how might we release the potential that so clearly exists in our schools and our communities?

Maybe the answer lies in our past? For when Scotland led the world in education it was through schools that were “owned” by their communities. The Scottish parish schools, which originally were purely elementary, were encouraged to provide at least the elements of secondary education. These schools played this role so well, that the Argyle Commission in its report of 1868 reported that over fifty per cent of the students attending the four Scottish universities came direct from parish schools. Parish schools were later joined by the establishment of burgh schools, essentially secondary schools, and in this way both types of schools became universal education providers, and gave to Scotland an education system that was the envy of Europe.

I want to make it clear here that I am not relating the traditional parish school with any religious affiliation – but instead see the concept as a powerful one where a community’s emotional bond to their schools is matched by an opportunity to translate that affinity into an active and substantive role in shaping and improving the quality of education delivered in their name.

What I have in mind is community-based management of schools. To a certain extent this concept has been trialled in certain areas of Scotland. This is where the local primary schools and secondary school work to promote links to smooth the journey for children and to benefit from sharing good practice. In some areas these developments have had dedicated management time allocated in the form of Learning Community manager or leader. However, the governance of these schools still lies with each of the respective head teachers. But what if we could establish a Community Educational Trust to which was devolved the entire budget for running education within that community? The main change that such a system could introduce is the notion of the schools being “owned” by their community. The shift in the perceived ownership of the school would actually match what people feel about their local school but where the perception of a centralised power base still keeps them removed from the real running of the school.

The reason I opt for community- based, as opposed to school-based management, is drawn from the lessons from South of the Border where schools have actually sought to limit their intake to particular types of student. This has resulted in huge variations in terms of the quality of education provision, with “magnet” schools and “sink” schools existing in close proximity to one another. The community-based model perceives the provision of education to be a much more inclusive and universal process. This is where the concept of “these are our bairns” underpins and permeates policy and practice.

Of course, the practicality of community-based management of schools throws up as many questions as it does answers. Not least of which would include how such schools would relate to their local authority? How would they manage budgets and systems that currently benefit from large-scale procurement? How would such communities relate to other Council delivered services and other agencies: and; How would the authority ensure that the needs of ALL children were being met?

Despite these, and many other such questions, I’d like to think that the potential of such a scheme is worthy of serious consideration and exploration. Even if such an idea comes to nought, it may indeed allow us to create different forms of educational delivery that might emulate the genetic traits that so characterised the success of the Scottish parish school system.

Community-Based School Management

Over the last few weeks I’ve been continuing to exploring the concept of school based management.

Some authorities in Scotland have implemented the concept of Learning Communities based around the secondary school  and the local primary schools, Glasgow runs New Learning Communities, Falkirk has Integrated learning communities and South Lanarkshire has Learning Communities.

Each of these schemes has very positive features, most notably in relation to the integration of other services to support vulnerable children and to co-ordinate developments across local schools.

However, there would appear to be scope to develop these schemes by exploring further devolution of budgetary control and employment of staff within the community of schools.

I haven’t been able to find many international examples of such a development aside from on in Madagascar which might suggest that such a idea is not that practical but in the interests promoting a dialectic of possible worlds I thought I might take the Learning Community concept and extend it to community-based management of schools.

Would it be possible for a local authority to establish a concordat with a group of local primary schools and their associated secondary school and devolve all budgets to a Learning Community Board of Management? 

A Head Teacher from the schools would take on the position of Chief Operating Officer.  The Board of Management would have representatives from the parents, staff, local community, elected members, health service, police, community learning and social services.

The biggest problem I see with this idea is the fear from some schools that they get subsumed within a larger community and lose their identity.  Yet the potential for every member of staff being employed by the Learning Community and the possibility of using the collective resources in much more coherent manner than at present might allow real progresss to made on promoting education as a true progression from 3-18 and the associated ownership of the school and the wider educational agenda by the local community.

School-Based Management 5: Self-Governing Schools Revisited

I’ve been carrying out some further research into school-based management and came across the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act 1989 It’s interesting to read this with a different eye nearly 20 years on from when it first came into being. 

When the concept was first mooted it was driven by a Conservative Government’s agenda to break the control of Local Authorities.  Michael Forsyth, the last Conservative Scottish Secretary of State,  pushed through the legislation but only three schools applied for and attained self-governing status (one other school had applied but only to prevent closure).  The only remaining self-governing school in Scotland – which is funded directly from the Scottish Government is Jordanhill School.

Some key points from the Act include:

  1.  “the duty of the education authority to maintain or manage the school, or to provide school education in the school, or to keep it efficient, shall cease.”
  2. A self-governing school is governed by a board of management  comprising parents, staff, appointed members (by the Board) and the head teacher.
  3. Duties of the Board of Management include managing the school, all contract arrangments with staff and the ability to raise funds

As I read through the Act I began to wonder if there might be some potential for a scheme which took some of the legislative elements of the Self-Governing Schools Act but involved the local authority as the commissioning agent, in effect the authority would strike a concordat with the school. The major shift from how it was developed in 1989 would be that the scheme would be developed as a partnership between the school, the local authority and the government – as opposed to one which  tried to sideline one of the key members of that triumvirate.

I think the next stage in my research will be to contact Jordanhill School and try to find out more about how it works in practice, e.g.

  1.  How do the numbers stack up? i.e. is it cost effective?
  2. Jordanhill is in a very middle class area – would such a scheme succeed in a less affluent area?
  3. How do they access support services?
  4. How do staff feel about it?
  5. How do they engage in the quality improvement process?
  6. How do they meet the needs of children with additional support needs?

David Hartley provides a useful critique of self-governing schools in Scotland within “A Socially Critical View of the Self-Managing School” Edited by John Smyth, 1993

School-Based Management 4: “owned” by the community?


One of the interesting sessions I attended last week concerned the provision of care services.  Seamus Breen kicked off by asking everbody a key question about the type of care they would like when they were old.  It turned out that no-one in the audience wanted to be looked after in a home – we all preferred to choose a type of care which was personalised to our preferences – find out more about self-directed help at in control .

It was while listening to this that  was taken back to something I heard over two years ago from Charles Leadbetter who focused on the notion of public value in public service. He issued the following prompts:

1. Don’t think about people as users or consumers –  instead think of people as participants and investors.
2. Don’t think of the frontline as being in the classroom –  it’s “out there” and we need to operate “out there” – establish guerilla networks for change.
3. Personalization of service – tailored services established through dialogue and respect e.g. Assessment is for Learning; Challenge the traditional building blocks of the system – school year, periods, timetable; trusting the participants; be flexible and adaptive; devolve finance to the users; workforce redesign.
4. People want to self-provide – they don’t want to be dependent upon a service –  however well delivered.
5. Public services need to think more about creativity than delivery
6. In order to provide shape to our service we need to set boundaries –  need to set them up in such a way that they are not stifling – take risks!!
7. Create satisfaction by eliminating dissatisfaction.

It was this last point that enabled me to make the connection as Seamus Breen asked a similar question:

“Would you purchase it yourself?”

I feel there is enormous potential within the school/(community)-based management approach that would enable participants to answer such a questiion in the affirmative. The main change that such a system could introduce is the notion of the school being “owned” by the community. The shift in the perceived ownership of the school would actually match what people want to feel about their local school but where the perception of a centralised power base still keeps them removed from the real running of the school.

Part of this relates to the theme of rural schools – I live across the road from a rural school (see photo) which was closed in 1949 but which ripped the heart of the community even at that time.  If we pick up on the Scottish Government’s intention to see schools as a central part of each community perhaps the time is now right for a radical re-examination  of the school-based management?

School-Based Management 3: an emerging rationale


What follows will be a first cut at trying to establish a working rationale for school-based management.

The Principles of School Based Management

School- Based Management is based upon the following assumptions.

1. The school is the most effective unit of change within the educational system and is best placed to sustain improvements over time.

2. Those who work directly with pupils and students have the most informed and credible opinions about the educational arrangements that will benefit those young people.

3. It keeps the focus on learning and teaching.

4. School-Based Management puts power in the hands of those who have a significant personal stake in the well being of the school.

5. It will move resources to the point where they can be of most effect.

Changing the role of the school

The school will:

1. be responsible for delivering educational outcomes to a local community.

2. help staff and the community to understand what school-based management is and emphasise that it is a means to improving educational outcomes.

3. establish a true decision making body from those who have an active stake in its well-being, e.g. staff, parents, pupils, elected members, members of the community.

4. involve teachers and students in making substantive decisions about the curriculum and learning and teaching.

5. eventually be responsible for all management functions required to deliver the educational outcomes.

6. undertake to fully implement school-based management in a planned manner over a five-year period.

Changing the role of the Local Authority

The role envisaged for the Local Authority in School-Based Management is essentially one of commissioning educational services to a community to the local school.

Such a move from a centralised bureaucracy to a decentralised, locally accountable system will take careful planning and creative approaches to problem solving.
The Local Authority must:
1. Shift from delivering top-down mandates to encouraging bottom-up change.
2. Provide a fomula driven budget over a three-year period.
3. Set out clear outcomes which the school will be responsible for delivering – the school will be free to identify the process by which it meets these outcomes.
4. Communicate with the community about school-based management and foster shared understanding and support.
5. Decentralise the system wherever possible to allow schools to meet the needs of their communities.
6. Promote and support schools to develop different approaches to change and improvement suitable for their context.
7. Provide support for schools to make the transition to School-based Management
8. Have realistic expectations about the time required for implementation of school-based management, i.e. five years.
9. Support schools to maintain their focus upon the learning and teaching process.
10. Shift resources from the centre to schools wherever possible over a five-year period.
11. Ensure that the school meets the needs of all children.

School Based Management 2

Dazzie D

Scotland has had Devolved School Management (DSM) since 1996.  The scheme had four principles:

1 To improve the quality of decision-making by allowing schools greater flexibility in deciding spending priorities at the local level.
2 To allow schools to respond quickly to needs, changes and priorities at local level.
3 To ensure resources were used more efficiently and provide value for money.
4 To raise the morale of Head Teachers and their staff.

In my first post on School Based Management I began to explore a more radical version of the DSM scheme, which has been in operation in Scotland for the last 12 years, yet has not necessarily satisfied the principles set out above.

The intention of school-based management is to construct a system which would allow schools to take real and substantive control over the education process, with the authority commissioning the service, establishing outcomes and monitoring progress.

Over the coming few posts I’m going to try to make some sense of this issue with a view to exploring some of the possibilities and also highlighting some of the associated pros and cons.

Perhaps it might help here of I were to adopt the position of headteacher and look at the possibilities from that perspective.

Imagine the local authority have contacted me and the parent council and offered to allow us to establish a school-based management system? The most obvious response is what does it mean?

As set out in School Based Management 1 it would involve all associated funding required to deliver education in our school being rolled together and placed in our budget.  The staff would be employed by the school and all management responsibilities would rest with the school – although we would have the option of buying support from a variety of sources.

The authority would set out a list of outcomes which we would have to acheive but how we did it would be up to us. We would not have to adhere to local authority policies – although we would have to adhere to all statutory responsibilities.

The additional aspect on offer would be the possibility of the headteacher (me) receiving a bonus of between 10-20% on an annual basis.  Now I immediately hear others crying foul and seeing this as just another way of managers to get rich but there is a down side! The headteacher would be placed on a five year fixed-term contract.  At the end of the contract – depending on whether or not outcomes had been achieved – the authority could decide to commission another headteacher to deliver education in that school (I could be removed sooner of short-term outcomes are not addressed).  At that point the parent council would be involved in the selection of the new headteacher.  If the outcomes had been achieved the contract might be renewed.

In such a scheme teachers would always remain employees of the school and would be subject to normal employment law. The headteacher and parent council may decide to offer some form or bonus scheme to staff depending on the school budget.

The budget settlement to the school would be set out on a three year basis allowing the headteacher to plan the school’s budget.

Children with additional needs would carry a higher Education Value Credit and it would be up to the parents to negotiate how that credit was spent on their child.

So would I have been interested in such an offer? I think the answer would have to have been yes.  Of course there are so  many questions I would need to ask and resolve but in principle I would have been very interested.

Over the next few posts I’ll begin to take an in-depth look at specific issues arising from school based management, such as:

  1. What happens if school looks like it’s going to go bust?
  2. What happens if the school roll drops and we have a surplus of staff?
  3. What happens in the case of an emergency?
  4. What would trade unions have to say about this scheme?
  5. How do we deliver such things as musical instruction, outdoor education?
  6. What would happen to local authority departments who currently service schools?
  7. What sort of outcomes would a school have to achieve?
  8. Could a school renegotiate everything, e.g. transport, maintenance, school meals?
  9. What if a school is dominated by a particular group of parents who take it down an unsatisfactory route?
  10. Would all schools move to such a scheme at the same time?
  11. Could schools pay more than the going rate for teachers?
  12. What sort of training/support would there be for headteachers who take up this offer?
  13. How would the headteachers of small schools manage to take on such responsibilities?
  14. How do we (should we) ensure equality of opportunity?
  15. What about the management of ICT?
  16. Would there be a way back to authority control once SBM was implemented?
  17. How would schools work together?
  18. How do you ensure that schools in areas of social deprivation are properly supported?
  19. How would you prevent schools from competing with each other?
  20. Would this scheme improve education?

I’d welcome other questions and suggestions. 

School Based Management 1

I’m attending the Association of Directors of Social Work conference in Crieff.

One the key themes emerging is that of personalisation of services to users. The social work field is light years ahead of education in terms of using a mixed economy system for delivering services, by commissioning others from the private and voluntary sector to provide a wide range of short and laong term requirements.

As I was listening to the presentations my mind turned to how education might develop such a model.  It’s been something I’ve been considering for a while but the cogs seemed to click together this morning.

The starting point for this is how do we really devolve services to our communities?

What follows is definitely “blue sky” and might be disconcerting for some but I’ve found that sometimes we need to start from the extreme perspective if we are to shift our ground.

The local authority would set the local outcomes which schools would have to work towards.

Each child would carry an educational value credit which directly related to money which would go to the school. All other current budgets would be rolled together and added to the educational value credit.

If a child left the school the money would follow them – even part way through a year.

The school would deliver – though a contract – the educational service for the local authority in that community.  If the outcomes were not achieved in a given period of time then another service deliverer would have to be employed.

The school would purchase services from the local authority – or other providers e.g. finance support, personnel, staff development and even quality improvement and assurance.

The authority would maintain responsibility for strategic estate planning, such a new school buildings but all other items would be devolved.

Schools in a community could combine their resources to purchase a service from elsewhere.

The pupil support function could also be delivered by a independent unit commissioned by the authority and underpinned by a contract arrangement.

Parents would have a significant role in the strategic direction and monitoring of the school and would be involved in the review of outcomes at the end of a contract period. 

I know one of the major concerns would be the fragmentation of the current system which is building very vibrant learning communities where schools work together. However, if we believe that partnership working improves outcomes – and outcomes will be used to judge the effectiveness of a school – then the leverage for it to happen will be even greater than it currently is. In a similar way the need to engage with other agencies would be built into the outcome agreement.