So farewell Exc-el.


We had very useful Exc-el Open meeting this evening.

Look out for our forthcoming skype (or equivalent) conference – Ollie Bray will be setting this up – participants are welcome.

For me one of our most significant decisions was to move from to during the Easter break.

I was personally fond of Exc-el as it’s been with us from the start of this development which started nearly two and half years ago. Exc-el (which stood for Excellence in East Lothian) was maybe a bit cheesy but I remember coming up with the name driving over Soutra one wet and windy evening and thinking it was very clever. Anyway – we’ve decided – and I wholeheartedly agree – that it’s not the most user friendly name and edubuzz more accurately reflects what we are trying to do. 

With over 660 bloggers and nearly 4000 visits a day to Exc-el (soon to be edubuzz) sites, we are really on a point of take off.  We are committed to the concept which drives open source software in that everything we do is open to colleagues in other authorities – or countries for that matter – and hope to share our ideas and practice as widely as possible. I think the following extract from the Wikipedia definition says it all:

The open source model of operation can be extended to open source culture in decision making which allows concurrent input of different agendas, approaches and priorities, in contrast with more centralized models of development such as those typically used in commercial companies.

“Open source” as applied to culture defines a culture in which collective decisions or fixations are shared during development and made generally available in the public domain- – – as seen with Wikipedia. This collective approach moderates ethical concerns over a “conflict of roles” or conflict of interest. Participants in such a culture are able to modify the collective outcomes and share them with the community.

Are we destined to spectate?

John Connell provides a tremendous window on education in the developing world through his new job as Cisco’s Education Business Development Manager for the Emerging Markets – covering South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia.

His most recent post about education in a global environment– which I read in an internet cafe in Paris – was both exciting and disturbing in equal measures – not because I didn’t agree with what he was saying but because I don’t think we are well prepared to meet the challenge he sets out.

John’s high-altitude perspective enables him to see how developing countries are committed to transforming their economic progress through an education system which will:

 “shift the locus of control to the individual learner”.

John refers to emerging nations whose:

“upstart thinking that is increasingly questioning the model of education in which standardized curricula are delivered by those expert conduits of knowledge known as teachers.”

His last point which made an impact on me was:

“The aging countries of the West are top-heavy with people in their 40s, 50s and beyond (people such as me, for instance!) – the emerging nations, on the other hand, are full of impatient youngsters who know that life can offer more than their parents were ever able to enjoy. They have (or will soon have) the skills and the attitudes necessary to prise the economic torch from the hands of their ponderous neighbours. Some are already doing so.”

Over the next series of posts I’ll take up John’s challenge to actively explore how we might engage in – as opposed to spectate upon -such a change process.

Frae masel, tae masel


For those of you not familiar with the Scottish Borders dialect this is a little gem.

If you are ever out shopping and you see something that you would like to buy for yourself – then you would say it’s  “Frae masel, tae masel” or “From myself , to myself” – Gill, my wife, uses it regularly.

I used this phrase this week in an adapted form when speaking to Scottish ICT Development Group (SICTDG), who met at Musselburgh Racecourse on Friday.  It was my pleasure to welcome the members of the group to East Lothian and Karen Robertson had asked me to outline some of the things we are trying to do with ICT and education in East Lothian.

I wasn’t sure how my presentation was received as I had to leave early to get to a school for HMIe feedback but I had made a point about a key element of our development strategy being based around “Frae oorsels, tae oorsels”.

So much of what we are attempting to develop in East Lothian is built upon expertise which resides in East Lothian. This strategy has many advantages a number of disadvantages:

Advantages: sustainability; raises self esteem; promotes a sense of community; challenges the dependency culture; promotes confidence; encourages independence – and many others

Disadvantages: miss out on external expertise; small town thinking (There’s another Scottish phrase which captures this perfectly – “Here’s tae us, wha’s like us” and the associated arrogance that goes with such a mentality); groupthink – there’s only the East Lothian way; unwillingness to enage in national developments – any many others

The reality is that we would like to make the best of internal and external expertise whilst at all times trying to avoid the notion of “Here’s tae us; wha’s like us”. For East Lothian to develop it must see itself as part of a much larger whole both nationally and internationally – both in terms of making a contribution and in learning.

Anyway I’m off to the shops to try and get something “Frae masel , tae masel” (well it seems to work for my Gill!)



Our Strategic ICT and Education Group met yesterday.

This is our key planning group which oversees our  £1 million revenue budget and £1 million capital ICT budget. The group is composed of head teachers, members of our education ICT team, the corporate ICT team plus a rep’ from the Finance Department.

It’s our job to try to translate our ICT policy (which is linked to our Learning and Teaching Policy) into reality and we’ve made some great progress over the last 18 months.

A key decision we made yesterday was in relation to 1:1 access to the web. We’ve been involved in the Learning Hub initiative for a year now and it’s been interesting how our ideas have developed.

The aim of the Learning Hub project is to provide every teacher and school child (primary 6 and above) with a personal learning device or “learning hub” such as a laptop computer, PDA or Tablet. We are involved in a pilot programme where we will trial 1:1 access with one of our primary classes.

However, we reckon that given the financial limits which we will be facing in the future makes it very unlikely that we could sustain the free provision of hardware for all 15,000 pupils and 1300 teachers for any extended period of time.

Our preferred option is to explore the creation of a wireless environment in all our schools where pupils and teachers could use their own device to access the web. There are many technical, financial, security and political challenges to overcome in translating such an aspiration into reality.

One of the ideas we explored yesterday was the notion of bulk buying a range of machines which we would ‘badge’ and ‘sell’ onto parents. The fact that we could buy in bulk would significantly reduce costs. Obviously we would need to consider how we provide hardware to those with low incomes but this need not be an insurmountable problem.

We’re looking forward to the pilot programmes which will take place this year but it’s good to have an agreed vision for the future towards which we can all direct our attention and use to influence our future decisions.

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.

Principal Teachers: Leaders of Learning

Our response to the Curriculum for Excellence initiative has been to concentrate on developing the learning and teaching process. Part of that strategy is the forthcoming Principal Teacher’s Conference to be held on the 23/24th February.  We have 60 participants already signed up and hope to hit 80 by the end of next week.  This figure is remarkable given that the conference takes place in their own time and indicates the professionalism and commitment with which our teachers approach their work.

Our intention is to encourage much higher levels of engagement in the learning process by children and to promote deeper levels of understanding. The purpose of the conference is to give shape and form to our strategy by building upon the knowledge and expertise of our Principal Teachers.

The conference is split into four inter-connected parts:

Session 1. Using Appreciative Inquiry try to imagine what the learning and teaching process and the curriculum might look like in the future.

Session 2. Using the Engine Room approach work out what we need to do to allow that vision to be fulfilled.

Session 3. Using a Solution Focused approach establish how we might capitalise on our existing strengths to enable the actions identified in Session 2 to be achieved.

Session 4. Dragon’s Den: teams of delegates will have to come up with practical suggestions about how they would enable the solutions identified in Session 3 to be translated into reality.  The ideas will be presented to a group of ‘social capitalists’ who will judge likely success and award prizes.

Throughout the conference each group would have access to a laptop on which they would enter their ideas.  These ideas would be collated and used to from our strategy for the next couple of years.  It is likely that we will form a representative group of Principal Teachers who will take the ideas forwards in a strategic manner.

Exc-el Board Meeting

We had our first Exc-el Board Meeting this afternoon.

Members of the group are: myself, Karen Robertson, David Gilmour and Elizabeth Cowan (ICT team); Ronnie Summers HT Musselburgh Grammar School; Lynn Lewis, class teacher, Pencaitland Primary; Ollie Bray, Depute HT, Musselburgh Grammar; Ewan MacIntosh, ICT team and LTS; Ann Johnston, Librarian, Dunbar Grammar; Dave Wharton, HT West Barns Primary; Tess Watson, Biology teacher, Knox Academy.

The group will be meeting on monthly basis for the rest of this session. We explored our vision for the next three years; how we take account of negative feelings towards blogging; an outcome focused CPD programme; project management programme for implementation; double site access edubuzz (pupils) and exc-el (others); and a business plan for a commercial spin off.

We agreed to invite 4 pupils to join our group but there is space for a parent member – any interest? Next meeting 26th February 4.00pm.

Last point – number of visitors acessing exc-el in December = 48,900

Secondary School Guidance Systems


Throughout my career I’ve been impressed by a succession of outstanding Guidance Teachers. Without fail they are driven by a commitment to support and help children and to solve any crisis which comes their way.

However, (you were waiting for that) does the system which has been in place for so many years – certainly throughout my career – need to change? “But surely it has changed – just look at how structures have changed with faculty heads, first line guidance structures, tracking and monitoring, inclusion teams, etc, etc?”

I would concede that superficial changes have been made and maybe that’s been enough. But I’ve been reading For Scotland’s Children again there are a number of things in that report which we should be considering – and upon which we should make a judgement.

It’s really to do with targeting services – in a time when resources are under pressure and schools need more and more support to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families can we continue with the existing dominant Guidance model which characterises most of our secondary schools?

For Scotland’s Children challenges us to target services:

“Each children’s services plan should set out how two main aims will be achieved:

  • Providing excellent universal services for all
  • Targeting additional services to meet need and reduce inequalities.”

The recent report into Guidance and Pupil  Support in Schools identified two models of Guidance:

Two models of organising guidance/pupil support emerged from the case studies: one, we have referred to as an ’embedded’ approach, and the other relies on the deployment of specialist guidance/pupil support staff. The primary and special school case studies all embedded pupil support within the school, its ethos, policies and practices. Primary and special school teachers all viewed pupil support as an integral part of their professional role and an integral part of learning and teaching. In contrast, guidance/pupil support in the four secondary school case studies relied on different variations of a ‘specialist model’  8.2.4

What is interesting is that the researchers found no evidence to suggest that one model was better than another:

“There is no evidence from this study than one way of organising guidance/pupil support was more or less successful than any other. Pupils and their parents were equally satisfied with the model they had experienced. We found no association between approaches to guidance/pupil support and absence levels or attainment.”8.2.9

Nor was there any evidence to show that changing the model of guidance/pupil support necessarily encouraged more pupils to discuss their problems/issues of concern with guidance staff, but that it merely redistributed the caseload to more and different members of staff.

The Report noted that Guidance/pupil support is costly:

Although providing a cost and benefit analysis is beyond the scope of this current study, it is evident that many teachers believe that guidance/pupil support is making increasing demands on schools and teachers’ time at the expense of valuable teaching time. The value for money of alternative approaches to guidance/pupil support needs exploring. 8.3

The last sentence in this bullet point under implications of the report needs to be properly considered. My own gut feeling is that we should be considering more of an ’embedded’ structure more akin to primary or special schools as oppsed to a ‘specialist’ model. I don’t believe that all pupils need a dedicated Guidance Teacher, nor do I think that PSE should be delivered as a separate subject – it should be embedded in the curriculum. All pupils should have a link with a teacher – and there are numerous ways in which this can be acheived thgough the development of  systems where all pupils have an entitlement to support when required.

The report considers Generalist Versus Specialist Teachers and found that pupils were equally satisfied with each.

In  my next post I’ll explore some alternative models which might enable us to target our resouces more effectively upon those pupils who are the greatest need.

Strategic thinking in education

We had a great meeting this afternoon in our 3-18 Strategic Learning and Teaching Group. The practice of strategic thinking is gradually evolving as we develop a shared understanding about what it means. For example, the first 50 minutes of the meeting were taken up with a focussed discussion on the impact our new Learning and Teaching Policy is having in schools. By using this as a starting point we were able subsequently to identify some very focussed actions which will assist in its consistent application.

The term strategic thinking is bandied around very loosely in many contexts when the actual practice is more likely to be focused upon details which are better left to people closer to the action.

I’ve been looking at what we might mean by strategic thinking and would propose that our strategic practice should reflect many of the following behaviours:

A Strategic Group should:

  1. Have a clear sense of desired outcomes before acting.
  2. Looks outwards to capture the larger context, to see how the pieces fit together.
  3. Is adaptive to realities and flexible in choice of tactics.
  4. Where possible, tries to achieve multiple objectives through singular actions.
  5. Stays future-focused.
  6. Develops both sequential and parallel actions to accomplish goals.
  7. Supplements actions with those of others (allies, partners, joint ventures.) 
  8. Taps diverse points of view in planning.
  9. Monitors impact by using available data
  10. Uses “what if” speculation to stretch thinking in the direction of opportunities and possibilities.

It was interesting for me to see the cross-over between the above and the emerging multiple metaphor model

Leading from the middle – (middle-up-down)

One of the key statements which has guided Exc-el is the notion that top-down dependent change rarely has the desired impact. One of Ewan’s recent posts about bottom-up training demonstrates how we are developing an alternative perspective to the change management process.

A number of things came together this week which might complement that approach.

Firstly, in conjunction with our neighbouring authorities in Midlothian and Scottish Borders we have been allocated money from the Scottish Executive to develop leadership capacity in our areas. A strategic decision has been taken to focus attention upon Principal Teachers – as “leaders of learning” and we intend to allocate a budget to support that focus.

Secondly, I’ve been doing some work on
“Knowledge Management” and linking that with following up on IkujiroNonaka’s work – who has influenced my thinking on the multiple metaphor model. Nonaka has argued for a much more positive role for middle managers in what he calls “Middle-up-down”

“We see middle managers playing a key role in facilitating the process of organizational knowledge creation. They serve as the strategic “knot” that binds top management with front-line managers. They work as a “bridge” between visionary ideals of the top and the often chaotic realities of business confronted by front-line workers. In the middle-up-down (MUD) model, top management creates a vision or a dream, while middle management develops more concrete concepts that front-line employees can understand and implement. The MUD model is not an either-or approach; it is an interactive process of both top-down and bottom-up. ”

Thirdly, I met with Professor Richard Kerley, of Queen Margaret Univesrity College, to follow up on our previous conversation. In the course of a very positive meeting we explored how we might work in partnership to develop a series of modules for “Leaders of Learning”. The idea would be to develop a course which could be delivered in a “blended learning” approach using face-to-face delivery and a virtual learning environment. These modules would equate with Masters level modules with each module carrying 15 points (180 points being necessary for a masters degree). The modules would be open to any member of staff who was already at Principal Teacher level or who aspired to PT. The focus would be unashamedly on management and leadership and capitalise on the expertise available in this area at the university.

Fourthly, I received a copy of a presentation given by Andreas Schleicher, OECD (Organisation for Economic and Development Organisation) from Colin Sutherland, currently seconded from his post as HT at North Berwick HS to the Scottish Executive. The powerpoint presentation gave some really strong messages about how we could go about improving attainment – with one of the key conclusions being that we need to need to create a “knowledge-rich” profession (how to improve learning) – with the obvious corrollary being that we need to improve our “knowledge management” – which, I would argue, sets out one of the key roles for middle managers.

All these connections promote the concept of Leading from the middle – I look forward to exploring this area with PT colleagues over the next few weeks when I meet with secondary PTs over a series of seminars.