Learning to Lead – in a new environment

My new responsibilities require me to adopt a clear and consistent leadership approach. However, if I am going to add value I need to “learn to let go” and provide my leadership colleagues with the necessary space and support to allow them to drive and lead their respective services, teams, schools, etc.

I’m not just about talking here about letting go in terms of operational control but also moving away from the approach which is characterised by self-preservation of the organisation, which can often be to the detriment of the needs of the people whom we serve. I know that loyalty to a group, or an organisation is a powerful means of motivating and holding together potentially disparate individuals. However, the new world in which we live is not going to be dependent upon the power of the group, but on the capacity of the group to adapt, change and, above all, form strong partnerships with others who share the same purpose. Consequently the traditional leadership approach, which builds group allegiance, often represented by a “we’re better than others” mentality, does not fit with our new environment. (If in fact, it ever did.)

Learning to Lead: some building blocks

1. Know that I can do SOME things better than others, but that others can do MOST things better than me.

2. Have the confidence not to know the answer and the willingness to say “I got that wrong”.

3. Realise that my principle role is to keep our focus on the needs of the people whom we serve.

4. Recognise that modelling leadership behaviour isn’t enough on its own to lead to system improvement, but that it can have a significant influence upon others.

5. Encourage others to tell me to STOP doing things if it’s getting in the way of their goals.

6. Encourage others to use my role as necessary to remove barriers or challenge practice.

7. Focus my attention upon enabling others, encouraging innovation, championing our values, and ensuring that we get it right for every person.

8. Think before I act and ask myself if my taking action undermines or supports my colleagues.

9. Talk openly with my colleagues about our respective roles and how I can enable them to their jobs even more effectively.

10. Demand an “outward facing” perspective focused on meeting the needs of the people we serve which is not limited by personal, professional or organisational boundaries.

Kirsten Doherty – thanks

I visited West Barns Primary School yesterday and was privileged to meet Kirsten Doherty who helps out in the school one day a week. Kirsten is an inspirational character who makes light of her own disability to help the children and staff in the school.

It’s quite obvious that her presence in the school adds so much to the children’s education and not just in terms of the support she offers in the classroom.

Kirsten – thanks.

Correlating student performance and socio-economic factors



I’ve been doing some work exploring the NOMIS Labour Market statistics website. It’s a fascinating resource which I was using in relation to employment rates for young people in East Lothian. However, as I began to dig into the site I became more and more intrigued by the data and how it can be manipulated.

This got me thinking about the relationship between socio-economic factors and school attainment.

Using an excel spreadsheet I explored the correlation between some of these factors and the % S5 students gaining 3+ highers in a Local Authority.

The spreadsheet can be accessed here: Correlations – SQA and NOMIS

So what did I find out?

I reckon it’s possible to predict the % of students in any authority using only three indicators. % of population in socio-economic groups 1-3; % of population with more than 2 Highers (NVQ level 3); and the % of population in receipt of benefits (strong negative correlation). It gets even more relaible if you also use the % of population who have a NVQ level 4 (HND or degree), and Gross pay. Interestingly employment rates do not have an impact.

There are one or two anomalies – mainly due to high levels of private school enrolment in some authorities – but in the main the predictors are reliable , with the exception of one island authority.

Please give it a go and get back to me with comments.  I’ll be doing further work on this over the break.

Correlation between 3+ highers and
 Socio-ec – 1 -3 0.71 Strong positive
Socio-ec – 4 – 5 -0.25 Moderate negative
 Socio-ec – 6 – 7 -0.63 Strong negative
 Socio-ec – 8 – 9 -0.55 Strong negative
NVQ 4 0.64 Strong positive
NVQ 3 0.83 Strong positive
Employment 0.22 Weak positive
Gross Pay 0.64 Strong positive
Public service -0.05 None
Banking and Finance -0.02 None
Benefits -0.60 Strong negative









The impact of repealing legislation: the role of local authorities in education

The juxtaposition at the recent ADES conference of Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Scotland, and Steve Munby, Chief Executive of the English National College for School Leaders, provided an interesting perspective into the possibilities for the future of Scottish education.

Mr Russell was very careful not to give away anything about changes to the governance of schools post local elections scheduled for May 2012. However, the general consensus is that change is on the horizon and that it will see more devolution of power to schools and headteachers; a change to funding mechanisms to schools and the associated role for local authorities; and an associated change to the role of local authorities in setting policy.

No-one reckons that there will be wholesale changes along the lines that were experienced in 1995 when the most recent local government reorganisation took place. Primarily due to the fact that any externally driven change requires the government to pick up the tab for the change process, etc.

This is where a comparison between what has happened in England over the last 25 years or so can prove useful. I must emphasise that I do not think Scotland will follow the English model in terms of the final outcome, e.g Academies, Trust schools, etc, but rather that we might follow the change strategy.

For it seems to me that one of the main means adopted in England has actually depended more upon repealing legislation, as opposed to the starting point being the creation of new legislation. That’s not to say that new legislation won’t be necessary but that the starting point could be to consider which pillars of the existing system could be pulled away, which in themselves might lead to radical change.

This is certainly what happened in England in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which saw a range of powers for Local Authorities being removed and either passed down to schools and their governors, or passed upwards to the government. Over the next 23 years those twin directions of travel have been inexorable. This is most recently evidenced in the 2011 Education Act, which further repealed the duties of local authorities.

In that period the government have not had to legislate for change in the organisational structure in local authorities, but rather by changing the responsibilities of local authorities the government created an environment where the local authorities had to adapt themselves to their changing role.

So what might be the duties currently undertaken by Scottish local authorities which, if removed, might lead to the most significant change?

To my mind there are four duties outlined in the “Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000“, which, if removed, might result in dramatic change to the education system in Scotland.

The first of these duties relates to the role of the local authority in relation to school improvement. This would be a fundamental shift in practice and would transform at a stroke the role of the local authority.

Section 3

(2)An education authority shall endeavour to secure improvement in the quality of school education which is provided in the schools managed by them; and they shall exercise their functions in relation to such provision with a view to raising standards of education.

The second duty which could be removed might be in relation to the local authority’s role in determining educational objectives for schools in their area.

Section 5

Education authority’s annual statement of improvement objectives

(1)For the purposes of their duty under section 3(2) of this Act, an education authority, after consulting such bodies as appear to the authority to be representative of teachers and parents within their area and of persons, other than teachers, who are employed in schools within that area and after giving children, young persons and such other persons within that area as appear to the authority to have an interest in the matter an opportunity to make their views known, shall, by such date in 2001 as the Scottish Ministers may, after consulting the education authorities, determine (one date being so determined for all the authorities) and thereafter by that date annually, prepare and publish a statement setting objectives.

The third associated duty which could be removed might be in relation to school development planning, which would remove the obligation of the school to take account of the local authorities statement of educational objectives. (although this would be superfluous if section 5 (1) were removed.

Section 6
School development plans

(a)a development plan which takes account of the objectives in the authority’s annual statement of education improvement objectives published by that date in the year in question and sets objectives for the school;

Finally, the last duty which could be removed might be in relation to the delegation of budgets to schools. This presupposes that the delegation scheme is devised by the authority. However, if this were removed it could be replaced by a national scheme of delegation which is simply overseen by the authority.

Section 8

Delegation schemes

(1)An education authority shall have a scheme for delegating to the headteacher of a school—

(a)managed by them; and

(b)of a category of school which is stated in the scheme to be covered by the scheme,
management of that share of the authority’s budget for a financial year which is available for allocation to individual schools and is appropriated for the school; or management of part of that share.

    Of course, these are simply personal musings on the future of local governance of education and are not based in any inside knowledge of what will happen once the local elections have taken place. Nevertheless, it’s important for people in my position to have some view of how the things might change and how we could adapt if these were to come pass.

Schools leading schools

I’ve just returned from the Association of Directors Education Scotland (ADES) annual conference. This year’s theme was “Leaders Advancing Learning” and the conference proved to be one of the best events I’ve ever had the privilege to attend.

The highlight for me was Steve Munby, from the National College of School Leadership. Steve is directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and as such has no locus within Scotland. Nevertheless, there is much to admire from philosophy and approach adopted by the college – and Steve in particular.

Steve’s central point (at least for me) was around the question of how to improve a school facing challenging circumstances. He identified three possibilities 1. Close and reopen the school 2. Insert a “Hero” Headteacher 3. Build the capacity of the school from within.

Steve pointed out that evidence would suggest that the most effective solution is linked to option 3 but that it needs a particular form of support if that to be achieved.

Taking teachers’s out and putting them on courses – doesn’t work

External “experts” coming into the school – doesn’t work

Expecting leaders within the school to change their practice, when they don’t really know what good leadership looks like – doesn’t work.

Linking such a school in partnership with a successful school – does work. I didn’t quite catch the rate of improvement this approach leads to but it was of a very significant order compared to any other model of school improvement. But what was particularly interesting was that the improvement was also measurable in the supporting school – wow!

What an incentive for developing such an approach in Scotland.

Here’s a lift from their website:

The National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and National Support Schools Programme (NSSs) draws upon the skills and experience of our very best school leaders, as well as their schools, to provide additional leadership capacity to, and raise standards within, schools facing challenging circumstances. The programme is underpinned by the powerful notion of schools leading schools.

The National College oversees the quality assurance of NLEs, provides ongoing support to NLEs and their schools and helps to broker the support of NLEs and their NSSs to maximise the impact of the programme.

Since the first group of NLEs and NSSs were designated in 2006, the programme has gathered momentum quickly and has been one of the most successful levers of sustainable school improvement. Crucially the schools and academies supported by NLEs are improving at a significantly faster rate than other schools nationally, and the results of the schools providing support continue to rise.

The programme also helps to utilise the powerful contributions that NLEs are able to make at a strategic level, to education policy and the future of the school system.

Steve pointed out that the bar is set very high for schools to become National Leaders of Education.

So could such a system work in Scotland? I believe it could but I’ll explore some of the barriers which may have to be overcome in a future post.

Lastly, in response to one of my questions, Steve identified the importance of the Parent body, in England they are governors, but I think it can translate to our Parent Councils in Scotland where they are supported by the local authority to promote local accountability. This links back to recent evidence from the OECD which clearly shows that improved student performance directly correlates with increased levels of school autonomy with associated public accountability.

Such evidence suggests that our direction of travel towards Community Partnership Schools is, at the very least, on the right lines.

“Don’t do as I say, do as I do” – the role of leadership in promoting the use of social media

I have an admission to make. I joined Twitter 90 days ago today. There – it’s out in the open. I’d put it off for nearly three years as I thought it was either a vehicle for shadowing celebrities, or a mindless activity in which people spent their time telling each other what they had for breakfast.

How wrong I was!! In fact the title of this piece could just as easily have been (with apologies to the Ettrick Shepherd) ” Confessions of an unjustified sceptic”.

For in the intervening period I’ve come to realise that Twitter is actually a unique learning resource. By discovering others throughout the World who share a passion for education, tracking their thoughts, following their links, and engaging in productive conversations – I have been inspired, challenged and professionally invigorated.

I’m now following teachers, school principals, education managers, superintendents, and policy makers in Scotland, Finland, USA, Canada, Singapore, China, India, Australia, and many other countries around the globe. In no more an 140 characters these people are able to point to resources, places, research, articles and share something of their own challenges, ideas, solutions and successes.

I first started using social media in 1997 when I was part of an online research community. To find that there were others around the world struggling with the same issues made a huge difference to my work at that time. Since then I’ve continued to use social media networks, more particularly a blog as a secondary school head teacher, a learning log as a head education and then director, and most recently my Twitter account.

I think I’ve only come to realise how important such engagement is to me in my leadership role in the last year when I decided to take a year abstaining from social media of any kind.

So what did I find out from my year out? Firstly, I missed the opportunity to reflect upon my work and to be able to try to make sense of my world and to be able to share and check that meaning out with others. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly I missed the opportunity to learn from others.

On reflection my year out was a year without learning. I did my job, I solved problems, I led the service, but I’d go so far as to say that I didn’t learn – and without learning we are not professionals.

The underlying question which remains for me is that if such a discipline can make such a difference to me, in my role as an educational leader, then how might it benefit colleagues in similar roles – and I would include teachers in this?

The bottom line here is that the decision to engage in social media must always lie with the individual but ironically one of the safety valves that could make a difference to an over-worked and stressed profession is to begin to develop a routine which includes moments of public reflection and sharing one’s practice.

For such practice to extend beyond the technically passionate, the early adopters, and the professionally curious requires people in leadership positions to lead by example, yet all too often we conform to the old teachers’ adage – “don’t do as I do, do as I say”. It’s difficult to work out exactly why this is the case and it must be something to do with the fear that we may be perceived by our employees (and employers) to be wasting our time on something which perhaps appears to be peripheral to the “serious” business of management.

Consider the reaction from the press when it was “discovered” that Sir Peter Housden, Scotland’s top civil servant, kept a regular blog. One headline read “How to talk mandarin (even if it is drivel)”. Is it any wonder that leaders in any field are reticent about expressing their thoughts in public if the press appear to be waiting to pounce?

This may explain why it is that when educational leaders in Scotland have attempted to use social media it has all too often been in a secure space, where their collective thoughts are held within an “echo chamber”, where others, not of their ilk, are to be kept out.

The second obstacle is the legitimate concern that many leaders just don’t feel they have the time available to engage in anything new and possibly tangential to their central function. This concern will only be overcome if leaders are able to see that social media can actually allow them to achieve their goals in an even more effective and time efficient manner than their current practice – if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be used.

Nevertheless, for all that lack of confidence, and concerns about time are powerful disincentives to using social media, the most significant barrier is the way in which we think about communication itself. For most Scottish educational leaders have been brought up within a highly hierarchical system where communication is typically in the linear vertical plane and just as frequently controlled by others.

However, that world is changing as we move from a controlled linear view of communication to more distributed and dynamic networks, where the notion of control gives way to transparency, true engagement, and creative thought, regardless of position.

Perhaps the old teachers’ adage does need to change to “Don’t do as I say, do as I do”.

Tactics – the forgotten element of leadership

“If a goal requires a strategy, and a strategy requires tactics, then knowing which tactics to select lie at the heart of effective leadership.”

Listen to any conversation or presentation relating to educational leadership and you won’t have to wait long until a magical word is intoned and others sagely nod in agreement. That word, of course, is strategy.

Yet listen out for a reference to tactics and you’ll have a long wait.

As I reflect on the best educational leaders I’ve worked with and for, the most distinguishing factor in their success was that they could work out how to translate a goal into a reality. The reason they were successful was that they had learned – through experience – to select the most effective actions which will overcome the obstacles to achievement.

Such tactical thinking differs significantly from the accepted critical path analysis concept of project management – which tends to see achievement of a goal to be a linear deployment of a series of steps, often exemplified by comparing with how we go about making a cup of coffee.

The reality is that successful change needs a much more sophisticated application of inter-connected tactical actions.