Apprenticeship – mastering your craft

I visited the Dovecot Tapestry Studios this evening which is situated in a £5 million refurbishment of the Victorian Edinburgh Infirmary Street Baths . I had a secondary motive for the visit as it was in that very pool that I learned to swim.

The renovation of building was exceptional – sensitive to it’s history – yet a modern and welcoming space.

We took a tour ’round the studio and met David Cochrane. David explained that he had joined the studio straight from school as an apprentice – contradicting my unspoken expectation that he must have studied art at university. He explained the weaving process and showed us some of the work to which has contributed.  He then showed us one of his own creations which had taken him 9 months to produce. I couldn’t believe that it was a tapestry at first – it looked much more like a high quality photograph or painting of  shimmering water.

I was impressed with David on three counts: firstly his understated manner; secondly, his obvious passion for what he does; and thirdly, his mastery of his craft which has been developed through the best sense of an apprenticeship by learning from a fellow craftsman.  It reminded me of my great grandfather – George Ledingham, of Clatt, Aberdeenshire, who produced these minature model ploughs in 1895 as part of his apprenticeship as a blacksmith.

It’s a great shame that we don’t really value such practical skills in our modern age.

George Ledingham - Clatt 1895 by you.

Games up…


I met this morning with Chris Mullender, a games developer from Dunbar,  Ollie Bray, Graham Sales (a student of gaming technology at Abertay University) and David Gilmour to explore how we might make better use of gaming technology within the East Lothian education system.

I was intrigued to find out that schools would be much better making use of gaming technology – both hardware and software – than the expensive education specific alternative. Chris made a very powerful point that gaming technology has been tested to the nth degree and is designed to meet the needs of children in a manner which is beyond the smaller educational bespoke companies. We should be seeking to make use of this knowledge – particularly in times of financial pressure.

We explored two separate dimensions in our conversation:

  1. Using gaming technology as a learning tool; and
  2. Engaging students in the development of gaming software.

Musselburgh Grammar School  and some of  our primaries are doing some great things in relation to the first theme but very little is being done in the relation to the second. We wondered if there might be some potential to organise a competition for primary pupils in the first instance to receive some specific tuition in games development before they tried to create their own games and then submit them for judging by their peers.  Each team would have a combination of skills such as programmers, artists, producers, writers, etc – a real collective approach.  We wondered of there was a potential sponsor out there who would like to help us begin to stimulate an East Lothian gaming culture which might in the longer term have economic spin-offs for the county. 

Apparently many of the games developers which have given Dundee such an enviable reputation in this field initally developed their skills and interest at a school computer club.

Last observation – and new one on me – one of the big challenges facing the gaming industry is to link up developers with artists.  We have fantastic artists in our schools – why couldn’t we link up senior student programmers and artists in our schools and create real companies in our secondary schools?

Sixth Year – some alternatives

Following on from my recent post on Sixth Year here are some possibilities:

Highers (two-year programme) or direct route Advanced Highers are taken in Sixth Year and not fifth.

Offer an International Baccalaureate (16-19) for students who wish to undertake such study – one term of which is completed abroad – or perhaps something more akin to the Welsh Bac

Work experience – or internship (thanks Steven Heppell) – is built into the year – up to 30% of available time.

One month in the year can be taken as a travel time where the student is encouraged to travel in the UK or Europe.

Subjects are blocked into intense periods of study – you could complete a Higher course in six weeks.

All classes have at least 25% of adults present in class

Our schools specialise in particular subjects – we create an East Lothian Campus – pupils can move between schools.

All students are required to complete a personal on-line project which they will submit as part of their portfolio for future employment or education.

It is not compulsory for students to attend lectures/classes – they design the learning programme for themselves – on-line/lecture/ seminar/one-to-one/group study and fit it round their own personal learning programnme for the year.

We link the year to the four capacities identified within A Curriculum for Excellence: successful learners; responsible citizens; effective contributors; and confident individuals. Students have to plan, “collect” and record experiences which relate to the four capacities.

All students must spend the equivalent of 30 hours working for local voluntary services.

Schools link with a university to enable students to complete some of their studies in the university environment.

Students are grouped into “learning cells” who design their own curriculum and negotiate with teachers about the learning programme and monitor and support each others progress.

All students must undertake a “personal challenge” over the course of the year – something which requires planning, commitment and extends them beyond their existing comfort zone.

Language immersion programme – all subjects are taught in selected language.

Virtual learning groups are established within East Lothian where students with a common interest work together on-line in a particular area of study.

All students have a community mentor/buddy who works with them to support them in their studies and transition from school.

A proportion of  jobs in the school are kept open for students to be paid to formally support the learning process of other pupils – 3 jobs (one day per week) could make up 15 Days employment.

Local employers sponsor some students through their studies and devise joint programmes of study.

“Scholarships” are awarded to some students who have exceptional ability in certain areas of the curriculum to specialise on their own development, e.g sport, art, dance, science, business etc.

The year includes a series of “challenges” akin to Dragon’s Den/Apprentice etc which the students must undertake individidually and in groups.  “Challenges” can be linked to formal elements of the curriculum.

Parental week – for one week in the year a parent joins their child and shares and supports their learning experiences.

I’m sure there will be more but that will do for now!

Educational Psychology Service – contribution

TFT Number 2

Check out the new part of the site written by our Educational Psychology Service entitled –
Everything you wanted to know about Teaching and Learning and ………..more. I think this is a tremendous resource and demonstrates how educational psychologists can play a central role in developing teaching and learning. All too often Educational Psychologists’ knowledge and expertise is only used in a very limited manner for a small number of children with specific needs – hopefully this starts to redress the balance. Please give us feedback on this part of the site.

My first TFT has stimulated some debate – do you agree that
“children need to be liked”?

8.30-10.00 Directorate Meeting with Alan Ross and Alan Blackie -some of the issues covered: comunity centre review; attendance at national conferences/presentations; cheif exec visit; dsm guidelines; business plans and scorecards; preparation for committee meetings.

10.00-11.00 Met with Anthony Gillespie to go over the budget paper which was presented to council on Thursday. It provides a series of challenges for the department to operate within budget but we already have some clear ideas about how we will proceed. Anthony is going to give me a more detailed breakdown so that we can finalise budgets for schools as soon as possible. The key to effective budget management is the provision of clear and unambiguous information about how much money you are going to have to work with. The worst thing anybody can do is say “perhaps”. Over the next few weeks we will need to provide that level of clarity (and honesty) for schools even if the message is a difficult one.

11.00-12.00 Pre-vocational meeting – Alison Wishart; Jennifer Tulloch; Wendy McAdie and Gordon Landells from JEVC met me to discuss pre-vocational work and lijnks with Jewel and Esk Valley College. Our Pre-vocational strategic group has decided upon some courses of action – drop S3 provision for next year; explore Friday afternoon provision for S3 which would avoid them missing classes; pilot satellite programme in couple of communities.

12.00-12.20 quick bite of lunch with Alson Wishart.

12.30-1.00 met with reps from Careers Scotland to sign new contract.

2.00-2.30 Met with HMIe to discuss Additional Support for Learning.

3.00-4.00 variety of meetings re’ finance and schools rolls.


8.30-9.45am Met with Jennifer Tulloch who runs “The Shed” our pre-vocational centre for S3 and S4 pupils. Jennnifer has done a wonderful job getting this centre up and running with over 200 pupils accessing the facility during the year. However, there is a need for us to reflect upon the future of pre-vocational work in East Lothian for a number of reasons.These reasons are as follows: the lease on the facility runs out in 2008; the drop out rate for S3 students is very high; schools are reporting that S3 students are finding it very difficult to catch up on the work they have missed when attending the centre; transport costs are exceptionally high – for a relatively small number of students – could this public money be better spent for a larger number of students?; the courses are bolted-on to the curriculum, as opposed to being built-in; the links between colleges; schools and employers are not explicit under the current arrangements.

Taking these points into consideration the following decisions have been taken: a strategic group has been convened chaired by Paul Raffaelli to devise a long-term sustainable strategy for pre-vocational work in schools; we are proposing to drop the S3 element of the provision; Jennifer Tulloch will use the time freed by this to explore the potential of establishing a couple of pilot satellite pre-vocational programmes in a two of our towns by linking with local employers and using college staff – it would be our hope that these opportunities would link more with the school curriculum and perhaps articulate with serial work placement; we will reconsider how we are making use of the budget available for pre-vocational work with a view to supporting this long-term strategy over a three year period with a view to ensuring that pre-vocational opportunities are in place in all our towns by the time the lease runs out on “The Shed”. We are having a meeting on the 19th December where a variety of people with an interest and responsibility for this area will discuss these proposals in more detail.

10.00-11.00 I chaired a capability hearing. One of my duties is to sit in judgement on capability matters. Of course I cannot go into the details of the case but it is a significant responsibility to have to decide upon the future of a teaching colleague. I was reminded during the process how important it is for everyone to have supportive and well informed union representation.

11.00-12.45pm Child Protection Inspection Briefing – came in late to the breifing due to the hearing. Two HMI were providing information about the new child protection inspection regime which we will probably undergo in the next couple of years. It's always better to be forewarned. I was impresssed with the quality of the briefing and appreciated the common sense and practiocal approach being taken.

1.00-2.00 Caught up on correspondence.

2.00-4.00pm JCG Joint Consultative Group on Education. This is a more meeting between unions and management about a range of on-going issues are raised by the unions. They included: long-term absence; budget issues; PPP; FE staff teaching in schools – or not as the case will be; curriculum for excellence; better behaviour – better learning; and others. I'm a great believer in transparency and I hope that this approach is helping to promote good working relationships between the unions and employers.

4.00-5.00 Quick chat with a few people I needed to catch up with and then home early.

Investors in people

Straight out to North Berwick Nursery for a meeting with Sue Leach and Donald McGillivary. we were looking at a range of topics and I've agreed to go back and speak to all staff on the 28th Oct. Stopped off at Athelstaneford Primary School on the way back. Quick tour of the school with Ronnie Grieve. I could see how the school had received a series of outstanding inspection reports. Ronnie has a remarkable talent for engaging with children which is marked by a caring, committed and calm approach towards working with childern . They obviously repsond well to such and apporach and Ronnie is obviously well supported by his staff. I'll look forward to visiting the school again.

Back to the office for a meeting with Patrica MacCall and Valerie Irving about cluster working. We are keen to develop a clear rationale for how cluster – primary schools and associated secondary school – work together. I’m going to write a paper on the topic but we felt a cluster should be characterised by the following:

Consistency; continuity; collegiality; creativity; and collective responsibility

It will be a key role of the cluster to take collective responsibility for educational attainment and welfare of every child in their care. This is quite a dramatic shift in that we are usually only responsible for children in our particular schools. Cluster meetings will fulfil a number of purposes:

Interface between schools;
Raising and resolving issues;
Consultation mechanism;
Representation mechanism;
Development and progression of teaching and learning;
Staff development
Mutual support;
Deployment of resources;
Oversight of children at risk of social exclusion;
Management of integration.

I was then interviewed by Adam Whyte who is a consultant currently appraising the department for the revised standard for Investors in People. He asked some challenging questions but I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting – we find out on Friday if we have been successful.

Met someone to provide feedback about an interview in which they hadn’t been offered the position. This is perhaps one of the hardest parts of any management job but also one of the most important. What makes it even more difficult if the person was very close. I take copious notes throughout any interview for this very purpose.

Then fourth Deputes’ seminar – this was another really good meeting. A number of very challenging questions were raised about the level of support offered to schools particularly to Headteachers and senior management teams. A large number of those present did not see themselves as being prospective HTs – primarily because they are put off the job by what they see it doing to their HT. I’m concerned by this on two counts – firstly- it will prevent people from applying – secondly, how sustainable is it for HTs to continue working as they are? The coaching scheme was well received as was the opportunity to meet as deputes.

Tuesday 11th Oct

Second time around – A bit frustrating but I just tried to upload my weblog and lost the lot. So here goes again from memory.

Directorate meeting – 8.30 – 10am joined by councilors John Ross and Maureen Talac Covered a number of issue most notably pre-vocational education. A number of questions arose from our chat. Should such opportunities be reserved for those who wish to follow a trade? Should such opportunities be open to all? If places are short should preference be given to those who wish to follow a trade? Should we include those students who have behavioural problems? – some FE colleges suggest that putting such students onto courses is only used by schools as a “dumping ground” We also explored the potential of using sub-contracted lecturers to deliver pre-vocational courses in schools.

Met with Steven McLachlan and Chris Lawson about emergency planning. We are going to set up an emergency scenario involving the destruction of a school to test our processes for getting a temporary facility in place. We are also going to produce a policy and procedures wall chart. This will be an A3 wall chart with each of our important policies summarized by a number of bullet points. In an emergency it can be used a an easy reference aid to guide practice whilst the actual policy can still be used to gain more detail. For example the emergency closure policy could be summarized by 10 bullet points. The chart will also have emergency contacts.

I met the curriculum leaders form Knox Academy. I was interested in finding out more about how Knox Academy had managed to improve attainment over the last ten years. they put it down to a consistent expectations and consequences relating to pupil behaviour and strong focus on teaching and learning. I asked them abbout the thuoghts about East Lothian Council. It didn't come as surprise that they regarded a a fairly distant entity aside from being a resourcing – I think this is probably a fairly common perception in many schools and it fairly focusses the mind on addressing the problem.

College Links

Met with Wendy McAdie from Jewel and Esk Valley College at 9.00am. We spoke about links between East Lothian Schools and JEVC; links with Queen Margaret's University; pre-vocational courses and the need to be more explicit about the purpose of such courses; the Christmas leaver programme and associated funding; and the idea of staellite courses being run in schools by college staff who are sub-contracted by the council or schools.

10.00-11.00 Met a parent and her child for a readmission meeting. These meetings are never easy but we managed to come to a satisfactory resolution.

Interviews from 12.00-4.00pm for Education Officer. Appointed Alison Wishart who is currently responsible for post-primary education at Learning and Teaching Scotland. The post is a secondment in the first instance unitl June of next year.

4.00pm met Elizabeth Cowan to discuss the proposed plans to put an electronic whiteboard in every maths classroom and a pilot project contrasting the benefits of laptops or tablets PCs. This project was agreed before I came into post. I'm always worried about any project which, if it is proved to work, does not have a budget linked to the need to re-equip schools to the same standard.

Met two probationers at 4.30pm to discuss possible weblogging for probationers and the setting up of a probationer forum. I'm making a presentation to probationers on the 27th October and we hope to have some example of probationer weblogs to demonstrate on the day

The Shed

Met with Education Officers at 8.30am. We have clarified the role of this meeting and the more formal School Liaison Group which will take on more of a strategic function. The Education Officers are critical to the development of education in the authority. If there is a problem it's that they are spread too thinly across the schools.

It is obvious that there is so much good practice in our schools but that we don't seem to have been able to ensure that this good practice permeates every school. It's the role of the Head Of Education to make sure that the educational experience of a child in any of our schools is equal to the experience of child in our best schools. Equally it is vital that all our members of staff receive the same opportunities and standard of leadership wherever they work. It''s easy to state both of these points and I don't think many people would disagree with with either – however, the challenge facing all of us is how do we work together to raise standards to match our best schools. Can we tolerate anything less than first class?

10.00am Met with Norma McPherson, PT Maths Development Officer, and Mary Howie, Literacy Development Officer. We had a wide ranging discussion about our core areas of the curriculum. I showed them the results spreadsheet for 5-14. We agreed that at the moment the figures presented are very unreliable. This point had been agreed by Primary Headteachers on Wednesday. This is a great cause for concern. The moderation work being undertaken in the authority should help but it only goes so far. We agreed that we needed some form of external moderation simular to the SQA moderation of centres. For example we could select a random sample of schools each year who would put forwards a sample of students work to be assessed by the moderation group. Rather than the students being tested it would be the school's ability to assess correctly which would be being evaluated. This was a very interesting idea and is worth putting to the Heateachers for consideration.

We also considered the debate regarding Standard Grade or Intermediate courses. We realised that many schools are struggling with this question. Should the authority establish a policy? It might help some schools. Perhaps we should bite the bullet and go for Intermediate courses and drop SG? The writing does seem to be on the wall and at least we could plan for changing resources in a sensible manner and also ensure that we can share practice and materials across all our schools in a focussed manner.

The last area we covered was the variation in time allocate to Maths and English in schools – we will carry out an audit and report back to schools with a view to establishing a minimum figure.

11.30 Out to The Shed our Pre-vocational Centre with Gordon Brown. Gordon is leaving us at the end of this month to take up a secondment with the Scottish Executive on Determined to Succeed. He and Jennifer Tulloch have done a tremendous job building up a series of pre-vocational courses which can be accessed by S3 and S4 students. I was very impressed. Hopefully when we set up our timetabling group we can look at how we build these courses in to the curriculum in a more structured fashion. Jennifer is going to set up section on this website to publicise the work of The Shed.

Took the chance to pop into the ELIS – East Lothian Inclusion Service – students who are at risk of permanent exclsuion are allowed to continue their education here with a view to helping them get back into school and to manage their behaviour. I'll visit again soon to see it the children. Then a short vist to Pathway – this house caters for 6 children who are in care. Very comfortable and homely atmosphere.

Back to the office for the luxury of three hours uninterupted work (almost).