Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Power Within⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

I sent a tweet the other day which seemed to generate a deal of resonance with some on my PLN. What I said was that meaningful school development can only come from within and cannot be imposed from outside. Now 140 characters on Twitter does have benefits but, as anyone who tweets regularly knows, it also has huge limitations in what you can say. So what I would like to do here is offer some further explanation of what I was trying to convey in my tweet.

For many years well meaning and informed people have increased our understanding and have made constructive suggestions  on how schools can develop and move forward. We also know that there have been lots of other suggestions made by less informed but vocal contributors to this debate! As all in education and schools know, everyone has an opinion or view on what should be going on in our schools. The media loves to feed on all of this and much of it stokes the fires of debate and gives oxygen to some of the wilder suggestions.

As someone who has worked for many years in schools, the last 16 years in management, I have learned how to keep developing those schools, and myself, in the face of constant assaults on my profession and what we do, and to manage and make sense of a whole plethora of research that has increased our understanding of what we do.

What I have learned in that time is that schools and the individuals within them are the best people to really know, and decide, what they need to do to develop and keep improving. They are the ones who have to recognise what they need to do for development and change to become embedded in practice. It really is no good for outside commentators or agencies to be constantly telling schools and staff what they need to do to improve, they really do need to see this themselves. Only then are they likely to make the changes necessary in practice. Agencies from outside the school are not unimportant or unnecessary. But their role should be one of providing support that schools and staff need to develop practice and understanding in order to move forward.

In my experience, we have had for year after year people coming into our schools telling us what we need to do to improve. We have tried one 'thing' after another to bring about desired improvements. Schools and staff have embraced these with various levels of enthusiasm and have achieved some successes, but these have not been great in impact and have had low levels of sustainability. What tends to happen is that schools and teachers will try things out, whilst not being given the time to really understand the theory or research behind them, if there is any. Often with new developments comes a timetable for implementation, which seems to assume all schools are in the same place, they aren't! The one size fits all approach to school development just doesn't work. All development needs to be tailored to the schools and staff within them, they are all different.

New developments or initiatives are often reduced to techniques or gimmicks that they are told if SMT or others can observe in classrooms or schools, this will provide the evidence that developments have happened! Then what happens is that over a period of time the observed 'changes' diminish and disappear, or are replaced by the next 'thing' being introduced. In such circumstances, staff then revert to their usual embedded practice as this is comfortable to them and known.

What I and others have come to realise over the last few years is, that if you give staff and schools the time and space to really self-evaluate and identify where they are, and the impact they are having on children's learning, and give them the tools and support to do this, they begin to recognise changes they can make themselves to bring about improvement. I have described these as light-bulb moments for them all. These insights are really powerful and bring about sustainable and embedded changes in pedagogy and practice. Individuals improve their understanding and take steps to move on, and when this is done in a collective and connected way schools themselves move on. Most importantly, the experiences of pupils and the impact on their attainment moves on as a result.

Isn't this what we are all aiming for?  So what is stopping us from commonly adopting such an approach? I have views on that as well, but perhaps that is for another post!

Computer Science review⤴

from @ SQA Computing blog

I commenced the (mini) review of HND Computer Science today, when I visited Napier University in Edinburgh and spoke to a couple of members of staff about this new award and how it articulates with their own degree courses.

The key questions I need to answer are:

  • do you support the existence of this qualification in principle?
  • does the title match the contents?
  • what changes, if any, need to be made?
  • what is essential to include in this award?
  • if Maths needs to be included, what sort of Maths?

It was a very useful meeting and I got clear answers to each of these questions.

I plan to speak to lots of different stakeholders over the coming weeks, after which I will compose a short report to summarise my findings. Once I've done that, we (SQA) will consider the best course of action.

Contact me directly if you want to know more about this review. Contact Caroline if you want to know more about the qualification.

Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool – the virtual comparator in more detail⤴


“I really reject that kind of comparison that says, Oh, he is the best. This is the second best. There is no such thing.”

Mikhail Baryshnikov

C Sutherland 178 x 133I love this quote, which I came upon during a search, because it ties in so well with what we’ve been developing in the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool (SPBT).

How can we see how we are doing in various areas of our school life? What have we been doing really well? What do we need to look at further to see what we need to improve?

We have developed what we’re calling a ‘virtual school’ and this will become a key way of benchmarking our performance. This is something that has been of interest during my visits to local authorities. It will be a fair and robust system for every secondary school in Scotland, whatever the background and location and it will most certainly not be the type of comparison which Mikhail Baryshnikov rejects.

So, what are we doing with these ‘virtual schools’? We wanted to consider some key characteristics which go into the makeup of any school. We have selected four: gender balance; staying-on rate; percentage of time spent in mainstream; and deprivation based upon the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). From these four areas the Tool will match ten pupils from around Scotland to every one of the pupils at your school and treat this matched group as the virtual school.

The virtual comparator is a really powerful feature. For example when using the Tool to look at leavers destinations we can instantly see three years of data and the performance of the school compared to its virtual comparator, its local authority and Scotland. Right away, we can ask questions about the school against its virtual comparator and then we can look further, using the filters, to consider how the boys compare to the girls, how our looked after children got on and so on. Other filters include age, positive destinations and additional support needs.

We’ve made a commitment to develop the Tool with input from stakeholders and we are meeting with our teacher reference groups in Glasgow next week to get their feedback on the Preview Edition that was released at the Scottish Learning Festival in September. We’ve had a good level of interest in the release so far with the majority of feedback being about individual measures, the way the data is presented and the fact that data is based on pupils best achievement as opposed to their last achievement.  We are also carrying out extensive work with our partners to develop and promote the Tool and we will provide an update from the project’s statistics working group and the communications and cultural change working group soon.

For more information about the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool please visit

Colin Sutherland

Professional Advisor

Senior Phase Benchmarking Project

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Matthew Fitt blog – So what is Scots?⤴


Matthew FittI was on the radio last week talking about a new book in Scots. “So what is Scots?” the presenter asked. I was surprised he didn’t know. After all, Scottish language, Scottish presenter, Scottish radio station. Huge numbers of their listeners speak in Scots every day. Don’t broadcasters get training on these sorts of things? At the very least, a memo?

Still, that’s the way it goes and we haven’t answered the presenter’s pertinent question. So what is Scots anyway?

Scots is a language recognised by the Scottish and UK Governments and the EU. It is spoken by 1.5 million people, a figure established by the Census of 2011. The language has a long history and rich literary tradition dating back to the twelfth century. It is a sister language of English and has links to Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, French and Gaelic.

I was about to say all of that when the presenter answered his own question for me which was kind of him. ‘Scots is just a few words dropped in here and there, isn’t it,’ he said. The problem is that definition is incomplete.

Some folk may just use a few Scots words but tens of thousands of people of all ages, including children and young people, enjoy using a full range of Scots vocabulary. Words like aye, bonnie, hoose, cauld, heid, gallus, hoatchin, crabbit, glaikit, muckle, brae, scunner, ken, breeks, cuddie, hoolet, haiver, wrang, doon, rammie, freends, drookit, greetin, polis, braw, sneck, outwith, mingin, richt, stoater, weans, bairns, dominie, yer mammie, gie’s peace, gie it laldie, gaun yersel, fit-like, fouter, fash, dowie, flouer, dug, spaegie, wabbit, chapman billies, cutty sark, auld lang syne, gonnae no dae that and hame or any of the thousands of other expressive terms and phrases from this unique Scottish tongue.

Scots juist a hantle o words? Dinnae think sae.

Matthew Fitt is a writer and teacher with fifteen years experience delivering Scots language classes and professional development across Scotland.  

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