Today I chaired the first ever Scottish Education Council, a new body established to the oversee the work we are doing to improve education in Scotland.
It brings together young people, education leaders and representatives from local authorities and the teaching profession, with a common national purpose of improving education in Scotland. I hope that it will be a forum for frank and open discussion about what is working in education and where improvement is required. I am in no doubt that members of the council will be able to provide us all with their expert advice and guidance and honest opinions and views, which will enable the council to oversee progress on the implementation and direction of improvement priorities.
Strong leadership and working together are vital to driving improvement and ensuring that all children and young people are able to reach their potential. As we work towards an education system that is led by teachers and schools, it is essential that we have the right national oversight and support in place. I am keen that this council works closely with local government and key stakeholders, including the new Regional Improvement Collaboratives, reflecting the significant role local partners play in the delivery of system-wide improvement.
Improving education is not one person’s responsibility, it is in all of our interests to get this right. I am confident that these new arrangements will ensure a shared responsibility and improve transparency of decision-making while driving our relentless focus on improvement. Rather than just talking about raising standards in education, the new council will deliver them.
Deputy First Minister with the young people representatives ahead of the first meeting of the new council
Membership of the new Scottish Education Council:
- Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (Chair)
- Stephen McCabe, COSLA Children and Young People spokesperson
- Five young people representatives on the council, with two attending each meeting. They will be supported by Young Scot and their names are: Josh Traynor, Cahal Menzies, Rowan Watkins, Olivia Stobart and Amelia Szypczynska
- Janet Brown, Scottish Qualifications Authority Chief Executive
- Larry Flanagan, General Secretary, The Educational Institute of Scotland
- Graeme Logan, interim HM Chief Inspector of Education and Chief Education Adviser
- Ken Muir, Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland
- Joanna Murphy, Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland
- Morag Redford, Chair of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education
- Fiona Robertson, Scottish Government, Director for Learning
- Maureen McKenna, President of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES)
- Jim Thewliss, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland
- Bernadette Malone, Chief Executive, Perth and Kinross Council
- Sheena Devlin, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Tayside Collaborative
- Gayle Gorman, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, The Northern Alliance
- Douglas Hutchison, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South West Collaborative
- Carrie Lindsay, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, South East Alliance
- Robert Naylor, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative
- Mhairi Shaw, Regional Improvement Collaborative Lead, The West Partnership
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Reading Time: 3 minutes
Another visit to my beloved Mansfield Traquair Centre this evening. 17 years on and it still takes my breath away. To have the responsibility and the stewardship of a place like this a privilege.
This evening was the Friends AGM. Formal business was blessedly succinct. A conversation between Susy Kirk and Elizabeth Cumming was delightful.
Chatting afterwards I confessed to a slight girl-crush at the moment for Dr Bendor Grosvenor.
What’s not to like about fighting for open access to the nation’s cultural heritage? The Chairman of our Board of Trustees (Dr Duncan Thomson) clearly agrees as he was one of the signatories to this letter in The Times.
This is a subject close to my own heart, and to friends in the room with me this evening. I’ve written about the Royal Hospital for Sick Children Mortuary Chapel murals before.* Many of us this evening remain concerned and worried for their future.
Fundamentally though, how do you raise awareness of the murals uncertain future when so few people know about them now?
One of the problems with public awareness is the location of the murals. They have remained largely inaccessible for over 100 years as they form an integral part of an incredibly intimate, private, and moving place. A mortuary chapel in a children’s hospital.
The most obvious way of making such a space more accessible, without being intrusive, is to make good quality images available online under open licenses. Until recently the only images that existed either belong to NHS Lothian (all rights reserved – mostly 35mm slides), or to Historic Environment Scotland (crown copyright – majority of images listed in Canmore date from 1982 and are not available online even to view).
I’m pleased to say that’s not the case any more. There are now 62 high quality images** of the murals, all available on Wikimedia Commons for immediate use under a CC-BY 4.0 license. Since initial upload they have already had their categorisation data enhanced and been linked up to Phoebe Traquair’s Wikidata profile by a keen editor (not me!).
I can already see the images appearing in Google image searches, and we know from other experiences that Wikimedia Commons is proving rich pickings for press articles.
My next steps are to complete the Wikipedia article I have been writing about the murals. Once that has been published the Google secret sauce will push it very swiftly to the top of the page rankings and the murals and their story will slowly start to become more open to all.
“What can be done, here and there, with moderate means and ordinary folk with such labour as they can spare […] open space amid the slums ” (Patrick Geddes)
* It’s worth briefly saying why these murals in particular are important and why they merit their Category A listing. They are the first mural scheme by Phoebe Anna Traquair. Traquair was a key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland. She worked as an embroiderer, enamellist, book binder, illustrator and painter. She was the first important professional female artist in Scotland, and in recognition of this was the first female honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy. The murals are also the product of a commission by the Edinburgh Social Union, founded by Patrick Geddes. They are the sole survivor of around 20 commissions instigated by the ESU. In 1899 in a published interview, Traquair herself considered them to be her finest work.
** Honourable mention for several ladies is required here. Dr Sally Ann Huxtable of the National Museums of Scotland who recommended the superb Diane Holdsworth’s photographic skills; Diane for doing the work pro-bono; and Sorrel Cossens of NHS Lothian for facilitating access. As with Phoebe herself, women of determination can achieve great things.
When I’m asked what I’d like for Christmas, my responses over the last few years have been fairly predictable. Books. And Whisky. But mostly books. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon over the Christmas period, sitting quietly wth a book ( and occasionally, a whisky), and books are a lovely gift to give. When people give me books it always strikes me as the most personal gift as the givers often want me to read what they’ve read, experience what they’ve experienced.
Discovering ‘The Christmas Book Flood’, from Iceland, started a wee idea rattling around my old noggin. The act of making Christmas Eve the time to share a book with someone you care about; one book you take the time to choose and buy and wrap for a special person in your life seems a beautifully simple but important one. Spending at least some of your time sitting reading quietly might be a lovely time spent before the chaos of the following day.
So here’s a wee plan: why don’t we do the same here? Why don’t we start our own ‘Christmas Book Flood’? I suggest as many of us as possible put aside some time on Christmas Eve to exchange books with someone at home. Spend the rest of the night reading and eating chocolate if you like, but definitely some reading.
Perhaps we can create a hashtag – #xmasbookflood ?- and share a photo of the book or of you reading your book by the Christmas tree, if you like. It might be a nice way to create a new (minor) tradition for Christmas. It might just be a nice way to share books and encourage us all to read a little more. So who’s up for it?
For many years as a school leader I tried to engage with, and use, research evidence to inform the actions we took in our schools to improve learning and teaching. I have always been an avid reader and consumer of professional reading, both as a teacher and later, when I became a school leader. When we took a collective decision to embrace practitioner enquiry as a vehicle for professional and school development, myself and colleagues began to extend this reading into more academic writing, as well as research papers. However, the more I read, and the more I engaged with researchers, academics and university staff, the more murky became the picture I was looking at.
The old Mark Twain adage about there being 'Lies, damned lies, and statistics' could equally be applied to research, especially in the complex world of education and learning. It would seem, to my poor layman eyes, with respect to research in this field, that you can find evidence from across the globe that will tell you exactly what you already think, and back up your already formed opinions and professional judgement, if that is what you are looking for. No matter that your colleague in the next school, thinks and acts differently to yourself, because, if they are really interested, they will be able to find some research that backs up what they say and do as well!
This was brought home to me at an ICSEI conference a few years ago where Andreas Schleicher, the PISA guru so fond of the power of statistics, spoke via a video-link about the need for data and evidence to be informing our actions. Afterwards, Professor David Reynolds spoke of his admiration for Schleicher in his ability and willingness to defend the distorted and narrow data that PISA produces, along with the conclusions Mr Schleicher and others draw from these. Of course he had his tongue thoroughly in his cheek as he paid his 'compliment' and he added that 'Andreas is fond of saying that without data, you are just a person with an opinion.' Reynolds went on to observe that most people in the room to which he was speaking, which was full of researchers, practitioners and policy makers, were keenly aware that 'even with data, you are still just a person with an opinion.'
To observe the many dichotomies that exist, or are created, in education, one only has to look to Twitter and the debates that rage there about what works and what doesn't in education and learning. On Twitter, you can find some very entrenched views and opinions about what should be happening in schools, often these are diametrically opposed by others. Which ever stance particular people take about an area, they will often back this up with evidence, research and analysis. Opponents will quickly shoot back with their own views and quote their own research base to support their opinions, sometimes this might be even the same piece of research as 'opponents' of their view, which they interpret differently.
What is a school teacher, or school leader, to make of all of this? As I say, the more you get into the world of research the murkier the picture can become, when you might expect the opposite would be the case. There is no doubt that our actions in schools and education systems need to be informed by research and evidence. There has been too much practice in our schools and systems that has actually been detrimental to the learning of many of our learners. This is because too much has gone on in schools, because it has always gone on in schools, not because we know it is the most effective and impactful thing to do for learning, or our learners. That has to change, and I believe it is. But, this still leaves practitioners with the issue beautifully expressed by Dylan Wiliam recently as 'everything works somewhere, but nothing works everywhere.' So, what's a teacher or school leader to do? Throwing your hands in the air and saying, 'I haven't got time for all of this!' is not really an option, not if we are trying to do the very best for all our learners. We have a professional responsibility to act professionally.
John Hattie was in Scotland recently, and no I am not going to start picking holes in his meta-analysis and the conclusions he comes to as a result, I will save that for another post. Whilst he was here, he did say that the profession is not very good at recognising, celebrating and shouting about the expertise it has within it. On this point, I would agree with Hattie, and add that we continue to undervalue and underplay our professional knowledge, expertise, and judgement, when it comes to looking for evidence on how we might improve, as well as the impacts we are having. Every improvement document that comes out of Education Scotland or from the Scottish government, talks glowingly about the primacy of 'teacher professional judgement'. I know that similar sentiments are expressed in policy in other systems too. Do we really believe it? I do, and I think the profession as a whole, and those charged with supporting it, as well as holding us to account, need to believe it too. We all should have this as our starting point for being 'evidence, or research informed' in our practice. Reflective teachers and school leaders have in their possession, a whole raft of evidence and practical research about their practice, and their schools, and about what works and what doesn't work in their particular context. Lets us start our quest to be informed by research and evidence with ourselves. Such research evidence is individual and specific, rather general or generic.
Our context is crucial and should shape everything we do. This is not to say we will expect less, or more, because of our particular context, but that we should be completely aware and immersed in our context. Our standards and expectations should remain high, whatever our context. However, that context should help shape our curricular structures and our learning, giving these a real-life focus and connection. Our context will shape our development as well. Development in a small rural environment may look completely different to that in a large urban area, but the focuses will be the same. Whatever our context, we should be looking to develop learning and teaching, developing our staff individually and collaboratively, working in partnership with parents and others, including the community to develop our curriculum structures and enhance learning experiences. I would contend that we have to be informed by our context and community links and relationships, and that these will be different for each setting, and at different times in our journey. Such actions and attitudes, keep learning and schools grounded in their communities, and should be why a 'one-size-fits-all' approach will not work, but a 'one-size-fits-one' is a more realistic model for success.
When we have looked at the evidence and research situated within ourselves, our context and community, we then have to marry that to an engagement with the wider body of research. I have already stated that the field of educational research is fraught with difficulty, contradictions and complexity for the motivated teacher or school leader. How do we make sense of it all? The simple answer is, you can't. You could spend a life-time engaging with all the research that exists, and is being produced, around education, schools, systems and learning, and still not cover much of it. Therefore, you have to narrow your focus.
You need to narrow your focus in perhaps two main ways. One it should be narrowed in terms of what you are looking for, and, secondly in terms of the amount of researchers you are going to look at. I should qualify this by stating that I am considering this completely from the view of practitioners looking to develop their practice and understanding, in order to produce positive impacts for their learners, in their context. Practitioners who wish to engage with higher academic study in order to improve their qualifications, as well as their knowledge and understanding, may well find that the expectations on them will be greater. Most practitioners will engage with research and evidence to help inform their practice or development. If you embark on post graduate study, you can expect to engage with more research and researchers, than would be possible for an in-school full-time practitioner seeking to address issues they have identified. Being informed by research as a practitioner has to be an expectation that is proportionate and manageable.
Through our practitioner enquiry work, we were able to narrow the focus of our search for research and evidence. We identified an issue, individually or collaboratively, then began to look at research about that issue, driven by the desire to eliminate the issue or improve it. Our focus was always small, and this helped us to be specific about the amount and type of research we looked at. I know researchers, or PhD students might throw their hands up and question the validity of what we engaged with as a result, but we were engaging for specific purposes, identified from our own research and our context. This was engaging with such research for immediate practical purposes, not to produce a literature review at the start of a thesis.
Because our focus was narrow, we were also able to keep the amount of researchers we engaged with narrow too. We were helped with this initially by our partnership working with Edinburgh University through Gillian Robinson, but as the years passed, and we became more experienced, we were better able to apply filters and limits ourselves. All the time we were engaging with different research and researchers, we began to build up a bank of such researchers who we trusted and valued, and who were held in some esteem by the profession. This acted as another filter as we got further down the line with enquiry. If you are unable to narrow your focus, your engagement with research will become another weight around your neck, instead of supportive. Also, a narrow focus, means it is so much easier to provide evidence as to the effectiveness of interventions and changes you introduce, as well as to have bigger impacts for your learners and yourself. If things don't improve or work out, a narrower focus also allows you to identify why this might have been the case.
Whatever research you do engage with, you should do so with a critical eye. But, most importantly, you have to learn to pick out the underlying principles, then apply and adjust then according to your context, and your own evidence about your own learners.
I will finish this post by observing that we still have much to learn and understand about all the factors at play in any dynamic learning situation, in schools, or in our education systems. Anyone who says, or thinks, they have all the answers is either lying or deluded. Wiliam is right, there will be strategies and approaches that work in one particular context, or for particular teachers, but which will fail completely when transferred to another context or teacher. They may not even work for the same teacher or context at a different point of time, or with a different cohort and dynamic of learners. School and teacher development is complex and messy and, no matter how much we would like it to be simplified into things we can all do, it will never happen. The best that we can hope for is that we continually explore and develop our understanding and our practice, based on all the factors above, and we can identify and agree principles that will underpin the actions we take. Where dichotomies exist, or emerge, we have to be able to recognise the truths that might lie within both sides of any discourse. This is can be a skill or challenge in its own right, as it may expose our own biases or entrenched viewpoints.
We are all practitioners and we should all be researchers. We have to blend the two to give us the opportunity to do the best we can, for all our learners, so that we may all become the 'intelligent medium of action' as advocated by John Dewey in 1895!
(The original text of my article in TES Scotland 20th November 2017)
It would seem, if you follow the progress of our exam system through both social and traditional media, that from P1 to S3 exams don’t matter; then they do for a couple of years, but only if you do well; then we’ll photograph your kids literally jumping for joy and put it in the papers. If they don’t, we’ll create a Twitter hashtag telling them that it doesn’t matter. A conveyor belt of ‘celebrities’ will sympathise, claiming, ‘I got nothing at school and I turned out all right, didn’t I?’ We’ll all have our stories of why exam success isn’t the be all and end all.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between.
With each year of experience it’s often sobering to think of the number of young people who come through my classroom door. Entering my nineteenth year of teaching, I was shocked to realise that some of the first kids I taught will be well in to their thirties by now. I recently met a former pupil in Glasgow, instantly recognisable and memorable as one of those kids who had been, in his own words, a ‘nightmare’. A polite and erudite young man, he now runs his own business and is married with a couple of kids. He left school with nothing but a whole heap of negative baggage but went on to be a responsible, successful individual.
As a secondary teacher, I do believe that the best thing we can provide for our young people is a strong set of qualifications which will allow them to move on to the next stage of their lives, whatever that may be. That may not sit well with the principles of the Curriculum for Excellence but it is what I’m judged on whether I like it or not: it is what Secondary Schools are judged on. However, this is a damning indictment of those kids who fail to achieve at school, whatever the circumstances. Meeting my former pupil merely reaffirmed the folly of the way our education system works.
Is it not patronising to tell kids who don’t do well in exams that it doesn’t really matter? They, we assume, worked hard at those exams, perhaps expected to pass. Failing is a perfectly natural lesson in life so telling them that it doesn’t matter demeans them as individuals. Is it important to do well in your exams? Of course it is. Will your life be over if you fail? Of course not. But you will have to reconsider your options. Assisting kids in being able to deal with the disappointment instead of metaphorically telling them to ’cheer up’ is a more responsible and caring way to help them grow and develop.
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National award ceremony celebrates quality improvement initiatives.
Nine individuals and organisations have been recognised for their work to improve services for babies, children, young people and families at the Quality Improvements Awards 2017.
The awards are designed to celebrate innovative quality improvement work that is strengthening support and services for families across Scotland, helping ensure every child has the best possible start in life and can reach their full potential as they grow up.
There were nine winners across ten categories including:
- Achieving Results at Scale: South Lanarkshire Community Planning Partnership
- Co-production with Families and Our Services: Midlothian Sure Start
- Excellence for QI in Maternity, Neonatal and Paediatric: Royal Hospital for Children, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde
- Excellence for QI in Early Years: NHS Ayrshire and Arran: SPIN
- Excellence for QI in Primary Years: Renfrewshire Council, Our Lady of Peace Primary School
- Excellence for QI in Secondary Years: East Ayrshire Council
- Inspiring Leadership: Carrie Lindsay, Executive Director Education and Children’s Services, Fife Council
- Most Inspiring / Innovative Project: Renfrewshire Council, Glencoats Primary School
- Quality Improvement Champion: Fiona Riddell, Stow Primary School, Scottish Borders
- Top Team: Royal Hospital for Children, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
The awards were open to those delivering quality improvement work through the Maternity and Children’s Quality Improvement Collaborative (MCQIC), run by Healthcare Improvement Scotland and the Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative (CYPIC), run by the Scottish Government.
This year there were 140 entries across all ten categories, detailing how local people and teams have improved health, early years and family services and schools.
Maree Todd, Minister for Childcare and Early Years said:
“The Quality Improvement Awards provide an opportunity to showcase and share proven approaches that are making a positive and lasting difference to the lives of children, young people and families.
“Evidence shows that collaboration builds capacity and interventions built on collaboration have the biggest impact. These Awards demonstrate clearly, the link between collaborative working, better practice and improved outcomes and it is clear there are great examples already taking place across Scotland.
“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the winners and thank everyone who submitted an entry.”
Dr Brian Robson, Medical Director, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, said:
“The QI awards are a fantastic opportunity to showcase the enthusiasm and commitment demonstrated by professionals and organisations throughout the public sector.
“Their work is imperative in helping to improve the life chances for babies and young people across Scotland. Congratulations to all the winners and nominees who have shown such dedication to making Scotland the best place to grow up.”
Winners were announced at the QI Awards ceremony on Tuesday 21 November at the Glasgow Science Centre.
Further information and videos of the shortlisted and winning projects are available here.
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