Author Archives: fearghal

One question which could enhance your enquiry groups⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

I am in the incredibly fortunate position to get to meet and discuss leadership and enquiry with a wide range of people involved in education across Scotland and beyond. What’s heart warming is to see the growing enthusiasm for supporting teacher leadership to develop practice which is, and practitioners who are, best placed to meet the needs of children and young people. It’s also great to see more and more schools agreeing to take an enquiring approach to making that happen…but what exactly does that look like?

A number of the conversations I have had recently would suggest that many schools are taking the approach of ‘enquiry groups’. These often involve small groups of the school’s staff, often with an element of choice, which each enquire into an aspect of practice. The whole school might be developing numeracy, and each group is enquiring into an aspect of numeracy practice, or the scope might be wider and have each group enquiring into a different aspect of pedagogy across curricular areas. This for many schools is a great step forward, and any professional learning which allows teachers time to reflect upon and develop their practice in small groups can only be a good thing. However, I would suggest that if you are taking this approach you could make one small tweak to your process which might help really unleash the potential of these groups.

Start with the question: ‘what do we want to be different for our young people?’ Not at a whole school level. But at the individual level, and then the group. This one question has the power to greatly enhance what the enquiry group then goes on to do as it shifts the exercise from being largely a whole-school improvement and professional learning exercise to a deeply personal enquiry into practice which makes a meaningful difference to the children in each teacher’s care. It also allows you to meaningfully gather and analyse evidence of impact as you know what it is you are hoping your change of practice will achieve. It also allows teachers the scope to consider issues of equity in their contexts and how this might be addressed through an enquiring approach.

Take for example an enquiry group who are looking at approaches to improving homework. In scenario A this could go as follows:

  • Group meets and shares experiences of and current practice in setting homework. They read and discuss literature to explore possible ways of making homework better.
  • Each member of the group agrees to try out one possible alternative approach to homework.
  • Each member of the group gathers some evidence, i.e. the homework artefacts and possibly a survey of the young people plus their own reflections, and reports back to the rest of the group.
  • The group shares their findings with the school.

However, in scenario B, this same group could proceed like this:

  • Group meets and shares experiences of and current practice in setting homework. They ask themselves what do we want to be different for your young people as a result of this? They discuss the biggest issues facing them in their practice right now. For one teacher this is that homework is making no impact on the learning. For another teacher the pupils never do their homework and huge amounts of time is wasted chasing this. One teacher is worried about pupils from the most deprived areas and their lack of access to resources to complete homework. Another teacher is frustrated that the pupils give up too easily and leave most of their homeworks blank. The last member of the group is worried about a student in their class who has English as an additional language and isn’t even keeping up with the learning in class let alone homework.
  • The group explores literature for different approaches to homework practice and discusses how each of their identified issues might be addressed through changes to homework practice. They also speak to learners in their classes to discuss current homework practice and the issues arising to explore possible solutions that they might have.
  • Each teacher decides upon and tries an approach to homework practice which will impact upon the needs of their learners. These approaches are different and tailored to the needs of their learners.
  • Each teacher gathers evidence of the impact their change in homework practice has had on the learners in question. Each approach to evidence gathering is different as appropriate for the issue they were interested in addressing.
  • They share their learning with each other and with the whole school.

For me, the fundamental differences between these two scenarios are that the first is serving the needs of the school, whereas the second is serving the needs of the learners as judged by the teachers involved. And also, the first scenario is hoping to achieve change but isn’t clear why, whereas in the second there is a clear purpose to the change in practice which can be related to tackling inequality and evidenced in terms of impact.

So, if you’re planning an enquiry groups approach for next session, perhaps you might consider how you could enhance these groups by asking this one question at the outset…

What do we want to be different for our young people?

Achieving equity in practice #TLconference⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

There are very few teachers who would argue with the current focus in Scottish education on closing the poverty related attainment gap. How could you? However, I’m pretty sure that if I were still in the classroom I would have been wondering what I could do more or differently to help achieve this. As a teacher, I felt that I was doing as a much as I could to help all students achieve as much as possible, so what more could I do?

When I saw the tweet above I got an inkling as to what I could be doing differently as a teacher and with my colleagues if I were still in school. I don’t remember ever looking at the attainment disparity in my students based on SIMD data and exploring the reasons for any differences and considering what I could do about them. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

This thought has been further fuelled by some discussions I was part of at the recent #TLconference in Miami. I have a stereotype in my head of assessment in the US whereby teachers have the autonomy to issue grades to their students based on relatively personal and behavioural judgements and that these grades were important to the life chances of students. I was surprised to discover that whilst not universally the case, this isn’t unheard of. There are moves to progress towards standards based assessment afoot, but the practice described above is still prevalent according to some of the teachers I was speaking to.

What I wasn’t aware of however was how tightly this practice is interwound with issues of race. I was informed that many schools there have tracking, whereby students are recommended for different levels of courses based on their grades. Only those who have received the best grades can take the higher level ‘honors’ classes, which in turn are needed for the best college courses. A number of teachers explained to me that as a result of issues throughout the system, “black and brown” (their words – this was the terminology used throughout the conference) students were substantially underrepresented in honors classes. I was quite shocked by the power teachers seemed to yield, which when combined with issues of race appeared potentially very problematic indeed. I heard of efforts to address this through ‘detracking’ and rethinking grading, but these appear to be very contentious initiatives amongst many.

However, since the conference finished I’ve been left wondering, is it that much different in Scotland? If I think back in particular to my National 4 and National 5 classes, or my Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 classes before that, I wonder now how represented students from different SIMD backgrounds were in each class? I fear I know the answer. What’s less clear to me are the reasons for these differences and how they might’ve been addressed. Whereas the differences in the US can be powerfully, and shockingly, visible as described by some of the teachers I spoke to – in that you can physically see the disparity as two classes of different levels line up outside their respective classrooms – in my experience the disparity isn’t always as apparent in Scotland.

So what should we do about it? If I was in school I think I would do three things next week:

  1. Gather and analyse the data as described in the tweet above.
  2. Propose and lead a collaborative enquiry to explore the reasons behind any disparities and develop approaches to practice which would impact upon these disparities.
  3. Use a form of Lyn Sharratt & Beate Planche’s data walls in departmental meetings to collaborate on ensuring everything possible was being done for students who were causing concern in terms of attainment. You can find out more about this at SCEL’s May conference.

No doubt there are already teachers and schools taking approaches such as these in their practice, but probably not all. I do think however that it’s important for us all to continually consider if we’re doing all that we can to ensure the best possible outcomes for all of the learners in our care.

Reading for Pleasure⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

So, let’s be up front about this. The author of this book is a pal of mine. More than that in fact. He was my primary partner in pedagogy during our pedagoo days. As a result, I already respected him massively as an educator and as a person. Rather than this fact hampering my review of his book, I actually think it only serves to enhance it. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to think more highly of Kenny Pieper prior to reading his first (of many, I hope) book, How to Teach Reading for Pleasure, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In this book, Kenny uses his fantastic humour and authenticity to argue passionately for the power of reading and the crucial role teachers have in leading and supporting young people to choose to read. Whilst Kenny generously and modestly shares many of the practical classroom techniques he uses to achieve this he also clearly articulates why this matters for our young people specifically, and society in general. I’m not sure I’ve ever read an edubook which was so entwined with the values and personality of the author. Reading it was like spending time in his company and I found myself frequently nodding and laughing along…the only thing missing was the pint!

If I had one criticism of this book it is that to some extent it is marketed as a ‘how to teach’ book with a particular slant towards secondary teachers of english. As a biology teacher, this book was very relevant to me and I know of primary colleagues who feel the same way. In many ways this book would and should appeal to any and all teachers, and parents, especially those who think that reading matters, not just secondary english teachers. I know if I was still in the classroom I would be doing a few things differently tomorrow as a result…

In case you haven’t guessed, I loved this book and highly recommend it to all. You can get your own copy here.


An Enquiring Matrix⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

Here’s something else which has been on my mind of late regarding practitioner enquiry that I would like to put out there. I know not everyone will be keen on this idea, but the more practitioners I speak to about it, the more I think it is worth exploring.

To me, there is a continuum to practitioner enquiry. I am still developing as an enquiring practitioner, however through the course of my MEd, my use, and understanding, of enquiry became more sophisticated. I would suggest that I am still learning when it comes to enquiry, and in the years since I graduated I have varied in the extent to which I have used the enquiring skills I have developed thus far, largely due to time.

To me therefore, some sort of progression of enquiry would be useful for teachers to support them to know how to progress as enquiring practitioners. However,  I also feel that it would be of value to teachers who are experienced in enquiry to pragmatic choices when taking an enquiring approach to understanding an aspect of their practice.

I’ve therefore made an attempt at a first draft of just such a matrix. At any one time, a teacher could making different progress, or choices, in the different components of enquiry.

What do you think? Would something like this be helpful? If yes, is this the right way of going about it? Can you improve upon this first draft?

Enquiry in the context of leadership, professionalism and agency⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly


This is a conversation which I’m increasingly having, and I wanted to try and capture some of my current thinking. It centres on the nature and role of practitioner enquiry in the various domains of the life and work of a teacher.

Through my work at SCEL, I am focused on supporting teachers to develop as leaders. Our view is that all teachers are leaders of learning and practice and as such can develop as teacher leaders. Once again for clarity, here’s is SCEL’s definition of teacher leadership…

Teacher leaders are passionate about caring for children and young people. Through informed and innovative practice, close scrutiny of pupils’ learning needs and high expectations they play a fundamental role in improving outcomes for children and young people. Teacher leaders are effective communicators who collaborate with colleagues, demonstrate integrity and have a positive impact on their school community. They model career-long professional learning.

Skills, qualities and professional actions demonstrated by teacher leaders can be identified under four main areas:

  • Values and commitment
  • Learning and teaching
  • High expectations and ambition
  • Communication and collaboration

From the SCEL Framework for Educational Leadership

During our recent engagement on teacher leadership, there was broad agreement of this view of teacher leadership, and many teachers expressed a need for more opportunities to develop their skills and confidence as leaders of practice in this sense. It was apparent to me that a programme which used an enquiring approach to support teachers to develop as teacher leaders could be an important aspect of SCEL’s response. We are therefore currently prototyping an online teacher leadership programme with 40 teachers across Scotland, supported by a group of 16 teachers who have significant prior experience of practitioner enquiry. The programme supports teacher professional learning towards the GTCS Standard for Career-Long Professional Learning and is being highly evaluated by the participants thus far. More on this in a future post…

A question which has come up a few times since the launch of the programme is along the lines of how practitioner enquiry relates to leadership, given that others often refer to enquiry in the context of teacher professionalism. In addition, I’ve just started reading Mark Priestley’s new book,  in which they distinguish teacher agency from the perceived definition of teacher leadership, but I would suggest that SCEL’s definition is closer to Mark’s definition of teacher agency. So how does practitioner enquiry fit into all three of these?

My developing view is that practitioner enquiry, and having an enquiring stance, is a key aspect of a teacher’s work and learning as a professional. I also see it as a route to developing the ecological agency in teachers and their contexts as defined by Priestley et al. I also see it as an approach for developing as a leader of learning and pedagogy.

What I’m thinking is that practitioner enquiry, and having an enquiring stance, can be a component of, and contribute to, all three of these domains of being a teacher. It doesn’t fit neatly into any of these boxes and can contribute to all three, and more…


Leadership ≠ Promotion⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

This is just a short post to capture something that I’ve observed over recent months. This is a sweeping generalisation which obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but it’s occurred to me that quite often in Scottish education we use the words ‘leadership’ and ‘promotion’ interchangeably. And by that I mean, we use both words to mean ‘promotion’. I know I’ve done this in the past.

It has become apparent to me over the last year or so that leadership is actually quite a separate concept from promotion. By promotion I mean the appointment of teachers to promoted posts such as PT, DHT, etc. However, leadership is a much broader concept which involves leading people and pedagogy. Anyone, at whatever (un)promoted position, within the system can, or can not, be leading.

I suppose the real issue with using the word leadership to mean promotion is that if you are not promoted, you can assume that you can’t be a leader. But also, if you are promoted you can assume you are already therefore leading, which may not actually be the case in practice.

So the message I need to help get out there is that leadership is not the same as promotion. People in promoted posts can be leaders, but so can classroom teachers and everyone else involved in Scottish education.

There’s only one person who can raise attainment⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly


In my work to support the development of teacher leadership, it’s important for me to reflect upon how this relates to other contemporary drivers in Scottish education, a key one being the National Improvement Framework. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t think that raising the attainment of the children and young people in their care isn’t important. This is equally true of closing the poverty related attainment gap. However, for many teachers, particularly those outwith the challenge authorities, the question often is more about what could they be doing differently in order to achieve these things. The first point I often make is that teachers in Scotland have been raising attainment and working to support children in poverty for years, and we should be seeing ourselves as working from a place of strength. However, it’s clear that for many of Scotland’s children there’s a lot more which could be done. So, what does this look like for teachers and what has it got to do with teacher leadership?

The point I’ve been increasingly making is that ultimately there is only one person who can raise attainment. In the context of this conversation I suspect that people think I’m suggesting that this is a teacher. However, what I actually mean is the learner. In my experience, the only person who can raise a child’s attainment is the child themselves. Only if a child is engaged, happy, ambitious and in possession of a growth mindset can they carry out the cognitive and physical processes required to successfully learn and then confidently share this learning. Attainment being a by-product of successful learning.

In this case, it is therefore those closest to the learner who can have the biggest impact on their ability to learn and succeed. Parents clearly have the biggest role here in terms of supporting and nurturing children, which is why schools are continually developing their approaches to involving parents in the life of the school and learning of their children. However, teachers have a big role to play here also. The relationships and interactions between the teacher and the learner can have a substantial impact on the learning, and the dispositions to learning, of the children and young people in that teacher’s care. And this is where teacher leadership comes in. Here is a section from SCEL’s definition of teacher leadership:

“Teacher leaders are passionate about caring for children and young people. Through informed and innovative practice, close scrutiny of pupils’ learning needs and high expectations they play a fundamental role in improving outcomes for children and young people. Teacher leaders are effective communicators who collaborate with colleagues, demonstrate integrity and have a positive impact on their school community. They model career-long professional learning.”

From SCEL’s Framework for Educational Leadership

Teachers who are confidently developing their practice to meet the needs of their learners, and influencing the practice of their colleagues, are clearly going to be more likely to successfully support their children and young people to achieve. Leaders at other levels in the system are crucial also in creating the right conditions and support to allow these interactions between learner and teacher to develop and flourish, but in the end it is the development of these interactions which is crucial to raising attainment.

In this context therefore, teacher leadership is not “another thing” but a crucial element in our collective drive to improve outcomes for children and young people in Scotland.

Inspiring Leadership #ILConf16⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly


Wow, what a week. I’ve been tremendously lucky to be at the Inspiring Leadership conference in Birmingham this week. This is a high quality event aimed primarily at senior leaders in schools which provides opportunities to learn from inspirational leaders from a wide range of sectors.

One of the challenges however of events like this is that feeling you get at the end. It’s a combination of feeling inspired whilst also somewhat overwhelmed…

In order to help with this I’ve set myself a task as I return home on the train this afternoon. I tend to tweet my notes at events like this and so I’ve gone back through my timeline for the past few days and forced myself to choose just one tweet for each session. Not all of the tweets are mine, some are retweets. You can see each of these below and a short explanation for my choice for each.

You can view the many other Twitter contributions from the conference in the hashtag #ILConf16.

Welcome: Russell Hobby, General Secretary, NAHT
 & Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary, ASCL


The event was impressive in its organisation in that it was collaboratively organised between different bodies. Russell and Malcolm embodied this well in their welcome which seamlessly moved between them both. One of the messages which I liked was around the many ways in which schools in England can work in partnership. I imagine it can be be easy to get caught up in discussions around choosing which model to pick from, rather than working from the needs and priorities for the learners in your school community.

Plenary One
: Andy Buck, Managing Director, Leadership Matters and author


Andy Buck’s opening keynote was very entertaining. Among his many points was this one around the importance of teacher professional learning. Many of us are quite familiar with the potential, and limitations, of effect size data in reference to learning and teaching, I hadn’t seen effect sizes for leadership activities before. The differences in this graph are very interesting and worth further exploration I think.

Plenary Two: Panel session
 – Baroness (Estelle) Morris of Yardley, David Laws & Sir Peter Housden

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

This panel discussion between Estelle Morris, David Laws and Petwr Housden was really interesting. As I say in the tweet, I really enjoy listening to Estelle. She’s got such authenticity and exudes wisdom. They spent quite a bit of time discussing transitioning into senior leadership roles and I really liked Estelle’s point that the best way of doing this is thinking yourself into your next role and then hitting the ground running when you get there.

Plenary Three
: Rt Hon Lord (William) Hague, former Foreign Secretary, historian and humanitarian

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

William Hague was surprisingly amusing, which was a good thing at this time at the end of the first day. He structured his talk around the seven pieces of leadership advice which he wished he’d known before becoming the leader of the opposition. I like the way this tweet captures these seven pieces of advice.

Plenary Four
: Steve Munby, Chief Executive, Education Development Trust

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

I thought Steve Munby was really excellent, I just wished I’d been able to pause and rewind him quite a few times! I particularly liked the way his talk was very targeted to the current needs of the audience and yet filled with emotion and moral purpose. I’ve chosen this tweet as these six questions I think could form the basis of a really powerful piece of professional learning for school leaders.

Plenary Five
: Viviane Robinson, Distinguished Professor in the School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice, Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland and Academic Director of its Centre for Educational Leadership

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

Viviane has clearly got a wealth of research experience and uses this to inform her work with schools. I liked the way she brought the importance of mindsets to the level of the thinking of senior school leaders and then how this then informs the ways in which leaders could interact with others. I chose this tweet as I think it captures the essence of her message.


Leadership with purpose: 
Baroness Sue Campbell CBE, Chair Youth Sport Trust, Head of Women’s Football (FA) and Chair of UK Sport 2003-2013

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

Sue Campbell was really excellent and she brought two perspectives to her talk. The first was what I’d been expecting about the actions of elite atheletes, but she also shared her leadership experiences from the perspective of chairing UK Sport which involved not only leading that organisation, but also working with the many different sport governing bodies. I’ve chosen this tweet as she manages to summarise her advice on leadership onto one, powerful, slide.

Collaboration as a strategy for promoting equity in education: possibilities and barriers
: Professor Mel Ainscow CBE, University of Manchester

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

Mel Ainscow was brilliant. He shared the ways in which schools need to develop their cultures within, between and with the community. I really liked his pragmatic approach to both his, and teachers’, research and I really need to read some of his work. I’ve chosen this tweet as it relates so strongly to my recent engagement on teacher leadership across Scotland, and I even bounded (as best I can) up to him at the end to give him a hard copy of the report.

Plenary Six
: Matthew Syed, writer, broadcaster and three times Commonwealth games champion and Olympian

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

I’m a big mindsets fan and really enjoyed Bounce, however I’d never heard Matthew speak before. I really enjoyed his talk, but he was even better in the Q&A at the end. I’ve chosen this tweet as I don’t think I’d ever made a conscious connection between practitioner enquiry and growth mindset before. Chuffed that I’ve now got a signed copy of his new book and looking forward to reading it…

Plenary Seven
: Zainab Salbi, Iraqi author, humanitarian, social entrepreneur and media commentator. Founder and former CEO Women for Women International

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

Zainab Salbi was phenomenal…such a powerful story. A thread running through her talk was that she was not a leader. Recently she has come to accept and love the fact that she is. This resonates somewhat with me…I think, like many teachers, I used to associate leadership with promotion and management. It wasn’t something I did, and I perhaps even would’ve distanced myself from that word. Zainab helped me to further realise that not only am I a leader, but that’s ok and something which can be celebrated and enjoyed and used to make my work better. I was hanging on her every word and so didn’t tweet much, but I think Lesley captured it perfectly.

Plenary Eight
: David Breashears, climber, photographer, film maker and founder, Executive Director and Principal Photographer of the non-profit organization, GlacierWorks, Inc.

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

David was amazing. He shared the story of his team’s effort to record the first IMAX film of climbing Everest in the midst of a horrific disaster. It was inspirational, awe inspiring and emotional and I loved the fact that as they gazed back at Everest as they left and wondered how on earth they had achieved what they had just achieved, this was their answer.

Plenary Nine: 
Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor to Pearson and the Managing Partner of Delivery Associates

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

I hadn’t realised that this panel session was going to focus on the role of Islam in education. It was a powerful and honest debate and the panellists were excellent. Even more impressive were the students who joined the session and contributed their thoughts both on film and in person. I think this is a conversation which we need to be having more often and in this way, but I’ve chosen Jay’s tweet as the students’ contributions were absolutely fantastic.

Plenary Ten
: Humphrey Walters – Leadership and management expert, sports coach, pilot and sailor

There was a problem connecting to Twitter.

Humphrey closed the conference with a highly entertaining talk based primarily on his experiences as a sailor and a consultant to the World Cup winning English rugby team. I’ve chosen this tweet as I think it captures two powerful messages: focus on what you can control and whatever the turbulence around you is doing, look for the gap in the wave and head for it.

See what I mean? There’s so much in just this small sample of tweets, and there was so so so much more across the three days.

Now I’m planning to let it all percolate through and see where it takes me come Monday…

Putting learners’ faces at the core of improvement⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

I know I’m not going to get a lot of sympathy for this, but one of the slight tensions you face when you leave daily working in schools is that you’re exposed to lots and lots of interesting ideas but you don’t have the context in which to walk in on a Monday morning and give it a go. I know, smallest violins and all that…


However, I’m currently reading Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence by Lyn Sharratt and Beate Planche, if you haven’t got a copy yet you should totally think about getting one. It’s a great book in that it explores the nature of leading collaborative learning from the level of an education system to classrooms. One of their core ideas in the book is using data walls and putting learners’ faces at the core of collaborative improvement. I’m obviously corrupting their complex and rich research and ideas here to summarise what it’s about…best to read it for yourself!

One idea from the book which I would’ve loved to try is a data wall of learners. As a biology department we could’ve found a space in a base or prep room to clear a wall and stick up a little piece of paper for each student like the ones in the image above. Each piece of paper would have the student’s name, their photo, some prior assessment data and spaces to add assessment data from the learning they are currently undertaking. The wall could be divided into sections such as ‘excelling’, ‘on track’, ‘at risk’, ‘concern’. A big proportion of your weekly departmental meeting would then be spent in front of this wall discussing and moving students, adding data and, most importantly of all, discussing interventions which could be undertaken for those students which are at risk or a concern, or who aren’t yet excelling but could be. These could be added as post-its to the wall and reviewed at future meetings. The book also suggests the provision of case conferences for those students who you’re struggling to find ways of successfully supporting. In the absence of a whole school approach to this a work around could be inviting a member of the SLT, learning support and/or guidance teams to a departmental meeting to join the discussion with a focus on these most challenging learners.

As you can see, I’ve totally envisaged it but with nowhere to give it a go! I think the approach could work in primary also, I’ve just thought it through in the context I know best. I think this sort of approach would have the potential to meaningfully impact upon outcomes for learners and could significantly contribute to closing the attainment gap…it could also go a long way to improve many teachers’ experiences of departmental/stage meetings and make these truly collaborative, supportive, impactful and learner-centred.

If you’d like to discuss this idea further with me with a view to giving it a go, please get in touch, or alternatively have a read of Sharratt & Planche’s book for yourself and devise your own interventions…if you do though, I’d still love to hear about them.

Creative Approaches to Curriculum⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly


Yesterday I attended the EFFE’s Creative Approaches to Curriculum Seminar in Edinburgh. Here are some of my notes and thoughts following this event…

Fiona Carnie

The event was introduced by Fiona Carnie, Vice President of EFFE.  She informed us that this event builds on their Improving Social Equity through Education symposium in Edinburgh last year.

She stated that the outcomes from last year’s event included…

  • there is a need to create inclusive and supportive environments for learning.
  • that we need to respect and value teachers and ensure time for teachers to collaborate.
  • how schools are organised are crucial with a need for greater professional autonomy and more distributive forms of leadership.
  • reform is slow and complex. Book recommendation: Finnish Lessons – Progress in Finland have their roots in 1970s policy changes.

Graham Donaldson

Professor Donaldson’s presentation was entitled ‘Ambition and Curriculum Reform’. Some of my notes included…

  • The OECD are beginning to look at supporting the development of curricula.
  • Are we ‘defeating destiny’ in Scottish education?
  • Education is not the same as Qualification.
  • Need to be creating space for engaging learning and teaching.
  • Building the capacity of the teaching profession…changing the approach to educational reform has implications for what it means to be a teacher – move from a training paradigm to a learning paradigm for teachers.
  • The velocity is great. Globalisation, employment, society, education, resources. Technological developments.
  • Nature of learning and teaching process is being changed by technology. This has implications for curriculum and being a teacher.
  • Book recommendation: Average is Over, Tyler Cowan.
  • Report recommendation: Learning to Learn, Learning to Innovate. OECD.
  • “Move from what students should be learning towards what they should become.” Priestley & Biesta, 2014.
  • Tension between ambition and reality of learners’  experiences.
  • Metrics driven short-term reductionism curriculum vortex is where we end up despite our original ambition.
  • Addressing the conundrum:
    • ‘better’ teachers (confidence & capacity to engage with complexity),
    • ‘better’ leadership (is the school actually good, rather than looking good? Relentlessly ambitious with a focus on the children),
    • ‘less’ prescription (much more of the responsibility for high quality learning and teaching rests in the classroom),
    • ‘more’ collaboration (peer to peer learning),
    • ‘rigorous’ accountability (easy for rigour to become rigor mortis)
  • Too many curriculum developers take the ‘McDonald’s approach’ – faithful implementation.
  • First approximation. Explore what’s possible. There isn’t a recipe – strategic exploration.
  • We are ‘…at the end of the beginning’ with CfE.
  • Challenge to close gapS and raise standards without compromising longer-term ambition. An over focus on literacy and numeracy would be unambitious.
  • Strategic exploration of ambitious purposes should supersede faithful implementation of received approaches.
  • ‘Middle’ in the OECD report is more conceptual than structural.

Kari Jørgensen

Kari Jørgensen is a Head Teacher of five schools in Denmark. She shared her own journey and outlined the role of project based in learning in her schools. Of particular interest was the Design to Improve Life tool which teachers in her schools use to structure project-based learning and teach innovation: She finished with the trailer to the film ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ which looks good:

Mike Davies

Mike Davies is a former Head Teacher and works with schools on pedagogic and curriculum renewal. He spoke about his experiences reforming a school as a Head Teacher and how he has then gone on to support similar reforms at Stanley Park High School, where he is now a school governor.

  • There’s no difficulty in envisaging something different, but real difficulty in enacting something different. What role can modelling play in helping?
  • Divided a school of 900 into three small schools.
  • Tartan Curriculum. Deliberately promiscuous.
  • Hellerup. School built around learning, not teaching.
  • Emphasising relationships.
  • A Curriculum that Counts (ATL) resource includes a case study of Stanley Park High School:

Lesley James

Lesley James was Director of Education at the RSA and was heavily involved in the creation of their Opening Minds programmes. She shared the background of the development of the programme and how they’ve gone on to setting up the RSA Academy:

Alan Armstrong

Alan Armstrong is one of Education Scotland’s Strategic Directors. He shared the variety of work which Education Scotland is undertaking to support the development of creativity and digital learning across the system. He made reference to Education Scotland’s 3-18 curriculum impact report – Creativity.

Overall, I left the day struck by the strong interconnectedness between curriculum and leadership. Whilst national curriculum and assessment policies play an important role, the realities of the experiences of learners also depends to a large extent on how these policies are interpreted and implemented by educational professionals working in the system. Senior leaders in schools have a crucial role in creating the culture, contexts and structures to support the creative implementation of curricula, whereas teachers as leaders of pedagogy also play an equally important role in working with colleagues  to make the curriculum real in their classrooms. There were many overlaps between messages from the day and the issues which arose from our recent teacher leadership engagement, however it was useful for me to be reminded of the importance of teacher leadership in the context of developing the curriculum, something which I’ve reflected upon before in a now previous life.