Author Archives: George Gilchrist

Scottish education governance announcement⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

John Swinney has today made his long expected announcement regarding the governance structure he wishes to introduce into Scottish education. This announcement followed a consultation on his proposals and his determination that Scottish education needs to improve, and part of the way of achieving this is by giving headteachers, teachers and parents more say in what goes on in their schools, As you can imagine, there has been a lot of resistance to his proposals, especially from local authorities, who have an almost 100% responsibility for public schools at the moment.

When he stood up in the Scottish parliament, Mr Swinney announced that his new governance structure would be underpinned by three 'key pillars. These are to be enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers combined with a Headteacher Charter, Regional Improvement Collaboratives and Local Government.

The 'statutory Headteacher Charter' would sit at the heart of these reforms he said and this would make headteachers the leaders of learning, with responsibility for raising attainment and closing of attainment gaps. They would have more freedom to decide on curriculum content, under a wide national framework, and would have more direct control over  more of their devolved school funding. In addition headteachers would be free to select and manage the teachers and staff in their schools, and determine the management structure for those schools. parent Councils are to be modernised and strengthened to support and promote parental involvement in schools and the ability to support their children with their learning.

The Regional Improvement Collaboratives are aimed at 'building capacity for educational improvement within the system' and are to offer another layer of support for schools and headteachers. These will be led by new Regional Directors who will report directly to the Chief Inspector of education. The collaboratives will  be made up of council education employees, Education Scotland staff, 'and others'.

The third pillar, local government would still have an important role to play and they would retain a vital role in the system, providing a wide range of support services to schools and headteachers. They would still remain as employers of staff in schools, and would have to ensure the quality of headteachers appointed into their schools. They would retain responsibility for the number of schools and catchment areas, and would still provide for denominational and Gaelic provision. They would also have responsibility for the placing and admissions for children requiring additional support.

He added that Education Scotland would be subject to 'significant change', though he said in response to later questions that he still wanted Education Scotland to retain both its Inspection, and its support function, for schools. His argument being that headteachers would then only have to look in one direction in terms of understanding what was expected of them. He also announced that Karen Reid, the current chief executive of the Care Inspectorate, will lead Education Scotland, supported by Graham Logan as acting Chief Inspector and chief Education Advisor until a new appointment is made later in the year.

As with all such announcements, the devil is in the detail. We await to see if the rhetoric and political statement matches what is actually delivered. There is little detail as yet to how some of these aspects may look. I don't think you can argue with Mr Swinney's vision for Scottish education, but we need to reconcile this with some of his actions. I can already see tensions will begin to emerge between the 'three pillars' as they discuss/argue over who has responsibility for what. A lot of the new powers that headteachers will have already exist in my opinion. As for establishing management structures and employment of staff, I am not sure where the leeway lies here for headteachers to tackle these when employment, and presumably budgets, still resides within the local authority hands. If headteachers have the room to shape the curriculum, how much space is going to be given by the other 'pillars' to allow this to happen? There are still too many headteachers, and teachers, who like being told exactly what to do, and they will have to move right out of their comfort zones. I welcome any attempt to help parents to be more involved in schools, in order to support learning, and think any more steps in this direction are to be welcomed. but, again, there are some in the system who will feel threatened by this.

In truth, there is not much in the statement that was not unexpected. I would just say to Mr Swinney that if we really want to improve Scottish education then his focus, and ours, should be very much on ITE and professional development for all. Improvement cannot be mandated. It is through the hearts and minds of teachers, school leaders, other staff and partners, that we will bering about positive change. structures and [policy can support us in these endeavours, or they can throw more obstacles in the way of the people trying to deliver every day for all our learners. To them, this is not a political game, but a professional and personal commitment, that puts learners at the heart of everything they do. They also understand that there are no 'silver bullets' to improvement, just a relentless desire to get better, informed by research and data, and having the necessary time, support and trust to deliver. I will watch the development of these approaches with interest, but I wonder how much time people will have to really make and shape them so that they work for everyone, but especially our learners?

Scottish education governance announcement⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

John Swinney has today made his long expected announcement regarding the governance structure he wishes to introduce into Scottish education. This announcement followed a consultation on his proposals and his determination that Scottish education needs to improve, and part of the way of achieving this is by giving headteachers, teachers and parents more say in what goes on in their schools, As you can imagine, there has been a lot of resistance to his proposals, especially from local authorities, who have an almost 100% responsibility for public schools at the moment.

When he stood up in the Scottish parliament, Mr Swinney announced that his new governance structure would be underpinned by three 'key pillars. These are to be enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers combined with a Headteacher Charter, Regional Improvement Collaboratives and Local Government.

The 'statutory Headteacher Charter' would sit at the heart of these reforms he said and this would make headteachers the leaders of learning, with responsibility for raising attainment and closing of attainment gaps. They would have more freedom to decide on curriculum content, under a wide national framework, and would have more direct control over  more of their devolved school funding. In addition headteachers would be free to select and manage the teachers and staff in their schools, and determine the management structure for those schools. parent Councils are to be modernised and strengthened to support and promote parental involvement in schools and the ability to support their children with their learning.

The Regional Improvement Collaboratives are aimed at 'building capacity for educational improvement within the system' and are to offer another layer of support for schools and headteachers. These will be led by new Regional Directors who will report directly to the Chief Inspector of education. The collaboratives will  be made up of council education employees, Education Scotland staff, 'and others'.

The third pillar, local government would still have an important role to play and they would retain a vital role in the system, providing a wide range of support services to schools and headteachers. They would still remain as employers of staff in schools, and would have to ensure the quality of headteachers appointed into their schools. They would retain responsibility for the number of schools and catchment areas, and would still provide for denominational and Gaelic provision. They would also have responsibility for the placing and admissions for children requiring additional support.

He added that Education Scotland would be subject to 'significant change', though he said in response to later questions that he still wanted Education Scotland to retain both its Inspection, and its support function, for schools. His argument being that headteachers would then only have to look in one direction in terms of understanding what was expected of them. He also announced that Karen Reid, the current chief executive of the Care Inspectorate, will lead Education Scotland, supported by Graham Logan as acting Chief Inspector and chief Education Advisor until a new appointment is made later in the year.

As with all such announcements, the devil is in the detail. We await to see if the rhetoric and political statement matches what is actually delivered. There is little detail as yet to how some of these aspects may look. I don't think you can argue with Mr Swinney's vision for Scottish education, but we need to reconcile this with some of his actions. I can already see tensions will begin to emerge between the 'three pillars' as they discuss/argue over who has responsibility for what. A lot of the new powers that headteachers will have already exist in my opinion. As for establishing management structures and employment of staff, I am not sure where the leeway lies here for headteachers to tackle these when employment, and presumably budgets, still resides within the local authority hands. If headteachers have the room to shape the curriculum, how much space is going to be given by the other 'pillars' to allow this to happen? There are still too many headteachers, and teachers, who like being told exactly what to do, and they will have to move right out of their comfort zones. I welcome any attempt to help parents to be more involved in schools, in order to support learning, and think any more steps in this direction are to be welcomed. but, again, there are some in the system who will feel threatened by this.

In truth, there is not much in the statement that was not unexpected. I would just say to Mr Swinney that if we really want to improve Scottish education then his focus, and ours, should be very much on ITE and professional development for all. Improvement cannot be mandated. It is through the hearts and minds of teachers, school leaders, other staff and partners, that we will bering about positive change. structures and [policy can support us in these endeavours, or they can throw more obstacles in the way of the people trying to deliver every day for all our learners. To them, this is not a political game, but a professional and personal commitment, that puts learners at the heart of everything they do. They also understand that there are no 'silver bullets' to improvement, just a relentless desire to get better, informed by research and data, and having the necessary time, support and trust to deliver. I will watch the development of these approaches with interest, but I wonder how much time people will have to really make and shape them so that they work for everyone, but especially our learners?

Professional development that goes beyond compliance⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

I have not been posting much recently, as I am concentrating on the book I am currently writing about practitioner enquiry. However, I am still keeping an eye on things via Twitter, and through one or two groups and organisations I am working with. Last week I was considering professional learning as part of my own writing, but also because of a group I am working with was considering Professional Standards in Scotland, and a Twitter chat I took part in about teacher engagement with research. When these were combined with latest pronouncements from Scottish Government and Education Scotland, I thought I needed to post something before another 'initiative' built up too much of a head of steam or momentum with little comment.

Some of the most respected names in educational research have had their say about what the best professional learning looks like in education.

Helen Timperley has said, ' It is no longer acceptable for professionals in schools to do their individual best. Rather, it is expected that they will engage collectively with what is known to be effective in improving outcomes for all students.' (AITSL 2011)

Michael Fullan said, 'Learning in context requires that we focus on changing the culture of the school so that educators learn continuously in the setting in which they work.' (2008 WWFFH)

BERA have noted, '..that research-informed, evidence-based teaching is vital to the broader project of school improvement and transformation, to raising achievement and building inclusion, and to strategies designed to 'close gaps' in educational outcomes....' (2014 The Role of Research in Teacher Education)

Alma Harris has written, 'Real improvement... means focusing on the needs of the learner first and working relentlessly to improve pedagogy so those needs are effectively met.' (2014 Distributed Leadership Matters)

And, finally John Hattie argues that in the best schools, 'professionalism ...is achieved by teachers and school leaders working collaboratively to achieve 'visible learning inside.'' He also states that such schools have 'a community of teachers that .. work together to ask questions, evaluate theirm impact and decode on the optimal next steps.' (2012 Visible learning For Teachers)

I could go on, and on, with more of the same, but I think we get the picture. Teachers are important to the learning process. They need to collaborate and situate their professional learning in their individual and local context. They need to continually learn, and ground their learning in evidence and research, and they need to measure the impact of their professional development and learning in terms of the production of positive impacts for all learners.

The above understandings are fundamental in the GTCS Professional Standards in Scotland. When a group of us were considering these recently we were challenged by Dr Margery McMahon of Glasgow University to consider 'how we moved beyond mere compliance?' An issue that is most difficult when looking at professional standards is how much of them is about compliance and minimum standards, and how much are they about promoting and supporting professional development and growth? When we focus more on the compliance aspect, there is a danger they encourage very much a 'tick-box' approach to practice and development. Perhaps, we need to consider again the purpose of professional standards? Perhaps we are in danger of conflating two contrasting and conflicting purposes, at the expense of the most important one, especially in cultures that are high on accountability and top-down direction, and low on trust.

It is interesting that some of us were having these conversations not long before it became common knowledge, over the last few days, that the Scottish Government were seriously looking at an approach similar to  the 'Teach First' programme found in England, as a way of dealing with teacher shortages in Scotland. This has set alarm bells ringing throughout the profession, not least as our devolved Government seem hell bent on copying so much Tory educational policy. Yes we want, and need, to deal with shortages, but not at the expense of quality and expertise. Teaching is a complex and professional undertaking, not a technical and mechanistic one that you can learn as you go. In my view, it requires high quality entrants, properly prepared and educated at university level, and with a career-long disposition and commitment to keep learning and developing using research and evidence as they do so. In that way we can produce high quality professional educators, with high levels of adaptive expertise and agency, and who are 'self-improving in their practice and mindsets. This provides continual benefit to them individually, their schools and the system as a whole.

Education Scotland have been promoting the Scottish Learning Festival this last week or so. This is an annual jamboree, that has more to do with self-promotion and selling than learning. It is a common frustration with this event that it is almost impossible for teachers to attend, unless they are 'showcasing' some practice on behalf of their local authority, as it happens mid-week, Wednesday and Thursday. So the 'audience' mainly consists of Education Scotland, Local Authority Staff, Governments and other organisations, talking to each other and patting each other on the back.  On their Twitter feed education Scotland have been trying to 'sell' this free event to teachers by asking 'Did you know that attending #SLF17 can contribute towards career-long prof learning?' I question this on two accounts. the first is that it continues to position career-long professional learning as constituting attendance at a series of one-off events or courses, that participants can tick off to show they have attended. The other is how it completely fails to recognise how much it costs schools to release a teacher for a day, or two, to attend an event like this, and which is likely to result in zero impact for learners. Harsh? I will let you decide.

The Scottish government is determined to 'reform' Scottish education, Mr Swinney and Ms Sturgeon have said so on many occasions and to many audience. Can I suggest that if they really want to make a difference they pay more attention to high quality teacher preparation and teacher professional development. We really need to have a conversation about what this should look like, based on the research and evidence from experts across the world, including many of their own 'international panel'. If we accept the research and the evidence, then individuals, schools and systems are going to have to change so many of their current approaches to, and practices of, professional development.

A commitment to career-long professional development that has impact needs to be thoroughly understood by all in the system. It needs to be high-level and situated in a teacher's professional context, and where they are on their own particular development journey. It should equip teachers to become more and more able to improve themselves, as they understand why, and how they need to grow their practice, and support their colleagues to do the same. They need to understand and embrace system leadership and teacher leadership as we move ever closer towards the self-improving system. Apparently that is what government and system leaders want. If that is the case, schools, local authorities and government need to be prepared to properly support and resource such development, and, most importantly, they better be prepared to accept the results!

It is my contention that when we have teachers, and school leaders, who are research rich, with high levels of adaptive expertise, and who embrace teacher leadership, teacher agency and dispersed leadership, then we will have a profession better able to meet the needs of all learners, but also to push back against the neo-liberal agendas currently to the fore in our own system and many others. Is that what you really want? Or do you just want compliance?

Professional development that goes beyond compliance⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

I have not been posting much recently, as I am concentrating on the book I am currently writing about practitioner enquiry. However, I am still keeping an eye on things via Twitter, and through one or two groups and organisations I am working with. Last week I was considering professional learning as part of my own writing, but also because of a group I am working with was considering Professional Standards in Scotland, and a Twitter chat I took part in about teacher engagement with research. When these were combined with latest pronouncements from Scottish Government and Education Scotland, I thought I needed to post something before another 'initiative' built up too much of a head of steam or momentum with little comment.

Some of the most respected names in educational research have had their say about what the best professional learning looks like in education.

Helen Timperley has said, ' It is no longer acceptable for professionals in schools to do their individual best. Rather, it is expected that they will engage collectively with what is known to be effective in improving outcomes for all students.' (AITSL 2011)

Michael Fullan said, 'Learning in context requires that we focus on changing the culture of the school so that educators learn continuously in the setting in which they work.' (2008 WWFFH)

BERA have noted, '..that research-informed, evidence-based teaching is vital to the broader project of school improvement and transformation, to raising achievement and building inclusion, and to strategies designed to 'close gaps' in educational outcomes....' (2014 The Role of Research in Teacher Education)

Alma Harris has written, 'Real improvement... means focusing on the needs of the learner first and working relentlessly to improve pedagogy so those needs are effectively met.' (2014 Distributed Leadership Matters)

And, finally John Hattie argues that in the best schools, 'professionalism ...is achieved by teachers and school leaders working collaboratively to achieve 'visible learning inside.'' He also states that such schools have 'a community of teachers that .. work together to ask questions, evaluate theirm impact and decode on the optimal next steps.' (2012 Visible learning For Teachers)

I could go on, and on, with more of the same, but I think we get the picture. Teachers are important to the learning process. They need to collaborate and situate their professional learning in their individual and local context. They need to continually learn, and ground their learning in evidence and research, and they need to measure the impact of their professional development and learning in terms of the production of positive impacts for all learners.

The above understandings are fundamental in the GTCS Professional Standards in Scotland. When a group of us were considering these recently we were challenged by Dr Margery McMahon of Glasgow University to consider 'how we moved beyond mere compliance?' An issue that is most difficult when looking at professional standards is how much of them is about compliance and minimum standards, and how much are they about promoting and supporting professional development and growth? When we focus more on the compliance aspect, there is a danger they encourage very much a 'tick-box' approach to practice and development. Perhaps, we need to consider again the purpose of professional standards? Perhaps we are in danger of conflating two contrasting and conflicting purposes, at the expense of the most important one, especially in cultures that are high on accountability and top-down direction, and low on trust.

It is interesting that some of us were having these conversations not long before it became common knowledge, over the last few days, that the Scottish Government were seriously looking at an approach similar to  the 'Teach First' programme found in England, as a way of dealing with teacher shortages in Scotland. This has set alarm bells ringing throughout the profession, not least as our devolved Government seem hell bent on copying so much Tory educational policy. Yes we want, and need, to deal with shortages, but not at the expense of quality and expertise. Teaching is a complex and professional undertaking, not a technical and mechanistic one that you can learn as you go. In my view, it requires high quality entrants, properly prepared and educated at university level, and with a career-long disposition and commitment to keep learning and developing using research and evidence as they do so. In that way we can produce high quality professional educators, with high levels of adaptive expertise and agency, and who are 'self-improving in their practice and mindsets. This provides continual benefit to them individually, their schools and the system as a whole.

Education Scotland have been promoting the Scottish Learning Festival this last week or so. This is an annual jamboree, that has more to do with self-promotion and selling than learning. It is a common frustration with this event that it is almost impossible for teachers to attend, unless they are 'showcasing' some practice on behalf of their local authority, as it happens mid-week, Wednesday and Thursday. So the 'audience' mainly consists of Education Scotland, Local Authority Staff, Governments and other organisations, talking to each other and patting each other on the back.  On their Twitter feed education Scotland have been trying to 'sell' this free event to teachers by asking 'Did you know that attending #SLF17 can contribute towards career-long prof learning?' I question this on two accounts. the first is that it continues to position career-long professional learning as constituting attendance at a series of one-off events or courses, that participants can tick off to show they have attended. The other is how it completely fails to recognise how much it costs schools to release a teacher for a day, or two, to attend an event like this, and which is likely to result in zero impact for learners. Harsh? I will let you decide.

The Scottish government is determined to 'reform' Scottish education, Mr Swinney and Ms Sturgeon have said so on many occasions and to many audience. Can I suggest that if they really want to make a difference they pay more attention to high quality teacher preparation and teacher professional development. We really need to have a conversation about what this should look like, based on the research and evidence from experts across the world, including many of their own 'international panel'. If we accept the research and the evidence, then individuals, schools and systems are going to have to change so many of their current approaches to, and practices of, professional development.

A commitment to career-long professional development that has impact needs to be thoroughly understood by all in the system. It needs to be high-level and situated in a teacher's professional context, and where they are on their own particular development journey. It should equip teachers to become more and more able to improve themselves, as they understand why, and how they need to grow their practice, and support their colleagues to do the same. They need to understand and embrace system leadership and teacher leadership as we move ever closer towards the self-improving system. Apparently that is what government and system leaders want. If that is the case, schools, local authorities and government need to be prepared to properly support and resource such development, and, most importantly, they better be prepared to accept the results!

It is my contention that when we have teachers, and school leaders, who are research rich, with high levels of adaptive expertise, and who embrace teacher leadership, teacher agency and dispersed leadership, then we will have a profession better able to meet the needs of all learners, but also to push back against the neo-liberal agendas currently to the fore in our own system and many others. Is that what you really want? Or do you just want compliance?

Twitter for professional development in education⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Having been an active user of Twitter for some time now, I have come to see the power of this platform to aid my professional development and grow my thinking. Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves and many others, have demonstrated the power, and necessity,  of 'focused collaboration' to school and professional development. Twitter is another way that educators can extend that collaboration beyond the daily physical limitations of where they work and live, and the colleagues they meet, and work with, face to face. That is not to say it is without its faults and issues, just as there will be issues in your day to day interactions with the people you collaborate or work with. But, for me, the advantages of adding another layer of collaboration through Twitter, far outweigh the disadvantages. As with any actions or interactions you need to engage critically, reflectively and thoughtfully. I am seeing more and more new colleagues dipping their toes in the waters of Twitter, and it is to these that I want to say 'welcome!' and offer one or two pieces of advice.

If you have joined Twitter to help develop your thinking and improve your practice, great! You can do this through collaboration of all kinds, but to collaborate you need to engage. After all, Twitter is a social media platform, and for it to be 'social' it needs people, and it needs those people to engage with each other. Creating an account and starting to follow people is just the very beginning of that process. When you create your account you need to think about a few things, in order to get the most out of your Twitter experience. The first is your name. Most people are quite happy to use their own name, though you may have to change things slightly if there is someone with the same name as you already with an account. I have to reverse my own to @gilchristgeorge as there was already a George Gilchrist registered. You can also add a number to  identify you e.g. georgegilchrist10, or you can add something that is unique to you to help identify the real you e.g. georgegilchristheadteacher. Whatever you choose, it needs to be something linked and easily recognisable as you.

Some people choose to remain anonymous on Twitter and use some sort of name that is designed to keep their identity hidden. There are many reasons why you may choose to do this, sometimes it is a parody account, such as @thebadheadteacher, designed to poke fun and raise issues that the creator may struggle to do using their real identity. Whatever the reason people choose for remaining anonymous, I think it reduces their ability to engage and collaborate if other users don't know who it is they are speaking to. As with everything, its your decision though. Another early decision is whether to make your account a 'locked' one or an 'open' one. If you have an 'open' account it means anyone can request to follow you and immediately see all your tweets. In a 'locked' account, anyone wanting to follow you and see your tweets, has to request to be allowed to do so from yourself, then wait until this is approved, or not. I have always used an 'open' account, because I want people to be able to follow me easily and I wanted to build up my collaborative network quickly. I think a lot of people who have created 'locked' accounts do so because they are afraid they are going to get people following them who they would prefer not to. But even with an 'open' account you can stop this from happening by 'blocking' or 'muting' them, so they can't follow you, or see your tweets. I have always looked to be open with people, however I might be working with or collaborating with them, and I apply the same principle to Twitter. During my seven years of using Twitter I have rarely had to block anyone, though I have had 'follow' requests from people I have not followed back, but whom I don't mind if they are seeing my tweets. Generally, I will follow back any other educators, or researchers, unless they are trying to sell me something. Some people will DM (Direct Mail ) you as soon as you follow them, to get you to look at their Facebook site or some resource they are promoting. Not cool, and I usually unfollow them pretty quickly.You will have to decide your own filter in these respects.

Two other early considerations you need to make are about your profile. The first is, are you going to include your photograph? I do, but many don't and they will use avatars or cartoons in their profile. I have used these in the past too, but I prefer a photo, so people can see who they are interacting with, if they have never met me. This helps make the connection more real in my eyes. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable putting their photo out there, but at least it shows you are a real person, and it can be interesting changing them from time to time to show something of yourself and your life. Its another way to help people to get to know you as well. I have lost count of the number of times people have come up to me at conferences and said, 'are you George Gilchrist?' because they knew me from Twitter, but recognised me from the photo in my profile. Adding a background image, and refreshing this from time to time, also keeps your profile fresh and interestiing The second consideration is the description you write of yourself in  your profile. The first rule is write one, because, if you want to collaborate and interact with people, they need to know a little about you and your interests. So, just a little (you are limited anyway by Twitter) description of your role and interests will suffice and tells people a little bit about you. This really does help you build up contacts and collaborators. A lot of people add something to the effect that 'all views are my own' so that people understand they are expressing their own views and not their employers, and it can help them remember that themselves too!

Once you have created your account, and sorted out your profile, you are ready to go. You may have in mind  people you already know that you want to follow, these might be friends and colleagues who are already on Twitter. It might be worth considering here the main purpose of your account. Is it for developing professional contacts and promotion of collaboration? Is it personal and just that? Or, is it a mix of both? Whatever you have decided, this will probably point you in the direction of people you might like to follow. Twitter will start sending you suggestions of who you might like to follow as well, once you are active and they can see the types of things you are interested in. When I first set up my account, it was mainly to connect with people interested in leadership, education and learning, and still is. I also tweet some personal stuff (see this weekend's tweets re the Eurovision Song Contest) but none of it really controversial. You have to remember whatever you tweet all your followers can see.

Start following people and they will probably start following you back, especially if they know you already. It can also help just putting out an initial tweet saying something like, 'Hi, have just joined Twitter and hoping to connect with people interested in keeping learning interesting', or something like, remembering the character limits. This will often get you your first followers who you don't already directly know. One thing is for certain, you have to tweet. I see so many accounts where people have started and built up a hundred or so followers, and who are obviously interested in education, but who have sent out no tweets. 'Use it or lose it' might be a good maxim. If you are here to collaborate then you need to do that and start speaking to people. Is no good just lurking in the background and watching what is going on. That is not collaboration and helps no-one. Its like the person who signs up for a course or conference and then decides not to contribute. What's the point? Get your feet wet and start making real contacts with real people, that's what you are here for.

Now you are underway, you may want to build up your followers and the number of people you are following. The more of both, the greater the range of interactions and the greater the opportunity to develop your thinking and practice further, and the busier your timeline becomes. You do this through engagement. Reply to people's tweets and join in with conversations when they are happening, or later if you can't do this in real time. That is one of the joys of twitter for professional development, you access it when you want, not when you are told. As you contribute to conversations, you will find more followers, as the people you are engaging with have their followers, and they will see your tweets too. Another great way to build followers and contacts is by taking part in some of the 'chats' that happen almost every day on Twitter. These normally have hashtags (#), which you have to use to join in the discusions and sharing of practice. Some examples are #SLTchat on a Sunday evening, for those interested in school leadership issues, #PrimaryRocks on a Monday night for those interested in primary education, #EdChatUK on a Thursday night, which looks at all education. These are good starters for educators in the UK. There are also many secondary subject chats that happen throughout the week, and specialist chats like Early Years, Support for Learning, Additional Needs, NQTs, and so on. There are also chats that are international in nature. There  is #IncludEDau and #aussieEdChat which happen on a Sunday morning and are great chats about education and will help you build up contacts in Australia. There are similar chats in other countries and all of them encourage people to participate from wherever they are. I have taken part in chats from USA, Germany, Holland, Ireland and New Zealand and have made some super contacts and collaborations as a result.

The key to building up your presence on Twitter is active engagement. You need to be aware of some issues though. Bots are a bit of a nightmare. These are not real accounts, with real people, they are designed to send out messages, spam and sometimes porn, via Twitter. If you detect them you can block them, but if they take over your account you need to inform Twitter and change your password. You will get people contacting you offering to sell you thousands of Twitter followers. These people usually only have a few followers themselves, and why would you? Unless you're a business of some sort, possibly. As in any group of people, you will find some you don't really like or get on with. Debate and discussion is fine, but personal abuse is never acceptable. if you are subjected to any of this, I suggest you report and block. Some people will never change their minds or their views about anything and they can resort to online bullying. Life's too short to worry about them, so just block and move on.


As I said at the start the advantages for educators of being on Twitter far outweigh the disadvantages. Like any tool or resource, it is only as useful or as good as the person using it. My advice is to use it, critically engage, build links and contacts who can help and support you, and vice versa, to develop and grow your thinking and practice. Twitter should be a place for all the contribute to the discourse around schools and education and, like a lot of learning, it needs to be fun and enjoyable too. We can all contribute to that. What Twitter can do is give you a voice in the discourse that might otherwise not be heard. I have always believed the practitioner's voice needs to be raise and listened to, Twitter helps with that.

Twitter for professional development in education⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Having been an active user of Twitter for some time now, I have come to see the power of this platform to aid my professional development and grow my thinking. Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves and many others, have demonstrated the power, and necessity,  of 'focused collaboration' to school and professional development. Twitter is another way that educators can extend that collaboration beyond the daily physical limitations of where they work and live, and the colleagues they meet, and work with, face to face. That is not to say it is without its faults and issues, just as there will be issues in your day to day interactions with the people you collaborate or work with. But, for me, the advantages of adding another layer of collaboration through Twitter, far outweigh the disadvantages. As with any actions or interactions you need to engage critically, reflectively and thoughtfully. I am seeing more and more new colleagues dipping their toes in the waters of Twitter, and it is to these that I want to say 'welcome!' and offer one or two pieces of advice.

If you have joined Twitter to help develop your thinking and improve your practice, great! You can do this through collaboration of all kinds, but to collaborate you need to engage. After all, Twitter is a social media platform, and for it to be 'social' it needs people, and it needs those people to engage with each other. Creating an account and starting to follow people is just the very beginning of that process. When you create your account you need to think about a few things, in order to get the most out of your Twitter experience. The first is your name. Most people are quite happy to use their own name, though you may have to change things slightly if there is someone with the same name as you already with an account. I have to reverse my own to @gilchristgeorge as there was already a George Gilchrist registered. You can also add a number to  identify you e.g. georgegilchrist10, or you can add something that is unique to you to help identify the real you e.g. georgegilchristheadteacher. Whatever you choose, it needs to be something linked and easily recognisable as you.

Some people choose to remain anonymous on Twitter and use some sort of name that is designed to keep their identity hidden. There are many reasons why you may choose to do this, sometimes it is a parody account, such as @thebadheadteacher, designed to poke fun and raise issues that the creator may struggle to do using their real identity. Whatever the reason people choose for remaining anonymous, I think it reduces their ability to engage and collaborate if other users don't know who it is they are speaking to. As with everything, its your decision though. Another early decision is whether to make your account a 'locked' one or an 'open' one. If you have an 'open' account it means anyone can request to follow you and immediately see all your tweets. In a 'locked' account, anyone wanting to follow you and see your tweets, has to request to be allowed to do so from yourself, then wait until this is approved, or not. I have always used an 'open' account, because I want people to be able to follow me easily and I wanted to build up my collaborative network quickly. I think a lot of people who have created 'locked' accounts do so because they are afraid they are going to get people following them who they would prefer not to. But even with an 'open' account you can stop this from happening by 'blocking' or 'muting' them, so they can't follow you, or see your tweets. I have always looked to be open with people, however I might be working with or collaborating with them, and I apply the same principle to Twitter. During my seven years of using Twitter I have rarely had to block anyone, though I have had 'follow' requests from people I have not followed back, but whom I don't mind if they are seeing my tweets. Generally, I will follow back any other educators, or researchers, unless they are trying to sell me something. Some people will DM (Direct Mail ) you as soon as you follow them, to get you to look at their Facebook site or some resource they are promoting. Not cool, and I usually unfollow them pretty quickly.You will have to decide your own filter in these respects.

Two other early considerations you need to make are about your profile. The first is, are you going to include your photograph? I do, but many don't and they will use avatars or cartoons in their profile. I have used these in the past too, but I prefer a photo, so people can see who they are interacting with, if they have never met me. This helps make the connection more real in my eyes. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable putting their photo out there, but at least it shows you are a real person, and it can be interesting changing them from time to time to show something of yourself and your life. Its another way to help people to get to know you as well. I have lost count of the number of times people have come up to me at conferences and said, 'are you George Gilchrist?' because they knew me from Twitter, but recognised me from the photo in my profile. Adding a background image, and refreshing this from time to time, also keeps your profile fresh and interestiing The second consideration is the description you write of yourself in  your profile. The first rule is write one, because, if you want to collaborate and interact with people, they need to know a little about you and your interests. So, just a little (you are limited anyway by Twitter) description of your role and interests will suffice and tells people a little bit about you. This really does help you build up contacts and collaborators. A lot of people add something to the effect that 'all views are my own' so that people understand they are expressing their own views and not their employers, and it can help them remember that themselves too!

Once you have created your account, and sorted out your profile, you are ready to go. You may have in mind  people you already know that you want to follow, these might be friends and colleagues who are already on Twitter. It might be worth considering here the main purpose of your account. Is it for developing professional contacts and promotion of collaboration? Is it personal and just that? Or, is it a mix of both? Whatever you have decided, this will probably point you in the direction of people you might like to follow. Twitter will start sending you suggestions of who you might like to follow as well, once you are active and they can see the types of things you are interested in. When I first set up my account, it was mainly to connect with people interested in leadership, education and learning, and still is. I also tweet some personal stuff (see this weekend's tweets re the Eurovision Song Contest) but none of it really controversial. You have to remember whatever you tweet all your followers can see.

Start following people and they will probably start following you back, especially if they know you already. It can also help just putting out an initial tweet saying something like, 'Hi, have just joined Twitter and hoping to connect with people interested in keeping learning interesting', or something like, remembering the character limits. This will often get you your first followers who you don't already directly know. One thing is for certain, you have to tweet. I see so many accounts where people have started and built up a hundred or so followers, and who are obviously interested in education, but who have sent out no tweets. 'Use it or lose it' might be a good maxim. If you are here to collaborate then you need to do that and start speaking to people. Is no good just lurking in the background and watching what is going on. That is not collaboration and helps no-one. Its like the person who signs up for a course or conference and then decides not to contribute. What's the point? Get your feet wet and start making real contacts with real people, that's what you are here for.

Now you are underway, you may want to build up your followers and the number of people you are following. The more of both, the greater the range of interactions and the greater the opportunity to develop your thinking and practice further, and the busier your timeline becomes. You do this through engagement. Reply to people's tweets and join in with conversations when they are happening, or later if you can't do this in real time. That is one of the joys of twitter for professional development, you access it when you want, not when you are told. As you contribute to conversations, you will find more followers, as the people you are engaging with have their followers, and they will see your tweets too. Another great way to build followers and contacts is by taking part in some of the 'chats' that happen almost every day on Twitter. These normally have hashtags (#), which you have to use to join in the discusions and sharing of practice. Some examples are #SLTchat on a Sunday evening, for those interested in school leadership issues, #PrimaryRocks on a Monday night for those interested in primary education, #EdChatUK on a Thursday night, which looks at all education. These are good starters for educators in the UK. There are also many secondary subject chats that happen throughout the week, and specialist chats like Early Years, Support for Learning, Additional Needs, NQTs, and so on. There are also chats that are international in nature. There  is #IncludEDau and #aussieEdChat which happen on a Sunday morning and are great chats about education and will help you build up contacts in Australia. There are similar chats in other countries and all of them encourage people to participate from wherever they are. I have taken part in chats from USA, Germany, Holland, Ireland and New Zealand and have made some super contacts and collaborations as a result.

The key to building up your presence on Twitter is active engagement. You need to be aware of some issues though. Bots are a bit of a nightmare. These are not real accounts, with real people, they are designed to send out messages, spam and sometimes porn, via Twitter. If you detect them you can block them, but if they take over your account you need to inform Twitter and change your password. You will get people contacting you offering to sell you thousands of Twitter followers. These people usually only have a few followers themselves, and why would you? Unless you're a business of some sort, possibly. As in any group of people, you will find some you don't really like or get on with. Debate and discussion is fine, but personal abuse is never acceptable. if you are subjected to any of this, I suggest you report and block. Some people will never change their minds or their views about anything and they can resort to online bullying. Life's too short to worry about them, so just block and move on.


As I said at the start the advantages for educators of being on Twitter far outweigh the disadvantages. Like any tool or resource, it is only as useful or as good as the person using it. My advice is to use it, critically engage, build links and contacts who can help and support you, and vice versa, to develop and grow your thinking and practice. Twitter should be a place for all the contribute to the discourse around schools and education and, like a lot of learning, it needs to be fun and enjoyable too. We can all contribute to that. What Twitter can do is give you a voice in the discourse that might otherwise not be heard. I have always believed the practitioner's voice needs to be raise and listened to, Twitter helps with that.

Professional development to produce the self-improving system⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

If you are a teacher, school leader or system leader, what does effective professional development look and feel like to you?

Our thoughts around professional development have certainly changed during my own time as a school leader. When I first became a school leader, and previously as a teacher, professional development consisted of a smorgasbord of training and activity that we dipped into as and when we pleased. Sometimes this was linked to school development, but often there was little or no such link. Basically, you picked something you fancied doing, then hoped your headteacher, or school, had enough Continuous Professional Development (CPD) funding to allow you to attend. If the answer was a positive one, off you went, with little if any demand for you to demonstrate the impact of your training, or to disseminate any insights gained amongst colleagues. This was professional development based on personal choice, and was characterised as being most often done to you, rather than by you.

Thankfully, most teachers, schools and their leaders have moved on from the completely ad-hoc scenarios described above, as we now have a more focused attitude towards professional development, and how it can support professional and school growth. However, I still think we have more to do. Nowadays, Career Long Professional Development (CLPD) has a much greater profile across the profession, and is included in the Professional Standards of the General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS). The introduction of the Professional Update requirement for all teachers in Scotland has put even more focus on the professional development of all teachers and school leaders, as this requires them to demonstrate their continuous engagement with such professional development, and importantly its impact for learners. But still too many teachers, and dare I say schools and Local Authorities, seem to view all this through a lense which places high value on the attendance on courses and events, rather than as part of a continuous and connected process of career-long development and growth.

I view professional development as an ongoing and continuous process of professional renewal and growth of expertise. It needs to be individualised and contextualised and its impact needs to be measured in terms of improved outcomes for all learners, including the professional at its centre. It needs to lead to embedded changes in thinking, understanding and practice and a change in the personal and professional identity for those engaged in the process. It should become a professional disposition and commitment for all educators, and acknowledged as such by the profession. This is professional development undertaken by you, and shaped by you, not something done to you.

Some researchers have suggested that  teachers grow and change their practice most during the first three years or so of their careers, and that this then plateaus off during the rest of their careers, and they can then become resistant to change and a bit set in their ways. I have no doubt there are some teachers who exhibit such characteristics but, in my experience, most teachers and school leaders are generally trying to get better at what they do. Sometimes, however, they lack clarity in how they may most effectively go about this. This lays them open to the pick-and-mix approach to professional development or worse, susceptible to the latest fads and trends. Therefore, they need to be clear in their minds that their professional growth and renewal is dependent on them taking charge, and seeking to improve, based on research and evidence to help them achieve this. They need to develop the skills and experience to engage critically with such research and evidence, and avoid becoming passive consumers of anything presented to them under that guise.

Professional development needs to be individualised. In my experience, true change and growth only happens when individuals identify their own strengths and development needs, and then identify what they can do to get better. This also has to be linked to their particular context, professional and personal. Like all development, this needs to be fitted into the rhythm of school and personal life, so that it becomes truly embedded, and is not viewed as an add on. In my experience, add-ons soon drop off. Professional development should meet individual needs and fit in with whole-school development. This should be easily achievable if schools and individuals are focused on improving learning and teaching experiences and outcomes for all learners, as their main driver. Better still, this should be measured over a career, not just a term or a year.

The measure of the success of any professional development activity and process should be in terms of improved outcomes for all learners, including the person engaged in the development process. We should be able to identify how professional development has lead to improved outcomes for our learners, both in the short term and the long. This is where the regular collection of some baseline data, not lots, is important. Because we can then see and demonstrate improvements that are taking place. I am a great believer in development being seen best over time and we should not be looking to demonstrate improvements too quickly, as such development can just as quickly disappear if change is not deep, embedded and sustainable. Also importantly, there has to be improved outcomes for the professional, and their professional and personal identity should  grow and change over time. Their practice, thinking and understandings should be continually evolving as they model themselves as life-long, and career-long, learners. Their ability to self-regulate, reflect, diagnose and solve, in order to improve, develops their agency and adaptive expertise.

In my view, if outcomes for learners and teachers are continually improving, because of the cultures and dispositions developed by the profession, then so are they for their schools and the systems within which they operate. Only then will we truly have the self-improving system many seek.




Professional development to produce the self-improving system⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

If you are a teacher, school leader or system leader, what does effective professional development look and feel like to you?

Our thoughts around professional development have certainly changed during my own time as a school leader. When I first became a school leader, and previously as a teacher, professional development consisted of a smorgasbord of training and activity that we dipped into as and when we pleased. Sometimes this was linked to school development, but often there was little or no such link. Basically, you picked something you fancied doing, then hoped your headteacher, or school, had enough Continuous Professional Development (CPD) funding to allow you to attend. If the answer was a positive one, off you went, with little if any demand for you to demonstrate the impact of your training, or to disseminate any insights gained amongst colleagues. This was professional development based on personal choice, and was characterised as being most often done to you, rather than by you.

Thankfully, most teachers, schools and their leaders have moved on from the completely ad-hoc scenarios described above, as we now have a more focused attitude towards professional development, and how it can support professional and school growth. However, I still think we have more to do. Nowadays, Career Long Professional Development (CLPD) has a much greater profile across the profession, and is included in the Professional Standards of the General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS). The introduction of the Professional Update requirement for all teachers in Scotland has put even more focus on the professional development of all teachers and school leaders, as this requires them to demonstrate their continuous engagement with such professional development, and importantly its impact for learners. But still too many teachers, and dare I say schools and Local Authorities, seem to view all this through a lense which places high value on the attendance on courses and events, rather than as part of a continuous and connected process of career-long development and growth.

I view professional development as an ongoing and continuous process of professional renewal and growth of expertise. It needs to be individualised and contextualised and its impact needs to be measured in terms of improved outcomes for all learners, including the professional at its centre. It needs to lead to embedded changes in thinking, understanding and practice and a change in the personal and professional identity for those engaged in the process. It should become a professional disposition and commitment for all educators, and acknowledged as such by the profession. This is professional development undertaken by you, and shaped by you, not something done to you.

Some researchers have suggested that  teachers grow and change their practice most during the first three years or so of their careers, and that this then plateaus off during the rest of their careers, and they can then become resistant to change and a bit set in their ways. I have no doubt there are some teachers who exhibit such characteristics but, in my experience, most teachers and school leaders are generally trying to get better at what they do. Sometimes, however, they lack clarity in how they may most effectively go about this. This lays them open to the pick-and-mix approach to professional development or worse, susceptible to the latest fads and trends. Therefore, they need to be clear in their minds that their professional growth and renewal is dependent on them taking charge, and seeking to improve, based on research and evidence to help them achieve this. They need to develop the skills and experience to engage critically with such research and evidence, and avoid becoming passive consumers of anything presented to them under that guise.

Professional development needs to be individualised. In my experience, true change and growth only happens when individuals identify their own strengths and development needs, and then identify what they can do to get better. This also has to be linked to their particular context, professional and personal. Like all development, this needs to be fitted into the rhythm of school and personal life, so that it becomes truly embedded, and is not viewed as an add on. In my experience, add-ons soon drop off. Professional development should meet individual needs and fit in with whole-school development. This should be easily achievable if schools and individuals are focused on improving learning and teaching experiences and outcomes for all learners, as their main driver. Better still, this should be measured over a career, not just a term or a year.

The measure of the success of any professional development activity and process should be in terms of improved outcomes for all learners, including the person engaged in the development process. We should be able to identify how professional development has lead to improved outcomes for our learners, both in the short term and the long. This is where the regular collection of some baseline data, not lots, is important. Because we can then see and demonstrate improvements that are taking place. I am a great believer in development being seen best over time and we should not be looking to demonstrate improvements too quickly, as such development can just as quickly disappear if change is not deep, embedded and sustainable. Also importantly, there has to be improved outcomes for the professional, and their professional and personal identity should  grow and change over time. Their practice, thinking and understandings should be continually evolving as they model themselves as life-long, and career-long, learners. Their ability to self-regulate, reflect, diagnose and solve, in order to improve, develops their agency and adaptive expertise.

In my view, if outcomes for learners and teachers are continually improving, because of the cultures and dispositions developed by the profession, then so are they for their schools and the systems within which they operate. Only then will we truly have the self-improving system many seek.




All that glitters is not gold⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective



As an educator, my aim is to help all the learners in the schools I lead to discover their talents and achieve their potential. I recognise them all as individuals and aim for them to retain their individuality as they grow and develop. One of my schools has 'Go For Gold!' as a school motto, put in place by a previous headteacher and pupils. I have never used this too much, as I have always had concerns about some of the messages it sends out. But this year, we took this as the theme for all our assemblies, and have shaped these around the qualities and dispositions we all need to be the very best we can be. So we have talked about collaboration, perseverance, persistence, resilience, and pupils have shared successes and achievements they have had both in school and outside. Some of these have involved pupils in winning medals and trophies, but many more have been about personal achievements that are more intrinsically valued than extrinsically recognised.


However, I still feel the messages we are trying to give are often deflected by those of the culture and society in which our learners exist. It still seems to me that our politicians, media, sports organisations, culture and many parents, are still obsessed by winners, at the expense of everyone trying to achieve their own personal best. Don't get me wrong, I am not anti sport, or excellence in sport (or anywhere else for that matter). I have been involved in sport all my life, both as a competitor and as a coach, and I really appreciate and understand the talent, dedication and sheer hard work it takes to get to the top of any sport or activity. But, for me, sport and achievement have always been about more than just the headline grabbing elite performers. It has to be about the grassroots, the millions of participants who take part because of their love of the activity, and the coaches and others who help them have those opportunities, and help to develop their understanding of how they can support their own wellbeing throughout life.


To many governments sport, and the winning of gold medals, is about national pride and prestige. We can trace this back in the modern era to Germany in the 1930s, then Russia, China, East Germany, and all the western governments that thought the same but were perhaps not so explicit in the strategies they employed. This led to State-sponsored doping programmes and ruthless approaches to the treatment and abuse of athletes and coaches, many of which we are still seeing across many sports today. The 'win at all costs' mentality which has embroiled athletes, coaches and sports and has led to one scandal after another. Amongst all this the Olympic Games has become a bloated and tainted version of what it once was, riven by by drugs, cash and political egos. And yet we still talk about 'legacy', especially when countries seek to justify the vast amounts needed to host them. But, what is the 'legacy'? It is supposed to be a sporting infra-structure and culture that remains and is detectable years after the event in the country and society that sacrificed so much, and paid so much, to be the host. We only need to look at what has happened in Rio, and in London and the UK, following their Games, to see what happens to these dreams of 'legacy'.


However, there is a subliminal 'legacy' to events like this, and it is; that if you don't have a medal, preferably gold, you have failed. That's the harsh message we are giving to young people and to the sports they love being part of, not to mention those who have worked so hard to get to such events.




Sport is awash with money from the lottery and elsewhere, but after each major games there is a reappraisal of funding distribution. If you have not made your target, as an individual or a sport, you will face having your funding cut or removed altogether. The message is, 'we are only interested in winners'. The fact that a sport like badminton, for instance, is one of the most popular participatory sports in the UK, counts for nothing, and funding is gone. The ruthless way that some sports governing bodies treat their athletes sends out very similar messages. Cycling, swimming, athletics and others have been embroiled in accusations of bullying and treating their athletes in very harsh ways, as they have come under more and more pressure to deliver results i.e medals. The same sports have also been caught up in doping controversies and, to me, it seems this is a direct result of the pressure for ever improving results to maintain funding, and the amounts of money that are available at the top end of so many sports.


All of this re-enforces the message that young people get that winning is the 'be all' of sports participation. You might want to be the best you can, but if you are not at the top and capable of winning medals, we certainly don't value your efforts the same. Is this culture much different to the ills of the German, Soviet and East German systems of the past? In terms of the messages being sent out, implicitly and explicitly, I don't think there is a lot of difference. We still get politicians and media basking in the light of Olympic and World Championship successes achieved by other, but which they see themselves as having facilitated. What about the rest, the majority?


Should I be saying to our learners, 'we are only interested if you are the best'? Of course not, but isn't that what society, culture, media, advertisements, are saying to them all the time. In the light of this bombardment messages about winning, and being the best, it is amazing that so many young people still want to be active participants in sport, though it might go some way to explain the huge drop-off experienced by many as they enter their teenage years. Look at the messages given from programmes like 'X Factor', 'The Voice', 'Britain's Got Talent' and so on, some of which ridicule and humiliate entrants before the one 'winner' is identified and the producers move on.


My further worry is that we are in danger of importing the same culture into education, with the same disastrous results. So we have inspections where 'Good' or 'Very Good' are not enough. Now we have to be 'Excellent' or 'Outstanding'. We have more and more standardised testing so we can rank pupils and put them in percentiles. We have league tables, where everyone wants to be at the top, even though we know this is impossible. We have politicians telling us, parents and children, we want you all to be better than average, and if you are not it is the school's fault. Even though this is another statistical impossibility. Not content with national league tables, we now have international ones, and every politician wants their system to be at the top. The media is full of how schools, and systems, are 'failing' because they are falling down the tables, or are not at the top, whilst being full of praise for questionable systems that sit at the top of them. And all the while the message we are sending to learners is that if you are not the best, we are not interested, or you're failing. How long before more schools, for some are already there, start ranking pupils and putting these on display, so everyone can see the 'stars' and 'the rest'?


Such a culture is not going to inspire learners to be persistent, to persevere, to collaborate, to be resilient and to keep striving to be the best they possibly can. Such a culture is unlikely to promote growth mindsets in learners and their teachers. Such a culture will encourage cheating and gaming of the system, because the stakes for those involved have become so so high. Such a culture will be telling learners 'you are not just good enough' or that they are 'failing'. Such a culture will promote the power of the individual at the expense of others, 'dog eat dog'., with parents fighting to make sure their child or children has as much advantage over other as possible.


There is no doubt we should all be committed to improving what we do. The motivation for this should be intrinsic and a disposition in everything we do. When we have our focus on gradings, league tables, funding, kudos and reputation, we lose sight of the individuals we are supposed to be supporting and helping to grow. We have the wrong 'drivers' for change and to therefore assess success. Good luck and well done to anyone who sits at the top of any performance list, but lets not lose sight of the millions that will sit below that pinnacle. As any sportsperson will tell you luck and opportunity play a great part in any success, and perhaps we should strive to reduce the impact of these in our schools and education systems, in order to give everyone the chance to thrive, rather than just the few.

All that glitters is not gold⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective



As an educator, my aim is to help all the learners in the schools I lead to discover their talents and achieve their potential. I recognise them all as individuals and aim for them to retain their individuality as they grow and develop. One of my schools has 'Go For Gold!' as a school motto, put in place by a previous headteacher and pupils. I have never used this too much, as I have always had concerns about some of the messages it sends out. But this year, we took this as the theme for all our assemblies, and have shaped these around the qualities and dispositions we all need to be the very best we can be. So we have talked about collaboration, perseverance, persistence, resilience, and pupils have shared successes and achievements they have had both in school and outside. Some of these have involved pupils in winning medals and trophies, but many more have been about personal achievements that are more intrinsically valued than extrinsically recognised.


However, I still feel the messages we are trying to give are often deflected by those of the culture and society in which our learners exist. It still seems to me that our politicians, media, sports organisations, culture and many parents, are still obsessed by winners, at the expense of everyone trying to achieve their own personal best. Don't get me wrong, I am not anti sport, or excellence in sport (or anywhere else for that matter). I have been involved in sport all my life, both as a competitor and as a coach, and I really appreciate and understand the talent, dedication and sheer hard work it takes to get to the top of any sport or activity. But, for me, sport and achievement have always been about more than just the headline grabbing elite performers. It has to be about the grassroots, the millions of participants who take part because of their love of the activity, and the coaches and others who help them have those opportunities, and help to develop their understanding of how they can support their own wellbeing throughout life.


To many governments sport, and the winning of gold medals, is about national pride and prestige. We can trace this back in the modern era to Germany in the 1930s, then Russia, China, East Germany, and all the western governments that thought the same but were perhaps not so explicit in the strategies they employed. This led to State-sponsored doping programmes and ruthless approaches to the treatment and abuse of athletes and coaches, many of which we are still seeing across many sports today. The 'win at all costs' mentality which has embroiled athletes, coaches and sports and has led to one scandal after another. Amongst all this the Olympic Games has become a bloated and tainted version of what it once was, riven by by drugs, cash and political egos. And yet we still talk about 'legacy', especially when countries seek to justify the vast amounts needed to host them. But, what is the 'legacy'? It is supposed to be a sporting infra-structure and culture that remains and is detectable years after the event in the country and society that sacrificed so much, and paid so much, to be the host. We only need to look at what has happened in Rio, and in London and the UK, following their Games, to see what happens to these dreams of 'legacy'.


However, there is a subliminal 'legacy' to events like this, and it is; that if you don't have a medal, preferably gold, you have failed. That's the harsh message we are giving to young people and to the sports they love being part of, not to mention those who have worked so hard to get to such events.




Sport is awash with money from the lottery and elsewhere, but after each major games there is a reappraisal of funding distribution. If you have not made your target, as an individual or a sport, you will face having your funding cut or removed altogether. The message is, 'we are only interested in winners'. The fact that a sport like badminton, for instance, is one of the most popular participatory sports in the UK, counts for nothing, and funding is gone. The ruthless way that some sports governing bodies treat their athletes sends out very similar messages. Cycling, swimming, athletics and others have been embroiled in accusations of bullying and treating their athletes in very harsh ways, as they have come under more and more pressure to deliver results i.e medals. The same sports have also been caught up in doping controversies and, to me, it seems this is a direct result of the pressure for ever improving results to maintain funding, and the amounts of money that are available at the top end of so many sports.


All of this re-enforces the message that young people get that winning is the 'be all' of sports participation. You might want to be the best you can, but if you are not at the top and capable of winning medals, we certainly don't value your efforts the same. Is this culture much different to the ills of the German, Soviet and East German systems of the past? In terms of the messages being sent out, implicitly and explicitly, I don't think there is a lot of difference. We still get politicians and media basking in the light of Olympic and World Championship successes achieved by other, but which they see themselves as having facilitated. What about the rest, the majority?


Should I be saying to our learners, 'we are only interested if you are the best'? Of course not, but isn't that what society, culture, media, advertisements, are saying to them all the time. In the light of this bombardment messages about winning, and being the best, it is amazing that so many young people still want to be active participants in sport, though it might go some way to explain the huge drop-off experienced by many as they enter their teenage years. Look at the messages given from programmes like 'X Factor', 'The Voice', 'Britain's Got Talent' and so on, some of which ridicule and humiliate entrants before the one 'winner' is identified and the producers move on.


My further worry is that we are in danger of importing the same culture into education, with the same disastrous results. So we have inspections where 'Good' or 'Very Good' are not enough. Now we have to be 'Excellent' or 'Outstanding'. We have more and more standardised testing so we can rank pupils and put them in percentiles. We have league tables, where everyone wants to be at the top, even though we know this is impossible. We have politicians telling us, parents and children, we want you all to be better than average, and if you are not it is the school's fault. Even though this is another statistical impossibility. Not content with national league tables, we now have international ones, and every politician wants their system to be at the top. The media is full of how schools, and systems, are 'failing' because they are falling down the tables, or are not at the top, whilst being full of praise for questionable systems that sit at the top of them. And all the while the message we are sending to learners is that if you are not the best, we are not interested, or you're failing. How long before more schools, for some are already there, start ranking pupils and putting these on display, so everyone can see the 'stars' and 'the rest'?


Such a culture is not going to inspire learners to be persistent, to persevere, to collaborate, to be resilient and to keep striving to be the best they possibly can. Such a culture is unlikely to promote growth mindsets in learners and their teachers. Such a culture will encourage cheating and gaming of the system, because the stakes for those involved have become so so high. Such a culture will be telling learners 'you are not just good enough' or that they are 'failing'. Such a culture will promote the power of the individual at the expense of others, 'dog eat dog'., with parents fighting to make sure their child or children has as much advantage over other as possible.


There is no doubt we should all be committed to improving what we do. The motivation for this should be intrinsic and a disposition in everything we do. When we have our focus on gradings, league tables, funding, kudos and reputation, we lose sight of the individuals we are supposed to be supporting and helping to grow. We have the wrong 'drivers' for change and to therefore assess success. Good luck and well done to anyone who sits at the top of any performance list, but lets not lose sight of the millions that will sit below that pinnacle. As any sportsperson will tell you luck and opportunity play a great part in any success, and perhaps we should strive to reduce the impact of these in our schools and education systems, in order to give everyone the chance to thrive, rather than just the few.