Author Archives: George Gilchrist

New term with nowhere to go, but still lots to do⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Well, this is strange. The new school year has begun in Scotland, but for the first time in twenty five years I am not part of it. Having stepped down from my role as headteacher of two schools in April, I am having to reconsider my daily routines and activity, in a way I have not had to do throughout my career in schools. As a teacher or school leader, so much of your time allocation is determined by your role. Not only that, those roles are so demanding, that it can be difficult to create the time for yourself and your personal aspirations and interests. The way I managed to achieve this, to some extent, was to combine my professional role with my personal aspirations and interests. Easier to do, when you love your work.

My first term being out of school, had been filled with completing my forthcoming book, 'Practitioner Enquiry: Professional Development with Impact for Teachers, Schools and Systems', which as the title suggests looks at practitioner enquiry and professional development. That allowed, or rather forced, me to develop a new daily routine of dedicating my mornings to writing. Afternoons were dominated by walking my daughter's dog, playing a bit of golf and basically doing whatever I wished, till my wife got  back from her own work. There's a lot to be said for it!

Of course, I should add that I also did all the household chores, that I had never found time for before, and usually completed them before I started writing each morning, as I was, and am still, waking and getting up at the same time I did when I was in school. So, I now sorted dishes, hoovering, washing, ironing and gardening into my new routines and 'freedom'. I must confess I quite enjoy these, now that my time and mind is not under the pressure it was previously as a school leader. My wife wants me to develop my culinary skills, so that she has even less to do. But, I am resisting that at the moment.

Now the book is finished and off to the publishers. There are still some administrative and editorial tasks to do, associated with the book and its publication, but generally I am back to trying to find time for all the things I still want, and need, to do.

The holidays are over in Scotland, including mine. There is still lots for me to do, and to be involved in. I remain professionally curious, and I need to keep my mind and body active. I have to keep myself busy, and I am succeeding in that. Someone asked me about this and I replied, 'I am still busy, but now it is my busy, not someone else's.' There is a big difference.

I still need to write and think. That is a given, so I have to ensure I create the time I require each day to do that. Writing, like most things worth undertaking, only happens and develops by doing it. You have to spend time each day actually writing. If you wait to be inspired, or for when you're in the mood, it just won't happen. I need to write, even if a lot of what I come up with I then discard and throw away. You need the discipline, and time, to sit down most days and just get on with it. I love it, the whole process, so this is not a problem. I have created a new office at home that looks out over the Border hills and fields that surround our village. I can think of worse places to think and write.

This morning's view
                               

My writing consists of this blog, articles for TESS as well as other bits and pieces related to my professional role and experience. I am preparing a few presentations related to the book and professional development, as I am still being asked to speak at various events, and to organisations about my experiences or my thoughts on education and our direction of travel. This is all positive because I still care passionately about schools and education. My formal day-to-day role in school may have ended, but I still want to be involved and contribute in any ways I can. I will be supporting some schools and their leadership with their own development journeys too. Get in touch if you think I can help.

I have always wanted to write fiction too, and now I have the opportunity to do that as well. I am currently working on a story for upper primary, and will have to see how that goes. Whether I produce something that young readers will want to read, time will tell, but what I now have is the opportunity to try something I have always wanted to do, but have never had the time or space to pursue when I was working full time. Watch this space on that one.

For me, maintaining some sort of routine is really important. This provides me with a structure to my days and helps keep me focused on what I am still trying to achieve. When you leave full-time employment, my view is, that this is just another stage in your personal journey. I view it as a positive development and one which finally frees me up to tackle some of the things I have hankered after for some time. I am actually excited by the opportunities that lie ahead over the next year or so.

There is no doubt that I miss the day-to-day working with learners, staff and parents. However, I don't miss the rubbish I had to deal with, both as a teacher and as a school leader, which deflected me from core business, the development of learning and teaching experiences and impacts for all learners. I don't miss the frustrations of working within systems, organisations and structures that at times felt that they were designed and built in a way that worked against everything so many of us were trying to achieve for all our learners. I still take criticism of teachers and schools very personally, as it is only when you have had the privilege to work in them that you understand the commitment and professionalism displayed every day by staff who truly understand the complexity of what they are trying to achieve, and for whom 'sound bites' by politicians, commentators and others just betray the true lack of understanding in those who trot them out.

I remain busy. I also remain committed to defending what should be defended in our schools and system and fighting the imposition of demands on to teachers and schools that will not help or support them nor, most importantly, their learners.

I know next year will start busy and get busier. My own book comes out in January, as does the one being produced for Flip The System UK for whom I have contributed a chapter on teacher agency and accountability. We are planning to get back to Australia again, and I hope I have the time and opportunity to catch up with teaching friends and collaborators whilst there. I have been asked to consider writing another professional book, and I have a few ideas percolating away in my head for what this may be about. I have the time to think about this carefully, before committing myself. I have no doubt I will continue to contribute articles to various publications and, you never know, my golf handicap might start to decrease again, rather than going in the opposite direction. Fore!

Keep on running!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

In my last post I wrote about the importance of teacher agency, as well as the facilitation and development of this by school leaders and teachers at all levels. In this post I wish to turn my attention to another key disposition and quality to be found in the most accomplished teachers. That of, adaptive expertise.

There are various definitions to be found of what is meant by adaptive expertise. Most talk of an individual's ability to solve problems, through the use of knowledge already gained, and applying this in different ways to solve problems, and meet changing situations. In education, we can consider it being about understanding the complexity of learning and of dealing with, and responding to issues, or dealing with situations where the responses and outcomes are different to those expected.

Helen Timperley has identified adaptive experts as being 'deeply knowledgeable about both the content of what is taught and how to teach it.' Whilst Timperley and others recognise the importance of routines to student achievement and wellbeing in the learning process, she also states  that those with high levels of adaptive expertise are able to 'identify when innovative' and different approaches are necessary. Such teachers are able to assess when they need to adapt an approach they are using in response to their learners reactions, in front of them.

Timperley has also spoken of  schools becoming organisations 'having adaptive capacity'. This she simply describes as the development of 'an organisational community that learns.' She says that  such organisations promote inquiry and develop teacher agency, both of which are desirable in all schools and teachers. Such schools are considering and reflecting on their performance continually, being steeped in learning for all, to improve what they do.

How many times have you come across schools and teachers who have plans in place, which they insist they have to follow step by step, with no deviations, to achieve desired outcomes? I have found these quite often during my own career, and may have been guilty of this myself as an early teacher. Planning is important for teaching and for school development. Without a plan, how do you know what you are going to do, or when you have achieved an objective? However, they become a problem when they are viewed as 'set-in-stone' and have to be followed step by step in a rigidly linear format. The best plans are flexible outlines focused on learning, that are adaptive, and adapted, during the teaching or development process. They are viewed as organic in nature, as they respond to the shifting sands of learning and development.

The very best teachers, and most highly skilled, that I have had the pleasure to work with, understood the need for the adaptivity required in excellent teaching. They understand that their plans for learning give them a starting point and a focus. But, that when the learning is underway, and learners are engaging with early activities designed to support next steps in their learning, it is their responses that will shape the direction of travel and future learning activity. They recognise the complexity of the learning process for individuals and for groups of learners, the factors that impact on that learning, and how these are in a constant state of flux.

Teachers with high levels of adaptive expertise are not overwhelmed by all of this complexity. They accept and understand it. It helps shape their teaching and organisation of learning. The very best make this constant juggling of demand look easy, but they are the most skilled, the ones who think most deeply about what it is they are doing, and what they are trying to achieve for all their learners. They better understand their impact on the learning of their learners. As they develop such expertise they consciously have to think about what is happening in front of them, and how this is going to affect their construction of the learning process. However, as they become more adept, such thinking and responding becomes subsumed into their professional identity and practice.

Some of the very best practitioners I have seen with this quality display what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes a 'flow' in their teaching and thinking. They are fully immersed in the learning process they are engaged in, and hardly recognise the many subtle changes in thinking and practice they make as they engage with their learners and deal with their responses. To the untrained eye such dispositions can be difficult to detect, when observing learning in any given situation, given rise to some thinking that teaching is an 'easy' or 'technical' activity rather than the highly skilled professional activity we understand it to be. Observing learning then speaking to such teachers afterwards about what was going on, can often make this level of expertise more visible.

When teachers have high levels of adaptive expertise, then so can schools enhance their adaptive capacity, as well as their ability to grow organically and persistently. Then we will be creating and developing those collaborative learning cultures that are essential to meaningful development, and which are grounded in a school's position on its development journey, as well as its context. Such cultures recognise everyone as learners and their responsibility to support the learning of everyone one else, students and staff.

Of course, you have to start from where you are, and each person and school starts from a different position. What we all have to do is commit to career-long learning and development, with the ultimate aim of becoming the very best teacher, and school, we can, with high levels of teacher agency which is underpinned by teachers, and leaders with high levels of adaptive expertise. Then we will be able to constantly develop in order to better meet the short and long term learning needs of all our learners.

The development of high levels of professional expertise starts with a commitment to grow, followed by baby-steps on our individual journey of development. There will be stumbles along the way, but each one will help us reach a stage where we are ready to run together, and be the best we can.


Keep on running!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

In my last post I wrote about the importance of teacher agency, as well as the facilitation and development of this by school leaders and teachers at all levels. In this post I wish to turn my attention to another key disposition and quality to be found in the most accomplished teachers. That of, adaptive expertise.

There are various definitions to be found of what is meant by adaptive expertise. Most talk of an individual's ability to solve problems, through the use of knowledge already gained, and applying this in different ways to solve problems, and meet changing situations. In education, we can consider it being about understanding the complexity of learning and of dealing with, and responding to issues, or dealing with situations where the responses and outcomes are different to those expected.

Helen Timperley has identified adaptive experts as being 'deeply knowledgeable about both the content of what is taught and how to teach it.' Whilst Timperley and others recognise the importance of routines to student achievement and wellbeing in the learning process, she also states  that those with high levels of adaptive expertise are able to 'identify when innovative' and different approaches are necessary. Such teachers are able to assess when they need to adapt an approach they are using in response to their learners reactions, in front of them.

Timperley has also spoken of  schools becoming organisations 'having adaptive capacity'. This she simply describes as the development of 'an organisational community that learns.' She says that  such organisations promote inquiry and develop teacher agency, both of which are desirable in all schools and teachers. Such schools are considering and reflecting on their performance continually, being steeped in learning for all, to improve what they do.

How many times have you come across schools and teachers who have plans in place, which they insist they have to follow step by step, with no deviations, to achieve desired outcomes? I have found these quite often during my own career, and may have been guilty of this myself as an early teacher. Planning is important for teaching and for school development. Without a plan, how do you know what you are going to do, or when you have achieved an objective? However, they become a problem when they are viewed as 'set-in-stone' and have to be followed step by step in a rigidly linear format. The best plans are flexible outlines focused on learning, that are adaptive, and adapted, during the teaching or development process. They are viewed as organic in nature, as they respond to the shifting sands of learning and development.

The very best teachers, and most highly skilled, that I have had the pleasure to work with, understood the need for the adaptivity required in excellent teaching. They understand that their plans for learning give them a starting point and a focus. But, that when the learning is underway, and learners are engaging with early activities designed to support next steps in their learning, it is their responses that will shape the direction of travel and future learning activity. They recognise the complexity of the learning process for individuals and for groups of learners, the factors that impact on that learning, and how these are in a constant state of flux.

Teachers with high levels of adaptive expertise are not overwhelmed by all of this complexity. They accept and understand it. It helps shape their teaching and organisation of learning. The very best make this constant juggling of demand look easy, but they are the most skilled, the ones who think most deeply about what it is they are doing, and what they are trying to achieve for all their learners. They better understand their impact on the learning of their learners. As they develop such expertise they consciously have to think about what is happening in front of them, and how this is going to affect their construction of the learning process. However, as they become more adept, such thinking and responding becomes subsumed into their professional identity and practice.

Some of the very best practitioners I have seen with this quality display what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes a 'flow' in their teaching and thinking. They are fully immersed in the learning process they are engaged in, and hardly recognise the many subtle changes in thinking and practice they make as they engage with their learners and deal with their responses. To the untrained eye such dispositions can be difficult to detect, when observing learning in any given situation, given rise to some thinking that teaching is an 'easy' or 'technical' activity rather than the highly skilled professional activity we understand it to be. Observing learning then speaking to such teachers afterwards about what was going on, can often make this level of expertise more visible.

When teachers have high levels of adaptive expertise, then so can schools enhance their adaptive capacity, as well as their ability to grow organically and persistently. Then we will be creating and developing those collaborative learning cultures that are essential to meaningful development, and which are grounded in a school's position on its development journey, as well as its context. Such cultures recognise everyone as learners and their responsibility to support the learning of everyone one else, students and staff.

Of course, you have to start from where you are, and each person and school starts from a different position. What we all have to do is commit to career-long learning and development, with the ultimate aim of becoming the very best teacher, and school, we can, with high levels of teacher agency which is underpinned by teachers, and leaders with high levels of adaptive expertise. Then we will be able to constantly develop in order to better meet the short and long term learning needs of all our learners.

The development of high levels of professional expertise starts with a commitment to grow, followed by baby-steps on our individual journey of development. There will be stumbles along the way, but each one will help us reach a stage where we are ready to run together, and be the best we can.


Looking forward to true teacher agency⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

My last post on this blog was at the end of June. I remember apologising at the time for my lack of activity on the blog due to my attention being focused on the book I was writing at the time. Well, the book is finished, and has been sent off to the publishers. I have spent much of my time since my retirement as a headteacher in April, focused on getting on with the book. The date for submission of the manuscript to the publishers had been agreed as the end of July, and I had found it very difficult to make much headway whilst I was still focused on being a full-time headteacher. Therefore, most of the book has been written in the last four months, as book writing has dominated each day since then. At least I now had the time to focus.

The book is about Practitioner Enquiry, something I have been engaged with over the last eight years. It has a working title of 'Practitioner Enquiry: Professional development for impact' but don't be surprised if the title changes slightly before publication in January 2018. If you have never written a book, you may not appreciate the time, effort and angst that goes into writing and producing something that you hope people are going to find interesting and useful. I will let you judge yourself how successful I have been in this respect when the book comes out.

January promises to be a busy start to the year, because I have also contributed a chapter for another book for 'Flip The System UK' looking at teacher agency and accountability. This book is due out on 18 January and has contributions from many researchers, academics and practitioners, from the UK and farther afield, who explore ways that we might make our education system more fit for purpose and effective for all our learners. Teacher agency is something that I talk a lot about in my own book, as it has the power to improve so much of what we do in our schools and our systems. It is also the subject of this post.

In an article for the BERA Blog in September 2015, Mark Priestley wrote a piece, 'Teacher agency: what is it and why does it matter?' Mark considered the concept of teacher agency and how this plays out, or is obstructed, within the structures and systems in education systems and schools. His basic conclusion for Scotland was that teacher agency, 'often defined as the capacity to act' is a highly desirable disposition and stance to aim towards, but that often systems and structures found in schools and the system mitigate against what high-level policy and research tells us we are aiming to do..

There is no doubt that the development of teacher agency as an outcome of critically reflective and engaged practitioners is desired by researchers and system leaders across the educational world. So, the views of Mark is reflected in the work of Biesta, Timperley, Cochran-Smith, Darling-Hammond, Fullan, Hargreaves, Harris and many others. They all point to the power and impact of teachers having agency to reflect and shape school and professional development that is located in their own circumstances, practice and context, all as part of a collaborative and organic process and culture.

However,when school practices and structures are grounded in micro-management, the primacy of accountability and the desire to control, these all work against the development of teacher agency. If similar practices are exhibited at the 'middle level' of the system, this too works against what national policy and strategy purports to seek, and what research tell us works. In Scotland, we have had 'Teaching Scotland's Future' and the GTCS Professional Standards as well as various Government policy documents that seek to promote teacher agency, enquiring professionals and system leadership, in order to develop a self-improving system. However, this is not going to happen if we are so focused on trying to control and standardise everything that goes on in schools, that such agency is stifled at source.

In my book on practitioner enquiry I talk a lot about developing teachers with adaptive expertise and agency. As a school leader, my aim was to develop dispositions in teachers so that they became not only self-reflective and aware, but understood how they could improve their practice as a result of that reflection and awareness. Practitioner enquiry gave them a systematic way of looking at their practice, or more importantly their impact on learning, so that they were able to develop this themselves, all as part of a continuous process and disposition.  I have long argued that improvement cannot be mandated, but that it is through such a process of self-awareness that practitioners need come to recognise themselves how they can have greater impact, that we willcan begin to develop self-improving teachers. This is a first and necessary step if we are to achieve the aim of  developing self-improving schools and systems.

It is the responsibility of all in the system that we create the cultures, as well as put in place the policies and structures, to support the development of true teacher agency. Some in schools and systems will not be comfortable with such a step, because it challenges traditional orthodoxies and hierarchies. My suggestion to them is to change your attitude, or step aside. We owe it to the profession and our learners to always do what we know to be right, not what we are comfortable with.


School leadership: stop shooting ourselves in the foot!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Let me say at the start of this post that I was a school leader for over 18 years and I loved almost every minute of it. School leadership was challenging, intellectually, emotionally and physically at times, but that was always a part of the allure for me. I entered teaching wanting to make a difference. I became a school leader to be able to make more of a difference, for more learners and families. I am not alone in this view and I have met, and worked with, many colleagues who feel exactly the way I do, about their role, the challenges and the opportunities it presents.

Yet, we have a problem in Scotland, and elsewhere, in that we are struggling to get people to apply for school leadership positions, especially headteacher ones. Why? is a question many of us within the system, and our employers, have been asking for some time now. When school leadership roles become available, there is often a dearth of suitable applicants.The answers people have come up with point to the nature of some of the problems, for me.

In my last few years as a headteacher, I was constantly told and often read, that we school leaders were a big part of the problem. We didn't 'sell' the job well enough and we were always moaning about the difficulties of the job, especially when faced by so much change, austerity, cuts, accountability and so on. We were told in no uncertain terms we needed to talk the job up more, stop moaning and complaining, and instead demonstrate how great the job was, and how people with talent and aspirations should aim to follow in our footsteps and become the next generation of leaders. The trouble with messages like this, if you hear them often enough it becomes easy to believe them, and start to think you are part of the problem, rather than a source of the solution.

I would contend that it is important that we are open and honest with future leaders about both the opportunities and the challenges. If we are having to sugar-coat the role there is something wrong with the role, or the people aspiring to such roles. School leadership is awash with opportunities, as long as you are aware of, and are prepared to face, the challenges that come with the role. Dealing with the challenges means acknowledging them and finding strategies and solutions for those you can, that still enable you to remain true to your values and principles as a professional educator. It doesn't mean pretending they don't exist. When aspiring school leaders see current leaders dealing with all the issues and tensions that currently exist in the role, whilst remaining up-beat and positive about  their ability to make a difference, they provide those aspiring leaders of the future with a model of what can still be achieved. If they can retain their sense of humour and their humanity in the role, so much the better.

It is my view that many of those who have been telling us that we are a big part of the problem, fail to detect any irony between their own actions and what they have identified as our own failings. Take inspections for instance. School inspections happen in the Scottish system, and just about every other, with a few notable exceptions. Finland for instance, but what do they know? The Scottish system of inspection is not as draconian as that found in many others, and aims to be more supportive, based around a professional dialogue that supports a school on its particular development journey. This is fine in principle, if you are accepting of inspection as a necessary part of the accountability agenda. However, what inspection is described as and what they feel like, is all but destroyed by the imposition of 'gradings' at the end of the inspection process. Inspectors may have been in a school for a number of days talking to teachers, learners, parents, partners and school leaders, all as part of the dialogue around school development that aims to help and support that school. However, at the end of the process a letter is written to parents about the process and findings, and whether the inspectors are confident about the school's ability to keep moving forward, accompanied by the 'grades'.

The effect of the grades handed out have an impact on all staff in a school, but the greatest is on the school leader. No-one else is identified in any inspection findings, apart from the headteacher or principal. The fact that these will appear in local media, just adds to the impact. I was contacted by a colleague headteacher recently at 12.40am about a recent experience she has had. She has worked her socks off for over twelve months trying to drive forward a small rural school in a remote area, and she felt that she had been kicked in the teeth by the 'gradings' that were going to be attached to her letter of findings following an inspection. I have two questions about this. the first is, What useful purpose does the attachment of such gradings serve in this process? If it really is a professional engagement and dialogue, it should be exactly that, to help inform a headteacher, and local authority about where a school is, with suggestions for steps to develop. Hopefully, this will confirm the headteacher and local authority view of where that school is as well. If it doesn't, then that should promote more professional dialogue between all parties. My second question is, what impact do you think experiences like this might have on headteacher recruitment? I really don't think it will help the situation. However, if people could see this process as really supportive and part of an ongoing professional dialogue, their view might change. If inspectors then issued a letter to parents stating they had visited the school, engaged with everyone, including the local authority, and were confident the school understood where it was, and where it was heading, in its development, there should be no need to place any artificial 'grading' onto the process. The letter might suggest when the school might next be inspected, as part of this ongoing process of engagement.

How this process might change in the light of the latest structural review occurring in Scottish education remains to be seen.


Most researchers, writers and school leaders understand the impact of school leadership on any school, in any setting. In Scotland 'Teaching Scotland's Future' penned by Graham Donaldson in 2011 addressed the issue of teacher education and leadership preparation. One of the key aspects of this was his consideration of the development of leadership at all levels within the system, and out of which emerged the formation of SCEL. The Scottish College for Educational Leadership. In its early days, as it found its footing, SCEL focused on senior school leaders, but quickly realised and recognised its responsibility for considering leadership at all levels in the system. Over the last few years SCEL has led the development of Frameworks and qualifications for school leaders and those aspiring to future leadership roles. In a short period it has grown, under the leadership of CEO Gillian Hamilton, and developed links with universities here in Scotland, as well as with academics and researchers around the world. Alma Harris spoke at the recent SCEL and GTCS awards ceremony in Edinburgh of how SCEL had improved Scoltand's standing and reputation around the world and how we should be proud of the work undertaken by Gillian and her team. SCEL has been considered one of the successes of Scottish education over recent years, and gave myself and others, great hope that we were developing an organisation that was going to grow future leaders, as well as help current ones develop further. I, of course, have to declare an interest, as SCEL helped my develop as a senior leader from 2012 onwards. I have seen, and experienced, the difference it has made and the impact it has had, so have many others. So it was with some dismay that we heard that SCEL was to be swallowed up by Education Scotland as part of John Swinney's Governance Review. What happens next we await to see, but many are concerned on the impact this change will have on SCEL, its work, and the attractiveness of leadership in Scotland.

If we are serious about addressing the issues around headteacher recruitment we have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. We need systems and structures which support teachers and leaders, and which are seen to do so. What we need to get away from are cultures and systems that make it harder for school leaders to do what can be a difficult job, which constantly change so that politicians can show they 'are taking charge' and that 'the status quo is not an option' and which are low on trust and respect for the role.


School leaders are the best models for future leaders. We need to consider how we support them to be the best they can be, so they can help grown the next school leaders. Putting barriers in the way, and making the job ever more onerous and difficult helps no-one, and may be putting off more from stepping up.

School leadership: stop shooting ourselves in the foot!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Let me say at the start of this post that I was a school leader for over 18 years and I loved almost every minute of it. School leadership was challenging, intellectually, emotionally and physically at times, but that was always a part of the allure for me. I entered teaching wanting to make a difference. I became a school leader to be able to make more of a difference, for more learners and families. I am not alone in this view and I have met, and worked with, many colleagues who feel exactly the way I do, about their role, the challenges and the opportunities it presents.

Yet, we have a problem in Scotland, and elsewhere, in that we are struggling to get people to apply for school leadership positions, especially headteacher ones. Why? is a question many of us within the system, and our employers, have been asking for some time now. When school leadership roles become available, there is often a dearth of suitable applicants.The answers people have come up with point to the nature of some of the problems, for me.

In my last few years as a headteacher, I was constantly told and often read, that we school leaders were a big part of the problem. We didn't 'sell' the job well enough and we were always moaning about the difficulties of the job, especially when faced by so much change, austerity, cuts, accountability and so on. We were told in no uncertain terms we needed to talk the job up more, stop moaning and complaining, and instead demonstrate how great the job was, and how people with talent and aspirations should aim to follow in our footsteps and become the next generation of leaders. The trouble with messages like this, if you hear them often enough it becomes easy to believe them, and start to think you are part of the problem, rather than a source of the solution.

I would contend that it is important that we are open and honest with future leaders about both the opportunities and the challenges. If we are having to sugar-coat the role there is something wrong with the role, or the people aspiring to such roles. School leadership is awash with opportunities, as long as you are aware of, and are prepared to face, the challenges that come with the role. Dealing with the challenges means acknowledging them and finding strategies and solutions for those you can, that still enable you to remain true to your values and principles as a professional educator. It doesn't mean pretending they don't exist. When aspiring school leaders see current leaders dealing with all the issues and tensions that currently exist in the role, whilst remaining up-beat and positive about  their ability to make a difference, they provide those aspiring leaders of the future with a model of what can still be achieved. If they can retain their sense of humour and their humanity in the role, so much the better.

It is my view that many of those who have been telling us that we are a big part of the problem, fail to detect any irony between their own actions and what they have identified as our own failings. Take inspections for instance. School inspections happen in the Scottish system, and just about every other, with a few notable exceptions. Finland for instance, but what do they know? The Scottish system of inspection is not as draconian as that found in many others, and aims to be more supportive, based around a professional dialogue that supports a school on its particular development journey. This is fine in principle, if you are accepting of inspection as a necessary part of the accountability agenda. However, what inspection is described as and what they feel like, is all but destroyed by the imposition of 'gradings' at the end of the inspection process. Inspectors may have been in a school for a number of days talking to teachers, learners, parents, partners and school leaders, all as part of the dialogue around school development that aims to help and support that school. However, at the end of the process a letter is written to parents about the process and findings, and whether the inspectors are confident about the school's ability to keep moving forward, accompanied by the 'grades'.

The effect of the grades handed out have an impact on all staff in a school, but the greatest is on the school leader. No-one else is identified in any inspection findings, apart from the headteacher or principal. The fact that these will appear in local media, just adds to the impact. I was contacted by a colleague headteacher recently at 12.40am about a recent experience she has had. She has worked her socks off for over twelve months trying to drive forward a small rural school in a remote area, and she felt that she had been kicked in the teeth by the 'gradings' that were going to be attached to her letter of findings following an inspection. I have two questions about this. the first is, What useful purpose does the attachment of such gradings serve in this process? If it really is a professional engagement and dialogue, it should be exactly that, to help inform a headteacher, and local authority about where a school is, with suggestions for steps to develop. Hopefully, this will confirm the headteacher and local authority view of where that school is as well. If it doesn't, then that should promote more professional dialogue between all parties. My second question is, what impact do you think experiences like this might have on headteacher recruitment? I really don't think it will help the situation. However, if people could see this process as really supportive and part of an ongoing professional dialogue, their view might change. If inspectors then issued a letter to parents stating they had visited the school, engaged with everyone, including the local authority, and were confident the school understood where it was, and where it was heading, in its development, there should be no need to place any artificial 'grading' onto the process. The letter might suggest when the school might next be inspected, as part of this ongoing process of engagement.

How this process might change in the light of the latest structural review occurring in Scottish education remains to be seen.


Most researchers, writers and school leaders understand the impact of school leadership on any school, in any setting. In Scotland 'Teaching Scotland's Future' penned by Graham Donaldson in 2011 addressed the issue of teacher education and leadership preparation. One of the key aspects of this was his consideration of the development of leadership at all levels within the system, and out of which emerged the formation of SCEL. The Scottish College for Educational Leadership. In its early days, as it found its footing, SCEL focused on senior school leaders, but quickly realised and recognised its responsibility for considering leadership at all levels in the system. Over the last few years SCEL has led the development of Frameworks and qualifications for school leaders and those aspiring to future leadership roles. In a short period it has grown, under the leadership of CEO Gillian Hamilton, and developed links with universities here in Scotland, as well as with academics and researchers around the world. Alma Harris spoke at the recent SCEL and GTCS awards ceremony in Edinburgh of how SCEL had improved Scoltand's standing and reputation around the world and how we should be proud of the work undertaken by Gillian and her team. SCEL has been considered one of the successes of Scottish education over recent years, and gave myself and others, great hope that we were developing an organisation that was going to grow future leaders, as well as help current ones develop further. I, of course, have to declare an interest, as SCEL helped my develop as a senior leader from 2012 onwards. I have seen, and experienced, the difference it has made and the impact it has had, so have many others. So it was with some dismay that we heard that SCEL was to be swallowed up by Education Scotland as part of John Swinney's Governance Review. What happens next we await to see, but many are concerned on the impact this change will have on SCEL, its work, and the attractiveness of leadership in Scotland.

If we are serious about addressing the issues around headteacher recruitment we have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. We need systems and structures which support teachers and leaders, and which are seen to do so. What we need to get away from are cultures and systems that make it harder for school leaders to do what can be a difficult job, which constantly change so that politicians can show they 'are taking charge' and that 'the status quo is not an option' and which are low on trust and respect for the role.


School leaders are the best models for future leaders. We need to consider how we support them to be the best they can be, so they can help grown the next school leaders. Putting barriers in the way, and making the job ever more onerous and difficult helps no-one, and may be putting off more from stepping up.

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?