Author Archives: George Gilchrist

Sporting models to support coaching and leadership⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

In his book 'Bounce' (2010), Mathew Syed writes about many things pertinent to education and teachers. At the start of his book, he reflects on the factors that enabled him to become the number one table-tennis player in the UK. He identifies what he considers the four key factors in his rise to the top. These were: having a table to practise on; having an older brother who was just as enthusiastic and willing to play and practise with; having access to an enthusiastic, highly skilled and knowledgeable coach; having access to a club, which was always open, to play against others and support coaching. Syed notes how his small town, and in particular one street and its immediate surrounds, were producing more outstanding table-tennis players then the rest of the UK put together! His argument is that this was more a product of those unique circumstances, that identified and nurtured table-tennis talent, rather than any innate abilities to be found in youngsters in his local area.

I agree entirely with him on this, and have witnessed the same outcomes in various sports I have been involved with during my life.

When I was younger I played football for Wallsend Boys Club, not long after its establishment in the 1960s. Wallsend is a small town on the banks of the Tyne, not far from Newcastle. This club was to become a mecca for boys and coaches from the North Tyneside area, and beyond. Slowly and surely, this club started to produce more and more footballers who would go on to become professional players, and in some cases international ones too. Players like Peter Beardsley, Michael Carrick, Steve Bruce, Alan Shearer and many more emerged from this one small club, which bore similar characteristics to Syed's Omega Table-Tennis club, including opening twenty four hours, seven days a week. Success breeds success, and this particular club is still a production line for footballing prowess.

In my youth, my main interest was in running and athletics, not football, and I was a member of Heaton Harriers on the outskirts of Newcastle. As a member of this club, I was able to see the importance again of what Syed had identified, get an enthusiastic and committed coach, allied to opportunities for young people to participate, and there is no end to what can be achieved. Our little club sent an athlete to the 1968 Olympic Games, Maurice Benn in the 1500 metres. The club produced lots of local and district champions in cross-country and road running due to enthusiastic coaches and opportunities given to youngsters. This was replicated in other clubs across the North-East of England. Clubs like Saltwell Harriers, who produced international cross-country runners year after year, Morpeth Harriers who did likewise, as well as developing Jim Alder into a Commonwealth Games gold medal winning marathon champion. Elswick produced Mike McLeod who won silver at the Olympics in 10000 metres, as well as other good county runners. Jarrow was developing under the guiding eye of coach Jimmy Hedley, and would go on to produce Olympic Champion and World record holder Steve Cram. All of them offered enthusiastic coaching and turned no-one away.

But it was at Gateshead Harriers that we find an athletics club that was closest to replicating what Wallsend Boys Club is achieving in football. I saw this club grow from a small local running club into an athletics powerhouse. They key was dedicated and knowledgeable coaches who nurtured athletes and gave them all the support and opportunities they needed to become the best they could be. As a result a veritable production-line of athletic champions was produced, starting with Brendan Foster and including Charlie Spedding, Jonathan Edwards, Angela Piggford and many more. There is no reason why Gateshead, more famous for being the 'other' end of the Tyne Bridge to Newcastle, should produce so many first class athletes. But, again through the opportunities afforded, access to high quality coaching and support, they were able to keep building on their successes, and keep producing champions in an array of athletic disciplines. When I first ran at Gateshead stadium, it was a windswept ash track, now they have an all-weather track surface and stadium, accessible to all, and  the production line continues.

When I became a parent myself, I saw a similar pattern emerge as my own children became involved in the sport of badminton. My son played badminton for Scotland at all age levels, and my two daughters were county champions and consistently ranked in the top ten nationally at various age groups. This was mainly due to them having the opportunity to work with a high class coach in Pete Hardie of Duns, who has consistently produced Scottish players and champions at all levels, despite being located in the rural south of Scotland. What youngsters had though was access to high quality coaching and lots of opportunities to play and practice against and with each other in school halls across the Scottish Borders. My own children could also access the school hall in our own village, along with other interested youngsters, and I took a keen interest in coaching, learning more and more about the game and how to support young players. Our own village school, of never more than fifty pupils, had 8 or 9 players ranked in the top ten of their age groups in Scotland. I never thought this was because they were all so more able than thousands of other youngsters. They had the circumstances and coaches to support them, plus unlimited opportunities to practice and play, and benefitted as a result.

I have seen similar things happening in rugby, cricket, orienteering, cycling and mountain-biking, as well as golf, and I have no doubt that similar effects are to be found in all areas of endeavour, and at all levels, including at country level. Why should Finland produce so many world champions and record holders in Javelin throwing? Why is the UK dominating so many areas of cycling or rowing at the moment? I would suggest opportunity and high quality coaching, building on initial successes are key.

What lessons might there be here for school leadership and education system development?

Before I retired as a school leader, and since, I have had many opportunities to visit and work with schools and their leaders. These include many in Scotland as well as England, Wales, USA and Australia. There are many similarities to what Syed has written about, and I have described above, in the most successful schools and systems.

Where schools have a principal or leader who sees a key aspect of their role as the coaching and mentoring of those they work with, and are enthusiastic in pursuit of this, they are more likely to develop successful, collaborative learning cultures for all. In such schools, the leadership deeply understands learning, and is committed to constantly deepening that understanding for themselves and those they work with. They provide teachers and colleagues with constant support, opportunity, trust and coaching to help them grow their understanding and develop their practice. Such schools produce reflective teachers with dispositions to continuous professional growth, that is focused, collaborative and shaped by their personal and professional context. They successfully develop practice, informed by research and experience, and this creates more success, as well as attracting new members of staff who are similarly inclined towards their own development. There comes a time in such schools where they become truly self-developing and improving, though this is often linked to the length of time the school leader remains in post. Where school leaders change too often, impacts diminish, especially when changes mean that the coaching and support of staff are given less of a priority.

The schools I have seen that are most successful produce lots of high quality and reflective practitioners, but they also develop and grow more future leaders with similar dispositions. They produce teachers with high levels of agency and teacher leadership. They are more likely to have adaptive expertise and deal with change in a systematic and informed way. They tap into the expertise that resides within them to help all grow and to keep developing. They become centres of excellence in learning.

In conclusion, successful schools need to give teachers and leaders the opportunity to develop and grow their practice and understandings, in ways which are informed by research and their own context. They need to collaborate, internally and externally, and expect this of all, in order to support the growth of all. They need a leader who is committed to their own continuous development and that of those they lead, through coaching, mentoring and support. They will build on their successes and use coaching to address the areas they identify for further work.

'Every school, every teacher, every student deserves a school lead by a person who chooses positivity through words and actions.' Evan Robb @ERobbPrincipal Twitter 14 October 2018

' The main message, for the headteacher: Lead the change you want to see.' Michael Fullan 'What's Worth Fighting For In Headship?' (2007)

'turnarounds and changes that benefit many children and many schools … do not happen over-night with sudden switches in leadership-but only after years of continuous and unrelenting commitment to stronger working relationships and greater success.' Hargreaves, Boyle and Harris 'Uplifting Leadership' (2014)

'Systems with high adaptive capacity engage in a process of learning both up and down the system.' Helen Timperley (2011)

More warnings for Scottish education⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

The last seven days or so have again demonstrated some of the major challenges that lie ahead for Scottish education. These challenges are both long-term and short-term, and how we deal with them will shape the future direction of travel. The prognosis with regard to the possible outcomes is at best looking precarious for the system, teachers and learners.

First we had the motion and debate in the Scottish parliament around the introduction of standardised testing in Primary 1 classes. This whole debate, even before it was aired in parliament, had become very politicised, commonly being presented as an anti-SNP one, rather than about education and how we best support our very youngest learners. Many individuals and organisations tried to point to research and evidence showing why the use of such standardised testing not only did not measure what it was being purported to measure, but that it could potentially skew learning and practices in schools, to the detriment of young learners. Upstart, James McEnaney, the EIS, Connect (a parent organisation) and others, all made well reasoned and evidenced arguments as to the inappropriateness of  such testing in P1, and indeed at the other age groups being targeted by the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs). Pretty soon this was being dismissed as 'ill informed' by John Swinney or more anti-SNP rhetoric by the government's supporters, ignoring that many critics are in fact supporters of the SNP government.

Before the debate had reached the chamber of parliament, Mr Swinney and his civil servants had attempted to deflect concerns about how these assessments were being delivered and experienced in schools, with minor adjustments being made to questions and advice given to schools on their administration. However this did include the conflicting advice given to Directors of Education around whether the assessments, or 'tests', as the government consistently struggled to remember its own agreed nomenclature, were mandatory and if parents could in fact withdraw their children. This not only served to embarrass Mr Swinney's department but also muddied the waters even further for parents and politicians alike. The final advice given being that whilst there is no 'legal right' for parents to withdraw children from the tests, they could still do so 'in consultation' with their child's school. This was to be described as a 'riddle, rather than advice' by one MSP.

When the issues was debated in parliament Mr Swinney was swift to dismiss the whole debate as 'political opportunism of the worst order' as all opposition parties spoke to the motion raised by Liz Smith of the Scottish Conservatives. In parliament Mr Swinney and his party refused to budge or soften their stance. One of his MSP colleagues, and former leader of the parliamentary education committee, James Dornan, dismissed stories of children being brought to tears by their experiences with his hardly helpful comment, 'weans have always cried in school' However, there were some well reasoned and argued points articulated by others, and questions raised, all of which Mr Swinney ignored or dismissed out of hand. Ross Greer the Scottish Greens' education spokesman, in particular, laid out a calm well-reasoned argument for why the tests, particularly in P1, should be dropped. Mr Swinney was asked for the evidence to support the introduction of the assessments and continually referred to the OECD report published in 2015 on Scottish education. In doing so he completely failed to recognise the difference between 'evidence' and 'advice'. Nor did anyone challenge the fact that this 'report' had been commissioned by the Scottish government to support the contents of the NIF (National Improvement Framework).

The upshot of this whole debate was that the motion was passed, with the majority of MSPs telling the government and Mr Swinney to stop the use of these assessments in P1. However, it would seem that the government and Mr Swinney intend to ignore the vote and plough on with their chosen course. Not surprising given that the First Minister declared on a school visit ahead of the debate and vote that,  'standardised assessments will close the attainment gap'. She has yet to show us how that will be brought about exactly!

On Thursday of last week I attended the annual Scottish Council of Deans of Education conference at Stirling University. The keynote speaker in the morning was professor Bob Lingard of Queensland University. Professor Lingard has worked in education systems around the world, including Scotland, and is currently looking at aspects of the English system. Both in his presentation, and in conversation later, he was quite pessimistic about the direction of travel being taken by Scottish education. He was seeing many similarities to approaches adopted in the USA, England and Australia which are not working. All of these are high on accountability and performativity for teachers and schools, at the expense of teacher professional judgement, expertise and agency, including the use of blanket standardised testing. Ultimately, he noted, such agendas have led to detrimental effects for children, both in terms of their learning as well as their wellbeing.

Bob is piloting a project in Queensland that proposes a re-thinking of accountability, involving the whole community, and which supports schools to 'give an account, rather than just being held to account' about aspects of their practice and what they do to make them special or unique. He calls this  'rich accountability' his project being called PETRA (Pursuing Equity Through Rich Accountability). The project came out of work with school principals in Queensland frustrated by the narrowness of NAPLAN and the inadequacies of the 'MySchool' website and how these are used. One principal expressed this as 'How do we measure the stuff that can't be measured?' This spoke to the frustration of school leaders about value only being given to things that can be quantified and measured, rather than the things that make each school unique, and which really matter. Australia has gone down the road of high-stakes accountability and top-down direction, all driven by a desire to improve their PISA ranking. Bob noted that everywhere that OECD had gone in to work with governments and systems, their followed an increase in accountability and standardised assessments. Not surprising, given they store they put in their own assessments and metrics.

The result has been a skewing of the curriculum in Australia, the focus on improving assessment data, more and more top down direction, leading to lower attainment and widening gaps in performance, especially for the most disadvantaged. The opposite of what the politicians said they wanted to achieve. Perhaps worst of all, to them, their PISA ranking continues to slip. Exactly the same picture is to be found in the USA and elsewhere, where such approaches have held sway. The key strategy Bob and his colleagues in Queensland have taken is to engage with the whole school community, in order to capture how everyone feels about their local schools, to identify what they see as important, then explore how the schools can engage with them to reflect and support this. He talks of a 'dialogic democracy' where no voice is privileged more than any other, and all are seen as important and listened to. When this is combined with other data, is when they are able to get a fuller, holistic picture of a school and its community. Accountability needs to become multilateral, a mixture of bottom up and top down, and of vertical and horizontal approaches from all levels in the system. This is in opposition to the current neoliberal mode of accountability exhibited in the Anglo/American model, that Scotland seems hell bent on adopting.

Cut to Saturday and the Researched Scotland event held in Dollar Academy. It was great to see 200 or so educators attend this event and for the Scottish voice to be so strong across various presentations and workshops. My particular highlight was provided by Walter Humes co-editor of the annual 'Scottish Education', which examines the current state of the system and recent developments. His workshop was entitled 'What counts as evidence?' and followed on from his reflections on responses to an article he wrote for the 'Sceptical Scot' website in January of this year. He argued that whilst evidence is important its relationship both to professional practice and to public policy is complex. Fundamental beliefs about human nature and human society are always involved in decisions about the form and content of education. It was his belief that 'opinion' pieces, like his January one, backed by research and involving personal judgement should continue to have a place in the debate. A point I am in full agreement with, and one which I think more educators in Scotland and elsewhere needs to recognise and embrace going forward.

In his January article Humes had given some warnings to Scottish education and suggested seven ways in which the system might be underperforming. These were: a failure to learn from the past, poor political leadership, a complacent and self-regarding policy community, lack of up to date independent data, defensive and protectionist professional attitudes, the use of boastful and sentimental language and finally, a deep vein of anti-intellectualism. Given that he was directing criticism at all sections of the education system in Scotland, it is little surprise that hackles rose and he was not everyone's' favourite commentator. I suspect that was the response he expected from some, but in others perhaps he hoped to cause them to stop, think and consider their behaviours or attitudes and how these might be supporting, or otherwise, the system as a whole.

Walter took us through his arguments, refreshing them with the latest examples and anecdotes from the news to illustrate why he believed his view was still based on the actions and statements found in different levels of the system. Given behaviours exhibited by politicians, media, academics and educators recently, it was difficult to refute much of what he shared.

By considering what Humes had observed, and what Bob Lingard fears is happening, combined with what we have seen played out in the media, government and parliament recently, I believe we have grounds for grave concern around where Scottish education might be heading. It would seem to be that we have a minister and government determined to press ahead with a flawed agenda, and who will not listen to anyone who might reason or caution against aspects of this. There are politicians on all sides who have their own agendas, and we have a profession who feel they are unable to speak up, because of the cultures and hierarchies that prevail, or when they do speak up no-one listens. We have vested interest groups that have fixed and narrow focuses and we have a media that keep pouring oil on the latest flame that appears. Some of the comment pieces I have read recently have been so ill-informed they lack all credibility. However, people read them and are influenced by their spurious claims and lack of knowledge displayed. In all of this, it is easy to lose sight of the young learners and people we claim to be working for.

Seeing the 'ACE Aware Scotland' currently taking place in Scotland, with Dr Nadine Burke Harris and driven by Suzanne Zeedyk and her team, should give us all hope, and remind everyone about what is truly important, children and young people. The decisions we take as a government, politician, organisation, teacher, school leader or parent, have implications, for good or bad, for our young people and the rest of their lives. In which case, shouldn't we all be striving to make those decisions for the correct reasons, informed by evidence and professional experience and expertise, whenever we can? Dogma and rhetoric should have no place in education, only a determination to listen, consider and to truly act in the best interests of all children and  learners. Too often egos and other agendas get in the way of what we know to be right. On her first day here Dr Burke Harris said, ' Stress is toxic. Our kids are not....Once you know this information, you can't unknow it. I think it is unethical not to act on it.' Says it all really.

PedagooGoliath: Pretty Shining People⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

On Saturday I had the great pleasure to attend the latest, and first Pedagoo event of the new school year. Organised and hosted by Paul Cochrane and Port Glasgow High School, the event consisted of 13 workshops and was attended by around 40 educators, all seeking to engage and share, in order to develop their own understandings and practice, and to support others on their own personal professional development journey. It was my honour to dip in and out of some of the 'conversations' taking place across the day, then try to pull these together at the end of proceedings. No easy task, as there was so much to hear and experience, as well as to try and capture.

This short post covers what I tried to summarise at the end of this fabulous event.

'I will go away from today totally inspired, and in awe, of the commitment, professionalism and wisdom that we have experienced, and which I know reflects the Scottish Education system and the work going on in our schools every day. Today was yet another example of the power of practitioners coming together to talk about and share their experiences and insights gained as reflective and thinking professionals. Egos were left at the front door, as everyone looked to support colleagues, whilst further developing their own thinking and practice. There were no set agendas, only those brought by each presenter in order to stimulate thought and dialogue around the common theme of learning and teaching.

We all know and understand that there are no 'silver bullets' to school or system development. Every academic or researcher worth the title has identified that system and school development resides in teacher and leadership, growth and development, not in a focus on systems, structures and accountability agendas. How often do we get this wrong, or the round the wrong way? Events like today show what can be achieved, and what might happen, if we trust and support practitioners to grow their own practice, and share insights with others. Teachers and school leaders are dealing constantly with imposed 'distractions' which pull them away from our core business. Today, and other similar events, demonstrate what can happen when teachers are given the right cultures, encouragement and support. What we have seen and heard today is all grounded in practice and context, reflecting the experience and wisdom that resides amongst practitioners in our system, and in every other.

What has been demonstrated today is what is being achieved every day by practitioners, is often despite the system, not through the support of the system. Which is why I feel we need to embrace Michael Fullan's call on schools and teachers to 'exploit policy'. By this he means that teachers and school leaders still find ways, within local and national policy, to take the right actions for their learners and establishments, based on their sound knowledge of themselves, their context and their learners. Much of what I have heard today is a reflection of that approach. None of what we have heard occurred in a vacuum or on a whim, all of it was born of professional expertise, informed by research and evidence.

The key themes that were explored in the various learning 'conversations' included:
  • Creating cultures of reading for pleasure
  • Equipping the teachers of tomorrow
  • Teacher professionalism
  • Raising attainment
  • Reflections of an NQT
  • Cognitive Science
  • Outdoor learning
  • Behaviour
  • Values and relationship based education
  • Nurture in education
  • Transforming CPD
  • Developing ITE
  • Stepping up to senior leadership

All of these are part of the national agenda for Scottish education and address many of the issues we are tackling on a daily basis. If you were here, you would have heard many effective, interesting and exciting ways of dealing these issues. Insights from practitioners, sharing their lived experiences, not controlled by any other agenda than their own professionalism and commitment. Every single one of us will go from today, with something new to think about and consider, and who knows, perhaps some answers we can apply in our own circumstances.

I would like to thank Paul, Pedagoo, the school and its headteacher Stuart, for giving us the opportunity to come together today for an inspiring day of sharing. Thank you to each of the contributors or facilitators for leading today's conversations and stimulating the thinking and debate. This has been a fabulous, invigorating start to the new school year in Scotland, one which we can look to build upon in the future. 

What remains for us all to do now, is not to merely copy what we have seen and heard. Rather we need to think and consider further what this might mean to our own practice. Consider how some of it might be appropriate or applied to your own context, personal and professional. Consider how you might need to adapt what you are interested in your own context. Trial changes, but consider how you will know if those changes have had a positive impact for learners and yourself. The 'So what?' question is really important. There has to be an impact on learners from days like this, otherwise they are just a chance for a cosy chat. Determine to keep engaging with colleagues in your own setting, at future events like this, or on social media. We all have some system responsibilities. Through events such as this and social media, we all have a voice and we should be using this for the betterment of Scottish education.

Finally, I would like to urge you all to give yourself break. teaching is very demanding and can be stressful and complex, you can't do everything, all the time. What you can aim for is a relentless commitment to the process of personal and professional growth throughout your career, but this needs to be proportionate, manageable and sustainable. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, make sure you have plenty 'you' time this weekend and beyond, this is vital for you, your family, friends, your learners and the health of the system. We have to deal with our own wellbeing before we can attend to that of others.'

One impressive aspect that I should comment on is the range of experience and expertise contributing to this day. Teachers ranged in experience from those with many years plying their trade, 'seen it all', others with differing numbers of years and a range of experiences, NQTs and RQTs and all with varying levels of leadership responsibility. Most impressive was that there was at least one ITE student there, at the very start of her career, but prepared to be brave and step into an event like this. There were others who had roles outside of schools, and all had turned up on a Saturday giving their time and expertise freely to support each other. Teacher-generated and led events like this have enormous potential to create real change and movement in our schools, from the ground up. The 'powers that be', need to recognise them, without aiming to control or direct, and all teachers need to be encouraged to attend at least one similar event over the course of each school year, in my opinion.

We finished up with George Ezra's 'Pretty Shining People' playing in the background. This has been one of my songs of the summer and I thought it an apt anthem for the PedagooGoliath attendees.


Some summer reflections⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

This is my first post since June. Apologies for that, but I have used the summer months to go travelling, spending 6 weeks in Australia, only returning last week. Whilst this was ostensibly a holiday, I couldn't resist taking the opportunity to meet with educationalists, and to keep an eye on the local and national news with regard to what was happening in education in Oz. We had a fab holiday, even though it was winter down there. It was a bit wet and windy in the Perth area at times, but still very pleasant, with temperatures in the high teens or low twenties. We did head up to Broome for a few days and the temperatures were a balmy 30 degrees, so we did see our share of sun, but perhaps not as much as was being experienced back at home.

Anyway, back to more musings on education, both in Australia and back here in Scotland and the UK. Most Scottish schools have started the new school year, either last week or this, following the summer break. Already the Scottish Government has started publishing new plans, the latest one just out, 'Learning Together: a national plan for parental involvement, parental engagement, family learning and learning at home 2018-2021', a cause close to my own professional heart. Likewise, as the dust settles from the activity of the start of the new session for children, parents, teachers and school leaders, thoughts will already be turning to school development plans and vexious issues that remain for schools and systems.

Well, there is good news, folks. Those issues that we are constantly being challenged and frustrated by are common, even when you are separated by geography of 12000 miles or more. Yes, there will be specific issues that are related to school and system contexts, but it slightly reassuring that the big issues are similar and are being faced, or not, in education systems and schools across the globe.

Of course, the fact that many of the issues are so similar could be as a result of the common neoliberal approaches to education taken by many governments around the world, and the difficulties and challenges presented as a result. However, some of them are still to do with teachers and schools seeking to do the very best for all their learners and families.

How to develop and improve learning and teaching would seem to be a universal issue to tackle. Whilst in Australia, there were numerous conferences, teacher and leadership events happening that sought to explore how teachers and school leaders could be supported to be the very best they could be, in order to have the greatest positive impacts on outcomes for all learners. It would seem the dialogue around this is very familiar to those of us up here in the northern hemisphere. A new book 'Flip the System Australia: What Matters In Education' is just emerging, building on the Original 'Flip the System' by Jelmer Evers and the follow up 'Flip The System UK'. In this, Australian educators, and some from overseas, explore the system issues, suggesting a different way forward for Australia, opposing the neoliberal approaches currently being pushed by government. The issues in the new book concern teacher agency, teacher leadership, using research and evidence, the impact of coaching, how we best use technology and how we best empower teachers as agents of change. Sound familiar?

Whilst there was much happening around these areas, I saw little evidence, as yet, of teacher-led development events, like our own TeachMeets, Pedagoo, BrewEd. Most of those that were happening whilst I was there seemed to be organised by Professional Associations, State Education Departments, Universities or other organisations. That is not say that teacher-led events were not happening, and I know some teacher-led events have happened in the past, and probably still happen now, but perhaps this is an area that will grow. I am sure the geography, and sheer scale of the country, might well mitigate against this, except in the city municipal areas, with technology being an important facilitation tool. It was great to see the successes and challenges faced by the indigenous peoples of Australia being acknowledged in the new book, and across the systems themselves.

The debate around phonics testing and the development of reading rages across the Australian system. There was a televised debate around the issues, with contributors being unhelpfully labelled as 'for' or 'against' in what was described as a 'war' by some of the more colourful media. It would seem that many state governments wish to adopt the English approach, with phonics screening tests and a proscribed way of teaching. This is being argued against by educators, academics and parents, with others feeling just as strongly in supporting a more directive approach. After the TV debate, there was lots of vehement discussion across social media, with feelings obviously running very high amongst some participants. I dipped my toe into that particular debate, but withdrew after being described as  'a member of a cult who didn't want children to learn.' I was on holiday after all, and decided I didn't need the hassle, so left them to it. However, I thought his did demonstrate once again how quickly people do set up 'camps' and create dichotomies that just don't need to exist within education.

Testing was a very hot topic during my stay. The NAPLAN testing system in Australia has never been short of critics within the education sector, but still has its strong supporters amongst state and national governments. It would seem this year the tests had been administered using the usual computer-based format, and as a paper version for some. This duality of approach has caused lots of issues, with the validity of this year's results being questioned, even more so than they have been before. This particular issue has acted as a catalyst for many to revisit all the associated issues with NAPLAN, its impact on learners, teachers, schools and the curriculum. Perhaps this has been brought into sharper relief by New Zealand's decision to stop making such standardised testing mandatory, or publishing the results? I came back to all the same issues still being raised in Scotland, with the Government getting itself into a similar mess, in particular with its advice regarding our new standardised testing, especially in the face of such strong opposition to those being imposed on five year olds in P1. There is no doubt there is a place for teachers using standardised testing as necessary, and for diagnostic purposes. But, the system compelling schools and teachers to test whole cohorts, at the same time, to be used for accountability purposes, deserves to be challenged by those individuals who compose any 'system'.

Whilst the above were issues dominating the national education debate in Australia, similar to our own, and I am sure many others, there are many educators in schools an the system beavering away trying to resolve issues and improve outcomes for learners on a daily basis. When we see all the headlines about issues in education it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are thousands and thousands of individuals in any system who are still trying to do the very best for all the learners, and their families, who they work with daily. Often this is despite the system they are working in, because they have a moral imperative to make a difference, and will 'exploit policy', as Fullan calls it, to do the right thing for their learners. I have met people like this on this visit to Australia and on previous visits, and I have worked alongside many across the UK. Too many of them fail to recognise that they are 'the system', and they can change it for the better if they use their powerful professional voice.

On this visit I spoke with educators and university staff from Western Australia who were taking positive steps to ameliorate the worst impacts of system decisions and to explore how educators could be further supported in their endeavours. One of the issues that educators in WA recognised a long time ago was that Curricular Progressions or Pathways, don't work. They present learning as linear and standardised, related to age, when in fact learning is more complex and individualistic than that, with teachers needing accurate information on where learners were, the gaps in their learning and identifying the next steps they would need in their learning. The West Australian Primary Principals Association (WAPPA), academics from the University of Western Australia and schools across the state have been working to resolve some of these. What they have discovered, from over fifteen years of research, is that teachers professional judgements of where learners are in their learning are remarkably accurate! If that is the case, then how could they use this to assess learning, track progress and identify next steps in learning. Could they create a tool that does all of this, which would have high levels of validity, would save teachers time and which would enable them, and school leaders, to report accurately on progress? So, focused initially on genres of writing, they have set about creating such a tool. I will write more about this in a future post, but I thought this was a brilliant example of people getting on with the 'day job', collaborating to solve issues, despite all the system 'chatter' going on round about them and the profession.

The same thing is happening across Scotland, England and Wales. I have visited many schools this year in all these countries and have seen or heard many inspiring similar stories. Teachers, school leaders, academics and other partners collaborating on self-generated and focussed improvement, informed by data and research. Such experiences always give me great hope for the future and the profession, despite the issues that might ail any system. That is not to say we should ignore the bigger issues, and we should still fight the fights that are necessary, but this should never be at the expense of just getting on with the job, and doing what we do best.

I am already looking forward to the opportunity of working with and speaking to more educators across different systems. Focused collaboration on the things that matter and make a difference will always the remain the best way forward.

Thanks to those I spoke to, face-to-face or online, whilst I was in Australia. Hopefully it won't be too long before I return for more collaboration and dialogue.






Developing metacognition and self-regulation in learners, of all ages⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Ahead of a session with Rachel Lofthouse and the CollectivEd1, the mentoring and coaching hub created by her, I have been thinking a lot about metacognition. Our session with teachers in a few weeks is to be focused on metacognition and how we can develop this in both young learners and teachers. The title of our seminar is 'Making sense of Metacognitive Teaching Through Collaborative Professional Development' and will take the form of an introduction, followed by round-table discussions around various models that may be used to develop such collaborative professional development. After the round-tables, we hope to pull the main points emerging together and explore key issues. To help attendees focus their attention they have been referred to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) paper 'Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning' published in April 2018.

Metacognition has been identified as a key skill for learners by many different authorities and researchers, but like many other key skills, has not been taught in any systematic way in many schools, with teachers seeming to assume that this is another skill that develops over time, with more knowledge and experience. For some it does, for many it doesn't. Skills need to be taught and developed over time, so that all individuals have the opportunity to utilise them to best support their learning. The development of metacognition, and metacognitive awareness is no different. If we don't explicitly model and teach the skills all learners will need, we disadvantage even further many of those learners.

As I stated earlier, the case for the development and teaching of metacognition has been made by many researchers. John Hattie includes this in his 'top ten, high-impact, evidence-based strategies' for all learners to adopt. In the EEF report referred to it states that 'evidence suggests that the use of metacognitive strategies... can be the equivalent of and additional 7 months progress, when used well.' Ron Ritchhart and colleagues at Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote 'to the extent that students can develop an awareness of thinking processes, they become more independent learners, capable of directing and managing their own cognitive actions'  in 2011. On the Education Scotland National Improvement Hub it states that 'metacognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact.'

Understanding that the support for metacognitive and self-regulatory approaches can have big positive impacts for learners, is but the first step in their introduction and development in the classroom. I would suggest that it is important that all learners have that understanding and expectation at the outset, so that they are clear as to the goals that can be achieved. Next, everyone needs to be clear about what we mean by the term 'metacognition'. The EEF report itself recognises that many teachers, and school leaders, have a very sketchy, at best, understanding. If you ask most teachers, many will reply 'its about thinking about thinking' with little clear understanding of what that actually means, or how to teach it.

In the EEF report an attempt is made to clarify what it is we are actually talking about. Metacognition and self-regulation in learning are closely linked. You can't self-regulate your learning, and become independent in your learning, if you don't understand yourself as a learner, and the strategies you employ when you are learning new things. 'Self-regulation is about the extent to which learners are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and the strategies they use to learn.' Metacognition forms one of the three key elements of self-regulated learning, the others being cognition and motivation. All three are key for independent learning. 'Metacognition is about how learners monitor and purposefully direct their learning'. Learners need to understand and be taught a range of strategies and approaches that they may employ when faced with any learning, cognition, and then need the motivation to consider and deploy the most effective ones when new learning is presented.

If we are clearer about the benefits of metacognitive teaching, and we better understand what that means, the next question is how do teachers go about developing metacognitive capacities in their learners? The EEF report is keen to dispel any notion that the development of metacognition can be left till pupils are older, and argues, rightly in my view, that the development of metacognitive understandings should start with younger learners too. The report gives a seven step systematic progression to the development of metacognition.

The first step is for teachers to develop their own understanding, knowledge and skills about metacognition in order to better support their young learners. Hopefully, the first part of this post has helped with that, but I would refer you to the full report and to Ron Ritchhart's work for a more detailed and deeper understanding. They suggest that teachers adopt and model a plan, monitor, then evaluate framework, and explicitly teach this to their learners, as an on-going cycle of approach to their learning. The explicit teaching of this model is step two. In this we begin to teach and discuss the specific metacognitive strategies being employed by the teacher and the students. The report suggests, and I concur with, that this should be incorporated into  real-life learning situations across the curriculum, rather than as a discrete add on. The teacher will begin to introduce metacognitive questioning to draw out, and make visible, the strategies known and being used. They suggest some metacognitive elements that teachers should look to incorporate into their lessons, including the activation of prior learning, explicit strategy instruction, modelling of a learned strategy, memorisation of a strategy, guided practice, independent practice and structured reflection.

In step three, the teachers should look to model their own thinking to help their pupils develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills. They can talk through their own thinking and encourage learners to ask questions about why they chose certain strategies over others. This is the teacher scaffolding new learning, with the aim to reduce this over time to encourage the learners to become more independent and confident. The fourth step requires the teacher to set a level of challenge that is appropriate for the learners. The aim of this challenge is to develop the learner's self-regulation as well as metacognition. The level of challenge should be such that it promotes motivation whilst taking note of cognitive load theory, by breaking down otherwise complex tasks for the learners. In step five, the teacher should seek to create a dialogical learning culture, where learners are supported and encouraged to develop metacognitive talk in the classroom. Having adopted this myself, I understand how this takes time and requires the slowing down of learning in some areas. But the benefits for learners, far outweigh the apparent 'costs'.

Step six requires teachers to explicitly teach learners how to effectively manage and organise their learning, to help them become independent learners. Here we should teach cognitive strategies that have been shown to work by cognitive science and research. We could help them with memory strategies such as practice tests, spaced practice, elaborative interrogation of learning, self-explanation, interleaved-practice and so on. In this way we are developing cognition, motivation and metacognition that will all help our learners become more independent in understanding and managing their learning. The final step, number seven, is directed more at the management and leadership of schools, who need to ensure that teachers have the opportunity for high-level collaborative professional development that allows them to keep up-dating their knowledge and skills around metacognition. Providing they are supporting and giving teachers the opportunities they need to keep growing and developing their understandings, the report strongly recommends that SMTs then 'expect' these strategies to be implemented by teachers. A strong, but not unreasonable, stance, as long as everyone is delivering on their side of such an expectation.

I think that the above gives schools a guide as to how they may really get going with developing metacognition in teachers and learners. It can soon be made systematic and continuous, then can be built on as confidence, knowledge and experience increases. There can be great benefits for our learners if we do this right, and get it right for all our learners. I have identified some of these as follows:

  • Raised attainment and achievement for all learners, especially for those most disadvantaged otherwise
  • The closing of gaps caused by disadvantage
  • The development of independent learners earlier
  • Learners who better understand themselves as learners, and how to improve
  • The development of self-regulation and agency in learners
  • Deep impactful change embedded in teacher practice and thinking
  • Schools working collaboratively with a focus on thinking and learning
There may well be others, but I think they are all worth thinking about!

Testing Times for Scotland⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

'These are not high stakes tests; there will be no 'pass or fail' and no additional workload for children or teachers.' John Swinney 25/11/16 news.gov.scot

I start this look at the introduction of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) with  statement above from John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, made when he announced the contract for our new standardised testing had been awarded to ACER International UK, Ltd. This organisation is a subsidiary of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), whom have been responsible for the development of the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) regime of high-stakes testing in the Australian system since 2008. I also believe they were one of a very short list of providers who tendered a bid for this contract.

I was drawn to this statement as I reflected on many of the responses I have received after I put out a request on Twitter asking for people to get in touch about their experiences with the new standardised tests as they are introduced across our schools. I sit on the board of Connect (formerly the Scottish Parents and Teachers Council) and the issue of the new tests had been raised at a recent board meeting. I said I would gather more information for Connect, so that we were able to offer advice to parents on the new testing regime, and hopefully allay some of their fears.

What quickly emerged was a very mixed picture in how the tests were being used across Scotland, but there was a commonality in the types of experiences children, teachers and schools were having, and it very much flew in the face of Mr Swinney's assurances given at the outset of their development.

'regarding SNSAs…Where do I start? I have had 3 children I have spent all year working with to build self-worth and self-belief, comment that they are ‘no good’, ‘useless’ and then cry. I have had one child who decided to guess most of the numeracy questions, and got them correct! (Lies, damned lies and statistics!) Most frustratingly, I am a class teacher administering the tests in class using 2 ipads and a desk top. Class of 27=81 tests. Huge impact on learning and teaching as you can imagine. With so many children suffering from low self-esteem and an increase in mental health issues, why is this happening? I truly despair.’

This was a response from a primary school class teacher, one of many who got in touch, expressing their concern with not only the impact on learners, the learning going on in their classrooms whilst testing was taking place, and the implications for their workload. I had a number of similar responses from teachers, school leaders and members of senior management teams.



 ‘ I took some of our P1s for their assessments today. We have 3 P1 teachers, who stayed with their classes, while 3 class teachers 2 learning support teachers and 3 PSAs spent all day doing the assessments 1-1, roughly 20-30 mins per child per literacy test, plus 15-20 mins for numeracy. Aside from the straight salary cost there, imagine the opportunity cost! The tests themselves are (obviously) far too narrow to give a decent picture of a child’s learning, but also seem generic rather than based on the taught P1 curriculum (despite the Scottish accent). The (now legendary) passage on hummingbirds is just ridiculous, I had one wee girl who was becoming so visibly crushed by it that I told her we would just leave it – I couldn’t let her suffer for something so unrealistic. Most of the children were exhausted by them, especially literacy, and certainly schools shouldn’t  have P1 children doing both in one sitting. I have 2 primary age daughters and if they were still in P1 I’d be withdrawing them from these. My opinion is that all the planned primary tests are at best unnecessary and possibly detrimental, but the P1 test seems to be actively harmful and a phenomenal drain on resources to no obvious benefit to the learners.’

This, from another class teacher, backed up what many colleagues were saying about the impacts for learners and teachers, as well as wider school, workloads. This was the first response that also started to query wider system issues of the new testing, such as the cost, the appropriateness of the content and the emotional impact on very young learners. One or two indicated that they felt most of their children weren't unduly stressed by the tests, they were able to present them in a fun way as a quiz or some other way, but they still queried some of the content, the usefulness of the outcomes and the disruption and impact being caused for teachers, children and schools.

 ‘Highlights of the P1 SNSA reading test included a passage on hummingbirds! Hummingbirds??? Vocabulary included hover and perch (and backwards). It also included a question asking what an alternative word for ‘beak’ was. So testing general knowledge then? It is impossible to do with a class of P1. SMT now doing individually, with all 70 plus P1s!!! Aaarghhh!!’

was a reflection of some of the frustrations felt by one headteacher. She went on to add,


‘seems to be the only game in town. I really question the validity of the ‘standardisation’ too. Even within my cluster we have some folks using iPads, some PCs, some testing all day, some only mornings, some individually and some whole class, some folk reading to their p1s instead of using the voice and doing the clicking because their mouse skills are not sophisticated enough. And don’t get me started on the IT and wifi capacity!!’

‘Who does my work while I collect meaningless data for HQ/Scot Govt?’

It would seem that many schools had resorted to senior management teams, Support for Learning teachers and other support staff, where there were any left, to carry out the testing, recognising the impossibility of teachers being able to deliver these tests, especially the P1 ones, whilst still teaching a class. The lack of equipment, and poor ICT systems were cited by many as a frustration and cause of more stress for teachers and young learners.
Another headteacher sent me the following,


‘The torture continues. P7 writing assessment (which in fact is assessing punctuation, grammar and spelling so therefore just the tools of writing) has questions where children asked to correct the spelling of a word. One of my enterprising P7s worked out that if you right click on the answer, the computer will tell you if its correct! Brilliant!’

This story caused a flurry of Tweets and incredulity on Twitter, and beyond, and also pointed to a concern raised by many, that these tests of literacy and 'numeracy' did neither. What they assess is some of the skills required to demonstrate literacy and numeracy, but they were no a test of either literacy or numeracy.

The sense of frustration felt by one Support for Learning teacher is palpable in her response.

‘ SNSA aaaaahhhhhh! As you can imagine this is an extra to what we are all doing. Local authority has decided to do them in May, which is probably a good time of year.
Getting them all logged on, finding the website (the long name) and saving it in favourites takes time in itself. Logging onto the website is laborious for P1 as adult needs to do it as they are so long. OK for most P4 and P7.
P1 pupils need good competent keyboard/generic skills to complete assessments (click and drag, do not double click, etc.) Our screens do not show the ‘Next’ key unless pupils scroll down to find it.
P1 pupils have a lot of pointer movements to make every time they go to the next screen (go to top left to read out instructions then read out questions and possible answers, now find the ‘next’ button etc.)
The guidance says give pupils the same support they would get in class – this is quite subjective. Do you give them the support they DO get or what you would like them to get if there were more staff?? As a teacher I am unsure what is being assessed in some areas. For example is the reading assessing comprehension or decoding?
Teachers cannot do sample assessments.
No text to speech option for P4 and P7 pupils – for pupils who are still developing skills in decoding (only parts of the P1 have speech option)
Font is very small on P4 and P7 assessments – we are all having to peer at the screen.
P1 reading requires them to read or hear about 4 sections of a story before they answer questions – lots of memory rather than find the answer in the text.
Lots of words and names used in P1 assessments that are not decodable using Alphabetic Codes taught in P1.
P1 pupils need lots of support to get through the practice and 2 assessments. We do not have time to do 1 to 1 support so independent working through them digitally may not give correct measure against benchmarks.
‘I was demented this morning. Getting P1s set up. Broken headphones, notebooks with no audio! Eventually got them all working independently and keeping them happy. No idea how they have done. What a palaver! Glad I am retiring early after next session.’

She raises more issues about the validity and content of the tests, all of which have supposedly been tested and piloted extensively before their introduction, and the technical issues that teachers and schools are having to deal with. Since the introduction of such on-line testing was first mooted many of these concerns had been raised by teachers and schools, but it would seem that not a lot of heed was taken of the concerns expressed.

Another class teacher pointed out yet another technical issue that surely could have been resolved before the tests went 'live.
‘One of the problems we faced is that the usernames include the child’s middle names, so some of our kids are taking a long time to log in. One pupil has 5 middle names, time was up and he was still trying to log in.' 
Whilst another articulated a question many were asking,
‘How much is this costing? I have no jotters or whiteboard-pens, general basics to do my job …Ah, priorities. Hang them out to dry!’

It is clear that many local authorities are asking/telling their schools to administer the tests towards the end of the school year, i.e. May/June, which is a very busy time in schools anyway and does not allow teachers to use them in a properly diagnostic way, but some have taken a different approach.

‘In our small cluster, we have analysed the SNSAs our P7 pupils sat in October. Teachers used the results diagnostically to aid planning, but we have looked at what the trends for cluster mean for secondary. Many of the results haven’t changed judgements about achievement of a level but some clear trends have emerged, which we will address for next session.’

However, this has allowed some to question the validity of the 'standardisation' claimed for the tests by the government and its supplier. What is clear is there are a range of approaches and experiences happening across Scotland, some of which bring into question the validity of outcomes produced by the testing software.

A DHT wrote,

‘Looked at P1 results with CT. Children are ranked Low, Medium or High. All exactly where CT put them at beginning of the week. A week of quality teaching time lost and stressed pupils and teachers … not to mention the cost of it all!’
which really does bring into question the added value to teachers' professional judgement from these assessments. If they are not telling teachers or schools anything they do not already know about learners, what then is their purpose, and at what cost? This was reflected in the latest comment I have received from a teacher.

‘Have just attended the phase B SNSA training. All about the data. We were told that the Scot Gvmt will not have access to the data. It belongs to the school and their LA. We were told again it is NOT high stakes, but there to inform the teachers. However she then kept telling us that HMIe will ask SMT what are they doing about areas flagged up as low. Kept referring to how it will show how PEF interventions are closing the gap and raising attainment. We pointed out that SNSA is done at P1, 4, 7 and S3 only. Unless you have data before and after a PEF intervention how can you possibly say what the impact is from SNSAs? The reports/graphs were so busy I defy anyone to have the time to fully interrogate them for each pupil as we were being shown. It also does not produce block graphs for year groups less than ten pupils, which means that many small schools cannot get them. We also said we do not see how they can be standardised assessments if LAs can do them at whatever time of year they choose.’

On the last point, it would also seem that schools are administering the tests in a myriad of ways, and with varying levels of support for learners. All this brings into question the validity of the 'results' across schools, local authorities and further afield. Observing from outside now, it would seem to me that the Government rhetoric around the tests 'not being high stakes' is being ignored by local authorities, who are making them, alongside the benchmarks, very much high-stakes and how they are judging schools. This is exactly the scenario that played out in Australia with NAPLAN tests, England with SATS, and other countries that have gone down similar routes. In all these countries, the early talk was of the tests supporting 'teacher professional judgement', but they soon mutated into high-stakes accountability measures. Scotland is heading the same way.

Some of the tweets I received from teachers included the following selection:
‘Accountability. Pure and simple. In no way will this benefit our learners.’
‘If we can’t clearly decide the nature of the question it shouldn’t be used – a reading passage should have all the answers. Anyway the whole set-up is simply ScotGovt data trawling not promoting best practice.’
‘The maths question about how many Tuesdays in a particular calendar month made my heart sink. Far too difficult and not reflective of Early level,’
‘This is for P1!! Its not reflective of early level literacy curriculum. The hummingbird passage is beyond the expected usual level by the end of P1. That question in particular totally relies on children’s own prior knowledge of birds, there were no contextual clues.’
‘AND it was in the norming study completed in march when I know that HTs specifically said that that particular passage was not appropriate for P1, when asked for feedback re the assessment.’
‘An all so a gorgeous and very bright P1 could say, ‘I am not good, am I’ after trying really hard to work out the words in the ‘hummingbird’ passage. Well done the system – a curious and excited learner demoralised!’
‘I have just had a flash back to the Counting Rhymes in an African Village paper from 5-14 test bank. Is the purpose of spending all this money to help teachers know how chn are progressing? That will be a great help because how would teachers ever know otherwise??? ‘
‘Can parents ask for their child not to do this?’
As things stand, I have hundreds of responses to this request for information about the tests, and whilst I recognise this is anything but a scientific examination of SNSAs, I do think there is enough already for the profession and parents to be concerned about. Regarding that last question in a Tweet, the tests are not compulsory or mandatory, the Government's own advice recognises this. However, some schools and local authorities are presenting them as 'mandatory' to parents. I would argue, that even were they designated as 'mandatory' parents would still have the right to withdraw their children. After all they are their children and if they think the impacts of such testing are harmful to their wellbeing, then they should withdraw them.

Just like the tests themselves, my request for thoughts around them provides us with a snapshot in time, and quite early in the timeframe of their introduction. However, I think there are indications of significant issues that need to be addressed by Scottish government, local authorities and schools. I have summarised these as follows;
Assessments aren’t really assessing literacy and numeracy, just bits of the skills required to be literate and numerate
Tests not assessing the taught curriculum in Scotland, especially at Early Level
They don’t reflect the principles and practice of CfE
Technical problems within the tests themselves
Workload for teachers and schools, and time being swallowed up in their administration
Lack of, or poor, hardware and infrastructures in schools to administer tests
Lack of ‘standardisation’ in how they are being applied, used and supported – a very mixed approach across the country
Stresses for children, especially p1s, and staff
When and how tests are being delivered is being heavily dictated by LAs
Are the tests actually telling the teachers anything they don’t already know, and at what cost?
Headteachers telling parents tests are mandatory, or not even informing parents they are taking place
The validity of the tests, how they will be interpreted, and how they will be used by schools, LAs and Gov

Does the categorising learners as 'Low' 'Medium' and 'High' promote setting, labelling and further disadvantage?
I think there are big questions for everyone in the Scottish system to ask and seek answers to. The cost of the introduction of the SNSAs is huge, running into millions of pounds, much of which are 'hidden' and are being absorbed by schools and local authorities. The big question is, is it worth it? The EIS said it would oppose the carrying out of tests if they began to skew the curriculum and put undue extra pressure on their members. I would suggest both of those are already beginning to happen. Teachers and school leaders need to be asking, as suggested by Mr Swinney himself, do you have more freedom to focus on learning teaching with the introduction of the tests? In 2017 he said 'When Scotland set out to reform our school curriculum, a critical question was how we break free of the top-down diktats that dominated Scottish school education.' He gave teachers and schools 'permission' to challenge anything that took them away from the core business of learning and teaching. Perhaps it is now time to make some of those challenges!
If you don't think it is worth it, just read this tweet again,
‘An all so a gorgeous and very bright P1 could say, ‘I am not good, am I’ after trying really hard to work out the words in the ‘hummingbird’ passage. Well done the system – a curious and excited learner demoralised!’
Is that really want for our very youngest learners? I hope not! Perhaps we are all being tested?






What really matters in school leadership?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Last week, I was invited to give a 'keynote' presentation for the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) to an audience of Deputy Headteachers and Principal Teachers. Having discussed the possible themes for this with Greg Dempster, the General Secretary of this school leaders' organisation, we agreed the title of my input would be 'What really matters in school leadership?' This post is a recap of what I spoke about on the day.

Thanking AHDS for the chance to speak to the middle leaders from our primary sector, I started by saying what an honour it was to be asked to speak to current leaders, many of whom would be forming the core of leadership in Scottish primary schools for many years to come. Not to put too much pressure on the people in the room, but they were the people who would help shape the future of education, and perhaps solve some of the challenges we still face, or have created, in Scottish education. I hoped to at least stimulate their thinking about their role now, and in the future, even if they disagreed with some or all I was about to say.

What do we mean by leadership? was the first question I posed, and asked everyone to discuss for a couple of minutes. In the feedback from the tables common themes emerged around leading people, developing learning and teaching, and change. I proffered my own thought that leadership was about creating cultures and conditions to produce growth and development in people, systems and structures. 'No-one is appointed a leader to maintain the status quo.' To me our role was to bring about growth in the people we worked with, but equally in the mechanics of what we do.

Who has leadership? was my next rhetorical question. It is my belief that everyone is a leader, and that leadership can either be positive or negative. Everyone in the room has a formal leadership role in their respective schools and settings, but there will be other taking on leadership roles and responsibilities, consciously and sub-consciously. In any school some of the 'quietest' members of staff can still be leading in some way. Create the right environment, and this can have positive impacts on what you are trying to achieve. However, in the wrong environment the impact can be much more negative, with people and factions working against what you may be trying to achieve. As leaders, we need to be aware of the social dynamics at play in our settings, and wider afield.

I noted that we might all have our own views on what leadership was about, and that this was okay, but we need to consider this throughout our careers, and adjust when necessary, in the light of experience and new knowledge.

Leadership is not easy. There are lots of challenges, but the opportunities to make a difference for so many people are amongst its greatest attractions. I now turned my attention to the things that I believe really make a difference in our leadership of schools. I also think that sometimes we lose sight of many of these as we get embroiled in the demands and machinations of the system, not to mention the daily activity found in any school, no matter what its size.

Unsurprisingly, I started with the children. Do we have the children at the heart of everything we do in our schools? I told how I used to show new prospective parents around my schools, talking about my philosophy for education as we went. I would always say we were a 'child-centred' school, which would elicit strange responses from parents, along the lines 'how could you be anything else?' However, especially early in my career, I felt this needed saying, as so many schools, and perhaps the system itself, had lost sight of what we were doing and why. Do we ever take any actions that we know work against the best interests of our learners? I pointed out that in my career, I had been guilty of this at times. Do we always act in the best interests of the learners and their families? I spoke of the recent Upstart meeting and campaign against the introduction of standardised testing into P1(see previous post). If we purport to always act in the best interests of children, does subjecting five year olds to such testing support our assertion of being 'child-centred'? Is your school ACE aware? Do you and your staff understand the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences, not only on learners in their formative years, but throughout their lives? Is there at least one person on your staff who knows each child and their family circumstances really well, and to whom they can go to talk? These can be hard and difficult questions to ask of yourself and your school, but they need to be asked and they need to be considered in all your actions as a leader. Everything we do should support our learners and their families.

I moved onto values and ethics next. I asked the audience to consider their own professional values and to share them with someone nearby. When they had discussed these, I asked if it had been easy to identify them? I thought they would say yes, but not many did, though someone who had been for interview that week had them right at the forefront of her thinking. This helped make my point, that values should underpin all of your actions, and that we should consider and review them throughout our careers. The key thing about values, as with most things, are what you do with them. Your values should be matched and brought to life in your actions. If your professed values say one thing, then your actions say something else, then your stated values are not your true values. You are what you do, not what you say you do. Values should be lived, not laminated. How many times do you go into schools, or Council offices, and see values displayed as soon as you go through the door? You see them in headteacher offices, handbooks and websites, but they can be easily betrayed by the actions of those working in the establishments and their leadership, or just forgotten, as another box is ticked. When you really inform your practice with your values, they become lived, allow you to draw lines in the sand about what is acceptable, and what not, and can act as your first port of call in meaningful self-evaluation process. Anything less, and they become wallpaper.

Alongside values, do you always act ethically? We need to be ethical in our thinking and our behaviours as school leaders. Understanding the difference between right and wrong, and acting accordingly, is another key aspect. When your practice is driven by your values, you are much more likely to act ethically, at all times.

Once you have established the focus of your practice, and the values that will underpin this you are then able to start formulating a vision for what you wish to achieve personally and professionally. However, vision without action is just a dream.

'Action without vision is only passing time. Vision without action is merely day-dreaming, but vision with action can change the world.' Nelson Mandella

You have to have an idea of what you are trying to achieve, then when you have this, you need to combine this with the vision of the rest of the school community to develop a collective vision that you all will be working towards. To achieve the vision requires individual and collective action. It is this vision that will help you stay on track with all that you are trying to achieve, and act as a reference for progress.

To achieve that vision, and deliver the actions required, you need, and are dependent on, people. As a leader, you lead people and work with and alongside different people everyday. Education and learning organisations have people at their heart. We do not yet have learning establishments and systems driven or operated by robots or artificial intelligence, hopefully we never will. So people are key. The people you work with and alongside are the ones that will carry and support you in your leadership role. You cannot be in every classroom, meeting, or situation, so other people will be indicators of your effectiveness as a leader. This will be demonstrated in their actions as well as the cultures you create.

The key to working effectively with people is relationships. School leaders have to build, support and nurture relationships with whoever can help them deliver on their vision, as well as because it is the right thing to do. Trust will be key, and is the glue that maintains and supports all the relationships you will need to develop. Building relationships happens day by day and through every action and interaction. For a new leader, I have always advised them to 'talk the talk, then walk that walk.' Express your vision and your values, outline your actions, then do it! Nothing betrays or destroys trust so much as saying one thing then doing something else. Everything you try to achieve, to develop or grow staff and your establishments, stands or falls on the culture and ethos you create. Get it right and there is no limit to what you can achieve, get it wrong and you will be hamstrung by what you have created.

'The key action we need to do is recognise that the most important thing in our schools is the quality of the relationships.' Lee Elliot Major CEO Sutton Trust

By working with and supporting the people, as we develop trusting relationships, we begin to create the cultures that will be necessary for us to be successful on behalf of our learners, and their families. Culture is key. When we have cultures that are open and built on mutual support and trust, we can achieve more. Schools are learning organisations and need a learning culture, where everyone sees themselves as a learner, including teachers and school leaders. We can all grow our understandings and improve our practice and this should be a career-long commitment. I pointed out that I stood down from my school leadership role twelve months ago, but have continued to learn. so much so, that I would be a different leader now that I was when I left. Teachers and school leaders need to model themselves as learners for the children they work with, so that they come to understand that learning is for life, not just in school. We all know already that most learning does not happen is school anyway.

Given what I had said already, I then referred to the importance of context. Context is unique and crucial. Every school is a learning establishment, but every one is unique because it consists of unique individuals all at different points in their development. We have to understand our context externally in relation to our community, at all levels, and internally in terms of our position on a continuum of development. All our actions and thinking are shaped by those contexts, and should be reflected in these. This is why I get a tad annoyed with people and organisations outside of each school, setting timelines and expectations of when certain changes will have happened. School development, like child learning, is not a simple linear process and is far from standardised or consistent. There are too many variables for this to be the case. Each school should have procedures and practices to allow it to know itself well and how it is progressing. Leaders have to understand that context and work towards the ongoing and continuous development of the school/s in which they are located, as well as the system itself.

We then moved on to identifying the main thing, and how we ensure we keep the main thing the main thing, in terms of our thinking and our actions. I gave the attendees a little time to identify what that 'main thing' might be. The consensus in the hall was that, as school leaders, our main thing, given the provisos already mentioned, was learning and teaching, in order for us to deliver our vision in achieving the best outcomes for all learners. There was one brave sole who ventured that for her the main thing was actually getting her learners into school and ready to learn. She worked in a support unit, but acknowledged that when she got them into school, her focus was on giving them the best learning experiences she could, that supported their holistic development. I took her point, and thought later about the message 'we have to take care of the Maslow stuff, before we can take care of Bloom stuff.'' Whilst not a fan of Bloom's taxonomy, I agree with the sentiments being expressed, and it chimes with our attention to ACEs and their impact on development. Once we have taken steps to address those basic needs and take into account adverse experiences, we have to focus on learning and teaching. We need to have this as our own priority and set it as a school one. Anything, that is not contributing to positive learning outcomes, needs to be addressed and dropped for something that is.

I then showed a slide which had quotes from the McKinsey report of 2007,  John Hattie, Bryan Boyd, Dylan Wiliam and Helen Timperley, that all reflected the message that teachers are the most important factor in school performance and development. The two most important factors and influencers being leadership and teacher performance. If that is the case, as leaders, we need to support our teachers to become the very best practitioners they can be. To that end we should look to develop teachers agency, teacher leadership and adaptive expertise. The ability of teachers to make meaningful decisions about their practice and to support the development of others, should be an aim for school leaders. As should the development of true teacher leadership opportunities, formal and informal, throughout their careers. The development of these will require the true flattening of hierarchies that stubbornly persist in many schools and systems. Another example of matching actions to words. Teacher adaptive expertise, the ability to change and adapt what they are doing in the light of student response and contextual circumstances, has to be another key aim. The very best teachers I have worked with, do this continually. Not only do they reflect and enquire, they make changes to their practice in order to better meet the learning needs of the children they work with. In my view we should be seeking to develop the self-improving teacher in order to support a self-improving system.

Connected to all of this, and the cultures we should be seeking to create, is the support and expectation that our staff and ourselves will commit to working collaboratively.

'We have known for a quarter of a century that focused collaborative cultures generate greater student learning.' Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves 1992
'It is increasingly clear that the only way to achieve large-scale and sustainable improvement is to invest in collective capacity building.' Alma Harris 2016
        We have known of the power of collaboration for a long time now, and, in my view, the best and most effective collaborations are those we create for ourselves, not those imposed upon us. I noted that the Government, and others, have finally recognised the power of collaboration and are now legislating for these to happen, imposing them at various levels. To my mind, this will make them less effective and more likely to produce compliance and increased workload, with few gains for learners. However, if we create and support collaborative working, and build this into the culture and the ethos of our schools, within and between them, the impacts will be beneficial for all. Leaders need to collaborate themselves beyond the confines of their school or local authority.
         Given all of this, school leaders still need to gate-keep on behalf of all of their staff. We have cried out for years for those above us in the chain of command or hierarchy to protect schools and teachers for the constant cascade of more work, change and bureaucracy down on to us, to no avail. Therefore, it is down to school leaders to do this on behalf of our staff and ourselves. If we apply our values and vision to create a plan for the ongoing development of all that we do, then we need to use this to protect ourselves and our staff from the ever burgeoning demands of the system. We also need to protect our staff from themselves at times too. We have the pleasure to work with some very committed individuals and sometimes they need saving from themselves, and their desire to keep on taking on more. If we know our schools and our staff well, this will help us gate-keep at all levels.
         As leaders we need to be informed, and for that we need to engage with research and data. I pointed out that the phrase 'proportionate and manageable' was littered throughout Curriculum for Excellence documentation, but was mostly ignored. However, we need to apply these cautions to our engagement with both data and research. We have to use data and research findings to inform our actions, but not drive them. The alternative leaves us open to every demand of the system and beyond, as well as the latest fads and trends, as we hop from one 'thing' to another. We need to engage critically with both data and research, and to illustrate this point I used the following quotes.
         'Even with data, you are still just someone with an opinion.' Dave Reynolds 2016
         'The data can never tell you what to do' Andy Hargreaves 2017
         Data can inform our actions, if it is the right data, and research can give us clues as to what may support the development of our practice, when shaped by our context.School leaders have to support their own, and their staffs', professional development. A commitment to growing and developing our practice should be a disposition of all educators. School leaders have to model this themselves and support those they lead in their own endeavours.School development should be a connected coherent and continuous process throughout our careers. Not only should leaders support the professional development of staff, they have to be active participants in that process. Helen Timperley had pointed this out in a research paper she produced or AITSL in 2011. She noted that,
         'that the leadership activity with the greatest influence on student outcomes was leaders' promotion of, and participation in, teachers' professional learning and development.' Helen Timperley 2011
         In my opinion school leaders have to be both curious and brave. We have to be curious, otherwise nothing ever changes. Be curious about your own practice and the impact you are having on learning. be curious about your school and its development. Don't be afraid to ask questions because you are afraid you are the only one who doesn't understand, or agree with, something. You wont be! They have to be brave, not only in facing the day to day challenges of leadership, but also when the demands of the system come up against their professional and personal values. Take risks and try things out. We make mistakes, but we learn and grow as a result. The cultures you create should expect people to make mistakes, then you know people are stepping outside of their comfort zones.
         'Curiosity is the spark behind the spark of every great idea. The future belongs to the curious.' Mike Byster
         Sometimes you will need to be personally and professionally courageous. Leadership is a combination of management duties and leadership duties. The best leaders are also good managers, but we should all aim to lead more than we manage. As school leaders it is entirely possible to spend all your days on management activities. However, you are being paid as a leader, so we should create the time and the space to allow ourselves to be leaderly. As leaders, we need to be looking ahead to see what is coming, whilst at the same time focusing on the present and learning from the past. I am of the view that you cannot force people, or manage them, to get better. What you can do is create the conditions and cultures that support everyone to want to be the best they can.Then you have to support everyone in this endeavour.
         To achieve more, we actually need to slow down. We need to stop the glorification of busy and schools being swamped by what Michael Fullan calls 'initiativitis'. I used the example of my golf grip, developed over years and which I felt very comfortable with. Trouble was, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. A golf pro had told me he could change it and it would take six months of slow, step by step adjustment. Staff and school development could be viewed in the same way.Teachers get comfortable with their practice over time and it needs time to bring about change. If we try to change too much too quickly, then people soon resort back to what they feel comfortable with. We need to give change time to become embedded and provide lots of support on the way. Such change works best when it is the teachers themselves who identify what they can get better at, rather than something being imposed on them. We all need practice that works for most learners most of the time.
         As school leaders we should never forget to recognise the efforts of those around us, and on whom we depend, by saying thank you and smiling. There is no healthier sign of a school happy in its own skin as one where smiles are common and laughter is heard throughout. We really do have the best job in the world, so why not show it? Don't be afraid to laugh and show you are human. Our job is a serious one, as we impact on so many lives, but a healthy culture is visible in many ways. Smiling and laughing is part of that, as is the recognition of the fabulous job most people are doing in ever demanding circumstances.I had already talked about professional development and engaging with research, I re-enforced this by stating that all school leaders need to be readers. We have to create the time to read around our roles,and then to share and discuss this with colleagues. I do worry when I hear leaders say things like 'I haven't got time for all that reading stuff!' In my opinion, school leaders have a professional responsibility to read, and therefore need to create the time and the headspace to do so. Reading alone is not enough. They have to think about what they have read, discuss it with others and then begin to consider what the implications might be for themselves and their schools.
         All of what I had talked about was what some have called the 'hidden curriculum' in any school. These are all the things that really matter and which make a difference, but which are not easy to measure. For that reason, they can be easily dismissed by some, but actually they create the school culture that impacts on everything and everyone. These are the apsects that truly make your school the establishment it is, and are the things that make your school unique and memorable. They are also the determiners of your success in addressing national agendas around raising attainment, closing gaps and improving equity of opportunity. My last slide featured flamingos, lemmings and the following quote from Rae Snape,
         'Be a flamingo of hope rather than a lemming of despair!'
         Rae wrote this in her chapter of the book Flip The System UK, to which I also contributed. I love this metaphor and the thinking that sits behind it. I pointed how you cannot help but smile when you see pictures or film of flamingos. They are colourful, proud and scan the horizon for what is happening,or may lie ahead. They work collaboratively or individually, when appropriate, and operate as though they have a clear purpose, informed by thinking and communication. Lemmings on the other hand, display little signs of thought as they head for their destination. Pushed from behind, or pulled by those in front they blindly career towards their inevitable fate. We should all try to be more flaming-like than lemming-like was my final message, as I ended with Manfred Mann's 'Pretty Flamingo'.
         It was a beautiful day on Friday, and over lunch I had the opportunity to visit the Kelpies, a magnificent art installation and sculpture located nearby. Whilst I marvelled at how awesome this work is, I did also think it was a perfect example of individual pieces being brought together to make a magnificent whole. A bit like school leadership!











Play not tests⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Last night I attended the launch the 'PlayNotTests' campaign being led by Sue Palmer and the Upstart organisation in Scotland. This campaign is aimed at getting the Scottish government to think again about their decision to introduce standardised testing into Scottish schools, particularly in Primary 1. Upstart is a group whose main aim is the establishment of a play-based 'kindergarten stage' in Scottish schools, and they want to delay children's introduction into the formal education system until they have reached seven years of age. Before that, Upstart and their supporters, of which I am one, believe that young children learn best, and begin to develop the attributes they will need for life and learning, through play based learning, most of which should be located outside of classrooms and school buildings. This is a model that has been successfully developed by a number of Nordic systems, with positive impacts on the well-being as well as the learning of young children in such systems.

There was a mixed audience of supporters last night, including parents, grandparents, teachers, school leaders, pre-school providers, professors and other academics, representatives of other professions agencies, and organisations, and a politician or two. I believe most of the audience shared Upstart's concerns with the education system and the direction of travel in Scotland. Although Upstart is an organisation focused on the earliest years of young children's education and development, they are quite clear on how this impacts further on in their education and into adulthood.

Scotland is faced with the introduction of standardised testing across primary education, including in Primary 1 (P1) which is part of the Early Level of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). Upstart, and many others, are rightly concerned with this, not only because the introduction of standardised testing flies in the face of the stated aims of CfE, but also because of the other consequences and negative outcomes that have been shown to follow from the introduction of such testing in schools, especially for very young learners. Such testing just adds to the stresses and pressures associated with formal education and can actually damage some young learners' learning and wellbeing, both in the long term and short term.

Sue introduced last night's campaign launch by setting the scene for why such a campaign was necessary. Starting formal schooling at the age of four or five causes problems for many children. There is a growing body of research that has linked starting school early to social, emotional and mental health problems in later childhood and beyond. (You can find more on all this by visiting the Upstart website) Scotland, like other countries, is facing increasing numbers of children with developmental disorders and mental health conditions. The reasons for this are complex, but lack of play and early pressure and focus on academic attainment are contributing to this situation.

Sue took us through a potted-history of human development, showing how we began to evolve and learn over time, through our ability to learn and adapt, and the development of language and communication. Through the evolutionary processes, human children are designed to develop certain skills and capacities naturally, and these are the foundations upon which we build formal education. She noted that ever since more formal education and schooling began to develop in different societies it was common in all of them that young children's' exposure to more formal schooling didn't commence till they were around seven years of age. She noted that in Greek and Roman education systems, it was at seven that young learners were considered as being able to deal with more formal learning. Before that they learned through play and by being outside, as they began to form the creative, resilience, self-regulation, social and problem solving attributes they would need in later life. She quoted Mohammed, 'The first seven years are for play' and many of the early leading educational researchers and thinkers, like Froebel, Montessori, Piaget, Steiner and Vygotsky, who all believed that most children were not ready for more formal education until they reached the age of seven.

UNESCO have said that 'Early childhood, defined as the period from birth to eight years old, is a time of remarkable growth with brain development at its peak. During this stage, children are highly influenced by the environment and the people who surround them.' They went on to add that early learning and childhood care is much more than a preparation for primary school, but was concerned with the development of  holistic social, physical, emotional and cognitive foundations necessary to support life-long learning and well-being.

Sue noted that we have a big problem in Scotland with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the impact they have on the life-long well-being and achievement of individuals. Fortunately Scotland, driven by the work of Suzzane Zeedyk, Carol Craig and others, is at the forefront of educating our systems and society about the impact of ACEs and what we can do to address these. It was significant that both Suzanne and Carol were in attendance last night to offer their backing to the campaign.

Learning in the first formative years has to be centred on nurture, love and play. Through play children begin to develop the skills and attributes they will need in education and for life. These include the development of self-confidence, creativity, problem-solving, communication, social skills, a love of learning and finding out, as well as flexible learning. The World Economic Forum have identified the ten top skills individuals will need by 2020 and it is remarkable how close that list is to those skills and aptitudes developed by early play.


Sue then spoke of how taking such a play-based approach to early learning does not necessarily have to come at the cost of attainment and achievement. In the PISA rankings of 2016 the top three performing countries in Literacy, Maths and Science all had starting ages for formal education of either six or seven years. A recent longitudinal study in the USA has pointed to the fact that they are evidencing a deterioration in performance of pupils, who started formal education early, after only two or three years, and the impacts can be felt as adults and in life-expectancy. There is a body of evidence building which shows that instead of raising attainment and closing gaps caused by disadvantage, the opposite is actually happening, especially in countries that have gone down the road of early introduction into formal education combined with high-stakes standardised testing.


Scotland as a nation faces another issue, which is possibly being experienced elsewhere too. That is, our children are becoming less and less active and more and more sedentary in their leisure time. This has negative impacts on their physical and mental well-being, and the drive to begin formal education, and associated testing, does nothing to help that situation. It has been reported that Scottish children are the least active in the world! The standout shocking statistic for me last night was that three quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates! (reported in The Guardian 25/03/16) There are more and more reports of rising mental health issues in young children and adolescents, with an associated rise in anxiety issues. Sue pointed out that having children enter early formal education does nothing to address such issues, and may be actually causing some of them. Add testing at P1 and some people are already asking is this another ACE being generated by the system?


She finished by illustrating some of The United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child, and noted if we were being true to some of these, we would have an informal play-based education for our learners up to seven and no standardised testing. I wonder how often Governments and others sign up to, and agree, with grand statements and resolutions like this, until they fly in the face of their own agendas?


It was perhaps appropriate that following Sue was the former Commissioner for Children and Young People in Scotland Tam Baillie who spoke next. He explained why he supports Upstart and their campaign, Sue and the organisation have such a focus on doing something to improve education and children's lives. He felt he wanted to be involved because of all the issues Sue had spoken of and the way Scottish society views and treats its children. He pointed out that the issues had been known and established over many years, but still they persist. Upstart was an organisation that was driven to do something about some of this, and that it why he offered his support.


He was followed by Carol Craig, who has established the Centre for Confidence and Well-being which is working for cultural and social change in Scotland. She has written much and her latest book Hiding In Plain Sight is a powerful exploration of Scottish society and our tolerance of ACEs, as well as their impact across generations. She talked of her support for Upstart and how the issues they, and she were trying to address could not be solved by Government alone. We had to utilise the power of grandparents and society in general, to realise and recognise what the issues were, then to mobilise to take action, in order to change what was happening. These issues, were issues for everyone, and could not be solved by one person or one organisation alone, but acting collaboratively we could all take steps to address them whenever we could.

It was inspiring to hear, and to speak, to so many people last night, who are committed to making a difference. Suzanne has said many times that we can being doing harm to children, and not even realise we are doing it. We have to challenge cultures that allow this to happen. When we do know we are producing adverse effects, we need to stop and address the issues. To do anything less is a betrayal of our children and our society. I do hope the Scottish Government is listening to what is being said about testing in P1, and beyond, and is really looking at the evidence. If they are, then there is still hope for a reversal of what can only be another detrimental step for our youngest members of society. We have to be advocates on their behalf.

You can keep up to date with the campaign, and lend you support, by following Upstart Scotland on Twitter @UpstartScot and following the hashtag #PlayNotTests or check the website upstart.scot Please take any opportunity to speak to your MSP or MP, Councillors and headteachers about this issue.


Yin and Yang, golf and leadership⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Being a leader, whether it be of a school, or any other type of organisation, can be both challenging and rewarding. We could see these as the Yin and Yang of formal leadership roles, no matter what the level of experience you bring to that role. Whether you are in your first year of leadership, or your twenty first,  challenges and rewards still remain. However, if you are a leader who is finding their role neither challenging or rewarding, then surely it is time to move on, or move out, which can be a challenge in itself.

To experience both challenge and reward requires action. Actions you take as a leader will bring both risk and reward. If you have chosen them carefully, the rewards will be experienced by all. Chosen poorly and you, and others, might only experience challenge, and struggle to identify many rewards. They may be there, but sometime it takes time for them to emerge. Not every action you take as a leader will bring about positive results. There will be times when you fail. That is okay, as long as you learned something from your failure, the reward. Other actions will be very successful and the rewards will be obvious to, and hopefully appreciated by, all involved.

To use a golf analogy, leadership actions can be a real 'risk and reward' activity. Just, as a golfer has to weigh up whether to take on the long shot over a hazard, you have to take risks, but risks which are considered and informed, so that you can achieve the best outcomes for you school and learners. When they come off, the results justify the levels of challenge presented by the actions. When they don't, you still learn. The golfer who clears the hazard may gain a stroke on the field. If he fails to make it, he still learns better for next time.

Having been a school leader for almost twenty years, I believe there are some actions all leaders can take that are actually low risk and high reward. Perhaps the only risk they present is to your own perceptions of yourself as a leader, and to practices that you formerly adopted. However, if school leaders are not prepared to expose themselves and their practices to scrutiny, reflection and change, how can they expect those they lead to adopt such dispositions?

These are my eight recommendations for actions that all leaders can take throughout their careers, and which will have the greatest impact on what they are trying to achieve, whilst containing the least risk to them and those they lead. They also offer the greatest rewards in terms of all that you may achieve as a school leader.

Firstly, school leaders should be seeking to build, create and sustain collaborative learning cultures in their establishments. Schools should be focused on the learning of everyone. We need to create cultures where all teachers and staff recognise themselves as learners, and are modelling those life-long learning dispositions to the young learners they work with. This needs to be situated in practices that are collaborative and collegiate in their nature. By creating deep learning cultures, they become part of the school's identity, as well as the individual identity of those who make up the community. Learning dispositions need to sit at the heart of everyone's' practice and identity. We will see when this is being successful through the attitudes and actions of all learners, and focused dialogue, conversations and collaborations happening around learning at all levels. Indeed, you as the school leader must model these dispositions and actions yourself, more on that later.

This cannot be achieved without the development of relationships. Leaders need to be working constantly to develop and nurture the myriad of relationships necessary for any school to achieve the very best for all learners. True partnership working and commitment needs to be established as a priority for all, with a common aim of improving outcomes and experiences for all learners. Education and learning is mainly a social activity therefore, relationships and their strength are crucial. The focus on relationships should be central to all school activity, in classrooms, across school and departments, and beyond the school into the community and other schools. We need school leaders to be emotionally and socially aware, committed to establishing and sustaining relationships with all partners who can help them deliver, and who they can support to achieve some of their own objectives. Relationships work both ways, if you are just taking then that is not a relationship that is going to survive for too long. Relationships sustain us during the challenging times and make the good times better.

Supporting all relationships is trust. School leaders have to build trust, because without it you are left with shallow compliance and no risk taking. Trust takes time to build, but is a foundation stone for healthy cultures that are going to help schools develop in a deep, embedded and sustainable way. As a leader you will have the opportunity to lead, and work alongside, many very able, intelligent and professional people, who will be getting salaries that reflect this. Many of these you may well have appointed yourself, and some you won't. If this is the case, why not get out of their way, support them and trust them to employ their talents, in a way that creates a better whole, utilising the power of individuals to support you and each other? As a leader, you cannot do it all on your own and you cannot micromanage all the complex interactions that take place across a school community, so you had better learn to trust people and give them the space to fly, for everyone's benefit, including your own. Be strategic and leaderly, but trust the people you lead to deliver. Some may let you down at times, but that doesn't mean they should lose your trust. No-one comes into work wanting to deliver poor performance, leaders need to recognise and support where necessary. If you trust them, they are more likely to trust you, then together you can make a real difference.

Keep your focus, and that of your team, on the main thing. The main thing is the young people in your school, and beyond, and the learning and teaching taking place in your establishment. Anything else is a distraction. If there are things you are doing, or are being asked to do, that do not contribute positively to learners and their experiences, then you need to stop doing them. It is so easy to get distracted by activities and busyness that have no impact on your core purpose, because everyone wants a piece of your time. This is why you have to prioritise and make it clear to everyone what your priorities are, Support any actions that will help your learners, their learning and your staff to deliver ever improving experiences, cut everything else. There is still too much practice that goes on in schools, because it has always gone on, not because it has obvious benefits to learners. Get rid of this, and support staff to get rid of and change this too.


Know, and be true to your values and principles. It may well be your personal and professional values and principles that led to you being appointed into a leadership position. Don't compromise on these,  use them to direct, and reflect on, your actions. If your belief in your values is strong, your actions will match these. I have always believed that values are reflected in your actions, not your words. Use them to measure your actions and to assess proposed future actions. Make sure, everyone can see what your values are and why you feel so strong about them. This is not to say they will never change, or require adjustment. This may well happen in the light of more experience and knowledge, but, when this happens, be clear on what they are and why you hold them. Closely associated with your values will be the principles under which you wish to operate as a school leader. Again, these may change with experience, but once established you should always aim to avoid compromising these. People you work with, and for, will respect someone with strong values and principles, and who acts ethically, even though they might not always agree with your decisions and actions. Be that person.

Engage with research and read. Leaders need to be informed. There are some aspects of leadership that are intuitive, based on experience, but in general there should be a sound evidence and research base for how you operate and how you act as a leader. It is your responsibility to be aware of this, and to have considered and discussed what you read, with colleagues and others, in order to help shape your own thinking and practice as a leader. Most school leaders desire their teachers to be informed by research and evidence in their practice, and they should be prepared to model this in their own. Anyone who has achieved a leadership position, and is successful, knows that they had to keep on learning and developing when they reached that position. It is right that leaders should be able to articulate their philosophy and vison of leadership, and explain their practice, then be able to link this to theoretical work and research about leadership. Leaders who fly by the seat of their pants, and make decisions on a wing and a prayer, don't survive very long, but can cause a lot of turmoil before they go.

Linked to engaging with research and reading is, actively seeking out professional dialogue and conversations. Just as you wish your establishment to work collaboratively, so should you. Build a network of leaders and researchers that you can talk to and discuss your thinking and the research and reading you have engaged with. Be open to exploring and engaging critically with colleagues, because by doing this you will deepen your understandings and be able to relate what you have read, or what you think, to your own particular context. Collaboration is the only way forward, for individuals, schools and systems. Policy makers understand this, and can see how such collaboration is a cost-effective way for the system to develop. Collaborations are best when they are not forced and not driven by financial motivators. Leaders need to not only create cultures within their own establishments to support collaborative practices, they need to create them for themselves. Speak to colleagues, face to face wherever possible, but also by using social media and writing, to engage with as many people as possible who can help you explore the complexities of school leadership. At the same time as your network is helping and supporting you, you are also doing the same for others in your network.

Much of the above is linked to professional development. It is important that school leaders not only support professional development in their schools, they need to be active participants in this too. Get actively involved in a continuous process of professional development, which is research informed and focused on learning and teaching, and support your staff in their personal development and growth. Such activity is crucial to school and staff well-being, ensuring individuals are being supported to maintain their own development as they grow their practice and understanding. The same applies to yourself. Don't neglect your own professional development, some of the steps to this are described above, but may also involve more formal courses and further qualifications. Career-long professional development should not be a platitude or a soundbite, but a disposition for all, including leaders.

These then are some key actions that I believe school leaders can take, which have high reward and low risk associated with them. You may have discovered them already yourself, or you may have discovered some of your own. Why not talk to someone about it?

PS Another effective action you can take is to smile and say thank you. Amazing the difference this can make.

😊 Thank you!



Yin and Yang, golf and leadership⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Being a leader, whether it be of a school, or any other type of organisation, can be both challenging and rewarding. We could see these as the Yin and Yang of formal leadership roles, no matter what the level of experience you bring to that role. Whether you are in your first year of leadership, or your twenty first,  challenges and rewards still remain. However, if you are a leader who is finding their role neither challenging or rewarding, then surely it is time to move on, or move out, which can be a challenge in itself.

To experience both challenge and reward requires action. Actions you take as a leader will bring both risk and reward. If you have chosen them carefully, the rewards will be experienced by all. Chosen poorly and you, and others, might only experience challenge, and struggle to identify many rewards. They may be there, but sometime it takes time for them to emerge. Not every action you take as a leader will bring about positive results. There will be times when you fail. That is okay, as long as you learned something from your failure, the reward. Other actions will be very successful and the rewards will be obvious to, and hopefully appreciated by, all involved.

To use a golf analogy, leadership actions can be a real 'risk and reward' activity. Just, as a golfer has to weigh up whether to take on the long shot over a hazard, you have to take risks, but risks which are considered and informed, so that you can achieve the best outcomes for you school and learners. When they come off, the results justify the levels of challenge presented by the actions. When they don't, you still learn. The golfer who clears the hazard may gain a stroke on the field. If he fails to make it, he still learns better for next time.

Having been a school leader for almost twenty years, I believe there are some actions all leaders can take that are actually low risk and high reward. Perhaps the only risk they present is to your own perceptions of yourself as a leader, and to practices that you formerly adopted. However, if school leaders are not prepared to expose themselves and their practices to scrutiny, reflection and change, how can they expect those they lead to adopt such dispositions?

These are my eight recommendations for actions that all leaders can take throughout their careers, and which will have the greatest impact on what they are trying to achieve, whilst containing the least risk to them and those they lead. They also offer the greatest rewards in terms of all that you may achieve as a school leader.

Firstly, school leaders should be seeking to build, create and sustain collaborative learning cultures in their establishments. Schools should be focused on the learning of everyone. We need to create cultures where all teachers and staff recognise themselves as learners, and are modelling those life-long learning dispositions to the young learners they work with. This needs to be situated in practices that are collaborative and collegiate in their nature. By creating deep learning cultures, they become part of the school's identity, as well as the individual identity of those who make up the community. Learning dispositions need to sit at the heart of everyone's' practice and identity. We will see when this is being successful through the attitudes and actions of all learners, and focused dialogue, conversations and collaborations happening around learning at all levels. Indeed, you as the school leader must model these dispositions and actions yourself, more on that later.

This cannot be achieved without the development of relationships. Leaders need to be working constantly to develop and nurture the myriad of relationships necessary for any school to achieve the very best for all learners. True partnership working and commitment needs to be established as a priority for all, with a common aim of improving outcomes and experiences for all learners. Education and learning is mainly a social activity therefore, relationships and their strength are crucial. The focus on relationships should be central to all school activity, in classrooms, across school and departments, and beyond the school into the community and other schools. We need school leaders to be emotionally and socially aware, committed to establishing and sustaining relationships with all partners who can help them deliver, and who they can support to achieve some of their own objectives. Relationships work both ways, if you are just taking then that is not a relationship that is going to survive for too long. Relationships sustain us during the challenging times and make the good times better.

Supporting all relationships is trust. School leaders have to build trust, because without it you are left with shallow compliance and no risk taking. Trust takes time to build, but is a foundation stone for healthy cultures that are going to help schools develop in a deep, embedded and sustainable way. As a leader you will have the opportunity to lead, and work alongside, many very able, intelligent and professional people, who will be getting salaries that reflect this. Many of these you may well have appointed yourself, and some you won't. If this is the case, why not get out of their way, support them and trust them to employ their talents, in a way that creates a better whole, utilising the power of individuals to support you and each other? As a leader, you cannot do it all on your own and you cannot micromanage all the complex interactions that take place across a school community, so you had better learn to trust people and give them the space to fly, for everyone's benefit, including your own. Be strategic and leaderly, but trust the people you lead to deliver. Some may let you down at times, but that doesn't mean they should lose your trust. No-one comes into work wanting to deliver poor performance, leaders need to recognise and support where necessary. If you trust them, they are more likely to trust you, then together you can make a real difference.

Keep your focus, and that of your team, on the main thing. The main thing is the young people in your school, and beyond, and the learning and teaching taking place in your establishment. Anything else is a distraction. If there are things you are doing, or are being asked to do, that do not contribute positively to learners and their experiences, then you need to stop doing them. It is so easy to get distracted by activities and busyness that have no impact on your core purpose, because everyone wants a piece of your time. This is why you have to prioritise and make it clear to everyone what your priorities are, Support any actions that will help your learners, their learning and your staff to deliver ever improving experiences, cut everything else. There is still too much practice that goes on in schools, because it has always gone on, not because it has obvious benefits to learners. Get rid of this, and support staff to get rid of and change this too.


Know, and be true to your values and principles. It may well be your personal and professional values and principles that led to you being appointed into a leadership position. Don't compromise on these,  use them to direct, and reflect on, your actions. If your belief in your values is strong, your actions will match these. I have always believed that values are reflected in your actions, not your words. Use them to measure your actions and to assess proposed future actions. Make sure, everyone can see what your values are and why you feel so strong about them. This is not to say they will never change, or require adjustment. This may well happen in the light of more experience and knowledge, but, when this happens, be clear on what they are and why you hold them. Closely associated with your values will be the principles under which you wish to operate as a school leader. Again, these may change with experience, but once established you should always aim to avoid compromising these. People you work with, and for, will respect someone with strong values and principles, and who acts ethically, even though they might not always agree with your decisions and actions. Be that person.

Engage with research and read. Leaders need to be informed. There are some aspects of leadership that are intuitive, based on experience, but in general there should be a sound evidence and research base for how you operate and how you act as a leader. It is your responsibility to be aware of this, and to have considered and discussed what you read, with colleagues and others, in order to help shape your own thinking and practice as a leader. Most school leaders desire their teachers to be informed by research and evidence in their practice, and they should be prepared to model this in their own. Anyone who has achieved a leadership position, and is successful, knows that they had to keep on learning and developing when they reached that position. It is right that leaders should be able to articulate their philosophy and vison of leadership, and explain their practice, then be able to link this to theoretical work and research about leadership. Leaders who fly by the seat of their pants, and make decisions on a wing and a prayer, don't survive very long, but can cause a lot of turmoil before they go.

Linked to engaging with research and reading is, actively seeking out professional dialogue and conversations. Just as you wish your establishment to work collaboratively, so should you. Build a network of leaders and researchers that you can talk to and discuss your thinking and the research and reading you have engaged with. Be open to exploring and engaging critically with colleagues, because by doing this you will deepen your understandings and be able to relate what you have read, or what you think, to your own particular context. Collaboration is the only way forward, for individuals, schools and systems. Policy makers understand this, and can see how such collaboration is a cost-effective way for the system to develop. Collaborations are best when they are not forced and not driven by financial motivators. Leaders need to not only create cultures within their own establishments to support collaborative practices, they need to create them for themselves. Speak to colleagues, face to face wherever possible, but also by using social media and writing, to engage with as many people as possible who can help you explore the complexities of school leadership. At the same time as your network is helping and supporting you, you are also doing the same for others in your network.

Much of the above is linked to professional development. It is important that school leaders not only support professional development in their schools, they need to be active participants in this too. Get actively involved in a continuous process of professional development, which is research informed and focused on learning and teaching, and support your staff in their personal development and growth. Such activity is crucial to school and staff well-being, ensuring individuals are being supported to maintain their own development as they grow their practice and understanding. The same applies to yourself. Don't neglect your own professional development, some of the steps to this are described above, but may also involve more formal courses and further qualifications. Career-long professional development should not be a platitude or a soundbite, but a disposition for all, including leaders.

These then are some key actions that I believe school leaders can take, which have high reward and low risk associated with them. You may have discovered them already yourself, or you may have discovered some of your own. Why not talk to someone about it?

PS Another effective action you can take is to smile and say thank you. Amazing the difference this can make.

😊 Thank you!