Author Archives: George Gilchrist

Professional learning on a Saturday?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a professional learning event for teachers, provided by teachers. PedagooTweed was one of a series of events happening across Scotland, supported by Pedagoo, a self-created teacher support group, and SCEL (Scottish College for Educational Leadership). This is an interesting dynamic of the formal and informal  that exist in Scotland that aim to help teachers to learn and develop, by unleashing the power that resides in all of them. So on Saturday teachers and educators from across the south of Scotland met up in Peebles for professional learning and dialogue that was shaped completely by themselves, with no agendas set by others. Also, the mix of sessions were being led and facilitated by practitioners, who were willing to share insights and offer support. No-one had been bought in to deliver, and no-one was selling anything.

There were a mix of activities available. A sharing-table, where attendees put a book or resource that had particularly helped inform their own practice; a series of learning conversations around different aspects of practice; the opportunity for everyone to share some of their practice that had helped them and their learners, with names pulled out of a hat and a time limit of two minutes. Plus, of course, the opportunity to mix and chat with colleagues at break and lunch times to explore motivations and share more insights and experiences. I love events like this, because they have that 'Buzz' that Tracey Ezzard talks about in her book of the same title. Everyone was there because they wanted to be, and we all sought to get the most from each activity, especially as they were giving up their own precious time to attend.

I spoke to a lot of people at the event, and more since via Twitter. The most common adjective used by them all is 'inspired'. They were seeking to be inspired by what they saw and heard, and the event seems to have worked on that level for most of the attendees, which I am sure all the organisers and contributors will be pleased to hear. Everyone, organisers, attendees, presenters, and particularly the pie and cake maker, deserve respect for their contributions. Some people came with colleagues, but I am particularly in awe of those who had made their own way individually seeking to have their professional development nourished in a way that perhaps their current context did not allow.

I had been asked to lead one conversation for forty five minutes. There were a range of these that teachers could sign up to over the day, and mine was to look at and explore some of our attitudes to professional development or learning. Here is what we covered.

To set the scene, I noted that I was sure we all understood that education and learning was complicated, with no easy answers to anything. Added to this complexity was the fact that education was riddled with dichotomies, where practitioner often set themselves up in one camp or another. Through social media and face to face, various members of different camps could be very strident in their defence of their position, and quite intolerant of those they saw as being in opposite camps. Some of the general dichotomies I had identified myself were; traditionalist or progressive, child-centred or teacher-led, play or structured learning, theory or practice, zero tolerance or acceptance of individuality, rote learning or discovery learning, research driven or data driven, academic subjects or the arts, teaching as a science or teaching as an art, summative assessment or formative assessment, knowledge or skills, leadership or management and finally revolution or evolution in terms of development? Phew! It had taken me about ten minutes to come up with these, and I have no doubt that there are more that I and yourselves could identify.

I then turned to dichotomies in professional development or learning. There was another straight away, and there were more. Teacher training or teacher education, 'things' or a process, teacher priorities or school priorities, school priorities of local authority priorities, local authority or national priorities, in school or away from school, individual or collaborative, compulsory or voluntary, recorded or un-recorded, personal or corporate, own time or school time? I then added some quotes on professional learning from some of the researchers and writers I most respect in this area.

'The networks or partnerships we envision must be powerful, focused on teams, and concerned with drilling down into deep continuous improvement.' Fullan and Hargreaves 2008

'Around the globe, every year, teachers routinely participate in hundreds of hours of professional development and training. The implicit assumption is that attending courses equates with professional learning and that by participating in such events somehow professional practice will change.' A Harris 2014

'Effective professional development is intensive, ongoing and connected to practice; focuses on the teaching and learning of specific academic content; is connected to other school initiatives and builds strong working relationships among teachers.' Darling-Hammond et al 2009

'It is no longer acceptable for professionals in school to do their individual best. rather it is expected that they will engage collectively with what is known to be effective in improving outcomes for students.' H Timperley 2011

'...moving from outside professional development to opportunities for communities of professional learning within and across schools, linked to teachers' work, needs and the experiences of their classroom contexts and students' priorities.' Lieberman, Campbell and Yashinka 2017

All of this was to stimulate thinking and dialogue amongst the mixed group of educators in my session. I then posed some questions for exploration and discussion.

My opener was straightforward enough, 'what professional learning activity/event has had the greatest impact on your identity as a teacher? Why?' I actually thought this might be difficult for some people to identify, but I was pleasantly surprised when every member of the group was able to say what it was that had had the greatest impact on them, and their practice. In fact, they were enthusiastic, as well as open, in their willingness to discuss and reflect on these in the group. There were some very honest and enlightening sharing that took place and I was blown away by the mix of experiences that had made all the difference for each of them. I do not propose to go into any details of what was said as to do so would betray the confidences shared, I will just share the main messages.

My next question was, 'who is professional learning for?' Another lively discussion ensued and responses tended to centre around the learner and the teacher. There seemed to be agreement amongst the group that professional learning should have benefits for learners, by better equipping teachers to develop their understandings and their practice. I asked, what about the school? Which led us to discuss those dichotomies that I had started with. We reached agreement that most of these are false dichotomies and that the best teachers adjust their practice, moving between many of the different 'camps' depending on the context and the needs of the learners in front of them.

I then asked, 'so, who should identify professional learning activities and needs?' Everyone agreed that this should usually be the individual teacher, based on their personal and professional context, but that there may well be times when there might be greater input from the school and its priorities. There was agreement that such activity should be a career-long commitment.

'What should professional learning look like?' This generated another lively debate, as we came to the conclusion that it could look like anything, and could happen anywhere. It may be formal and pre-planned, but it may also be informal or ad-hoc in nature. Any activity that helped teachers to explore and develop their thinking and practice is a professional learning activity, indeed many of the most powerful are spontaneous, as described by members of my group. Professional dialogue, that focuses on common issues, is a powerful way of moving thing and practice on. Teachers needed time and space for this to happen, and sometimes they needed to create that themselves with events such as this, or by developing collaborative networks on Twitter or elsewhere. My own view is that this should be part of a coherent process, but sometimes doing 'things' might be part of this process.

My final question was, 'how do we measure the impact of professional learning?' I had talked a little about Knud Illeris and his work on transformative learning and identity. The group generally agreed that for professional development to have had impact then an individual's personal and professional identity had to be changed positively. When this has happened there are benefits for learners and we should be able to see these, over time.

We had run out of time, but this was a fascinating exploration of some of the issues around professional learning and school development. As I said at the outset, there are no easy answers, just lots of questions that need exploring if we are to find our way forward as individuals and as a system. Dialogue, and learning cultures, where everyone sees themselves as a learner, and where the culture is supportive, collaborative and based on high degrees of professional trust, is the way forward. Keeping your head down, and leaving these questions for others to consider and answer, helps no-one, including yourself.

Thank you to Susan Ward and the other organisers of the event, and especially thanks to those who turned up for my conversation. There were others happening at the same time and I am sure all the facilitators, like myself, found the whole experience positive and affirming with regard to the profession and its future. I can hardly wait for the next one!
 connected to other school initiatives and builds strong working relationships among teachers’ Darling-Hammond et al 2009

Where next for Curriculum for Excellence?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Today, I took part in a seminar in Edinburgh which focused on Scotland's curriculum and the priorities for the new Education Bill currently being prepared for parliamentary approval by the Scottish Government. Entitled, 'Next steps for Curriculum for Excellence - supporting teachers, tackling the attainment gap and priorities for the Education Bill' it was held at the Royal Society Edinburgh, and featured a range of educational and political speakers, starting with Graham Donaldson as someone heavily involved at the outset of CfE and who is now helping to shape the new curriculum for Wales. Graham is also a member of the International Council of Education Advisors to the Scottish government.

He started the day with an overview of CfE as it was originally envisioned and proposed, as well as a consideration of where we were now at. He said that it had been acknowledged by the OECD, academics and other countries that the approach encapsulated in CfE was one that many sought to emulate. He cited Singapore, Australia and Wales as examples of systems who were looking to better develop curricular and learning experiences, so that they better prepared their learners for the shifting sands of rapid change in society and economies. He pointed out that much of the change agenda was linked to the technological changes that were taking place, and which continue apace. He also believed that change in education would be gathering more pace over the next ten to fifteen years, to match the technological developments happening, and that we should be prepared for this. I queried this during the Q and A session afterwards, because it is my belief that such a scenario is even more unstainable than where we are now, and that in fact we need to slow down, in order to deepen and embed meaningful change. Another key point he asked us to consider was that the curriculum needs to keep developing, if we are to maintain our place in the vanguard of system development. he queried whether we were in danger of slipping behind others, and asked us to consider the danger of us just getting better at the wrong things.

There then followed a mix of speakers, providing a range of perspectives on CfE. I was one of these. A full report on all that was said will emerge in the next week or two, but in this post I wish to give a view of my own input, and the points I tried to make in a very limited times slot of just 5 minutes per speaker. As I was the last one on, I think I had less time to get my main messages across, so hopefully this can do that, whether you were at the seminar or not.

I began by stating that I remain a supporter of CfE as it was originally envisioned and set out. However, like many others, I am not a fan of what it has become in many instances. For many headteachers, and teachers, the key issues were as follows. What it has become. The current iteration of CfE is so far from what was originally envisioned, to be almost unrecognisable from those founding principles and philosophy set out by its architects. It possibly resembles too much the previous 5-14 curriculum than we would like, with all the associated problems. Bureaucracy. Schools, and teachers, in all sectors are awash with paperwork to such an extent that they have little time to think about and create exciting and engaging learning experiences for learners. This has come at them from local authorities, Education Scotland, the HMIE, Scottish Government, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and many others. We should not ignore the fact that a lot of this paperwork and bureaucracy has been created and generated by schools themselves as well. Micromanagement of something that was supposed to be grown from the ground up. Because systems never changed to match the new curriculum, CfE was shoe-horned into what was already there. So all the different points in the system exerted their 'control' functions with a plethora of 'support' and 'advice', which quickly turned into mico-management of the whole process. We didn't spend enough time at the outset up-skilling school leaders and teachers in a new way of thinking and being, resulting in some chaotic interpretations, which created the space and opportunity for micro-management. The Es and Os and Benchmarks. Designed to help and support, as well as ensure consistency, these have become a manifestation of the bureaucratic tendencies and the desire for micro-management by some in the system. They are promoting a tick-box approach to development in many schools, as well as another flurry of paperwork for teachers and school leaders to deal with. Accountability measures have come to dominate. Having teachers and schools 'prove' everything they have done, and are doing, has come at the cost of improving what they do. A lot of what I have already identified, has accountability at its core, not the development of learning and teaching. Teaching still being viewed as a technical activity. All of the above, as well as other actions, and actors, in the system, still view teaching as a technical activity, with teachers and schools needing to be told exactly what to do, how and what resources to use, rather than the complex professional activity it really is. They also portray learning as a simple linear progression.This linked to my final point which was about mindsets. The issue of the fixed mindsets that existed, and still exist, both within schools and beyond them, had never been addressed. I think this was a bigger problem outside of schools, who were trying to implement CfE as originally intended, but who were thwarted by the mindsets and practices of those beyond the schools, who were still fixed in the 5-14 curriculum and associated practices.

I then asked, is there another way? I referred to 'Flip The System UK', edited by Lucy Rycroft-Smith and JL Dutaut, and 'Practitioner Enquiry' authored by myself. Both of these focused on another way of promoting school and system development by harnessing and unleashing the power and agency of teachers. I identified that it had been noted by McKinsey, Hattie and others, that teachers were the key to system and school development, therefore teachers needed to be supported, encouraged and trusted to develop what everyone was looking for.

This would require the following focuses. We need to develop true teacher agency. The ability of teachers to make decisions and take action needs to stretch beyond their immediate classrooms and practice, and needs to become part of all school and system cultures. Some teachers, and many in the system, may find this difficult, but it has to be done if we are to release the power that already resides in every school and across the system. We need to help them develop adaptive expertise, again not just in their practice, but also across schools and systems. They need to be supported to develop the skills and aptitudes necessary for high levels of reflection and adaptability. Connected to this is teacher leadership. Leadership is crucial in any school or system, but it should not be confined to those with formal leadership titles and roles. We need to flatten hierarchies so that the system and schools are more democratic, with all valued and able to contribute. This will lead to the development of true system leadership practices and understandings. By developing self-improving teachers and schools, we are helping to develop a self-improving system. Collaboration and collaborative practices need to encouraged and supported. This will support all and help develop everyone's practice. Next we need to create curriculum experiences that are grounded in local contexts. Our schools need to reflect the local community and learning should be linked to these wherever possible. This should happen at a local, area and national level. Finally, I asked for there to be more trust and true support for our teachers and our schools. We need to stop them having to spend so much of their time proving to others what they are doing, instead of improving for the betterment of all their learners.

I then shared some recent quotes from leading  academics and educationalist, that I thought reflected what I had been saying, or gave us cause to stop and think.

Mark Priestley said on his blog earlier this year,

'The  new Celtic curricula are grounded in specific purposes of education, which provide a clear starting point for schools to develop a curriculum. In Scotland these are articulated as attributes and capabilities, set out under four headings, successful learners, responsible citizens, effective contributors and confident individuals.'

'I believe that is greatly preferable to a curriculum apparently devoid of purposes and framed primarily around content decided by national policy makers.'

Alma Harris said on Twitter in 2017,

'Teachers are not the problem in our education systems, they are the solution.'

In 'Leading system transformation' 2010 she also noted that,

'To change an entire system undoubtedly requires leadership of a different nature, order and scale...the importance of developing leadership at all levels in order to be successful.'

In Teacher learning and Leadership' published in late 2017, Lieberman, Campbell and Yashinka wrote,

'Improvement cannot be simply driven down by a system into classrooms, nor cannot be based on individual practices that are not shared and supported more widely.'

'When educators', policy makers', and researchers' voices are heard and when these groups learn to work together, there is tremendous potential for the good of the students and the professionalization of teaching.'

My presentation ended with two conclusions for the audience and policy makers to consider, which I feel will make a massive difference to teachers and what we are trying to achieve. These were,

'Our focus has been out of kilter, and perhaps still is. We are still too focused on systems and structures and not enough on equipping and supporting our teachers to co-create a curriculum that reflects the four principles of CfE, in order to deliver something that works for all learners as well as the system as a whole.'


'Improvements cannot just be mandated from above, they need collaboration and trust between all partners.'

Having read all this again, I can see why I might have been struggling to cover all these points in the time allocated. But, hopefully, you have a clearer sense of what I was trying to say.

There was a lively question and answer session at the end, and some more important points raised from the floor. The importance of early years and pre school was mentioned and talked about, especially learning through play and the impact that standardised testing may be having on P1 learning and well-being. Questions were raised about primary education and the development of literacy and numeracy as discreet areas of study. We also talked about winning the hearts and minds of teachers, and my belief that improvement cannot be mandated or forced from on high. In my view, what does work is the creation of deep learning cultures and an ethos, built on trust, which encourages and expects everyone to keep developing and growing their practice, informed by evidence and data.

Before I left, I had the chance to speak to a few people over coffee. A common comment was that we seem to have been having the same conversations for thirteen years and more, as well as how do we change all this and make the improvements that are still required? In truth, there are no easy answers or panaceas, but we are being dishonest with ourselves, our learners and their parents, if we do not expose these issues to debate and scrutiny, so that we can find a better way forward. In any learning, making mistakes is a key part of the process, as long as you learn from these to improve what you do. A culture of trust and mutual respect is crucial.

Speaking of ethics⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

'ethics: moral principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conduct of an activity'

I have been part of a couple of discussions around ethics over the last week. The first was as a result of the seminar I attended at Edinburgh university around the development of literacy in early learners, and the second was a chat with my daughter, who is an occupational therapist working with adults with severe dementia. Both these, got me thinking more about ethics in education, for teachers school leaders and system leaders. I have been involved in a few discussions with Suzanne Zeedyk of Dundee University around the issues and problems when teachers and school leaders act, or take decisions, in ways that they know may well be detrimental to some learners. I have always seen this as an issue around values, but actually it is more than that, because it comes down to working ethically, and in the best interests of all learners, all the time.

At the Edinburgh event a question had been asked about the ethics of teachers, school leaders and their establishments understanding the ethics of using a one-size-fits-all blanket approach to learners who were facing difficulties in their learning. Sue Ellis of Strathclyde university spoke about how she had concerns about the ethics of schools, or local authorities, identifying groups of learners who were behind in their learning, then deciding to put all of those identified onto some sort of generic recovery programme. Sue argued that it was the responsibility of teachers to diagnose and identify individual learning issues in their learners, then take appropriate pedagogical action to address these. Her argument was that in any group of such learners, they will all have individual difficulties, which a generic approach or programme may well not be addressing. Is it ethically right for a teacher, school, or local authority, to say we are going to subject all these learners to the same approach or programme, because that is easier to organise and manage, rather than identify their individual issues and then work to address these?

My daughter was talking to me about other health-care professionals she has met, who just don't seem to get the whole issue around working and thinking ethically. She is currently completing her Masters and has been looking and thinking carefully about practice in healthcare settings for patients with acute dementia symptoms. One of the key issues for her has always been about seeing the individual in each person she works with, and understanding their life-story and how this can inform the actions of those seeking to work with and support them. She gets very annoyed when she sees individuals being subject to exactly the same approaches, and attitudes, because this suits the needs of the system, not the individual. She spoke of someone she met recently, from another setting, who had said if a patient is physically harming themselves she would think twice about sending staff to intervene, as that may put staff at risk. My daughter's question, and the one that formed immediately in my mouth, was 'how ethical is that?'

These two episodes got me thinking about how often I considered if I was working and acting ethically when I was a teacher, then as a school leader. If I am being honest, I can't remember many times when I thought about pure ethics in the actions I took or the decisions I made. I always prided myself in being clear about my personal and professional values, and tried to ensure my actions matched these. Ethics and values are of course closely linked. Ethics decide whether your actions are right or wrong, and are informed by your values. The key about ethics is that they set standards about what is acceptable and what is not both for ourselves as educators, and for those we would seek to educate. There is no doubt we, as educators, are in a position  of great influence in a learner's life and their holistic development, therefore it is crucial that we act ethically. This means seeing each individual as just that, and making sure we are being fair and equitable with them all, not just some of them.

My conversations with Suzanne and others, including parents, really got me thinking about the ethics of what we do in education. If we do not take the time to discuss and consider such issues, it is so easy for us to take the path of least resistance, taking action or making decisions that best meet the needs of the system rather than the learners and families we work with every day. When we face a period, such as now, of great change, driven by political masters or others, can we assure ourselves that we will always act ethically, or are we too easy to acquiesce to demands that we know are detrimental to those we really serve, learners? It is important that we use our professional knowledge and expertise to inform our actions as ethical professionals. Is it ethical to impose standardised testing onto five year olds, who are just beginning to develop and grow, when we know the results tell us nothing about how that child might develop in the future? Is it ethically correct to start grouping and setting learners as soon as they come into school, then attaching the labels they will carry throughout their school life? Is it right to make decisions for political expediency rather than to truly support learners and families? Is it ethical to spend time narrowing the curriculum and spending more time preparing young learners for tests, just because they are high-stakes for us? Is it right that we coach learners in how to pass exams, rather than continuing to educate them holistically?

I could go on with other similar questions, and no doubt people will come up with a range of responses. But, that is good, because we need to do the thinking and have the conversations if we are to be assured we are acting ethically, doing the best we can for all our learners, and for the right reasons. If we never take the time to consider ethics in our roles, the danger is that we do what we have always done, because that's what we do, or what we are told to do. Where's the ethics in that?

Evidence informed, or something else?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a seminar at Edinburgh University's School of Education, Moray House. The title of the seminar was 'Reading the Evidence; Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning'. The title referred to one book edited by Margaret M Clark, and another 'Teaching Initial Literacy: Policies, evidence and ideology' again edited by Margaret. The first was produced in 2017 and the second is hot off the press, both being available from Amazon as either an ebook or paperback. Both are filled with contributions by leading academic researchers and writers on the subject of literacy acquisition and the use of evidence to inform this.

The main contributors to the seminar, beside Margaret herself, were Professor Sue Ellis of Strathclyde University, Professor Terry Wrigley Visiting Professor at Northumbria University and Professor Greg Brooks from Sheffield University. Given that Margaret herself is a Visiting Professor at Newman University and Emeritus Professor at the University of Birmingham, you can see that this was quite a heavyweight corpus we were having the privilege of hearing from and engaging with. One of the things that binds all of them together is their commitment to research and the use of data, especially to inform practice in the early years of education, and the development of literacy in young learners.

After a brief introduction and welcome from Professor Rowena Arshad, Head of School at Moray House, Sue Ellis took over as chair for the seminar. As part of her introduction Sue wanted to make three key points. The first was that good academic research should be used to interrogate all options, and looks at all of the factors that might be at play, not just some or one of them. Secondly, she cautioned that whatever our stance or point of view in regards to the debate around phonics and their use, classrooms should never be used, or become, battlegrounds fought over by different factions. Her third and final point was, that everyone should know the limitations of their 'evidence'. The evidence is never just 'black or white' in how it can be interpreted or used.

Having been given those words of caution, Margaret now spoke about both her books and why she thought they were needed at the current time. She started by telling us that, through Freedom of Information requests she had discovered that the government in England, through the DfE, had spent no less than £46 million in just eighteen months on the purchase of commercial Phonics resources for schools, and that over half of that had gone to one individual and their company who acted as an 'unpaid advisor' to government! What particularly raised Margaret's hackles was the continued assertion by Nick Gibb, and others, that the statutory requirement, and mandatory expectation that all young learners in England should be taught Synthetic Phonics as the 'first, fast and only' route to successful literacy performance, and that this was 'evidence informed'.

Margaret, like the rest of the panellists, asserted that her view was not that Synthetic Phonics is necessarily 'bad', just that there is no evidence to support any assertion that this should be the only method used to develop literacy in learners. Each speaker was to echo her view, based on extensive research of her own and others, that a mixed approach is one that is producing the best results in many systems. She detailed how synthetic phonics had become emphasised, above all other methods, in England following the publication of the Rose report in 2006. In 2012 a statutory phonics screening check was introduced in England for all six year olds. This consisted of forty words, twenty real words and twenty pseudo words, which the children had to read to their teacher. This started as a light touch diagnostic check, but quickly developed into a high-stakes accountability measure. The pass mark is 32 and the child has 'failed' the test with any mark lower than this, and has to retake the test the following year. Schools are expected to increase their pass rate each year, by the DfE and Ofsted, repercussions follow for schools and their leaders when this does not happen.

Margaret observed that her first book had been subject to severe criticism in England and elsewhere, much of this from those with commercial interests in the promotion of synthetic phonics. It has been challenged in the UK for attacking Nick Gibb for his enthusiasm for synthetic phonics, for the fact that some of the contributors had cited Torgerson et al 2006 whose research it has been claimed has been challenged, and that the evidence from PIRLS published in December 2017 supposedly demonstrated the success of the government's synthetic phonics policy and the screening check. She concluded that whilst her first book was written mainly in response to the situation in England, and the second as a result of concerns regarding a similar direction of travel in Australia, there were definite warnings for Scotland in what had happened in England. She was already aware of pressure being put on parents to see Synthetic Phonics as the only way of developing literacy, rather than as another tool, that may be suitable for some, but perhaps not for others.

Greg started his input by stating that he was a self-confessed nerd in terms of literacy, phonics and grammar and had spent his career working and researching in this area. His first strong statement was 'There is still no evidence that any one phonics approach is any better than any other' as he explored synthetic and analytical phonics, whilst also touching on the ITA (Initial Teaching Alphabet) something the younger members of the audience had no knowledge of. He was a member of the group that had produced the Rose Report and was quite dismayed how this had been used. He stated that he and a colleague had done a 'fact-check' on all of the commercially available resources available to deliver synthetic phonics and had found many of them contained basic language and grammatical errors and misunderstandings. 'Some don't know the difference between their diagraphs and their diphthongs'. They had been able to provide the DfE with a list of resources that had been checked for factual errors, but they were still unsure of their usefulness in teaching synthetic phonics. The quality of materials available to schools is questionable, to say the least, and now there is a move to roll out the use of synthetic phonics in adult literacy learning courses. He pointed out that if there was a lack of evidence for the sole use of synthetic phonics with younger learners, there was absolutely none with regard to adult learners.

Step forward Terry Wrigley. Terry had looked closely at the 'evidence' and data being cited by Nick Gibb and others, and had found some interesting results. He started by looking at the expected impact of synthetic phonics on reading for understanding by the end of KS1 at age 7. He observed that most schools actually began their mandatory synthetic phonics courses in 2007, but he looked at the data for this factor from 2001 through to 2012 and had found no statistically significant improvement or change in the results for 7 year olds. He then turned his attention to the expected impact on reading tests at the end of KS2 at age 11. Again there was no significant variation in results, except in 2016 when percentages plummeted following Michael Gove's imposition of harder tests to bring more rigour into the process! When he had looked at the PIRLS data published in 2017, he found that England  had risen from joint tenth, to eighth. However, they had gained only half as many points as in the previous cycle prior to the imposition of synthetic phonics as the sole mandatory way of developing literacy in early years. What he also noted was the significant improvement in literacy levels being achieved in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, so had contacted colleagues there for their observations.

In Northern Ireland (6th in PIRLS) when pupils meet unfamiliar words they are encouraged to use a 'range of strategies to decode them'. Children are also encouraged to use their 'current knowledge of the phonetic code while cross-checking with meaning.' In the Republic of Ireland (4th in PIRLS) the approach adopted is one of mixed phonics, along with sentence and textual focus. His colleague in the republic confirmed that experiences were used to support emergent literacy in early childhood, with a consistent emphasis on oral language, in the context of play. Emphasis was given to both word identification and comprehension, and there is a focus on genre as a basis for comprehension and writing. Terry observed that the results in both these countries, and how they had been achieved, were definitely worthy of further investigation.

There then followed a short discussion around issues and questions raised by the audience. A significant element of this was around  the ethics for teachers in adopting and applying a blanket method approach to all learners. Sue said she had concerns with approaches that identify those who are behind, using means that may or may not be valid, then putting all of those learners onto the same programme. She feels passionately that it is the teacher's job to diagnose learning issues in children, then address these as required, rather than the adoption of a resource or programme where everyone gets the same input. Such an approach might not only pedagogically questionable, it is also ethically questionable.

It was a fascinating and illuminating session for me, and I suspect for others in the room too. There is no doubt this is a controversial area at the moment, but it is important that we all engage with the evidence and differing opinions to help us find our way forward, and one which will produce the best outcomes for our learners. There are no 'silver bullets' in education and learning, but it is too easy to allow ourselves to be driven by political ideology and dogma, or by the loudest voices, rather than taking the time to consider what the evidence and data is telling us. As a school leader, I always favoured a mixed approach, including synthetic phonics, which was tailored to individual needs, rather a slavish adherence to a particular programme, resource or approach for all. This is not always the easiest approach, and may not be possible in all circumstances, but is one I think we should be aiming to get back to as soon as we can. I really do hope we, and Australia, learn some of the lessons from England to prevent us from sharing many of the same outcomes.

I would commend Margaret's two books to anyone who is interested in this area and wants to find out more. They are full of chapters from academics and researchers from across the globe. Thank you to all the speakers for making the one and a half hours so interesting and informative. Thanks for the pre-prepared notes which helped and allowed me to fully concentrate on what was being said. Sorry if I have slightly misquoted anyone, I did make some of my own notes, and I wanted to write this as quickly as possible whilst everything was still fresh in my mind.

When a collaborative is not collaborating⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

In a recent paper, 'Seven reasons why Scottish education is under-performing', Walter Humes an honorary professor at Stirling University, identified key reasons why he thought the education system in Scotland was facing a period of uncertainty and challenge to its identity and effectiveness. The reasons he identified were quite damming and seemed to cause quite a bit of angst amongst many in the system, some of whom were quick to attack Humes' disparaging of the system, and the reasons he identified for this. The seven factors he thought were contributing to the struggles of the system were; 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, Boastful and sentimental language, and A deep vein of anti-intellectualism.

There is no wonder hackles were raised following the publication and explanation of his list of failings. Some rushed to defend themselves, and others, whilst others did as Hume asked and began to think carefully about the reasons that might lie behind the apparent deterioration of the system's performance. Given that he published his article on the Sceptical Scot online platform, which seeks to stimulate debate about Scotland its culture and politics, you would expect getting people to think and debate what he was saying, was at least the basic aim of his paper. As he acknowledged in his introduction 'If we are to make real progress we need to be frank about these, however uncomfortable they may be.' I agree entirely with him in that respect. The first step to improvement and development is a recognition of what the issues are and where we might do better. Burying our heads in in the metaphorical sands of complacency and self-congratulatory mindsets, does ourselves and our learners little good. There is much that we do in Scotland that is excellent and we should never lose sight of that, but we also have to admit and recognise the areas where we can do better. My own stance has always been that we should start from, and build on, the things we do well to help us develop those areas we know we could do better. What works for schools, also works for systems.

Adding further explanation to his identification of their being 'a complacent and self-regarding policy community' he describes a 'cosy' culture that often exists, where 'outsiders' who dare to criticise or question policy can be quickly marginalised, or ignored. Such a culture promotes conformity with members on the inside reassuring themselves that they are doing a good job, whilst protecting their existing territories. Elsewhere, he notes that 'Too many ministers have mistaken spectacle for substance.' Ouch!

Move forward a few weeks and we find an article in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland (TESS) by Henry Hepburn that perhaps illustrates some of the problems identified by Humes. In 'Northern what? Alliance proves to be anonymous' Henry writes about the Northern Alliance, a collaboration of eight councils around education in the north of Scotland. He reports that the Education and Skills Committee had left Holyrood and had visited one of the council areas to look at some of what was being achieved by this much lauded amalgamation councils and their focus on education. John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Scottish Government, has used this Northern Alliance as an example of collaborative working that he wishes all local authorities to engage with, and it was the blueprint for new Regional Improvement Collaborative (RICs) he has rolled out across the country. Indeed, the former head of the Northern Alliance, Gayle Gorman, has recently been appointed the new CEO of Education Scotland, and Chief inspector of Schools, charged with delivering the government's vision.

However, what the Education and Skills committee members found was a picture that didn't exactly match a lot of the rhetoric that had come from the Minister and his representatives. In the area they visited, Aberdeenshire, they found teachers and other education staff who had not heard of the Northern Alliance, despite it being in existence since 2015. A focus group of headteachers stated they were 'unclear' as to the impact of the Alliance, and some suggested there was little 'buy in' to the work of the Alliance. The leader for education in the authority admitted that it was 'true' that teachers knew little of the work of the Alliance, and that school leaders still identified with their local authority rather than the Alliance, and this was what was to be expected. Others, also at Director level, rushed to defend the work of the Alliance, indicating that this was just a case of 'lack of awareness' on behalf of staff, but that they were sure it was having an impact in schools and for learners. It is presumed this is their own evaluation, rather than the result of any external validation.

I know there has been lots of work going on across the Northern Alliance, and I live in the very south of Scotland. I know this from Twitter feeds, Blogs and conversations with colleagues. But, the trouble is, so many teachers and school leaders still have no presence on social media platforms like this. Therefore, no matter what work the Alliance is engaged in, its impact will only be as wide as its ability to involve and communicate this with all its members, and this will be a major issue for all RICs. 'Cascade' models of sharing professional development insights have many limitations and are far from ideal. 

There is no doubt that this was just a snapshot of one council area, out of eight in the Alliance, and that the results might differ in other areas. They probably will now, as I am sure the word has gone out in the other areas to make sure everyone knows they are part of the Northern Alliance. I also suspect one of the first steps the other RICs will take is to make sure all teachers and eduation staff know which one they are now a part of. But, it does illustrate some of the points Walter Humes was trying to make in his article. We can be very quick to attribute success to political policy, on the flimsiest of evidence, and within very short time scales. Dissenting voices, or those who just want to question the 'evidence' can be quickly and too easily dismissed in the push for conformity and compliance. All of which leads to the perpetuation of poor decision making, lack of reliable data and more derision of any intellectual engagement or challenge from with the system. Such models can also perpetuate the 'handing down' of policy decisions from above with schools and teachers still viewed as the deliverers.

None of this is healthy, and Walter is right to challenge what he sees happening, in the hope that we may all stop and think, instead of rushing headlong into more mistakes and busyness, which may have little positive impact for the system as a whole, or for individual learners. There is no doubt that focused collaboration is key to system development. For this to have impact takes time, so that all key stakeholders are part of the collaboration, and are not sitting oblivious to collaboration taking place. Such collaboration has to be focused on learning and teaching, as well as supporting teachers to enquire into their practice and their impact on learning, not the creation of more structures or policy. If teachers and education staff are not aware they are part of an educational collaborative, then it can hardly be described as collaborative. Of course, all those same colleagues will be collaborating meaningfully each day in their roles, it will be part of what they do. RICs are designed to provide a structure to ensure collaboration on a wider level, when really its a culture that is more important than any imposed structure. If we ignore culture, and working collectively at meaningful collaboration, that includes all stakeholders, the new collaboratives are doomed to failure. It is to be hoped that those who sit on these new bodies, understand this and are clear about how they can go about supporting school leaders, teachers and others to be the best they can be.

As a former school leader, I also recognise that many of the issues identified by Walter can equally apply to the leadership of schools. My last post on this Blog was about the 'bubbles' we can all exist comfortably in, and it is easy for schools and their leaders to convince themselves that every thing they do is wonderful in their establishments. We need to challenge that as well. The problems we can identify in any system can be micro as well as macro in nature. When we look at the issues around the Northern Alliance, how many of these might be mirrored in individual schools? I still hear anecdotally about schools where the staff and parents have had no involvement in the production of improvement plans, before they are presented to them by the headteacher or school leadership. Equally, the issues identified are not just confined to Scotland and the Scottish system, and I am sure colleagues in other countries and systems will find much that is similar to their own experiences.

First step to any improvement, at any level, is to identify the issues, then we can collaborate to identify solutions and share insights. 

Bursting bubbles!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

When I first stepped away from my busy life of work as headteacher of two primary schools, I started to notice different things I was either unaware of, or perhaps had just lost sight of, whilst so much of my focus was consumed by my leadership role. Joni Mitchell sung 'you don't know what you have got till its gone' in her song 'Big Yellow Taxi' and I was experiencing something similar, now  that I was released from the busyness of my professional role. Only, for me, it was more a case of me finding out 'what I didn't know was there, till I had the time to notice.' Would have made for a slightly different song, but the sentiments were similar. Whilst Joni pointed out in her song the sort of things we all take for granted, and don't realise we have them till they disappear, I was discovering a whole new world of existence that had little to do with work or schools. It was only now that I had the time and space to notice them. I hadn't lost anything, I was just re-discovering things that were always there, had I had the time to notice them. I had emerged from the 'bubble' of my previous existence to discover lots of other 'bubbles' that I never had time to appreciate before.

One of these was that there is a whole world of people and activity that goes on each day, which is outside of the routines and world of work, schools and education, but which is an important part of millions of peoples' lives. When you are enmeshed in the world of work, schools and education, it is very easy to slip into the mindset that thinks 'so is everyone else.' They are not. Far from it. It was when I was freed from the day to day fervour of my role, that I began to recognise that there was a whole other way that many people spent their time and lived their lives. Shock! I now had time to get out and about during the daytime, and no longer had to squeeze other activities into the end of another busy day or precious weekends. I expected to find shops, cafes, galleries, the countryside a lot quieter than I was used to, whilst trying to fit them into my busy work patterns, but they weren't. They were just different.

Whilst I existed in the 'bubble' of my demanding working life, when I found the time to fleetingly think about the world outside, I tended to think everyone else was also inside their own particular work 'bubble' with associated routines, actions and thinking. What I discovered now, was that there was a whole different world of existence that had nothing to do with work or busyness. Places I wanted to visit were still busy, but now the people in them tended to fall into two different age groups. There were the older members, who had obviously retired or semi-retired like myself and were enjoying their new found freedoms, and their were younger, usually female, members who had very young children, too young for school yet. Obviously this is a gross generalisation, but I think it generally holds true, except at holiday times when the population becomes more multi-generational again.

However, this did set me thinking about the 'bubbles' we spend our lives in,  either deliberately or due to circumstances, whilst we are at work, and elsewhere. One of my mantras to staff when I was still a school leader was 'never assume what goes on in your classroom or school, or even what you think, is the same as what goes on in other classrooms and schools.' We can be very guilty, as teachers or school leaders, of existing in a  professional and personal 'bubble', which assumes what we think and experience is the same as what everyone else is thinking and experiencing, after all we are all in the same profession delivering similar curricular experiences. Teachers and school leaders are all different, as is their thinking, practice and context. Yes, there are lots of similarities, but each person and context brings a different dynamic, perceptions and behaviours.

When I began to think more about this, I recognised that we all carry around with us our own personal 'bubble' of thoughts, perceptions, views, experiences and internal voices, and that these can be difficult to break out of at times. Our personal 'bubble' of existence shapes our actions and our engagement with other 'bubbles' we create, inhabit or come into contact with, as we go about our professional and personal lives. Each person's is unique, ensuring each one has different perceptions and understandings about everything. Even when we experience the same activities and stimuli at the same time, each persons perception and understanding of those will be different.This is why life and social interactions can be so complicated, and why school development can be so complex, with no guarantees of success. It is also why we need to engage with as many different people and organisations and their particular 'bubbles' of existence, in order to make our own better informed and more collaborative in nature, if not obsolete.

Recognising the 'bubbles' that exist and which we inhabit, through our thinking or our actions, is the first step in being able to step outside of them, to help us develop different perceptions, thinking and action. As a school leader, I always encouraged collaboration and openness to help individuals explore different ways of being. It is only through exposure to different thinking and practice, whether this be through direct contact or through reading and research, that we can hope to develop and expand our own. After all, we are all standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, as well as with each other, and to do that we need to engage with and consider the actions and thinking of others, so that we can become better versions of ourselves. Doing that requires us to break free from the 'bubbles' that exist, give us comfort, and stop us from growing. Fullan characterised this as the 'silos of practice' in education, which need to be broken down so that we can engage in powerful and focused collaborative practices.

We will all still have our 'bubbles' but some are larger than others, with more connections. I think we will retain these as a way of dealing with the complexity of life, and not be overwhelmed by all that is happening and all we have to do, but that we should look to enhance them rather than using them solely for protection purposes. Knowing they are there and seeking to step outside of them, should be a healthy disposition for us all, personally and professionally. If we stay inside our own particular 'bubbles' we constrict ourselves in so many ways and may well miss opportunities to grow and to develop informative and helpful new connections. It is only through growth and development of each individual school teacher and leader, that our schools and systems can hope to grow and develop. For that to happen, this needs to be a co-operative and collaborative endeavour.

Just as I discovered a whole new world when I stepped away from day to day engagement with the schools I used to lead, so can individuals and schools discover new possibilities by stepping outside of their own particular 'bubbles' and begin to build connections and practice for focused collaboration with others seeking to do the same. Many of the most important insights I gained as a school leader occurred when I was able to step away from the busyness of every day, and visit other settings or engage with colleagues and other educationalists, who all had their own perceptions and insights to share, to help enrich my own. Life is for living and professional development is for growing. You let yourself down by staying inside a 'bubble' of comfort and safety. We all need to step outside of those 'bubbles' to grow bigger and better ones, which support everyone to live, grow and to release their full potential, individually and collectively. This is just as true professionally as it is personally.

What are the 'bubbles' that support and constrict you and what you do? It may be time you burst one or two.

Who is controlling your time?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Both as a school leader and as a teacher, time is precious. Teaching and leadership can become all consuming passions that devour time relentlessly, professional and personal, if you let it. It doesn't have to be that way, neither should we expect or accept this as 'just part of the job.' Being continually busy, feeling that there are not enough hours in the day to do all that needs doing, is neither desirable or sustainable. I am tired of reading and hearing of teachers and school leaders lamenting undeliverable workload expectations as well as the costs to them, their schools and their families.

I am sure it has not escaped anyone's notice, but we have a staffing crisis in education and our schools. This is manifesting itself in a number of ways. Firstly we cannot attract enough high quality candidates into our profession or universities. Secondly, when we do attract people, we then struggle to retain them. The fall-out rates for recently qualified teachers in their first five years is high, and not getting any better. It was reported in 2016 that 30% of teachers who had qualified in 2010, in England, had quit by 2015. Retention rates for Teach First entrants are even worse. Thirdly, we are finding it more and more difficult to attract the ones that do remain into applying for leadership positions. All of this leads to more schools and classes having no teachers to fill vacancies, especially in key STEM subjects, and a dearth of quality candidates for leadership positions. This puts enormous pressures on those that do remain, and can also lead to some being thrust into teaching and leadership roles without the proper preparation, education and training, resulting in more pressure for them, schools and the system. This is  like Heller's 'Catch 22' for education.

There is no doubt that the reasons for these issues are multi-faceted, and include teacher working conditions, pay and unreasonable expectations by those within and outside the system. However, I think it is workload issues, perceived and real, that are perhaps the key factors that need to be addressed, and are perhaps the easiest to fix.

With every new curricula change, new policy, new governments or ministers, comes a lot of change and bureaucracy adding to the workload burden of schools, teachers and their leaders. It has always been thus, certainly since I first entered education in the 1970s. Another constant during that time has been requests from teachers, unions and some school leaders to slow down the pace of change, think about the workload implications, and to give teachers and schools time to embed a new change, before the next one comes cascading down. In my experience, this has never been achieved. Another factor that has also ratchetted up workload is that of 'accountability', which seems to have taken over as the key driver in many of our schools and systems. As a result, we have a situation where teachers and schools now are experiencing change and workloads on a scale never before experienced by the profession, unless you teach in Finland! Added to that, is the pressure and consequences of the high-stakes accountability measures and approaches. All this can leave teachers and leaders frazzled and feeling under-appreciated and not listened to.

This has to stop, and the people who can stop it are ourselves. Teachers and school leaders have to take back control of what is happening in their schools and classrooms.

Teaching and school leadership is demanding, there is no denying this, but both roles have to be manageable and sustainable, otherwise the system is not sustainable and continues to fail many of our learners. If no-one from outside our schools is prepared to carry out the gate-keeping and prioritising role, that we have long asked for, then we have to do it ourselves. School leaders and teachers are the ones who really know their schools and understand their context deeply, therefore it should be down to them to set the development agenda for those schools themselves, not have this imposed by others from outside. Being close to their teachers also allows them to understand the time implications for them in delivering on the 'day job' of teaching classes of young learners, and the demands on time that alone entails.

I am not saying that each school and individual teachers should be free to do whatever they wish, what I am saying is that, within national and local priorities, schools and their leaders are the ones best placed to identify and prioritise the necessary actions they need to take. These will be identified from their self-evaluation processes, with reference to national priorities. They are the ones however, who need to protect themselves, and their learners, from all that they are being told from outside that they should be focusing on. School leaders and their teams have to identify what their priorities are, and most importantly what is deliverable and sustainable within a reasonable working week for all. The best school leaders recognise that everything they wish to achieve is down to teachers and other staff being able to deliver. To do this properly they need to want to (hearts and minds) and need to be supported to do so, with proper provision and notice of their well-being taken account of.

Schools themselves need to set their improvement agendas, with support and collaboration from others, and these need to be deliverable in the timeframe available, then measured in terms of impact for learners. They will still be busy, but it will be a managed busyness, not a constant sandstorm of busyness, leaving no time to see or assess impact, or make adjustments. Schools and teachers will be getting better incrementally, year on year, change will be deep and sustainable, embedded into practice and thinking of all.

Such a scenario is not flashy or headline grabbing, but it is realistic and deliverable in producing learning cultures, and development, that is relentless and built into the DNA of schools and individuals. I would also argue that it is the only way that can produce sustainable workloads, built into everyday working, that gives individuals and schools time to reflect and manage change for the better, instead of continuing to drive headlong into more poorly thought out changes and busyness.

We really cannot wait any longer for our political and system leaders to recognise that this is what has to happen. We have to do it ourselves. The cost of not taking such an approach is ever increasing demands and expectations, that are just not deliverable in the real world. Politicians, and some system leaders who are only focused on career-progression, will still demand short-term headline grabbing change and busyness, but we, who are in education for the long haul, for the difference it can make to so many lives, have to control what we can control. The first thing we can all control is how we spend our time, and the impact that has for all our learners.

Lemmings of despair?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

High-impact and effective leadership is not easy. Having said that, it should be recognised that leadership is crucial to the success of schools and education systems. Here in Scotland the government's current proposals for system reform, no matter what you think about a lot of the detail contained in their ongoing 'consultation', does recognise the crucial importance of leadership to the success of our schools. So much so that a Headteachers' Charter is part of their proposals. I suppose there should be no surprise in the primacy identified in leadership given the composition of the government's own panel of international education advisors, including as it does Andy Hargreaves, Alma Harris, Carol Campbell, Chris Chapman, Graham Donaldson, Pasi Sahlberg and Pak Tee Ng, all of whom have written and researched about the importance of leadership, at all levels, in schools and systems. Of course, as with most government policy, there is another agenda that is to yet reveal itself, which may have more to do with control and more direction for school leaders from above, but there is no doubt that leadership is seen as crucial in our schools and across the system.

In this post I am thinking mainly about Headteacher or Principal roles in our schools. Though we should never lose sight of the importance of teacher leadership as well as other formal leadership roles, and their importance to the wellbeing of our schools and systems. Having stepped down from my own position as a school leader in 2017, I have had the opportunity to consider my own role and performance as a school leader over eighteen years, as well as the reading and research I have engaged with around leadership during my time as a leader, and since. The basis of this post is a talk I was asked to give on leadership to school leaders. I never actually delivered the talk but came upon the slides and messages I prepared just the other day, and thought I would share some of them on here.

As a leader we can sometimes act like lemmings. We are swept away by the crowd round about us and all the activity that everyone mimics, heading full pelt towards our inevitable fate. We are all incredibly busy, and being busy sometimes can stop us from getting our heads up to consider where we are actually heading. As a school, and as a leader, being busy is not enough. We have to think about impact. No, not that at the bottom of the cliff that our lemming analogy points us towards, but our impact for our learners and communities in the schools we lead. To do that, I have always contended, that we need to get our heads up to see what is coming and to plan a way forward, as well as to see what is happening currently. It is important that we are always asking the questions, what is the impact for our learners, staff and ourselves of all this busyness? If it is not positive, the sooner we stop doing it, the better for everyone and the less the likelihood of everyone disappearing over some metaphorical cliff edge.

I, and many others, have recognised the importance of relationships in human organisations and systems like schools, for them to have the greatest positive impacts for all their members. The Scottish government produced a document in 2012 entitled 'Better Relationships, Better Learning, Better Behaviour'. Whilst this was document was aimed at pupil behaviour, it did recognise the importance of positive relationships to all aspects of school work. This always seemed a no-brainer to myself and most primary school educators, so it can be disturbing when we see some of the approaches that are taken by some of our secondary school colleagues. As a school leader, you neglect the importance of positive relationships in all that you are trying to achieve. Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan explored this further in 1998 in 'What's Worth Fighting For Out There?' In an article for the National College for School Leadership, written in 2002, Alama Harris noted in her study of a group of secondary schools in challenging circumstances 'The empirical evidence from teachers, senior managers, pupils and headteachers point towards a model of leadership that is fundamentally concerned with building positive relationships and empowering others to lead.' (Busyness, or intiativitis as Michael Fullan has called it, puts relationships at risk and may in fact find little time or importance attached to them. As school leaders, we need to think about the implications of this.

Relationships are amongst the important key areas that school leaders need to focus on, and they permeate everything else we are trying to achieve.. Others I have identified would include the following; Keeping the main thing the main thing. The main thing is always learning and teaching, and we should ensure that all that we are doing, or are focused on, deals with this in a completely holistic way. We are aiming to develop the whole learner, so our systems, structures, practice, values and attitudes should all reflect and contribute to this aim. Be driven by your values. It is easy to speak of values, or to even write them down or display them. However, if you are not living them, or bringing them alive in all our actions and inter-actions, they are not your true values. We have to avoid agendas driven by others, driven by data, driven by research, driven by test results, etc. All of these are important and they should help inform our actions. It is our values that should be the true touchstone for our leadership actions and decisions. Build trust. It is crucial that school leaders build trust across the whole school community. The impact of a lack of trust includes surface-level compliance and a lack of innovation or taking of risks. Without these characteristics, it is hard for any school to move forward in any meaningful way, no matter how you might like to 'spin' you story. Seek to develop and promote teacher agency and adaptive expertise. As a school leader, you cannot do it all yourself, but as a coherent and collaborative team you can achieve much. When staff have true agency and adaptive expertise, you are equipping them to be self-improving practitioners, which in turn develops into a self-improving school culture. On the back of this you will find that you the development of teacher leadership and dispersed leadership easier to achieve, with benefits for individuals as well as for the school as a whole. Promote and develop collaborative and collegiate cultures. The school leaders has a responsibility to help coalesce the individual and disparate talents and expertise of the school team into a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts, the gestalt of school development. Gate-keep on behalf of your staff. I gave up a long time ago waiting on someone from above in the educational establishment and hierarchy to recognise that not every issue or idea can be immediately cascaded down onto schools and their teachers. Therefore, I decided I needed to protect staff from the constant stream of demands and expectations from elsewhere. We achieved this by referring to our values and sticking strictly to our School Improvement Plan, which became smaller and more focused as I developed my own practice in this respect. Be informed by research and data. School leaders need to know how to critically engage with research and data to help inform their actions, which will be context specific. I have always believed that all teachers, never mind their leaders, should read and engage with research, otherwise they are subject to the demands and whims of others constantly. As a professional, you should be able to explain your actions and decisions based on sound research, informed by school data. As with everything, you have to be realistic in this and keep your engagement proportionate and manageable. Support and be an active participant in professional development activities. If we want to develop as individuals and as a school, we should commit to a career-long engagement with professional development. This does not mean going on, or sending people on, lots of courses. This should be grounded in your particular context and measured in terms of improvement for learners. Be professionally curious. it is important that school leaders do not get swamped by all they have to do, so that they do not have time to be curious about their role and their impact. Professional curiosity can lead to major insights and development, which is self-initiated rather than imposed or directed by others. Lead more than manage. There is no doubt that to be an effective school leader, you also have to be an effective manager. The trouble is, we can devote all of our working day, and more, to management activities, so that their is no time left to lead. As a school leader you have a responsibility to act leaderly, to do that you have to think in a leaderly way. You role is bigger than the here and now, you have to consider and prepare for the future, and to how you can deliver on your vision for your school community. Despite all of these aspects you have to think about and deal with, slow down! One of the insights I gained as a school leader is that by slowing down it is possible to achieve more, and your achievements are likely to be deep and sustainable, rather than shallow and fleeting. We have cultures in many education systems and schools that promote busyness and the flitting from one 'thing' to another. When you have a deep learning culture, development and growth is seen as a continual ongoing process that all can commit to, and which you, as the school leader, can actively support. Lastly I would say smile and remember to say thank you. When you get swamped by all that you have to do as a school leader, you can lose sight of the little things that can make a big difference. Amongst these is smiling and showing your appreciation for all that your staff do. How much of your time would this take? But, the impact is immense.  It was pointed out to me a while ago that teacher working conditions are also pupil learning conditions, this is so true. Never lose sight that it is a privilege to lead a school and, despite all the challenges, it remains one of the best jobs you can ever be lucky enough to experience. Show it!

I will finish with what I think might be considered as the 'seven deadly sins' of school leadership. No matter the circumstances or reasons, you should try to avoid these at all costs. Many of them produce the absolute opposite of what I have described above, so not much further explanation is needed. They are; Micromanaging everything. More common than it should be and a sign of lack of trust. Saying one thing and doing another. You are what you do, not what you say you will do. Again destroys trust and relationships. Following the latest fads and trends. Leads to ever changing focus and increasing workloads for frazzled staff. Searching for 'silver bullets'. There aren't any. The only thing that works is the long hard slog of a focused, connected, development process. Letting people down. This is not about trying to please everyone, but more about betraying your professed vision and values, at the cost to your community. Compliance at the cost of doing what is right. Leadership is not easy, but it helps if you are clear about what your lines in the sand are, beyond which you will not move. Always put the learners and community first. Being invisible. Highly effective leaders are visible and active participants in all that the school is involved with, especially learning in classrooms. You can't achieve this from your office!

In the recent book 'Flip The System UK' headteacher Rae Snape asked us to stop being 'Lemmings of Despair' and instead look to become 'Flamingos of Hope'. Which are you?

A glitch in the system, or more than that?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

As I write this, the annual International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) is taking place in Singapore. This event brings together researchers, writers and policy makers from education systems across the planet to look at and consider what is happening, and what is working, across those systems, as well as where we should focus next. The theme for this year's congress is 'Deepening School Change for Scaling: Principles, Pathways and Partnerships'.

Whilst not being able to attend this year, though I did manage an appearance two years ago, I have been an interested follower of keynotes and workshops via Twitter and social media. This is one of the joys of such technology, that you can still observe what is happening and being discussed at an event like this, even though you might not be there in person. The various keynotes are also made available online so that you can see and hear these yourself, especially if you want to refer or think more about them later. With Twitter though, you can interact in real time as they use the hashtag #ICSEI2018, you can also check this timeline out at a later date if you wish. I would recommend everyone interested in education to have a look.

Andy Hargreaves gave the presidential address and looked at 'Purpose, Professionalism, Leadership and Change'. In this address he identified that 'wellbeing is the new frontier of school improvement.' This theme has been repeated and added to by various speakers following Andy, representing quite a dramatic change in emphasis for many education systems, and the individuals in them. Hargreaves went on to say that the question was no longer whether people should collaborate but how they collaborate. He was advocating a move 'from professional collaboration to collaborative professionalism', a profound change in how we think about and practice collaboration and professionalism. Key to our new way of thinking and acting should be dialogue and action, learning with meaning and purpose, embedded cultures, teacher leadership and working with students. He was also to say that 'we've moved from an age of achievement to an age of identity, engagement and wellbeing.'

He was followed by Carol Campbell who spoke about the work she and colleagues had been undertaking in Ontario, and the lessons they had learned as a result. She concluded her presentation with the five key lessons they had garnered from their work. These five aspects were key to any successful development. In such development, they have 1) humanity at the core, they develop 2) collaborative professionalism, they are 3) evidence informed, they promote the 4) de-privatization of practice and they create 5) systems for knowledge co-creation, mobilization and use. I was particularly taken by one of her slides which compared ego driven hierarchies, typically found across schools and systems, and eco ones, which were ecological in nature, valued input from everyone one and were non-hierarchical structurally. She was advocating that we have to have people at the heart of any system change. She referenced 'Flip The System' and Jelmer Evers to illustrate an example of a teacher having systemic influence, but also noted that if you flipped a hierarchy, you still had an hierarchy, which is why she preferred a more ecological model.

Another message with resonance given on the first day was 'All improvement requires change, but not all change is an improvement' delivered by a Dr Gruncow. How true is this.

As I am watching the second day of presentations, similar themes are being repeated and discussed as those on the first day. A friend from Australia, Andrea Stringer, sent me a message this morning about how Carol Campbell had given a very powerful message that to bring about large scale educational change we had to focus on humanity and people. This is all music to my ears, because I have been advocating this as an approach that will work and deliver, for some time now.

If we have many of the world's leading educational researchers advocating such a change to how we develop our education systems, the question now is, how prepared, willing and able are our systems to embrace such an approach? I am also not oblivious to the fact that both Andy and Carol are part of the group of International Educational Advisors that are supporting the Scottish government at the present time, and that other members of this group are also in attendance in Singapore.

I Tweeted out Andrea's message and added, 'This won't please the micro-managers, control freaks and power junkies that abound in many systems.' To me, this is going to be a major issue in bringing about the changes being advocated at the ICSEI conference. It has always been my contention that so many of those at the higher reaches of the prevailing hierarchies are the ones who feel most threatened, and perceive they have the most to lose, from any move to a more humanistic and egalitarian system structure and culture. As such, they can become the biggest block to the changes necessary. I agree with Carol and Andy about what needs to happen, and how this needs to be brought about by the actions of teachers and individuals in the system, wherever they are found. My recent chapter in 'Flip The System UK' made much the same point.

In my experience, trying to take such steps, within current systems, can see such individuals being seen as 'outliers' or 'anomalies' in the system. A 'glitch', as techies might say. Any education system is composed of systems and structures, then people, who make it live and breathe. As such, it can be difficult to shift thinking and practice, because if your thinking and practice do not conform to what the system is looking for, you begin to attract attention, sometimes for the wrong reasons. These can be aimed at bringing you back into line, so that you conform to the systems models and expectations. We can judge a system's norms by its behaviours and what it is prepared to accept and support, not by what it purports to support. If you regard an education system, at whatever level, like the human body's systems, you can see similarities in how it operates, and how it protects itself in order to survive. The body's systems have evolved to work for the benefit of the individual, with each part having a role to play in keeping the whole system healthy and alive. When a threat is detected, in the form of germs or foreign bodies, or when parts do not function as expected, the body has defence systems that kick in, to destroy the threat, to isolate it or to compensate for it not working as it should.

This is exactly how some systems and schools work. Everyone has to understand their role, understand the model, and then behave accordingly to support this. When glitches occur, and individuals argue against the prevailing model or practices, no matter how well researched and evidenced, the system tends to push back. This may take the form of individuals being told their performance is different or not what is 'expected', and that they need to deliver in the same way as colleagues, with practice then being monitored closely to see if they are starting to conform. Further action may result, if individuals fail to 'improve' and demonstrate adherence to accepted models. For those further up the hierarchies who decide to push against the system norms and practices, then isolation and ignoring become other ways of dealing with such outliers. Just like the body, the education system, and those who control it, have ways of protecting themselves, and maintaining the status quo.

If we have systems that support such hierarchies and behaviours it can be difficult for individuals to affect change. That is why collaborating professionally with others who feel the same as you is so important in generating organic systemic development and growth. Getting together with others who are considered outliers or different is crucial to individual and systemic growth. Generally, systems like societies, grow and develop organically rather than in revolutionary ways. 'Outliers' can soon become more 'normalised' by force of opinion and practices. We can all look back at behaviours or attitudes that were acceptable in our societies ten or twenty years ago, but which are now no longer acceptable, because we have learnt better. To bring about those changes first required individuals to question what we were doing and why, then to offer an alternative which was better.

As more and more come on board, a tipping-point is reached where permanent change results, we have grown and moved on. I see the same thing happening in the Scottish system at the moment with the work of Suzanne Zeedyk in regard to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and attachment issues, Sue Palmer and the Upstart movement, aimed at promoting play for learning in early childhood, as well as the work of Kate Wall, Mark Priestley and others in developing enquiry for professional development in our schools. All of these show the power of informed, committed individuals to bring about change and growth within a fairly fixed system. They also demonstrate just why our focus needs to be on people and their humanity, rather than on systems and structures.

When we have true democracy, teacher leadership and agency, then we will have the conditions being talked of at ICSEI, leading to organic, deep growth in ever improving and developing systems. Change starts with individuals being brave and asking questions of their own practice, as well as that of the system. Lets commit to this at the start of 2018. More of the same does our profession a disservice and continues to let down so many of our learners and their families. They and we, deserve more than that.

Apologies if I have misinterpreted any of the messages from #ICSE2018 but no doubt there is lots to think about.


from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

If you are reading this, dear reader, then I am extremely grateful to you, and wish you to know this is the 200th post of my Blog. When I started this blog in 2013 I had little understanding or idea of how it might develop over time. Originally, my intention was to share some of my journey as a headteacher/principal in Scotland. I wrote then, and still do now, to help develop and clarify my own thinking around various issues related to my leadership role and learning. Over time this original purpose has grown and developed as more people engaged with my Blog and I recognised the potential to share, collaborate and reach new understandings, that could impact on my thinking, practice and learners in the schools I led. What I also discovered was that the blog was another way for me to have a 'voice' in the wider discourse around education, schools and leadership, one which was not restricted to Scotland, and my immediate physical location, but which easily crossed international borders and systems.

A lot of the issues I was to explore in various posts were ones which school leaders, teachers and researchers were grappling with across many education systems. Curriculum, learning, teaching, leadership, accountability, professional development, cultures, GERM agendas, testing, PISA, structures, assessment, community, hierarchies, partnerships, collaboration, values, principles, planning, politics, and so much more that I have covered, remain high on the agendas of school leaders, teachers and systems not only here in Scotland but across the globe. I have written about all of these over the last four years and, in doing so, have developed my own thinking and understanding, through collaboration and responses from various readers of my musings. I have been supported to develop my thinking in order to improve my practice, with the ultimate aim of benefitting learners not only in the schools I led, but  also in my system leadership role. I shall remain eternally grateful to the wonderful people who have taken the time to read, then respond, because this has what has helped shape, and re-shape, my thinking and my practice.

When I look back at my earliest posts, I find myself disagreeing with some of what I was writing at that time. This is how it should be. Our thinking, like our practice, should be continually moving on and developing and often the best way to achieve this is through dialogue and reading with others who have experienced or researched similar issues. Amongst the few things that have remained fixed are my values and principles, my determination to improve and get better, and my belief in our ability as a profession to make a difference for so many. I remain a steadfast defender of teachers and the profession, whilst recognising there is still much that we have to do, to produce an educational culture that meets the needs of all and which supports deep organic growth and development at its heart.

I like to think I have supported others to think about their own practice, and to help them identify a way forward that works for them and their context. I never set out to tell people what to do, or how to get better. What I have tried to do is to encourage people to have the conversations they needed to have, with themselves and others, in order to reach their own conclusions and solutions to some of the dilemmas and issues that have confronted them and others. Whilst the issues can be common, the solutions, or the way forward, have to be shaped by personal and professional contexts. We can use the experience and research of others to help inform our thinking, but we have to interpret and shape this ourselves to match our context.

I know I have encouraged a few people to start blogging themselves, or to blog more. 'If he can do it, why shouldn't I be able to?' seems to have been a motivation for many. I am so pleased and proud when I see more colleagues engaging through their own blogs, or through Twitter, as they discover their own 'voice' and contribute to the general discourse. But, I am sure all of these would say that they, like myself, have gained most from their blogging and the people they have developed relationships with, real or virtual. As a result we have all grown as individuals and, I believe, as a profession. I used to be asked 'how do you find the time for all that reading and writing?' My response was always that we should always be able to find time for the things that make a difference. If you cut out all the things that take up your professional time, that have no impact on your thinking or practice, and therefore learners, you can immediately free up time to help you develop, and have greater positive impacts for those learners. I realised a long time ago that this is a 'no-brainer' in terms of prioritising your time and being leaderly, rather than simply reactive, your actions being determined by whatever the latest 'thing' was that was taking up so much of your time.

To lead effectively, requires you to get your head up and out of your immediate concerns. Leadership requires an ability to think and plan for the future, as much as dealing with the present. You have a vision of what you are trying to achieve, and can identify the steps you may need to take to head towards that vision. This will have impacts for those you lead, your establishment and the learners you have in front of you presently, as well as those your establishments and staff will face in the future, when you are no longer in post. To do all this, requires curious and inquisitive leaders, who collaborate and talk with as many others as possible, in whatever ways they can, so that all can focus on strategies and steps that will really make deep embedded change more likely and successful.

Thank you to everyone who has engaged with this blog, which has had over 100,000 views, and has helped me shape my thinking and my practice. Whilst I write a lot of stuff mainly for myself, and to provoke debate in others, as a writer you do write in the expectation that someone is going to read your writing. Once you put something into a public domain or forum, you are exposing yourself and your thinking to scrutiny and criticism. But the more you do it, the more confident you get, especially if you use helpful feedback to improve your writing. My blog has given me the confidence to write for other blogs, as a guest writer, for professional magazines and web-sites, as well as contributing to books like Flip The System UK, which was published recently. I had written some of my thoughts on educational leadership in 2011, the title of that book providing the title for this blog, and I have another book out in January. Whilst my blogging has shaped so much of my practice, it also provided me with the confidence to write more, and I now have the time to develop this further.

My aim is to keep blogging, writing and commentating on educational issues in 2018. If you haven't had the confidence to dip your toe into writing, or Twitter, why not make this a target for the year ahead. Such a commitment will help you personally and professionally, and you will be helping to shape the profession we are all proud to be a small part of. Lets not wait to be told what to do by others, but collaborate with colleagues to take actions which are informed, and help us all to improve our impact for all our learners.