Author Archives: George Gilchrist

Structure and systems versuses learning, teaching and leadership⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

A couple of days ago Education Scotland announced that they planned to make changes to how they carried out school inspections as, 'the first step in a radical new way Education Scotland will work to support and drive improvement in schools.' This new 'radical' approach was to carry out more inspections, coupled with employment of new HMIEs and 'associate assessors' so that they could raise the number of inspections from the 180 expected to be undertaken this year, to a target figure of 250 for the following year. Amongst their stated aims was a desire to engage with every school in Scotland each year in order to support schools, teachers and school leaders and to drive forward improvement. They will also seek to include the 'younger voice' in inspections and include more use of learners in the inspection process, aiming to produce a How Good Is Our School (HGIOS) for young people to help them become engaged. (give me strength!) In addition, they will be seeking to co-ordinate a 'single approach' to the inspection of early learning, nursery, settings, through collaboration between themselves and the Care Inspectorate.

As usual, this is a bit of a mixed-bag from Education Scotland. Some of these steps may be welcomed by schools and their staff, especially if they emphasise the 'support' element of inspections; meaningfully engage with learners and really listen to what they have to say; and especially if the demands on early learning and childcare centres can be changed so that they are part of a single process and are not subjected to a 'double-jeopardy' inspection regime from both Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate.

However, what difference are these changes really going to make? Graeme Logan seems convinced that the organisation, that he is currently leading, has to drive educational improvement in order to provide 'excellence and equity' in Scottish education. I do wonder if he felt the same way when he was a school leader? I am not sure he waited around to be told what he needed to do to improve outcomes for the learners in his school, nor that he and his staff did not pay enough attention to the aspects that really made a difference for all his learners.

The first time I met Graeme was at an event which showcased some of the strategies he and his staff had been using to improve learning and teaching in his school. He was a bit of a disciple of Alastair Smith at that time, and was heavily involved in his 'Accelerated Learning Programme'. Turns out, this programme was all about good learning and teaching practices and the application of many of the strategies identified by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, as well as other research emerging at that time, or earlier. My reminder to him and others would be that this is still where all our attention should be, instead of being fixated on changing structures and systems, or ramping up accountability, in the hope that this will have major impacts.

The Scottish Government's own panel of international education advisors published a short report earlier this summer about their findings and recommendations at this stage of their engagement. In this they warned that one of the key areas of Curriculum for Excellence, the development of the 'whole child', could be missed by the way plans to drive up performance were being implemented. They cautioned about undue attention and significance being given to changing systems and structures at the expense of developing teaching, leadership, and the promotion of cultures of collaboration. Culture and capacity were  more important in helping us achieve our aims, and that is where attention should be directed. That was their advice.

Was anyone listening? It would seem not, because announcement after announcement from Scottish Government and Education Scotland still focuses on structures and systems. No-one would argue that these are not important to education systems, schools and classrooms, but there is a wealth of research which points to teachers, their practice, leaders and cultures of collaboration and trust, as the prime factors for improving outcomes for all learners, and it is there that we should maintain our focus. John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon have both stated the desire for us to be informed by research, as well as from what is working elsewhere. However, the actions of the government and its quangos continue to betray that desire. It seems that they will ignore research if it goes against political ideology or decisions already made, and they continue to adopt policy and practice that has been demonstrated to have been unsuccessful in other systems.

Graeme Logan is between a rock and a hard place in many respects. He is trying to re-brand education Scotland, and put his stamp on the organisation. Count how many times you see this in a presentation or press release, 'Education Scotland is a partnership of people who believe passionately in the power of education to change lives.' Oh really, Graeme. Every school in Scotland is full of staff who believe the same, and who are working day by day to deliver that. What they need, and deserve, is Education Scotland and Scottish Government to support and trust them with this, not add to the pressures by ratchetting up accountability agendas, or trying to micromanage from above, with thinly veiled threats. It would  be great if an Education Minister or head of Education Scotland came out and said something like,

'We have fabulous teachers and schools in Scotland, and I trust them to deliver for every one of the learners, in every one of our schools. My job is to support them in this, by listening to what they require, then providing them with the resources to achieve even more for all our learners, and ultimately our society. Teaching is not easy, it is complex and demanding. Our schools and teachers deal with this professionally and compassionately every day. The wider community should value and support them too, and recognise that teachers and schools often have to address individual issues for learners and families before they can begin to properly address the learning ones.  They, and we, want to help develop and educate the whole child, whatever their background and context, recognising their unique individuality. Not everyone learns at the same rate, but our teachers recognise that everyone can and will learn, and I am proud to support them in any way I can. We should all do the same. Education is too important for it to be a political football, and I trust the experts we have in every school.'

Then, they would need to match their actions to those words, which they would need to keep repeating at every opportunity and to every audience. Perhaps then, we would start to establish a different culture and narrative around education, which would really help us to tackle the issues that have grown and persisted over many years. Teaching, leadership, cultures and collaboration cannot be improved by imposition and mandate. They can be developed and improved through support, time and access to research and researchers, which can help in every area. When that happens, we will truly see a sustainable and deep change across the system and in all our schools. We may even find headteacher recruitment and teacher retention are not the issues they currently are.


Is it time to make the ‘hidden curriculum’ more visible and valued?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

It has been recognised for some time now that there are two curriculums at play in any school or learning setting. Firstly, there is the formal curriculum and structures that shape the learning activities and experiences of the learners, which are common to schools and establishments across any system, as well systems themselves. These may include curricular areas, teaching strategies employed, school structures and the formal rules created by schools. The second however, is not so visible but is at play constantly across schools and systems. This is what has been described as the 'hidden curriculum'. This is the practices, experiences, attitudes, behaviours and biases that permeate any school, or system, and which send out messages to learners and families about what a school, or a system, really thinks is important as it brings true values, principles and ethics out into the open.

Having been a primary school leader for almost twenty years, I came to recognise the power and the importance of this hidden curriculum to everything we do in our schools. In my experience, school leaders, teachers, support staff, and others, spend a lot of their conscious time and energies dealing with aspects of this hidden curriculum as they understand its power and importance in eventually helping learners engage and succeed with more formal curriculum structures and learning. What concerned myself and others was that the time we spent prioritising, and taking action, within this hidden curriculum was rarely recognised or valued by others from outside who sought to assess or measure the effectiveness of our efforts.

It is a lot easier to see and try to measure progress in aspects of the overt formal curriculum than it is for the hidden one. We can put in place structures, systems and assessments which purport to measure and show progress with the formal curriculum a lot easier, even though those in the profession might challenge the validity of many of these claims, than it is to measure or recognise the work and progress schools and their staff are making within hidden, but vital, aspects of their activities. This, of course, is if you even recognise or value the importance of such activity.

There has been a quote going around  for some time now that says something like 'we have to deal with the Maslov stuff before we can deal with the Bloom stuff.' I think this attributable to Katheryn Craig, but similar feelings have been expressed by others. This statement points to our need to address basic human needs in our learners, as identified by Abraham Maslov in one hierarchy, before we can address the learning and intellectual development identified in another by Benjamin Bloom. No matter what you think about either of these models of human development and behaviours, I do believe this linking of them both points towards a fundamental point of prioritisation for schools and their learners. When they have learners, who have not had, or are not having, those basic human needs addressed, or when they have been disrupted by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), attention has to be focused on these areas before we can hope to make any inroads and progress with the more formal curricular aspects of our work.

I see such a recognition as a staging point between the formal and informal, or hidden, curriculums, because when we are faced with learners who have not had their basic needs met, we have to be quite overt in helping and supporting them, before addressing their learning and intellectual needs. This then becomes part of the visible curriculum and activity of any school and many educators, though the time spent on addressing such issues is still not recognised, or valued, by many, especially those outside of the system. We are very much still focused on supporting the development of the whole child, and not just aspects, especially those most easy to test or measure. We deal with the complexity of this challenge daily and understand the challenge to show this to those not directly involved, or who lack understanding.

The hidden curriculum is much more than this though. It is contained within the culture that pervades each classroom, school and system, and it is sending out messages to learners continually. A lot of it is premeditated and thought about by educators, as a deliberate attempt to bring expressed values and ethics to life. But, there is also the unconscious thinking and biases that we might not recognise ourselves, but which our learners, and their families certainly do. The only way to deal with and think about these is to be aware that they exist, recognise their power, and to determine to reflect on and change when these when they are brought to light. If they are unconscious, you will not be aware of them until someone points them out or tells you they have experienced them. We all have them.

Taking a considered and informed decision as an individual educator, or as a school or system, to promote certain values and ethics, then to make them real, means you have to give these attention in all your actions, measuring all you do against these, as well as prioritising them ahead of other agendas. When you do this, it may deflect you from the more formal curriculum and practices that are so highly valued and easily measured. In my view, time spent in such areas and activity, is time well spent, especially in the early years of education, but whenever necessary, if we are to equip our young learners to succeed in their holistic development, and their ability to contribute as successful learners, responsible citizens, with sound physical, mental and social well-being.

If we are to be driven by our values in education, and I believe we should, then these are what drive our actions as well as our thinking. Your values are what you do, not what you say you do. You may express the desire to be fair and honest in your school values, but if some members of your school community fail to feel that is how you have been with them, then you have an issue to be addressed. It may be an individual issue or it may be a systemic one,

All of this takes time and is reflected in daily actions of individuals within and across schools. Relationships are key in school performance and time has to be spent maintaining and developing these at all levels for a school to achieve all that it can, for all its learners. In my experience, most schools recognise this and their days are filled with interactions and activities essential to the protection and development of a school's culture and ethos, upon which everything else stands or falls.

My main point in this post is that we know all this is going on every day, and this can be more demanding for some schools in areas of challenge or high deprivation, so how come all this deep and important work is hardly recognised or valued in many schools, until it is also reflected in percentages and grades? Important though attainment and exam results are, they are not the only determiners of a successful and achieving education, or life. My fear, and I have seen it expressed by others recently also, is that we are losing sight of the vital work happening in schools and systems every day, when we lose sight of the individuals in it and begin to view them as data-points. Data is made up of figures, percentages, percentiles, test scores and can be very useful to schools when used to inform actions, but our work and education is bigger than just this. Society, politicians and system leaders have to value the work going on that is not easily measured or quantified, but is vital in building positive relationships and equipping young learners to contribute meaningfully to society and their lives. I like the quote from the Character Education Frameworks of the Jubilee Centre at Birmingham University, and Character Scotland that states, 'we should help prepare students for the tests of life, rather than a life of tests.'

If we narrow our focus to only attainment agendas, then we lose many learners along the way, failing them, our schools and our systems. We should celebrate the fact that in schools every day people are going out of their way to work with and understand individual learners and their families, so as to better be able to support and help them, not just in their learning, but in becoming well-rounded, healthy human-beings able to succeed in lots of different ways. They are considering deeply what they do, how they think and the ways they impact on all those learner and families, determined to help and support to help them develop their own values and thinking.

There are still some who look to direct and impose their view of what a successful life looks like onto learners, then who make judgements about families and life-styles, not recognising the barriers and difficulties they create by doing so, never mind the fallibilities in their personal models. But, I like to think such establishments, and individuals, are in the minority, as most take a more empathetic and understanding stance which recognises their own imperfections rather than looking to find them in the learners and families they are supposed to serve.

All that I describe above, is happening in every school, across every day and every year. It strikes me that it seems that it is only the people who are directly involved in this process, who truly recognise it's happening and the impact it has. It is time others, including politicians, media and commentators, took notice and valued all that happens in our schools to help support young people find their way and place in society, so they are able to help re-shape that for the benefit off all in the future. This is not just about attainment and data, it is about people and life their fullest sense, and we ignore it at our peril.

Some thoughts on Scottish education⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

This week I was asked if I would go along to speak to labour MSPs and MPs about Scottish education and schools. My brief was to talk about education. its current state, the reality of how the attainment gap can be tackled, how teachers can help government address the challenges of poverty, and how we might start to reinvest in our schools and our teaching staff. The politicians did not want to hear from the 'same people' who always spoke to them, and wanted to hear from someone 'fresh from the chalk-face'. I had forty five minutes, about twenty minutes input from me then a discussion and question and answer session. No pressure there then! Anyway, I gave it my best shot.

I started with a brief introduction to myself and my background, to give them some idea of who this person was, and why they might be able to help them and I tried to cover most of the following in my time slot.

I started with some the positives from our system.

Stuff we should be proud of:
  • Our learners and their achievements. I pointed out that we had the honour and privilege to work with fantastic young people every day, and we never cease to be astonished by all they achieve, at all stages of their education. They are enthusiastic, creative and knowledgeable, and as they move through the system they become more curious and inquisitive about their role in our society and how they can help shape this.
  • All the staff who work in our schools, and elsewhere, and their commitment to what they do. We have fabulous people who work in, and lead, our schools, who want nothing but the best for their learners. They are professional, well educated and prepared for their classroom roles and to support our learners. They want the best for all learners, but understand that they can get even better, with the right conditions and support. I spoke of Henry Hepburn's recent survey of teachers on Twitter, about why they feel they are in the best job. The results were so affirming of what we are about and what we think about our role.
  • Our Parents. We rarely, if ever, come across parents who want nothing but the best for their children. We have many committed parents working on a daily basis with their child's school to help support their learning and development. Part of our role is to tap into, and reach out further, to our parents, so that they feel better able to support their children, and we break down many of the barriers, perceived or real, that still exist between some parents and their local school.
  • The commitment of communities. At all levels of the system, we have communities that are committed to helping develop and improve the educational experience of our learners, and to support schools to do this. Some of these communities are populated by education, health or social work and political professionals, but many of them are from different backgrounds and just want to support local schools, and wider education, as best they can. Like everyone else in the system, they are looking to make a difference.
  • Curriculum for Excellence. Despite the well-founded criticisms directed at CfE, and what it has become, there is still a belief by many in the system in regard to the original principles that sat behind this curricular development, especially in our primary sector. It is still a radical and different curricular approach to many others, that still has much to offer, if we are able to get back to it's founding principles. My message is that it has to be seen as a verb, its what we do, rather than a noun, and some other 'thing' for schools and teachers to do. Of course we still have to address the issues, in particular the middle to upper secondary years.
  • Our higher education sector and the expertise therein. For a small country, Scotland has lots of high performing universities, spread across the country. There is a wealth of educational expertise that resides in many of those universities. I mentioned Edinburgh, Glasgow, Strathclyde, Stirling, Dundee and Aberdeen to illustrate this. and the geographical spread Within those universities we have world-class and leading educationalists, and perhaps we are a bit guilty of not tapping into that expertise first, before we start looking further afield. Good examples of university, local authority and school partnerships are beginning to emerge and be more common.
  • Collaborative structures and practice. We are a small country, and so we should be able to collaborate easier than some larger ones, and we do. We are not perfect, but there are many examples of collaboration happening at national, local, and school levels that help us become greater than the sum of the individual parts. We are better at speaking to each other, across sectors and across agencies to help connect all that we do for our young people and families, and to improve our performance. We understand the power and necessity of collaboration at all levels.
  • SCEL. I singled out SCEL as an example of structures and practices in Scotland which had been recognised as world class. The work that has been done by SCEL over the last two years to develop system leadership and teacher leadership has helped to greatly improve and develop the practice of many school leaders and teachers, with positive impacts for learners. Members of the Scottish Government's International Group of Advisors had particularly commented on the impact SCEL has had, and as an example of new structures that are sector leading and have impact.
I then turned my attention to some of the major issues or concerns felt by myself and others. I broke these down into bigger policy directions and then into specific issues that resulted from some of these.

  • The drift towards Tory education policy. From day one of the first minister's work she has said 'judge me on education' and she, and her education ministers, have said they will not be afraid to look outside of Scotland for examples of what works elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with this approach, if you look in the right places. My suggestion was that perhaps they have been too quick and keen to look down south and at England, for these examples. Many of the announcements and actions of the Scottish Government over the last few years have looked a bit like 'Tory-light', if not exact replication. This is a concern for many in Scottish education, but people feel they can't voice those fears, or if they do they are soon pulled to one side to have there voice quietened, or become easily isolated.
  • The belief by some that improvement can be mandated. There are too many micro-managers in Scottish education, and they tend to want to focus on changing systems and structures to bring about improvement. Lots of research has shown that, whilst these can help and support development, it is people, and in particular teachers, who bring about real change in our schools. That is where our attention should lie, a relentless focus on learning and teaching and supporting our teachers to be even better.
  • GERM agendas. One of our Government's own international group, Pasi Sahlberg, described the various government reform agendas for education around the world as GERMs. These were characterised by greater accountability, league tables, top-down direction and high-stakes testing supposedly to measure the performance of the system. Examples he identified included, USA, Sweden, Australia and England. Such countries that followed these tended to also be characterised by falling attainment, wider gaps and less equity. We seem to be heading down the same path.
  • Everything being dropped onto schools. There is no doubt that we have lots of gaps that need to be closed, as much as possible, in education. A concern around this is the feeling by many that the onus for dealing with all of these is falling entirely onto schools and teachers, when we all know there are wider societal problems at play here. In the discourse around 'raising attainment' and 'closing gaps' it seems that it is only schools and teachers who are being targeted. We recognise that we have important and vital roles to play, but the impact of other factors needs to be similarly recognised and addressed also.
  • School resourcing. It remains a concern that resourcing for schools is very much a political football and is not as clear and as transparent as it could be. The algorithms for allocation of resources are only as good as the people who constructed them, and all their biases. Whilst 'extra' resourcing to schools and headteachers is welcomed, the tools used for allocation of these seem to be very broad and arbitrary. Leading to individuals and families missing out just because of a post-code or whether they take free school meals. Throwing money at schools, and demanding impact in a school year is unrealistic, and promotes short-termism.
  • The failure of policy makers to understand the complexity of schools and learning. As with any field of knowledge, the more you come to know, the more you recognise what you don't know. So with education and learning. The very best practitioners, can make it look teaching and learning easy, but we all understand it is not. What works on one day and for one teacher, might not work the next, or for other teachers with different children and contexts. We still seem to suffer from policy makers who went to school once, or have visited schools, and think they know what works. If it was that easy, we would all be doing it!
  • Structures and systems that don't do what they 'say on the can'. There are examples throughout our system of structures and systems purportedly designed and created to 'support' schools, but which actually muddy the waters of school development and get in the way of what schools are trying to do. We have organisations and policy that are high on rhetoric around meeting and supporting needs, but in reality they pass all this responsibility down to schools and their leaders, failing to understand, or connect, all that we want, and have, to do.
Then I looked at specific concerns people have, that are a direct result of some of these bigger concerns.

  • The governance review. Another attempt to change structures to bring about improvement, which is likely to lead to greater issues for school leaders and teachers, as well as learners. I am concerned about the impact on local-democracy of this proposed change, believing, as do the Government, that education decisions should be taken as close to source as possible. The danger of this proposed change is that headteachers will find themselves between a rock and a hard place, i.e. the LA and the Collaborative and their will be a 'pitch-war' between the different parties involved that school leaders will have to deal with, and make sense of.
  • Teacher shortages and Teach First. There is no doubt that their is a big problem with recruitment and retention of teachers and school leaders at present, not surprising given some of the above. We have to continue to make teaching an attractive profession, and terms and conditions need to be addressed to help with this. We need to look at different pathways into the profession, but not at the expense of a dilution of standards and expectations for those wishing to enter our profession. teaching should never be seen as a stop-gap till you find something better. 
  • The National Improvement Framework. I have written and spoken before about concerns myself and others have about the NIF, not only in its wording but also in the elements it contains. Stephen Ball spoke in Glasgow a couple of years ago about his concerns with the NIF and how it looked very like a typical GERM agenda. Despite verbal reassurances from civil servants, and Government ministers, it still looks and feels the same. As ever, it not what you say that counts, but what you do.
  • A narrowing of the curriculum. All anyone wants to talk about, it seems, is literacy and numeracy, with health and wellbeing getting a cursory nod in its direction. No-one would argue that these are not crucial, but we do our learners a dis-service if we fail to meet their holistic development and growth. Already we can see evidence of subject hierarchies being established and promoted, at the expense of the creative arts and other areas. This should concern us all.
  • The introduction of high-stakes testing. No matter what the rhetoric around this says, this will very quickly become high-stakes with consequences that are detrimental to learning and learners. These tests were never designed to measure the performance of systems, and cannot do so in any meaningful way. They can however destroy learning and raise stress levels. as Stephen Ball noted, systems that introduce such testing always talk about them 'supporting teacher's professional judgements' at their outset. But very quickly the results of these are all anyone wants to talk about, then look to improve.
  • Education Scotland. There are some fabulous people working at Education Scotland, but many of us feel that the organisation has an identity crisis. It is not sure what role it is now fulfilling, and neither are many people in our schools. There were a lot who expected the organisation to be split from its inspection and support roles, to help give it more clarity. But that has not happened, and now it has subsumed SCEL into it. Is it to support or is it to push and measure Government policy? I think many people are unsure, but more think it is now the latter which dominates its thinking. Time will tell.
I finished by looking at some of the ways we could make a difference, that are supported by sound research and evidence.

  • Build trust and collaborative practices. Trust is crucial at all levels, and politicians have to demonstrate they have trust in the profession to do the right thing. Yes, we should always be accountable, but it needs to be recognised that the expertise to improve, and to close gaps, resides within the profession. To achieve this we need structures and systems to support us to collaborate to find solutions to issues and to improve learning.
  • We have to use research and evidence to inform practice. More and more teachers and school leaders are beginning to recognise this, and perhaps the gap between the research base and practice is one we can begin to see closing. We have to support the profession with this, through organisations like SCEL and GTCS.
  • Focus and resource properly interventions for pre-school and early years. There is a raft of evidence that firstly identifies issues have grown and developed in many young learners before they even start school, and that money and time spent in those formative years reduces the interventions and resourcing needed in later years and adulthood. We have to get better at understanding and dealing with the impact of attachment issues, ACEs, and learning through play, not starting to test our children soon as they put foot into a school.
  • The professional development of teachers and school leaders. It is generally agreed that teachers, followed by school leaders, are the most important determinants of school performance and learning. Therefore, we need to support and develop our teachers, with a relentless focus on learning and teaching, so that we develop teacher agency and adaptive expertise. We need to develop our school leaders in the same way.
  • We need national policy that support and expects collaboration. Not just policy we also need practice that promotes, encourages and develops collaborative practices within schools, across schools and beyond schools.
  • Focused and fair resourcing. We need resourcing that is fair and which targets practice that has been shown can make a difference. We need to use resourcing to encourage our best teachers to work in schools facing the most challenges, and which gives them time out of class to improve their knowledge, develop their practice and know their impact.
  • Time. This is an issue for every school and every system. But, it is really important that our politicians, and others, understand that deep embedded and sustainable change happens over time, not in a few months. Then they need to support schools and teachers to achieve this.
  • Culture and ethos. There is also a lot of research that demonstrates that culture and ethos are crucial in growth and development. This needs to be recognised and supported at national, local and school levels. Headteachers and teachers need support to explore how they develop deep learning cultures focused on impact for learners within schools and beyond, so that we develop the social capital that will allow our schools to thrive.
As I said, I only had forty-five minutes, and I could talk about all of this for forty-five days if required! My input acted as a stimulus for interesting conversations and hopefully I helped the audience develop their own thinking and understanding around some of these issues, as they consider their own policy direction with regards to education in Scotland. I certainly appreciated the time I was given, especially as they had spent time before my arrival considering the process of finding their next leader after Kezia Dugdale stepped down earlier this week.

The message they tried to give loud and clear was that they understood and recognised many of the issues I spoke about and they wished to support the profession with these and others going forward. They pointed out that we ourselves had a role to play in addressing issues that exist, and they also wondered aloud about why there had not been more push-back from the trade unions on some of these important issues.

Whether you agree, or not, with what we discussed there is no doubt there is much for us all to consider throughout the year ahead. I concluded by repeating my own view that it is perhaps time for us to have another national conversation around education and what we want from our schools, before we continue down paths that may lead to further problems for the system and our learners. We owe it to all of them to not let this happen.


Some more thoughts on closing gaps⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

There is a lot of talk, and action, going on at the moment in the Scottish education system, and others, around the closing of gaps and raising attainment. Indeed, the Scottish Government has directed a lot of resources, in terms of  finance, people and policy to try and address these persistent issues. Just about every school in Scotland started the new school year with extra funding through the Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) provided from Scottish Government direct to headteachers.

Unfortunately, the main criteria being used to allocate much of the funding being allocated is linked to free schools meals entitlement (FSM), and areas identified as having high levels of deprivation through the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). I say unfortunately, because the SIMD results in a 'post-code lottery' allocation to funding, with some areas getting substantial sums of money, whilst others get very little as a result of their rankings. Factors such as income levels, employment, health, education, housing and crime are used to establish a ranking for post-code areas, from the most deprived to the least deprived. There is no doubt that high levels of deprivation exist and are experienced in the areas highlighted by the SIMD. It is equally certain that similar levels of deprivation can be found in just about every other post code. Scottish Government recognises this, and it is highlighted by research, such as that produced by Edward Sosu and Sue Ellis for The Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2014. 'Closing the attainment gap in Scottish education' This means every school, in every area, will have families and learners who are experiencing high levels of deprivation, but these can be 'hidden' in otherwise affluent post-codes. But, the allocation of extra 'raising attainment' funding to schools and local authority areas hardly reflects or acknowledges this, thereby disadvantaging those schools and learners further and contributing to widening of gaps.

The use of FSM entitlement as another criteria for further funding is also problematic. The new PEF funding is heavily linked to FSM, which means as a result just about every school (95% of them according to the Government) has received considerable amounts of funding targeted at the FSM cohort. The problem with that is that often FSM pupils are still attaining and achieving well, whilst others not in receipt of FSM are struggling due to other factors. In their guidelines, the government do say that schools can 'use professional judgement to bring additional children in to targeted interventions.' The problem there is that there might not be enough funding to allow schools to support other learners they can identify, as well as their FSM ones. I am not sure how schools will square the allocation of funding using one criteria with their desire to support other learners identified using different criteria? Again, gaps may be actually widened for some learners if schools are not careful.

In addition, the Scottish Government and Education Scotland have identified a list of 'what is known to be effective at raising attainment' strategies that schools are to seek to employ in spending this extra funding. The approved list includes, early intervention and prevention strategies, social and emotional wellbeing, healthy lifestyles, targeting of literacy and numeracy, promoting high quality learning, differentiated support, using evidence, partnership working and evaluation to monitor impact. There are twelve in total and schools are referred to the  Education Scotland and National Improvement Hub for further information and examples of 'good practice'. There is also an expectation that schools not only develop a plan in consultation for the allocation of these monies, but that they are able to monitor, evaluate, measure and report on the impact of those they employ. Therein lies the rub. The pressure is on to show impact, and quickly, with a thinly veiled threat that if you can't do this, future funding is at risk. Governments do persist in thinking short term and so schools and their leaders are between a rock and a hard place when allocating such funding and being able to demonstrate impact quickly.

I am becoming increasingly aware that the improvement of attendance is becoming one of the key focuses for  schools and local authorities as they plan for how they might use this funding. The argument being that if we can get more of our young people more often, then we will raise attainment and achievement. This is also something schools have readily accessible data on, which can be used to easily show 'impact'. 'Our attendance was sitting at 87%, after intervention it is now 91%.'  This results in money being spent on home-school link workers and more attention given to attendance and 'lates' by senior managers. I am aware of schools that now have a blanket policy of issuing attendance warning letters to parents when attendance falls below 95%, no matter what the reason. This has meant parents who's children have been off ill or in hospital with underlying medical conditions, receiving letters warning them that their child's attendance has fallen below expected levels and will now be monitored, with the threat of further action if the situation does not improve.

I am not saying attendance is not a factor, but I think schools and governments put too much emphasis on its impact, and less the 'why?' of attendance. If we insist applying neo-liberal approaches to education, any 'business' where a significant percentage of 'customers' were voting with their feet, would be looking to change its practices, not blame those 'customers'.

How does such an approach match with the stated desire and policy of developing more effective partnerships and collaborative working with parents? One of the problems with such a blanket approach is that it can take no notice of individual learner and family circumstances. In schools, we generally spend a lot of time getting to really know our learners, their families and the issues they are trying to deal with. Issues that may be impacting on attendance and punctuality, as well as a lot more around mental and physical wellbeing. So many learners and their families are dealing with issues teachers and school leaders have little experience of, and sometimes little empathy. We have to get better at trying to understand differences, and their impacts. Getting heavy-handed over attendance is another strategy that has the potential to widen gaps for many of our most vulnerable learners and families, and to create more barriers between ourselves and those we seek to support.

In addition, perhaps we should ask the question what happens if we get almost 100% attendance but the learning and teaching experiences for our learners do not improve? It is generally accepted that teacher effectiveness is the most important factor in school and system performance, and our ability in schools to close gaps. If that is the case, have we done all we can to ensure the learning experiences we provide are the best they can be, for all our learners? I would suggest we still have a long way to go. There are a lot of excellent teachers working in our schools, I have met them and am the first to defend them. But, there is still too much practice that is not so good and which fails to reach and impact on too many learners. Too much is still generic pedagogy that continues to be delivered, no matter who the learners are in front of the teacher. As I have said in previous posts, we need teachers with high levels of agency and adaptive expertise, who adjust their teaching and the learning in response to their context and the learners' responses. We are not there yet, because still too many teachers, and school leaders, continue with what they have always done, and see no reason to change, instead looking for the learners to change to fit what they do.

Education and schools should not be about command and control. They should be about collaboration and partnership, as everyone comes to see themselves as true life-long learners. Everyone I speak to acknowledges that learners have changed in capacities, aptitudes, attitudes and expectations. We, in education, have to do the same, instead of expecting current learners to change to fit into the systems and structures we have created for past generations of learners. We have talked a lot about the flattening of hierarchies in schools and systems, but how many of these still persist because various elements like where they sit, and their perceived power? In the meantime, nothing changes for teachers and learners, with gaps getting ever wider, and more and more coming to the conclusion that holistic education doesn't really start until you have left school and started living.

I will leave you with two Mark Twain quotes.





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

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

This morning's view
                             

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep on running!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Keep on running!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Looking forward to true teacher agency⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


School leadership: stop shooting ourselves in the foot!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

School leadership: stop shooting ourselves in the foot!⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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