Making a difference through Quality Improvement⤴

from @ Engage for Education

Today over 700 practitioners representing the early years, health, education, police, social work and third sector services will gather in Glasgow to discuss how to make Scotland the #BestPlacetoGrowUp.

They will be joined by the Deputy First Minister, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, the Minister for Childcare and Early Years and the Minister for Public Health and Sport.


The post Making a difference through Quality Improvement appeared first on Engage for Education.

Are we there yet?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

I will provide you with my answer, to the question posed in the title to this post, straight away. No we aren't! However, I do think it is important we keep asking the question of our schools and our education systems, just as often as the young passengers in any car journey of over fifteen minutes.

The 'there' I speak of in education is the achievement of equity for all our learners and families. Our attention span, and desire to answer this question in the affirmative, needs to be longer, but just as relentless, as any inquisition by youthful travellers.  

We have had a focus on equity and social justice in our education system for over ten years in Scotland, and possibly even longer in other systems across the globe. In Scotland we can go back to 2001 to find the Scottish government taking the first steps to address issues for children and their families with multiple needs, which was to lead to Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) a policy and strategy designed to simplify the system for families, and agencies working with them, as well as seeking to make the systems more equitable. 

Since 2007, when the Scottish National Party (SNP) gained power in the Scottish parliament, and even before that with the previous Labour administration, the issue of equity in our society and in our schools in particular, has been at the forefront of many minds. Since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister in 2014, she has put education at the very top of her priorities. Following her ascendancy to her role she said 'judge me on education' and she repeated that call often in the early days of her leadership. Like everyone else already working in the system, Ms Sturgeon was seeking to improve and develop our education system, but particularly in terms of attainment levels and equity within the system. She appointed Angela Constance as her first Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, and she was replaced by John Swinney in 2016. Both of these Ministers set a busy agenda of policy development aimed at raising attainment and closing 'gaps' that had been identified for the most disadvantaged learners and their families. The fact that they adopted a 'General Educational Reform Movement' (GERM) agenda, whose issues have been well documented by Pasi Sahlberg and others, has not helped their endeavours.

Recently we have had the National Improvement Framework (NIF), Attainment Challenge and most recently the new proposed Education Bill, Empowering Schools, currently being consulted on, but most certainly going to happen as detailed in the consultation documentation. All of these are aimed at structural change designed to address issues identified by our government and ministers, with the explicit aims of raising attainment and closing the 'equity gaps'. These are big pieces of legislation and structural reform, but we in schools have been wrestling with these issues before the current government came into power, and will probably still be doing so long after they have left power. Given this national agenda and focus over many years, and our own recognition of the issues, why are we still not there yet?

There is no doubt the focus at national and government level has been on schools and the education system. However, much of this focus has consistently failed to identify or even recognise the other societal features at play when we consider equity and the barriers that exist for many learners and families. There is no doubt education has a big role to play here, but we do need to get real at times and recognise the stratification that has existed and built up over many centuries within our society, as well as the government and societal decisions that have entrenched such features. Many governments, Scottish and UK, have been very vocal on the rhetoric of equity and social justice and cohesion, but have then adopted policies and behaviours that have re-enforced and deepened these injustices and inequities. If governments are rally serious about such issues then it really is time for them to walk that talk, not just pass responsibility onto others. After all, isn't that what socially-just government should be about? I like the late Tony Benn's expressed view that 'if we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.' Says it all, really.

Anyway, putting those bigger issues to one side, what things can we do in schools to help ensure our provision is just and equitable? We have been aware for many years of what the issues and barriers are for many of our learners and their families, but, taken as a whole, we are far from there yet, in terms of removing or breaking many of these down. There has been some fabulous steps taken, and work undertaken, by schools in Scotland, and across the rest of the UK, but such work is being undertaken by what are often 'outliers' of the system, because the practices in these schools is still not the norm.

Some of the norms that persist were again brought home to me last week on Twitter and Facebook. In my timelines, two common events were dominating. The first was Parents' Evenings, that seemed to be happening in schools across the country, and the second was the annual 'Children In Need' charity appeal happening on Friday. The narrative I was seeing about both of these, brought home to me how far we still have to travel in our systems, and for many of our families.

A Parents' Evening, in which parents have the opportunity to sit down with teachers, and perhaps learners, to talk about their children and where they are in their learning, is a right and expectation enshrined in our school cultures and legislation. They should be a seamless part of the 'reporting to parents' processes in any school. Some schools have developed very creative and innovative approaches to how they configure these in order to make them more meaningful and accessible to their parent body, and learners. Most, however, seem to be sticking to the traditional framework of five or ten minute appointments, which probably remain unsatisfactory for everyone concerned, and to their intended purpose. Such a format also presents barriers for some parents, especially if their own experiences of schools have been characterised by negativity.

Many schools still see such evenings as another chance to tap into the captive audience of parents for book sales, uniform sales, cake stalls and the like. I must admit I was just as guilty as everyone else in this practice, and our book-fair was seen as important in raising school funds or replenishing book stocks, given that there was so little budget available from anywhere else. However, as I approached the end of my time as a school leader, I was becoming more uneasy about our drive to sell books, as I witnessed the pressure parents were put under by their children to buy something, whether this was a book/books, or just pencils or rubbers. Some obviously struggled. I used to see parents ushering their children out the school door and past the fair as quickly as possible, possibly because they didn't have the money to spend and didn't want themselves or their children embarrassed further by this.

There were also the regular parents who never showed up at Parents' Nights. I do wonder how many of these were put off by feeling they would have to buy something, and were struggling already to make ends meet? I had a number of parents who would never come to such evenings, but would then contact the class teacher to see if they could come another time. I am beginning to wonder if there was a connection, and I think all schools should consider possible issues and impacts such as this continuously, if they are really going to get serious about making all that we do accessible to all in our school community. 

Children in Need, like Red Nose day, has become a staple annual charity fundraiser in schools across the UK and actually first emerged from a radio appeal in 1927! It was began to be televised in 1955 and since then has grown arms and legs to become this monolith of asking and giving, which this year has already generated £50million plus! Whilst I have concerns about the whole concept of Children in Need and what it has become, I think it is in schools that we really have to consider how we engage with massive charity appeals such as this, considering the impacts for both the givers and the receivers. 

As a school leader, I was swamped by appeals from charities asking for the school and the children to get involved in fundraising in some way. I could guarantee to get a minimum of three or four requests by post or email each day! You have to manage this aspect of the school's work, remembering that it is to the same people that you are going to each time you are raising funds for any cause. The smaller the school, the greater the impact of this. Also, this is only one of the ways we may approach parents for money over the course of any school year.

There is so much children can learn and gain from engaging with charities like Children in Need, that I would always wish them to be involved in some way. In the schools I led, we a made a conscious decision to only be involved with one charity appeal or fundraiser per term, a maximum of three per school year. This was driven by requests by children parents and staff. We would aim for one charity appeal for the local community, one at a national level and possibly another international one. So we might get involved with something for a local children's charity, one like Red Nose Day and another for some International Relief work, spread across the school year. The children would decide which ones they wished to support. When we had identified which charities we wished to support, then events would be organised and children and families could make a donation, if they wanted, or were able to. Too many time last week I saw schools saying it was £1 to dress up for Children In Need, and there would be cakes and other things to buy, on top of the £1 donation. I wonder if absentee rates went up in any schools last Friday? Probably less likely in England where parents now risk being fined for unauthorised absences. Now, that is a rock and a hard place! I know the funds being raised were for very worthy causes, most are, but I do think it is beholden of schools to consider the parents and learners for whom such events might bring more pressure and stress.

Charities, and appeals like Children in Need and Red Nose Day, also need to consider to pressure they put on schools, children and then families, as well. Too many see schools and children as easy targets and a guarantee of money rolling in. I wonder how much of this year's £50 million has come from schools and the lowest earners in our society? Ironic, given the austerity agendas we are all toiling under at present.

So, no, I don't think we are there yet. These are just two examples from my own timeline on Twitter, and Facebook posts, from one week, but I do feel they are indicative of practices that are still common across schools and systems. Such activity may look good at a surface level, but actually can create unseen stress and barriers for some of our school communities. If we are to address issues of equity and to remove barriers for learners and families, we have to keep considering issues such as these constantly. Not in order to stop them from happening, but so that we can still engage, but in ways that do not isolate parts of our community, but which allow all to contribute when and if they can, in ways that are supportive and non-judgemental.

We should examine everything that happens across our schools, and continue to ask hard questions of ourselves regarding all that we do. It is not until we recognise the barriers we create, often unknowingly, that we can take steps to remove or lower them. No-one should feel that there are parts of what we do that they struggle to access due to financial or social constraints. Our responsibility is to all our learners, and all our families, all of whom should be able to gain from the benefits of everything we do and offer, not just some of it.

When we achieve that, then perhaps we can answer 'nearly' the next time we are asked 'are we there yet?'

Time to rise above our station.⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

It’s 4.30 in the morning: I can’t sleep. Today is the fourth whole school development day I’ve organised – a morning of workshops led by staff, attended by staff – and, of course, I’m convinced it’ll be a disaster. I’ve woken up with a cold so that feeling of impending doom is magnified, that ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is kicking in. It’s never gone badly before but there is always a first time and I’m pretty sure today will be the day. I’m sick of feeling like this.

I’ve spent the last  two months coaxing and cajoling colleagues into leading workshops, delivering training, sharing ideas. The number of superb colleagues who have convinced themselves that ‘I don’t do anything special’ is both mystifying and heart-breaking. What is wrong with a system whose lead specialists feel like this; worn down by s system which seems to be against them, which often treats them like the enemy? A system that treats anyone who raises their head above sea-level as a show off or a trouble maker? But we’re not allowed to rise above our station, are we?

For a year I’ve felt like that. Last December my book came out. Pretty soon after, I received two tweets from followers; one a very prominent member of the Educational Twitterati, who reminded me ‘Not to get above myself’. The other one – someone who I have met – told me, after beginning writing for TES Scotland, that I was ‘a big mouth who no-one wanted to listen to’. Both comments have never been very far way for most of this year. Oh, I know that some will think I’m massively prominent on Twitter myself. Perhaps. But I’m a humble classroom teacher who has found himself apologising for being so prominent.

I spent much of my childhood being told I’d never amount to much, much of my school life being invisible. Even when I eventually became a teacher, for the first ten years there was little expectation that I would rise above the mediocre; I’d been conditioned to think that. So, being from my background, coming from where I come from, bringing out a book is an extreme rarity. As a result, I find it hugely difficult and uncomfortable to accept compliments. I expect and anticipate that someone will try to burst my bubble. And that means I turn down a load of offers to speak about my book. No more.

For anyone who is reading this, perhaps recognising these feelings, sharing my upbringing and background, it’s time to get above our station. It’s time to break free from sneering negativity and acceptance of mediocrity. I’m just a teacher like you; I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in a position where I can write a book. But for all of us, it’s time to shout from the rooftops – both literally and metaphorically; write if you don’t want to shout – that we have things to to say; that we will no longer be silent and humble and shy about the great things we do in our classrooms. Lift your head up; look people in the eyes: you are a teacher.

Life in Links 19-11-17⤴

from @ wwwd – John's World Wide Wall Display


Image from page 109 of “The manual training school, compri… | Flickr No known copyright restrictions. Somewhat glitched.

Teachers Need To…⤴


The Hotel was very welcoming, the staff personable and, on the surface, seemed genuine in their desire to do all they could to help guests have an enjoyable experience. ‘Stay’ no longer adequately massages & moulds hearts & minds, apparently. No, a tad austere & cold. Plus, experience could also speak to outcomes and be measured, thought the teacher. Lucky hotel employees, never happen in my world. Ha.

The room was functional, difficult to find fault, but equally never going to inspire others to imitate. She had spent the evening in a curious binary state; stressed yet optimistic in a hopeful way. The oscillations danced a relentless tango all evening long. I don’t even want to think what will be waiting for me at school when I return from this “luxury”, as she read the latest membership list for the new improvement council. She began to guess from the names & designations the positions that many, if not all, would take. At ease, biases, stay at bay, I know you are there, she felt. Open mind, as the sudden onslaught of stress reappeared. Why are you here, she felt herself repeat? You have a school to run. I should be here though. Must be. Deserve to be, even.

‘Walled Gardens’ have that curiously misunderstood propensity to encourage groupthink. Where has the richness of friction and debate gone, she pondered silently. Evanesced to shadows of collusion and ‘well dones’ and ‘pats on the back.’ Don’t be cynical. We are all supporting a moral imperative, she assured herself. We are all in this together she said. Some more in this together than others, jabbing through her thoughts. Must stop that. Not who I am. I’m a professional who loves my career as a teacher. Not going down the road of cynicism that has afflicted too many colleagues I admire (please don’t, her inner voice repeated silently on an unconscious loop)

He had slept well in the same hotel. The powerpoint needed only the briefest of tweaks, date change and reference to the most recent advisory council rhetoric. Still room for the same jokes at the same point & he hoped, same polite ripples of laughter without the acknowledgment to any discernible humour. We are doing the right thing, he knew. That the system was predicated as much on what occurred beyond than during contractual hours strangely less quoted in this moral narrative. Maybe best not to mention that, he thought. Better to valorise teachers, any destructive shibboleth thereafter can be attributed to teachers ignoring systems advice on well being. Yep, good plan.

Buffet breakfast and comforting coffee. He sat looking around him, wondering what the other guests did for a living. Salesmen. Their suits certainly seemed to suggest that, he thought uncharitably. Very chatty also and smiling. Refining their in-group newspeak in preparation for the rhetoric of social persuasion & influencing others, no doubt. Further glances confirmed his earlier thought; no one here attending the conference. If there was I’d definitely know them.

Another Four and Five star hotel, another conference, different but the same. She sat listening, overtly attentive, para linguistics of agreement & confirmation. Better delivery today, more fluent and the message seems to be landing very well with the audience. As Hollywood would attest, many takes may be required to elicit and encourage a manufactured consent of credibility. Stop being cynical, again jabbing through her conscience. I’ve read Haidt and moral biases always precede moral reasoning. Slow down and truly internalise the message; “closing a poverty induced attainment gap is a national and moral imperative”. Who could argue? Who would argue? Who has argued?

Heartbeats quicken. How many emails await? When was the meeting to conduct a stress at work interview with that colleague? Do hope I can help otherwise another teacher off long term due to stress. No supply staff either. Can’t juggle timetables anymore.

He was enjoying this conference. He arrived late last night, but the speech pretty much delivered itself now & his ‘front of house’ was superb, hubris not withstanding he checked his ego. Slightly. Win hearts and minds and you are halfway there, his distinguished, high profile mentor had always engrained in him. And it seemed from the connection today he was doing just that;

“We need to strategically target the most disadvantaged pupils and provide coherent, sustainable and demonstrable interventions that can make a difference”
We? Whose we, she thought? “The Royal We” of we are in this together, similar to a Cameron cabinet of multimillionaires, she mused cynically? Of course we do. Say something less nebulous please.

“We need to break this cycle of poverty and stimulate a joy of reading and language in that critical period hypothesis of early years.”
We again? Stop. You’re absolutely right. A language rich environment in the early years has strong correlations to positive post school destinations. I’m with you, all the way. Shoot. Forgot that meeting with those parents who want to make official complaint against Mr——– in Science. Damn, need to catch up tomorrow and make space in my diary, somehow. Not sure how though.

“We need to walk the words of our values and transmit consistently high expectations; we need more of our most disadvantaged pupils to gain entry to FE and HE, breaking slowly a cycle of poverty of choice.” Absolutely, we may hold different contentions around the purposes of education, but ultimately the beautiful risk is to give everyone choice. Wonder if staffing have read my email and will expedite to national advert those Physics, Biology, Maths, English and Tech vacancies I’ve been waiting to fill for what seems like an eternity.

“We need to bridge this gap….” Hold on tiger, that’s a new one. Like that. Bridge the gap. After all, education in one sense is cognitive enhancement and surely that is possible for all. Maybe even greater opportunity to increase Gf / Gc of a targeted, disadvantaged cohort. Plus, high boundaries and high levels of care also helps bridge the gap and I know we do that well. Don’t I?

Well done, great points made today, she said to him at the end, serendipitously catching his eye after he had networked with the ”names’. Absolutely hit the nail on the head.
Now to make sure we translate into reality, she ventured.

Thank you, absolutely he agreed. We are in this together and on a moral level, you could argue we have no choice but to address our gaps. So true, she said, genuinely.

He walked away to be met by his entourage. Taxi to airport, flight to London and meeting with CBI tomorrow he thought. Same hotel chain, so at least his points would increase. Wonder if the next series of House of Cards is on Netflix yet. Need to check.

Need a break from this reality.

She walked away, positive and mildly hitting Csikszentmihalyi’s flow. But. Against her better judgement, she opened the app and checked her emails. The colour in her face almost at once began to gently drain of optimism, her heart notched up its rhythm, her thoughts spiralled to light speed again. Back to her world.

Back to this reality.

We are in this together, she again mused.

Part 2; ‘We’ll meet again. I know where. I know when’

Poetical escapades⤴

from @

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I made 2 visits to Little Sparta this year.

The first was on the most glorious summers day, blue skies, bird song and the landscape in hyper-sharp technicolour. Little Sparta is best described as a garden in attack, not a rural retreat. It is the definitive work of poet and conceptual artist Ian Hamilton Finlay and over 200 works are seated within the landscape, most of which involve complex interplays of words, form and environment.


I found it quite overwhelming.

My second visit was in September, with some friends. The weather had turned, the day was more overcast and rain broke as we were leaving. I was mentally better prepared this time. We also had more time, more snacks, a better camera.


To try to write anything about the relationship between the sublime and terror, in a landscape garden filled with poem-objects based on the words and symbols of the French Revolution and the Second World War would be a level of pretension that’s beyond me.

I also can’t attempt anything about the collaborative nature of most of the pieces. Hamilton Finlay conceived, but did not create most of these works and he was scrupulous about crediting his collaborators publicly.

I can’t begin to describe my response to pieces like this as a native of the part of Scotland where our decommissioned nuclear submarine fleet lies berthed, it’s half-life slowly ticking away.

(Nuclear Sail)

I remain overwhelmed.

The best I can attempt to do is to reflect upon one piece that I spent time with on my second visit that appealed to me on a more manageable level.


“The horizontals representing the land, the verticals the sea” (Little Sparta: A Guide to the Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay)

The nature of time at sea.
The need for time at sea.
A sundial that works neither on sea or land.
A sundial hidden under trees in a woodland glade.
A pole, but unclear whether it’s north or south.

Even the the suggestion of a fixed point on earth offers no clear perspective.

I remain overwhelmed, and not a little lost at sea.


Japanese plate⤴

from @

Reading Time: 1 minute

A visit to an antiques fair yesterday prompted me to finish this thought…


Japanese plate, 18th century. Called Imari-ware after the export port, but most likely made in kilns in Arita. Probably exported to Europe by a Dutch trading company in the 1700s, maybe before Chinese kilns came back into serious export production at the start of the Qing dynasty. A pretty standard object of it’s time and likely one of hundreds of thousands similar. A thing of vague origin and provenance. Now prized for it’s longevity and handmade aesthetic.

I love these objects, but I’m also very aware that the handmade artistry I so admire obfuscates the likely realities of it’s production.


Another 18th century plate, this time Chinese. This sublime scholarly landscape (there are many tropes in this image) suggests a calm artistic hand, working in peace and with the luxury of time. The reality is likely very different. I am fetishising the labour inherent in these objects.

I need to remember that “making” is culturally specific and isn’t always cool.



Disorder of the future⤴

from @

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Some stuff went down on the internet around an op-ed that Cathy O’Neil wrote in the New York Times about algorithms and accountability. I’ve no interest in being drawn into the kick-back, but it did force me to think about the extent to which the response to this issue has to be one of civic engagement as well as academic engagement (there is plenty of academic engagement – as the kick-back evidenced in spades, but I see fewer examples of that activity translating into civic or legal activity – but maybe I’m just not looking hard enough).

This will continue to go round in my brain for a while yet, but a few interesting things that I’ve read recently are worth gathering together.

“Our data is ours, but it also is not ours. We trade it away for so much of our experience on the internet. Money from a data tax could begin to counter this trade imbalance.

The money should go toward improving privacy of our information on the internet, countering identity theft, improving connectivity and internet literacy, all causes that would help create a more equitable internet for all.”

It’s Time to Tax Companies for Using Our Personal Data (New York Times)

“The biggest problem also is that privacy and security don’t seem to be the responsibility of the manufacturer, but rather that of the consumer.”

Those New Connected Holiday Gifts May Be Spying on You!

“Digital understanding is the root of fairness — it means people can know how the technology of the internet works, it makes them aware of its power structures, and it enables them to question what these mean for their choices, rights, and lives.”

This is Digital Understanding (Doteveryone – Medium)

“Research in queer theory, race and privilege, and gender studies is exactly what is needed to advance fairness in algorithms. But this work, and the many scholars from underrepresented groups who have brought attention to these problems, have a long history of marginalization both within the academy and without.”

We’re Awake — But We’re Not At the Wheel (PERVADE – Medium)

“It should finally be noted that the nature of the data is also becoming less and less static; rather, data increasingly goes through a lifecycle in which its nature might change constantly. While the current legal system is focused on relatively static stages of data, and linked to them specific forms of protection (e.g. for personal data, sensitive data, private data, statistical data, anonymous data, non-identifying information, metadata, etc.), in reality, data go through a circular process: data is linked, aggregated and anonymized and then again de-anonymized, enriched with other data and profiles, so that it becomes personally identifying information again, and potentially even sensitive data, and is then once again pseudonymised, used for statistical analysis and group profiles, etc.”

Ten Questions for Future Regulation of Big Data: A Comparative and Empirical Legal Study (JIPITEC – Journal of Intellectual Property, Information Technology and E-Commerce Law)

Internet Transmitted Infections – I’ve got the SPLOTS⤴

from @

Reading Time: 2 minutes

After noodling about on my own domain a while ago with various formats, I created a real live SPLOT using the Splotpoint theme to support a participatory session that I ran, and it’s worth picking into what about it worked for me, because I think it worked on a few levels:

  1. It was a resource I could point to in advance of the event.
  2. It was my presentation slides.
  3. It was the workbook for the session.
  4. It’s the resource for participants to return to after the session.

I ran the session with Alice White. We had never met until that morning, and never run a session together before. Sharing the slides in advance with her was a way of helping us both and because all the instructions for participants were baked in, it was hopefully really clear what was going to happen.

The sequenced slides element is obviously important for me. It kept me right on the day. Plus having instructions written out clearly and simply was my aide-memoir for demoing things.

Being a web resource it was loaded up by participants there and then and used to support the activity in real time. I was expecting non-native English speakers in the audience so having instructions written down was going to be important. I have a funny accent after all. It’s was the alternative format to me talking at people, and it’s more accessible than a printed workbook as it can be resized etc.

What’s missing? Maybe the ability for participants to make their own notes as they go along. So maybe adding annotation would be the next place to go?

I got a lot of positive and generous feedback on it, not least from various Wikimedians via my colleague Ewan McAndrew. It sparked a really good conversation about simple and clear resources to support getting started with Wikipedia. What exists now is comprehensive to the extent that it’s overwhelming to the novice (we feel).

Editathons have also gotten pretty popular – so much so that we’re double booked on 24 November*. So now we’ve built a second Splotpoint site and are prepping some “Wikipedia Basics” content to support us both.

* Ewan will be leading Scottish Living Artists 2017 – A Wikipedia edit-a-thon’ in a nutshell at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh

I will be co-leading Lost Literary Edinburgh – a Wikipedia editathon as part of the Being Human Festival with Sara Thomas, Wikimedian in Residence at Scottish Library and Information Council.