Tag Archives: change

Achieving equity in practice #TLconference⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

There are very few teachers who would argue with the current focus in Scottish education on closing the poverty related attainment gap. How could you? However, I’m pretty sure that if I were still in the classroom I would have been wondering what I could do more or differently to help achieve this. As a teacher, I felt that I was doing as a much as I could to help all students achieve as much as possible, so what more could I do?

When I saw the tweet above I got an inkling as to what I could be doing differently as a teacher and with my colleagues if I were still in school. I don’t remember ever looking at the attainment disparity in my students based on SIMD data and exploring the reasons for any differences and considering what I could do about them. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

This thought has been further fuelled by some discussions I was part of at the recent #TLconference in Miami. I have a stereotype in my head of assessment in the US whereby teachers have the autonomy to issue grades to their students based on relatively personal and behavioural judgements and that these grades were important to the life chances of students. I was surprised to discover that whilst not universally the case, this isn’t unheard of. There are moves to progress towards standards based assessment afoot, but the practice described above is still prevalent according to some of the teachers I was speaking to.

What I wasn’t aware of however was how tightly this practice is interwound with issues of race. I was informed that many schools there have tracking, whereby students are recommended for different levels of courses based on their grades. Only those who have received the best grades can take the higher level ‘honors’ classes, which in turn are needed for the best college courses. A number of teachers explained to me that as a result of issues throughout the system, “black and brown” (their words – this was the terminology used throughout the conference) students were substantially underrepresented in honors classes. I was quite shocked by the power teachers seemed to yield, which when combined with issues of race appeared potentially very problematic indeed. I heard of efforts to address this through ‘detracking’ and rethinking grading, but these appear to be very contentious initiatives amongst many.

However, since the conference finished I’ve been left wondering, is it that much different in Scotland? If I think back in particular to my National 4 and National 5 classes, or my Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 classes before that, I wonder now how represented students from different SIMD backgrounds were in each class? I fear I know the answer. What’s less clear to me are the reasons for these differences and how they might’ve been addressed. Whereas the differences in the US can be powerfully, and shockingly, visible as described by some of the teachers I spoke to – in that you can physically see the disparity as two classes of different levels line up outside their respective classrooms – in my experience the disparity isn’t always as apparent in Scotland.

So what should we do about it? If I was in school I think I would do three things next week:

  1. Gather and analyse the data as described in the tweet above.
  2. Propose and lead a collaborative enquiry to explore the reasons behind any disparities and develop approaches to practice which would impact upon these disparities.
  3. Use a form of Lyn Sharratt & Beate Planche’s data walls in departmental meetings to collaborate on ensuring everything possible was being done for students who were causing concern in terms of attainment. You can find out more about this at SCEL’s May conference.

No doubt there are already teachers and schools taking approaches such as these in their practice, but probably not all. I do think however that it’s important for us all to continually consider if we’re doing all that we can to ensure the best possible outcomes for all of the learners in our care.

A Profound Shift in Relationships⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

The new version of How good is our school? has come out and it makes for interesting reading. There are a few shifts of emphasis which I welcome, but I also like the new layout. The more detailed level five illustrations are helpful, and the omission of the other level illustrations is a good move also I think. I also like the short and sharp descriptions of effective practice and the challenge questions for each QI. I think this will prove a useful tool for self-evaluation at all levels.

I’m also really pleased to note that digital learning, practitioner enquiry and creativity are writ large throughout the document, however the focus of this post is on something else which leaps out from HGIOS4 to me.

Here’s what I mean…


  • We provide a wide range of opportunities and support to ensure children and young people can take responsibility for their own learning, successes and achievements. Our learners are developing the necessary resilience and confidence to enable them to make decisions about their own learning and to lead others’ learning.


  • Our curriculum is grounded in our commitment to securing children’s rights and wellbeing.


  • Learners exercise choice, including the appropriate use of digital technology, and take increasing responsibility as they become more independent in their learning. They understand the purpose of their learning and have opportunities to lead the learning.
  • Learners are fully involved in planning learning


  • Children and young people are at the centre of all planning, as active participants in their learning and development.


  • We ensure children and young people are active participants in discussions and decisions which may affect their lives.


  • They are motivated to explore and challenge assumptions. Children and young people take ownership of their own learning and thinking. They are imaginative, open- minded, confident risk-takers, and appreciate issues from different perspectives. They can ask questions, make connections across disciplines, envisage what might be possible and not possible, explore ideas, identify problems and seek and justify solutions.
  • They feel supported to make suitable, realistic and informed choices based on their skills, strengths and preferences. They are supported to develop an international mind-set equipping them for the rapidly changing and increasingly globalised world.

How good is our school? 4th Edition

It’s clear to me, that meaningfully involving learners in the learning and teaching process is going to become a bigger and bigger element of school self-evaluation and inspection process. Now, this isn’t exactly news. Back in 2009, when I first read Building the Curriculum 3, it was this shift which I identified as being the biggest challenge to my own practice. Back then, I jumped straight into giving it a go:

Since 2009, I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading and enquiring into this change to my approach to learning and teaching and I have become increasingly convinced that it is the way forward, however I have also concluded that it is not an easy change to make. Here is just a selection of the posts I’ve written on this blog about all this:

Every time I’ve tried this approach, it has been fantastic for both the learners and me. Everyone is more engaged, the learning is richer, deeper and more relevant. So why haven’t I done it more? Partly this is due to having been out of the classroom for 18 months on secondment and two extended periods of absence due to illness, but it’s also because it’s not easy, and is it any wonder?

I’ve just begun a course in Childhood Studies and Childhood Psychology through the OU and there’s an interesting section in the textbook on the issues surrounding the participation aspect of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 12 states that:

Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This right applies at all times.

If the six hours of learning in classrooms which young people undertake each day isn’t a matter which affects them, I’m not sure what is. However, as my OU textbook states in relation to this:

Participation rights have been particularly contested because they represent a profound shift in relationships between adults and children, and challenge conceptualisations of children as unknowing, passive and needing adults to act in their best interests…participation rights have been seen as threatening and upsetting to the status quo. (Farmington-Flint & Montgomery, 2015)

As well as this, there’s also Dylan Wiliam’s point that asking a teacher to change their teaching practice is like asking a golfer to change their golf swing, it’s not simple!

Asking teachers to make wholesale changes in their practice is a little like asking a golfer to change her swing during a tournament. Teachers have to maintain the fluency of their classroom routines, while at the same time disrupting them.

Now, I’m not saying that no-one is doing this already. But I don’t think many teachers are doing it particularly well in the Secondary phase in particular. I have heard of a few noble attempts, but for the reasons outlined above, many of these attempts don’t become a sustained and meaningful change in practice. Quite often they’re tokenistic and are doomed to fail as the teachers are only doing it because they think they should. Or, they have limited impact because although students are asked for their input, this is then largely ignored as the teacher then has to proceed with the preplanned teaching and assessment.

So given all of this, how do we move forward? In my most recent post on this (which if you haven’t already seen you should definitely look at now) my students shared their ideas on how to go about this, so I thought I’d share my own suggestions in this post…

  • Believe that it is desirable, and possible, to involve learners in the learning process and it is worth trying. If you don’t, or are not sure, read this (free) book.
  • Try to take an enquiry approach to your change. Don’t just do it because you’re being told to by Education Scotland, your leadership team or even me, research it for yourself. As well as enhancing what you do, if you propose the change as an enquiry you are more likely to get approval from your leadership team if that is an issue for you.
  • Start small. Choose one class which you think you could work with on this to give it a try. Talk to them about it in advance and explain why you’re doing it. Some classes in the past have thought that I was just being lazy when I’ve not explained it properly! Aim to do it for just one topic and then evaluate it after that.
  • Don’t try to do everything at once. This may be new to the learners as well as you, although it may not be if they’ve experienced this at primary, which many will have in some way at some time. When I first tried it I wanted the learners to collaborate on the planning, teaching and assessment…it was all a bit much. It takes time for the class as a community to work together in this way so don’t rush it. You can involve them a little to begin with, and if it works, involve them a little more in the next topic.
  • Make use of ICT as much as you can. Digital tools are fantastic for supporting this approach to learning and teaching, use them and encourage the learners to find their own ways of using them.

Here’s a list of the sorts of things I do with a topic with a new class if that’s of use as an idea to get started:

  • As mentioned above, I explain in advance how we’re going to learn and discuss with them why we’re going to learn in this way and how best to learn in this way.
  • I don’t start with the title of the topic. In fact, I never tell the class what the topic is called in our schemes of work. I start with a hook. Challenging, interesting and relevant questions which get them thinking, discussing, debating and questioning. I then capture and rationalise these questions either on post-its, or in a Google Document.
  • I bring out the experiences and outcomes for the topics and we unpick their meaning as a class. We decide what questions we would need to be able to answer to satisfy these experiences and outcomes.
  • We then bring in their own questions from the stimulus discussion. Do these overlap with any of the questions from the experiences and outcomes? Do any of them fit in with the experiences and outcomes? Which ones don’t fit in?
  • We then decide how we’ll approach the topic. We discuss which of the experiences and outcomes we should do when and how we’ll address their questions which didn’t fit in (this is quite often a research and present task).
  • They then come up with possible names for the topic and vote on it.
  • I then use all of this to go off and modify the schemes of work to what we’ve planned together. I normally find that this can just be done by making a few tweaks to what was already there because they were made with the same experiences and outcomes that we’ve just explored as a class. In terms of any summative assessments for the topic, if these have been well written from the experiences and outcomes then they shouldn’t be a major problem either…however, I’ve sometimes found that the topic tests have been tests of the scheme of work rather than a test of the learning outcomes and in these cases I adjust the test questions so that they relate to the actual learning outcomes in the experiences and outcomes, but maintain the same structure and numbers of marks etc.
  • As you and the class become more confident you can then do the above more quickly and begin exploring learning outcomes, success criteria, assessment and evaluation…but one step at a time!

Ultimately, if we’re serious about this, we have to get away from the idea of standardised learning and standardised testing. I believe that we should have a core set of knowledge which all children should  learn, but not so much that it (more than) fills the time they have to learn it. There should be sufficient space and time in the curriculum for young people to be able to contribute to the learning and teaching process, and the flexibility in the system to support and encourage it.

What is the point in asking learners for their questions if we don’t (or can’t) then make the time to answer them and check that they understood the answers? It is for these reasons that I think we need to reduce the number of experiences and outcomes, in the third and fourth level sciences at least, and support and encourage teachers to take the time to try out the approaches I’ve described above.

This is a hard change to make and to make it well is going to take leadership and support.

Farmington-Flint, L. and Montgomery, H. (2015) An introduction to childhood studies and child psychology. Open University, Milton Keynes.

In the wake of change⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

I started my first ever Open University course today. And what did I do as soon as I got the email saying I was enrolled? I got into the course website and started exploring. Wow, have they got it sorted. The whole Open University is concept is so well suited to the internet, it’s hard to understand how it ever functioned without it!

Having got to grips with the system a thought occurred to me, why are we still so far behind in schools? It’s not hard to imagine how better use of the web could really revolutionise the way secondary schools function, and therefore how students experience education. I’m not suggesting that we should shut all secondary schools and replace them with a version of the OU, of course not. But there could really be a lot more variety in the system than there currently is. It just so happens that Ian Stuart shared the following great animation on Facebook today also, with the question “When will education culturally accept this change?“.


It is amazing, isn’t it? I first used the internet in about 1995 I think, and I got my first mobile phone in about 2000. Since then the use of the web has revolutionised the way we do so much, except learning in classrooms. My school are in the process of switching on an open wireless network throughout the school and opening the door to students using their own mobile devices in class, which is fantastic, but perhaps this shouldn’t really be that cutting edge by now? A mere eight years after the first iPhone was launched and McDonalds first installed free WiFi in all of its UK restaurants!

There is some great work going on in the world of Digital Learning (such as the provision of Glow and the new NDLF in Scotland), but I sometimes worry that the pace is too slow, and even where devices are being provided to students, do our current curricular structures allow and encourage their most effective use? Too often devices are introduced and used to simply replace the pen and paper and our practices continue relatively unchanged. However, the effective use of technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we do things as well augment what we already do. One example of this is High Tech High in the US. I like the way in the following video that you can see that IT is integral to the way they learn, but they don’t really focus on it when they’re explaining the way their schools work:

I recently wrote a little piece for the GTCS Teaching Scotland magazine about how we’ve dropped the word ‘digital’ from ‘digital banking’ as no-one really banks any other way anymore. And yet in education, we’re only beginning to dip our toes into ‘digital’ learning, how much longer will it be until we’ve reached the point when we can drop the ‘digital’ again?

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 16.10.08

Given how far behind we are on this front in education, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of urgency either. For me, I think we need three things to get moving with this:

  1. Significant investment in hardware, networks and software in schools.
  2. Continuous support, encouragement and guidance for teachers and schools who are wanting to do something different in order to make the most of technology to transform young people’s learning.
  3. An agenda of policy reform (probably through the CLTAS forums) which aims to alter the curriculum to enable teachers and schools to modify their practice to make the most of the potential of technology.

I really feel that we need to get a move on with this or we’re putting our young people at a disadvantage in terms of the skills they are leaving us with. I don’t claim to have got it perfect myself yet, but I’ve long tried my hardest within a system which isn’t conducive to change. However, I’ll finish with a quote from one our former students who left us to study medicine at univeristy.

I think that the single best thing that my time at Preston Lodge gave me was such good experience in using Google Drive and other online resources (particularly from the biology/science department). This really let me hit the ground running when I came into lectures etc, as I already had methods to use that I had tried and tested during my time at school. Please keep on encouraging pupils to use Google at PL, it’s very very very very useful!

All we had done was tried our hardest to use Google Apps when appropriate and possible to support learning, which was nowhere as much as we would’ve liked to due a lack of hardware, network and conducive curricula, however imagine how much more confidence our young people could have in using the web constructively when leaving our schools if we could just get on with it!

Connected Learning | Supporting a shift to BYOD⤴

from @ Fearghal Kelly

A Connected Learning Network (aka WiFi) is coming soon to my school…exciting stuff. As I’m currently off work awaiting surgery on my ankle I’ve been putting in a bit of work into creating resources to support the launch of this network. What’s perhaps more challenging than the network itself, is the change in mindsets we’ll need to have as a school when it comes to mobile devices. In order to make the most of this opportunity we’ll need to move towards a controlled and managed encouragement of mobile device use in class. We’ve therefore been giving some thought as to what we’ll need to do to make this work.

So far I’ve made the above videos, cards to be distributed to the students and an A4 guide explaining the background to the cards in more detail.

Many schools are currently in the position of thinking through how to support and manage a shift towards students using their own devices in class and so I thought I would share what we’ve done here in the hope that this will be useful to others, but also in the hope that you can share what you’ve done with us also!

There, then, you have it. Synod recalled in tranquillity.⤴

from @ blethers

We used to have an English teacher, a formal, pin-suited, begowned sort of chap, who was in the habit of saying "There, then, you have it" at the conclusion of any discussion. It's the phrase that comes into my head as I sit down to recall the events of last week's General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, perhaps because in all likelihood it will be my last. If it is, I'm glad I made it so far; glad I was able to make a contribution to the effort to move my church forward in its recognition of the diversity and sanctity of human relationships. Others - notably Kelvin and Beth - have been much quicker off the mark, blogging in the evening what had happened during each day; I blame the fact that I only had my phone with me to excuse my failure to do more than tweet at the time.

It began, really, with the motion showing on the screen in the photo. There were other motions that seemed more promising, but this was the starting point. We'd all (I hope) read the Doctrine Committee's lengthy report, and receiving it was a start. The thing was that every time - were there three times in all? - the issue came up, people debated. Some contributed considerable points; others expressed bitterness. There were clearly people who felt that their traditional stance was no longer being given a chance - and believe me, it was traditional. I worry when someone says with calm certainty that they know what God wants. But there were also contributions on the side of change delivered in the measured tones of compassion and reason - words spoken by people I have grown to respect and admire - and I could feel a change in the atmosphere as we moved towards the vote that would result in Synod's deciding to ask the Doctrine Committee to remove the first section of Canon 31. ( The Doctrine of this Church is that Marriage is a physical, spiritual, and mystical union of one man and one woman, created by their mutual consent of heart, mind, and will thereto, and is a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God.) Apparently - and I hadn't realised it - this section dates only from 1980 or thereabouts, and was inserted by the last Provincial Synod, of which I was possibly the youngest member, after the debate on the remarriage in church of divorced persons. I well recall that debate; it seemed such a big thing at the time.

You can read more details in other places. Don't come to me for details. I'm inside my memories now, and they're not especially precise. At the end of the first day's debate, I spoke on the nature of marriage in relation to the idea of man and wife being one flesh. That makes it sound measured, considered - "I spoke". But it wasn't like that. I was prompted to my feet when someone said something that I couldn't let pass, and then sat there waiting my turn with nothing in my head but scraps of Shakespeare - Hamlet saying "Husband and wife are one flesh; therefore my mother ...". I didn't know how I would begin, even, until I stood up. And then it came, and I said my piece fluently and I enjoyed saying it (I love a microphone) and people clapped. The following day I was bowled over by the words of another woman of my own generation - and people clapped. A bishop made it clear that sexual ambiguity is in all of us, and did so by recounting his own experience, and the silence as we listened was one in which I felt that something hugely hopeful had come into our midst.

But when later that day the votes were counted, there was no applause. No-one punched the air, and the sense was one of relief rather than triumph. It was as if none of us dared to believe that after all these years the church had taken the first hesitant step towards recognising that the God we believe in made us all the way we are. I was aware of tension lifted; there were tears from those that in the end we had been discussing all those years. There was a knot of people sitting together who had voted against the motion and against the idea. Their faces were tight, expressionless. It will be hard for them, though not, in my opinion, as hard as it has been all those years for the excluded and the patronised, those who, like all of us, have no choice in the matter of their sexuality.

One thing seemed to lurk like a cloud on a sunny day, and that was the defeat of the Rule 10 motion on Saturday. In a house depleted of those who didn't attend on the last morning, a majority wanted to discuss the possibility that the bishops would look again at their decree that no-one in an equal marriage could be considered for ordination.* But it was not the required 2/3 majority, so we didn't even get to discuss why they might decide to let it stand. I know that at least one bishop voted for the motion, but the Primus did not. Oh yes, there's a kind of logic to this apparent failure of logic: the change to Canon 31 will take over 2 years to become law, and has to pass through two readings and debate at diocesan level before it can do so - therefore let's not pre-empt the outcome by even thinking about changing our minds on this one. No hope held out, then, to someone in a same-sex marriage who might long to put herself forward for consideration and training; they will have to wait even longer.

It must be tough being the chairman of the board, the Primus inter Pares (first among equals) who has to front the decisions and - presumably - carry the can for whatever goes wrong. The Primus presumably doesn't want further to dislocate the noses of those who are sure we're all heading to hell in a handcart. But at least one of his equals felt we should be discussing further thought, and I thank God for him and for all the brave souls who have spoken selflessly and thoughtfully for change. It is they who inspire confidence in our church and its future.

Despite that last-minute barrier to change, it is once more a church to which I feel able to belong with joy.

*As has been pointed out elsewhere, you can apparently be considered for ordination if you are in a civil partnership, or merely quietly getting on with whatever arrangements you like to make for yourself. It's marriage that's the bar.

Another birthday, more memories …⤴

from @ blethers

Another week, another rush of birthday memories. My second son was born on a bleak February day 37 years ago, exactly 4 years and one week after his brother. Writing that, it seems absurd that it was only four years, for in that time my life had changed so completely. For one thing, it seemed as if I had completed the transition from my Glasgow childhood - including university, work and marriage - to the adult life I've lived ever since. Not only that: I'd moved from the odd transience of our initial 18 months after moving to Dunoon with our 5 week old first child, 18 months when the fact that we were living in a council house used by the education department held out the promise of a possible return to the city - I'd moved from that to the house I still live in, overlooking the Firth, as solid a house as I'd lived in as a child. I'd made new friends, at least one of whom had already moved away to another life; I'd joined the church choir, become a vestry member. It was as if no-one had actually realised that I was a novice mum, a novice church member, a novice adult. From this perspective, 37 years on, I feel that four years are but a blink, but then they were a life-changing lifetime.

Having a baby in Dunoon - and are babies still born here, I wonder? - was very different from my
Glasgow experience. No due-date induction here; this was a GP maternity unit and you waited "until baby is ready". In my case, that meant waiting almost a fortnight past the due date that I at least had calculated with some accuracy: a fortnight of dragging my poor mother for walks up the Bishop's Glen in the hopes of getting something started, of complaining of the heat in our draughty sitting room of an evening when others were huddling round the fire. When I eventually reached the stage of thinking something was happening, it was the middle of the night; I phoned the hospital and was told to go back to sleep and come in after breakfast. Talk about anti-climax.

The morning was grey; there was light snow falling. I waddled carefully up the path to the car, waving goodbye to #1 son and grandma. I was admitted, the only patient on the maternity ward. And then it all stopped again. Another woman came in, I remember, clearly pregnant but convinced she just had a stomach upset. By teatime, she had a baby - she'd mixed up her dates. I was still unmoved. My GP arrived, told me he'd leave it to his colleague the next day if nothing happened before then. Nothing did. And so, two weeks later than I'd anticipated, I was induced after all.

But it was still very different. I was brought my lunch, and ate it between contractions. "You'll need all your strength", the nurse said. My husband arrived, suffering from flu and looking worse than I felt. Four hours later, #2 son was born, delivered by one of my lovely GPs in a pink shirt and a plastic apron. "You've got another great big boy here, Mrs McIntosh," he told me. We were left - husband, baby and I - in the delivery room, to get acquainted. We wondered at the red eyes of this large baby - the effort of birth had affected us both. He looked solemnly at us. Later, over a cup of tea, he was returned to me, clean and sleeping. "He's got all his bits," I was reassured. There was no-one else in the small ward - the other mother was next door.

In that half hour or so, while the nurses went for their tea (I presume) and the early evening darkened outside, I knew I was happy. This doesn't often happen - frequently we look back and recognise happiness after it's over. But I was suffused with a happiness that I knew and owned, and I've never forgotten it.

One sad memory from the week that followed: I could never bear saying goodbye to 4 year old #1 son at the end of afternoon visiting. He used to cry, and when he'd left, I cried too, in that bleak time in hospitals between visiting and teatime - and see how that is the same time when I was so happy on this date? And so began the juggling that is the lot of anyone with more than one child ...

So, #2 son, if you read this from wherever in the world your extraordinary job takes you, this shows once more how much more memorable your children's birthdays are than your own. Of course, you and your brother already know this - and you in your turn will still be remembering, God willing, in 2055.

How, I wonder, will you choose to record the memories then?

National Digital Forum or Toothless Talking Shop⤴

from @ Mimanifesto - Jaye's weblog

So, the ICTEx journey is finally over. A way of working on a national solution to the Glow replacement project which brought together experts, teachers, educationalists and even maverick thinkers has finally been consigned to the dust after a slow lingering death in the form of the morph into the Key Reference Group. I’d resigned […]

The #5MinChangePlan by @TeacherToolkit and @ssgill76⤴


The idea for this particular 5MinPlan came about, when reviewing our school’s behaviour policy. When considering implementing change you need to think carefully if there is the need for change. The change plan is based on the work of Kotter (1996) and Blanchard et al (2009). Charles Darwin stated:  “It is not the strongest of … Continue reading

Is there something we should know?⤴

from @ Mimanifesto - Jaye's weblog

A  few weeks ago TES Scotland carried a letter from me about the Scottish Schools tablet procurement Framework. It set out, albeit briefly, some of my concerns about the direction this significant education initiative has taken.  As a member of the ICT Excellence and Key Reference groups, I have a continuing interest and involvement in […]

Tablet Pecking Orders…but it’s now a battle of the Ecosystems.⤴

from @ Mimanifesto - Jaye's weblog

We often make big assumptions in education, as we do in everyday life I guess. When it comes to Tablet devices for Education, the assumption has been that the iPad is the ‘Gold Standard’ and all the others are somehow ranked in descending order beneath it. Another one of the current biggies is all to […]