My year started with a visit to Cincinnati for the ICSEI conference. A tremendous experience for me as I had the chance to rub shoulders and engage with many of the world's leading educational thinkers and researchers. The 2016 ICSEI conference is about to happen in Glasgow next week and I look forward to meeting up with so many people I met in Cincinnati, and others who I have met online as a result of my attendance last year. This is a fantastic opportunity for educationalists in Scotland to engage with such a high profile event that brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers. One of the innovations, and highlights, at Glasgow promises to be the 'Practitioner Day' on the Saturday, when practitioners will be showcasing their work.
Early in the year I successfully completed the fellowship programme with the Scottish College for Educational Leadership (SCEL) and was made a Fellow of the college in March. This was significant for me personally, but also for SCEL, a fledgling organisation on the Scottish education scene, but one which is going to be vital in developing system leadership and leadership at all levels. I had the chance to meet and work with some excellent people during the course of this initial Fellowship programme, all of which helped develop my thinking and impacted on my practice. New friendships and collaborations were established which will hopefully help the college to move forward, enhance the education system in which we work and have impacts for learners.
I was as busy as ever in my school role and one of my schools was visited by the HMIE early in our summer term. This increased the business for us all and throughout I tried to prioritise the well-being of staff. We worked hard to keep things as 'normal' as possible and to reduce anxiety levels amongst staff. We were successful in this, and a visitor during the inspection week commented ' if you hadn't told me, I would not have known an inspection was taking place. Everyone was so calm.' The results were good, but we still remained dissatisfied by our grades and the whole process. We still feel the inspectors come in with a particular 'model' of what they want to see. If you don't fit that particular model, it is harder to be awarded the gradings you think your staff deserve. The fact that we had three retired teachers in school doing supply work during the inspection week seemed to be of little significance to the inspectors either. Anyway, it passed and we determined to keep moving on with the priorities we had identified for ourselves. It did mean we all were even more tired than normal when we reached the end of the school year. In truth, staff were still a little flat on their return in August, but we are back up to speed now.
My summer 'break' started with a first visit to Cardiff in Wales, where I had been invited to speak to
headteachers by the Incerts organisation. I met more people who were working hard to make a difference for all the learners in their schools, and in the face of mounting challenges and diminishing resources. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and apologies to all again for over-running and delaying dinner! Welsh schools had been given a new curricular model, developed by Graham Donaldson from Scotland, very similar to our own Curriculum for Excellence, and we're just beginning to engage with this. I spoke to them about how, as school leaders, we might maintain our mojo in the face of mounting agendas and challenges. I hope I was able to reassure many of them and point one or two in the right direction. After this visit, my summer break truly began, so did the rain! I did attend various Pedagoo teacher events over the year, other conferences and the first Scottish ResearchEd. I enjoyed them all and learned from each of them. I just love events like this, organised by teachers, for teachers and no hidden agendas.
I continued to blog over the year and looking back at my posts, I see the ones that attracted the most interest were the ones written quickly and passionately about issues I had strong views about. The most viewed post of the year was 'A first response to Nicola Sturgeon'. This was my immediate reaction to the new National Improvement Framework (NIF), which included the reintroduction of national standardised testing into all primary schools and the early years of
secondary in Scotland. Suffice to say, I am not a fan! I did come up with a tweet that said 'The NIF is
naff' but never sent it, as I tried to give a more reasoned response. There were many disturbing aspects to the NIF, one of which was how the 'London Challenge' was being used as evidence to support its introduction. This fails in so many ways, not least of which is recent research that has shown the results achieved in London were more down to the excellent work being done in primary schools before the 'challenge', led by Tim Brighouse, even started. Two great lessons of my year, engage critically with all 'research' and remember context is crucial.