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Showing posts from 2016

Some musings on inspections

Perhaps its the Christmas idleness kicking in, but I have been thinking over the last day or two about school inspections. This is probably because of tweets I have read over that time, but it is also undoubtedly linked to the fact that I am aware of at least two schools, pretty near to me, who are being inspected as soon as they return from the Christmas and New Year break. Why would anyone think that is an appropriate thing to do? One school will have inspectors arriving on the first day back and the other the following week. I am sure we can all imagine how these impending visits have impacted on school leaders and staff in the already hectic run-up to the Christmas holidays, and how they may also be feeling during those holidays. It feels to me that schools being inspected in this period, so soon after the break, are very much just seen as fodder for an organisational process that takes no notice of the impact on people of that process. 'We have a number of inspections to carr…

One more step

One More Step is a song we sing quite a lot in assemblies in Primary schools, usually at the start or the end of the school year. The words tell of taking another step on our own particular journeys, across the world and through time, 'From the old we travel to the new', and seem particularly apt for myself this week. I have decided that next term, following our return from the Christmas holidays, will be my last as a Headteacher. After eighteen years of headship, I feel now is the right time for another small step, or giant leap, on my own particular journey.


I have mixed emotions about my decision, but I do believe it is the right one for me at this time. I have always thought you know when it is time to move on, or time for a change. This is how I feel, and have been thinking this way for a few months now. I still love my job, and working daily with fabulous people, to help all our learners grow and develop. Headship is an intellectual, emotional and organisational challeng…

We might have the data, but have we got the answers?

I recently viewed a YouTube clip of Gert Biesta talking about 'Good Education in an Age of Measurement' from 2010. http://ln.is/www.youtube.com/jZYOT In this Biesta, who has worked in the Netherlands, England and Scotland and is now in Luxembourg, talks about the challenges faced by schools and systems to concentrate on providing a good education for their learners when we are very much in the middle of what he calls 'an age of measurement.' He traces the a real focus on measurement in schools back to Blair's Labour government of 1997, and notes how this was accompanied by the 'name and shame' culture of league tables and quite punitive inspection regimes. Though Blair was fond of saying his priorities were going to be 'education, education and education', Biesta and others were unable to detect any real concern for education as the focus became more and more about measurement and learning, at the expense of real education.

This measurement focus pr…

NIF levels and what they tell us

Last week it was PISA and this week we have had the National Improvement Framework (NIF) data published in Scotland. Taken at face value, we don't come out of this process very well, and the Scottish Government and Ministers have received pelters from other politicians and the media as a result. It almost made me feel sorry for them. But then again if you want to use such spurious data to justify your 'controversial' steps to improvement, perhaps I am being a little too generous at Christmas time. 'Beware what you wish for' applies to politicians as much as it does to the rest of us. My last post was about all my concerns regarding the PISA results and how they are used by politicians and others to justify re-shaping the curriculum and other structural changes. I do not intend to revisit those arguments here, but what of the NIF data?

Each school and local authority in Scotland was asked to state how many children had achieved the expected levels in P1, P4, P7 and …

A PISA My Mind

When John Swinney stood up in the Scottish parliament this week and described the performance of Scottish Education as making for 'uncomfortable reading' and that 'radical reform' was needed, he no doubt did this in the belief he was speaking from an informed position. He went on to pledge to bring 'an unwavering focus on improvement' and promised to carry out further reforms 'no matter how controversial.' His message was loud and clear, our performance is not good enough and he was going to change this. I wonder if he ever thought about the impact of his very public pronouncements had on teachers and school leaders as they were heading into their schools the next day? I suspect not.

So, what 'informed' Mr Swinney's assessment of the Scottish education system? Was it from the hundreds of visits he had made to Scottish schools since his appointment in May of this year? Was it from the conversations he had with thousands of pupils, teachers an…

Things arent what they're supposed to be

Recently I had the pleasure of working with a group of teachers from another school who were just about to embark on their own journey with practitioner enquiry. I had taken along a couple of teachers so they could give first-hand accounts of practitioner enquiry as class teachers, warts and all. I was essentially the warm up act! My role was to share the big picture regarding practitioner enquiry, explain some of the research behind the approach, explore the process and identify some of the benefits and issues to be considered. I could do that.


I had never considered myself as a scary person before, but it seems that was what I was being seen as by some of my audience. This was encapsulated by the teacher who articulated her fears. 'This is like being back at university and carrying out research for my degree' she pleaded. 'Where do we find the time to carry out all this research that you suggest we should be doing' she asked. Her reaction was not untypical of others …

The Learning Classroom or more of the same?

I have recently been revisiting a book first published in 2008 by Brian Boyd who was then a professor of education at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. This is 'The Learning Classroom' in which Boyd tried to set out conditions needed for teachers to be able to create a classroom that would really facilitate and promote learning at its core. Boyd looked at a range of evidence and research available at that time around what the best 'learning classroom' could, or should, look like. He recognised that this would be by no means a definitive descriptor and he was already anticipating the impact of new technologies, research and pedagogies and how these would develop the 'learning classroom' further. He was also perhaps recognising the continuous process of school and individual development, and the on-going necessity for continuous career-long professional learning.

He suggested, similar to Howard Gardiner's multiple-intelligences theory, that there could be we…

Getting our heads above the clouds

My drive to and from work each day is about 40 minutes each way. During that drive, on very quiet Scottish country roads, I often think about the working day ahead, or consider the working day that has just ended. I have always found it useful to mull over the up-coming events of the day, when I know what these are, and also to unwind and divest myself of the issues that have occupied my attention during the day. Both useful strategies for headteacher well-being and allowing me to switch off and unwind at the end of very busy days. The fact that the countryside I drive through each day is absolutely stunning in no small way helps me gather my thoughts and keep a perspective. The rolling hills of Southern Scotland one way, and the majesty of the Cumbrian Fells and Lake District the other, mark the skyline of my journey. I am a lucky person, with a dream job and a dream drive to and from it.

This week my journey has been marked by frost, ice and mist. The first bite of winter has s…

Closing Gaps and Moving Forward

It would seem that education systems across the globe are currently obsessed by similar things, unless you live in Finland. Most are trying to be more equitable and to close attainment and achievement gaps that exist between the most advantaged in society and the most disadvantaged. All are also determined to raise attainment for all. Many see these as laudible aims for education systems and we have politicians staking their reputations on how they are going to close these gaps and raise attainment levels. Not many of them say it outright, but politicians and system leaders across the planet dream of reaching the top of the OECD's PISA rankings, no matter how spurious and flimsy the bedrock of validity upon which these particular measures of performance are constructed. However, this post is not about whether these are appropriate aims for education systems, or whether the achievement should be laid predominantly at the doors of our schools and classrooms, rather than other areas …

#ScotEdChat

Last night I hosted a Twitter chat on behalf of the #ScotEdChat community. The theme for this chat was Leadership. This post is not about Leadership but it is about community and commitment. The chat lasted one hour and, as the moderator, I can confirm how manic that hour was. So manic, my iPad struggled to cope and I had to revert to my phone for the last fifteen minutes or so. The reason the chat was so manic was due to the commitment of the educators, and others, who took part and their interest in the topic being discussed.

Collaboration and professional dialogues have been identified by many thinkers and researchers as amongst the most powerful strategies for individual, school and system development. The work of Fullan, Hargreaves, Timperley, Harris and others have all emphasised the importance of such collaborative and collegiate cultures. Much of this work has focused on the cultures within schools and systems. However, we are now exploiting new cultures through Social Media …

Not only is it good to talk, its essential

I had a visit this week from one of my Twitter contacts. Dr Rachel Lofthouse from Newcastle University visited one of my schools to talk about professional learning, and how we have been using practitioner enquiry to support this and school development for a number of years now. Having Rachel visit reminded me again of the power and the impact of focused professional dialogue and conversations.

There is no doubt that collaboration and collegiality are cornerstones of school and system development. Such co-operative working and thinking cannot happen in a vacuum and it is through conversation and dialogue that we build relationships and understandings. For such talk to have maximum impact it needs to be open, built on professional trust and focused. Cosy chats about comfortable issues and practices, can deepen these and the thinking around them, but are unlikely to have deep impacts on and move our practice forward. We need challenging conversations, with a common focus or theme, to im…

Not proven and not proving!

In the Scottish legal system there are three possible verdicts that a jury can reach following a criminal trial. These are Guilty, Not Guilty and Not Proven. This final verdict is usually found when the jury decide there is insufficient evidence to convict an accused, and when there is also insufficient evidence to say the defendant is completely innocent of the charges layed against them. I am by no means a legal expert, but I do think this third option is something quite unique to the Scottish system. Most other legal systems seem to have stopped at Guilty or Not Guilty and with a presumption of innocence until a verdict of Guilty is given.


You may ask yourself why am I writing about the Scottish legal system when I am an educational professional and usually write about education and leadership on this blog? Good question to ask, and we are getting there. The reason why I give you that background is linked to the title of this post and the inordinate amount of time myself, and I am …

Change and the professional voice

As we in education are all well aware, change is a constant. This is something we are dealing with almost on a daily basis within classrooms, schools and across our education systems. Many in education are still resistant to change, though. The reasons for this are often less to do with stubbornness or entrenched views and beliefs, and more to do with a lack of connection between what people believe, who they are as individuals, and what they are asked, or worse told, to do. I have long held the belief that real, deep and sustained change cannot be imposed on people and can only happen when there is true buy-in from individuals. Perhaps the strongest way to achieve such buy-in is when individuals themselves identify, or come to recognise, what they need to do to get better. As Dylan Wiliam says, ‘not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.’ This applies to us all, and should do throughout our careers, true career-long professional learning.
Over this half…

The self-improving teacher

For many years now we have talked about, and tried to promote, system leadership within education. I have written before about this in Beware What You Wish For: Some thoughts on System Leadership published in July of this year, and Headteachers and System Leadership published in February 2015, as well as in a number of other posts which have touched on aspects of such system leadership.The main driver for the development of system leadership within schools and education systems is to produce the self-improving school system. One that is organic and which grows from within, utilising the experience and expertise that already resides within in it. In the first post mentioned above, I did question whether this was in fact what some in the system really wanted, because it would lead to less command and control from above. But, let us assume that this is what we all truly wish to develop in the system. I would like to see true system leadership develop and grow within our education systems…

What are the steps in carrying out a practitioner enquiry?

My last two posts looked at what school leaders could expect in terms of benefits from the adoption of practitioner enquiry by teachers, and some of the issues they needed to consider when using this approach. One of the most common questions I get asked is, 'how do you go about carrying out an enquiry?' This is often asked by people who have no real understanding of the process or its complexity, but who are wanting to start somewhere. I always give lots of cautions and health warnings, and the strongest is that this approach is not a simple linear, step by step approach. Yes, there are key aspects to any successful enquiry, but none are guaranteed to lead to the next, or even to each other. Teachers and schools need to develop adaptive expertise and be able to change and adjust their actions according to changing circumstances and conditions.
Having said that, I do think it is possible, and desirable, to identify the key characteristics. What follows are those we have identif…

As a school leader what do you need to consider when using practitioner enquiry

In my last post 'As a school leader what can you expect to gain from practitioner enquiry' I spoke of the gains to be expected when adopting practitioner enquiry for individual and school development. In this follow-up, I now wish to look at some considerations you need to be aware when using this same approach. No meaningful school development process runs smooth and true in simple linear steps. Here are some of the things I have discovered that need to be understood, despite the many substantial benefits to be gained.
You have to start from where you are.
This seems an obvious thing to say, but how many times are actions and strategies imposed on schools that seem to assume all schools should be starting from the same position? This is a ridiculous assumption, given that each school has unique characteristics and context. You need to understand this and have confidence in your self-evaluation processes, so that you really do know accurately where your school, and individuals i…