Looking ahead- the delight of Anticipation


Looking ahead- the delight of Anticipation

There is something special this photo of two of my daughters looking out to the Bass Rock on 2 January 2014. It captures for me a sense of anticipation of the future as well perhaps a sense of turning our backs on 2013…a hard year yet with many magical and joyful moments. Life is to be treasured and every moment to be appreciated and savoured, there are so many unique snapshots that can be lost in the melee of everyday life. I wish all fellow tweeters and bloggers a year of conscious joy seeking…


Shift Happens- doesn’t it???


I’ve been conspicuous by my absence from blogging these last six months. Personal, family issues have absorbed my attention and, for once, writing was not the medicine I needed. However, as I approach November and my third shot at writing 50k words in a month now is the time to get the flow again!!

My education world is fascinating at the moment. Although teachers are concerned about the 1+2 languages agenda, it is one of the most ambitious approaches to changing the monolingual culture of the Scots…and we do have until 2020!!! I believe that our children will thrive through this approach and my two nephews who live in the lovely Annecy area of France and who were brought up to speak French to their mother and English (with a Scots accent) to their father, my brother, are a perfect example of this.  I was fascinated watching their language development and how having two words for each object was not a problem.  Mike, my brother, was advised to use the ‘language of love’ when talking to the boys so he spoke English and Rosa, his wife spoke French to them.  I have high hopes for this strategy and hope that we can take as broad an approach as possible to the acquisition of languages and culture of an additional two languages…MLPS, with 27 training days, is in the past.

I am also becoming a reluctant convert to the Early Years collaborative. There may be a few thunderbolts coming down as I say this as my first impressions, from a little distance, were of a massive overly bureaucratic and complex beast that was perseverating Susan Deacon’s concern in ‘Joining the Dots’ that keen early years folk attend conferences and tell each other how important it is and then have more meetings about it.  I do think there is an inherent risk in the magnitude of the programme but it is built on sound methodology.  It also does follow the thinking in appreciative enquiry around looking closely at an area, reflecting on it and then the critical part …’dae something about it’ and so on…  I have attended sessions where there was a sense of limitation on actions based on what is measurable- valuing what we measure rather than measuring what we value.  I have also attended sessions where skilled statisticians and analysts have listened to educators telling the stories of what they know is valuable and supporting them to plan actions that are measurable and that is a totally different kettle of fish.  It must not be turned into a bureaucratic exercise with neat driver charts and graphs and tables that don’t fundamentally change anything worthwhile.

So- I am feeling energised by the agenda in Scottish Education.  With the new GTCs standards and all the excellent work of that small team in Clerwood House in promoting and supporting it across Scotland and beyond,  the profession have the best basis for professional growth and learning of any country in the world.  Exciting stuff…

Looming up for us all however are significant cuts to funding- efficiencies? Perhaps… but driven by the need to reduce and transform services to match available resource and I have fears for this.  Scottish education is in a good state with an excellent future ahead of us.  We are progressing with CfE and young people are being better prepared for a radically uncertain world.  We are grasping the nettle of collaborative school improvement instead of meaningless exercises in self-evaluation to create nice grids in our school improvement plans and we know now we need each other to progress. But we are not yet closing or narrowing the gap consistently between the socio- economic deciles and poverty is destiny for far too many of our young people.  We are not as successful as other comparable countries and it needs our total concentration.  So I worry that ‘efficiency exercises’ that are very much needed to ensure we do the very best we can with the resources we will have, will distract us and cause a climate of anxiety and fear.  If we do this well over the next years we can use this challenge to transform schools- particularly technologically and culturally- however the risk is that the climate could limit creativity in the profession’s thinking.  Teacher unions will have a close eye on proposed changes and rightfully so, however schools need to change and develop into places and spaces for learning that take account of the widening learning environment for our young people- whether that is online or signing up for learning sessions at B&Q or Sainsbury’s.  The times they are a-changing…


 Yet within all this, I remain excited about being involved in education at a time of ‘conjuncture’ and I am curious and impatient to see how education will look for the babies being born at the moment.  My first grandchild is one year old and I have to believe his education in England will be very different to that being propounded currently by a certain Mr G and he will learn through a high quality play environment…We all have a huge responsibility to protect the best in Scottish education and to be brave enough to let go of what has served us well for generations but which will not prepare our young people for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technology that hasn’t’ yet been invented to solve problems that we don’t know are problems yet.  Yes ‘Shift Happens’ but we have to guide and release the reins…





The ‘interminable week’

I posted on twitter that last week was ‘interminable’.  I had to reflect on that when a respected colleague responded that her week had been busy but fun and interesting.  It was a really good wake-up call that I had fallen into that awful downward spiral of feeling or reaction dominating reflection.  The weather had been cold and unpredictable.  There had been a lot of ‘spiky’ issues and, probably, I was tired after spending nights working on projects the busy day hadn’t allowed.

Actually I had lost my joy…and I know that is my strength and when I lose it my weakness dominates.  We often call this time of year ‘Mad May’ as there is a kind of freneticism as staffing decisions are made, school improvement plans are being formulated (or finalised), secondary timetables are being implemented with the usual flurry of parental anxiety around their children not being able to access the combination of subjects that they feel is essential for University entrance. Strangely, this is often a time that staff that have tolerated colleagues’ foibles get to a point where they lose patience and seek support in resolution.  Compulsory transfers begin to cause concern around this time also.  The common denominator in all of this is PEOPLE…and I love that my job is a people job.  So- it was a timely reminder when my colleague challenged the ‘interminable’ aspect of my week and I reframed my week as busy, involved, intense but incredibly rewarding in that I work with people that I know well and Borders is a close community that I have loved being part of since I came here 16 years ago.


I don’t know about you but I really love when something stops me in my tracks and I get a new and renewed perspective.  It’s all about learning in the end.

The Leadership Conundrum

I blogged about my ‘conference week’ ( or two days…). The part of my week that was potentially the most interesting and perplexing though was the input from the National Implementation Board (NIB) of Teaching Scotland’s Future (TSF) leadership team at our delightfully named CAQ (Curriculum and Qualifications) network. What fun we have with acronyms in education….

What a task they have in front of them. They have to engage across the profession and wider bodies to scope out and present models for a national virtual Leadership College.  This is not a consultation as their task is to implement the recommendation but they are determined to meet as many of us as possible and listen to how we want our national college to operate. This made me reflect on all the different aspects of leadership development across the country and on all the ‘vested interests’ that remain as relics or legacy of previous leadership development initiatives.

The team are lively, engaging and their backgrounds are as academic/researcher, secondary Headteacher and education authority officer  reflecting as broad a view as possible, They need to look ahead and negotiate very diverse positions and encapsulate a myriad of views in practical recommendations to the NIB.

Whatever they come up with has to meet the needs of a vastly changing landscape for the profession.  It has to support the implementation of the new  GTCS standards- and must encompass all the standards (not just for school leadership) as the college has to address leadership at all levels, which has not previously been achieved. It has to be accessible to all involved in leading learning- wider than teachers? Interesting dilemmas ahead for the team.  When I visited the National College in England as part of TSF investigations, I was struck by the quality of online resources and I hope we can garner the tremendous resources we have in one resource that is sensible and accessible to all.  That takes a lot of coordination and already you can foresee discussions around GLOW, GTCS website, Education Scotland website, SQA, Local Authorities’ web- based resources, Twitter, Blogs etc etc.

More importantly however is finding a clear identity for our leadership college, our leadership intentions, our beliefs and values. This is daunting but my first impressions of the team is that they are a courageous bunch…my advice would be to get involved, invite them to your school, local authority, Teachmeets, whatever…we have to help them in this to help ourselves.

Reflection on Conference season and Unwritten Codes

Working in the Borders of Scotland means that attending conferences and national events is sometimes quite a consideration.  Hours in the car- after negotiating the tractors, Tesco and Asda lorries, ‘the world’s a 40mph limit’ drivers (and that includes 30mph zones along with the dual carriageway section that keep drivers on the A7 sane) and, of course, the inevitable X95 if you have missed the half hour slot between ‘express buses’, you find yourself on the Edinburgh bypass and then the M8 stuck in traffic and always in the wrong lane. So- you reach the Stirling Management Centre or some venue in Glasgow frazzled but knowing every item of news locally and nationally and you’re starving as you left at 6.30 for a 9.30 start.  It has to be good to make it all worthwhile…and quite often you leave thinking, ‘What one thing do I know now that I didn’t know at the start?’.  Sounds quite arrogant I appreciate but, for many years I did go looking for new knowledge and I think I was wrong.  Of course there is a certain amount of information that is important and necessary but now I think it has been a good day if I have met and talked with colleagues that have challenged my thinking, perceptions, biases or understandings.  The speakers and workshops, I now feel, are there to provide a skeleton to the day and almost all the value comes from learning from colleagues.  Sometimes I wish teachers would feel they could challenge more and start a real debate but, over the years, I’ve observed that the teaching profession has an unwritten code .  It could best be summed up as ‘Respect! You’ve had the guts to stand up there and give your views, shared your knowledge, I might not agree with all you’ve said but ‘fair do’s’ (to use an old Scots expression that may be spelt wrongly!). Now I realise that happens at coffee, over lunch, sometimes in tweets or blogs afterwards, but, rarely, do we find a strong attack or challenge from the floor.  I need to think more about this to understand what’s going on and if it’s cultural.

So- why the reflection on this today?

I have spent three days this week in conferences and national meetings around CfE or Education Scotland/ ADES business. Apart from having an embarassing tumble when I lost my footing outside the Stirling Management Centre when a colleague shouted from behind and hobbling about the rest of the week, it was fairly ‘par for the course’.  I live tweeted from the National CfE conference which started a dialogue on Twitter that evening on whether there were any teachers at the event, which was interesting.  The answer was yes but they were there in the form of Headteachers and Deputes as it was aimed at those leading CfE across schools or authorities but I enjoyed the challenge and the debate.

The conference I attended on Thursday was on Literacy and was focused around the inter- authority hubs across Scotland.  These sessions were good and left me realising that we probably haven’t communicated the work of these hubs sufficiently.- I certainly felt I didn’t know enough about ours, which is in partnership with East, Midlothian and Edinburgh, with Dumfries and Galloway now joining. Interestingly a national parent rep in this workshop made a very stark challenge to the presenters on what exactly authorities were doing and it was almost embarassing that, as a group, we failed to satisfy her with the answers.  She commented that teachers are unable to explain to parents what we are doing without talking in a code that is impossible to understand. It was after this awkward ( but deserved) criticism that I reflected on our unwritten code as a profession about how far we go in challenging.  This parent felt no compulsion to agree that her question had been answered or to laugh it off or give up as we so often do.

There was an interesting presentation on the findings of the SSLN on Literacy, recently published, which drew my attention to some troubling data on ‘middle groups’ by S2 losing ground but I need to go and study this to understand it better. My live tweeting on this was far more challenging and the Multi- tasking of looking at graphs on the screen, listening and encapsulating the key message in 140 characters defeated me at times!  It’s the first time however that I have had a question come in for the presenters from a very astute colleague in Scotland challenging how useful the data is when we don’t have authority sets to use at local level.  It was a good message to the team that the audience was wider than those in front of them in the room.

Yesterday I was part of the Curriculum and Qualifications network (CAQ delightfully) and had a very interesting input from the Glasgow Science Centre which opened up for me the explosion we are about to see in technology and digitisation that would allow classes to stand in the middle of a digitised body and pull it apart from the inside out.  That was one example of the change ahead for us and the notion of ‘flipped classrooms’,  which @pedaggooers talk about all the time but which have not quite made it into accepted practice yet is exciting yet daunting.

I finished the week with the Senior team at Education Scotland as part of ADES executive. We had interesting discussions around the changing contexts and professional relationships across Scotland and it was reassuring to see the recognition of this and the genuine desire to ensure that Education Scotland add value and see themselves as partners in seeking the best possible learning experience for our children and young people. We did talk about the fact that the word ‘partnership’ is getting hackneyed and we need to make sure that all of us in the education world know and understand our distinctive contribution to shared goals. All too often these are in conflict or misunderstood.  I see a time in Scottish Education when every part of the system can have influence and power in moving forward – interesting times…

For me,  a weekend of resting my ankle and ‘milking it for all it’s worth’ is ahead.  The couch and lots of cups of tea beckon.  Enjoy yours.

To extraordinary teachers…

I recognise this teacher. I have worked beside this teacher and I have known them as an Adviser and as a Headteacher. This piece captures that lifelong quest you see in teachers for the very best experience for their pupils…and their own contribution never quite reaches the bar they set themselves.
If I could wave a magic wand I would want to take away that perfectionism yet retain that desire to teach to the highest standard. Loved this poem.

Bruner and Curriculum for Excellence

Happy New Year friends and fellow bloggers, Pedagoo-ers!

I have been slow in getting back to blogging after Christmas and New Year and my resolutions (in which writing figures prominently) are needing a fresh injection.  So- what prompted me to take to print, particularly during the Murray match in Melbourne??

Firstly, I couldn’t take the stress of the match and firmly believe I seem to be a bad omen for him as he started to go downhill when I started to watch the match?!

Secondly I have been dipping into Bruner’s ‘The Process of Education’ recently and it has whirling around in my head all week and needed breathing space to sort out what has been bugging me. Three words.  Curriculum for Excellence.  One more word…implementation. Don’t get me wrong- I remain committed to the ‘vast programme of transformational change’, however, herein lies the challenge.  It appears to me, perhaps an idealist, possibly a frustrated idealist, that the transformational elements are being eroded the closer we get to implementation of the 1st cohort’s ‘Senior Phase. I find some discussions I am having with secondary colleagues at the moment are structural ones- on the surface at least…and not about structure of knowledge but ‘choices’ at the end of S1 or S2. I mean choices as in dropping subjects although I have now started collecting pseudonyms for narrowing the curriculum and narrowing choice- particularly for those students identified as being ‘less able’ to benefit from the curriculum on offer in S1-3. (Worst case scenario could be that the teachers are ‘less able’ to teach for understanding to groups of students that have not traditionally taken their subjects…) The concern I have is that this appears to be a return to teaching for understanding for students that can naturally understand the ‘harder’ subjects.  A curriculum for more clever and less clever children. Often the subjects dropped or not opted for as an ‘elective’ are the very subjects we need as a society to compete in a global world.

So- where does this fit with Bruner’s 52 year old proposition that ‘any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development’? Bruner recognised this as a ‘bold hypothesis’ but asserted that ‘no evidence exists to contradict it; considerable evidence… supporting it’.  The Improving School Effectiveness Project’ (ISEP) in the 90s also highlighted a worrying finding in relation to this when teachers responded in a survey rather negatively to the item ‘all children can learn successfully’. I believe that Curriculum for Excellence is all about ‘all children and young people learning successfully’.

I found myself relishing the depth of thought in Bruner’s thesis including his later commentary on his own work. I liked that he quotes ‘brooding’ for 17 years on the theories he propounded in this book and reflecting on other schools of thought.  Yet he had no desire to rewrite or revise. Returning to the ‘spiral curriculum’ that was common currency in the 70s (when I started teaching) I found little to challenge and more to support the Scottish response to the demands for change from the profession in the National Debate: Curriculum for Excellence.  His summary, to me, outlines our aspirations for the transformative nature of CfE; ‘ the curriculum of a subject should be determined by the most fundamental understanding that can be achieved of the underlying principles that give structure to that subject…teaching specific topics/skills without making clear their context in the broader fundamental structure of a field of knowledge is uneconomical…’.  he goes on to outline his reasoning that sounds remarkably similar to CfE entitlements and curricular design principles.

Those who see CfE as a curriculum devoid of content or subject knowledge  need to stop thinking mechanistically about implementing changes to a curriculum or courses and go back to the foundations of CfE- the design principles and entitlements and what they mean for the fundamental structure of a subject.  They need to understand that this incorporates rather than denies connectedness and the importance of context.

Those who believed in the transformational nature of CfE until the going got tough with colleagues, parents, managers, media, staff room culture need to gird their loins, take courage and talk about what they believe in and hope for, what they know makes a difference to our learners.  As a profession we need to be knowledgeable and reflective about what CfE aspires to achieve for our young people. To return to an over- assessed, exam driven learning experience for our young people that results in a new form of a ‘two term dash’ to NQs is a travesty to a profession that has been handed, on a plate, the greatest opportunity in centuries, to educate not school our learners.

That is a scenario that causes me great sadness.  There is a seam of dynamic, progressive, courageous, pedagogical activity deep within the education community across Scotland- it needs to come to the surface and drive the ‘Leaders’ and ‘Managers’ and ‘Policy- makers’ into putting their money where their mouths were…no change of this nature is easy but educators need to be at the heart of driving the system.  As a good friend of mine once said ‘there are dark forces out there…’. To lose heart now- or to dilute the richness and ambitions of CfE would be madness.

Bruner identified the critical success of curricular development as being for teachers not pupils. ‘If it cannot change, move, perturb, inform teachers, it will have no effect on those whom we teach. It must be first and foremost a curriculum for teachers.’

Bruner cited that his ‘Process of Education’ (1960) was ‘a creature of its time, place and circumstances’.  I found much that was a ‘creature of now, Scotland and the opportunities we as a profession have been given…should we have the courage to run with it.