The Child Outside the System: SELMAS Forum 2017 by Jay Helbert

 

This is a guest post from Jay Helbert of SCEL. Jay chaired this year’s forum and also wrote this interesting reflection about his impressions of it – thanks on two counts, Jay, from your friends at SELMAS.

This year’s forum took place at St George’s School, Edinburgh with a focus on the child outside the system.  This was my first time at a SELMAS forum and as chair, I took this as an opportunity to challenge those in attendance to be provocative, think creatively and be brave in their conversations and beyond.  This is not to say I think teachers and education leaders are fearty or faint of heart.  In fact to do the very jobs we do requires great doses of fortitude, courage and resilience.  Rather the challenge was to use the forum as a space to imagine and think beyond the system.

We were joined at the forum by a number of innovative thinkers who, more importantly are also innovative doers.  First of all, Paul Blackwell, of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service told us of how a chance conversation with a colleague in Police Scotland led to him tackling the issue of gang violence and anti-social behaviour.  This is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when people think beyond the traditional and prescribed parameters of one’s role or agency to create sustained change.  Paul’s message was clear and reflected what was to become a theme of the forum:

“Be the person who brings change about, often it starts with you.”  His philosophy of developing solutions with gang members rather than delivering solutions to them, or worse doing things to them is an example of genuine engagement.

The second speaker of the night was Fiona McKenzie, a former music teacher who now runs Centre Stage Communities Ltd, an organisation that uses the arts (and food) to engage people of all ages – current members range from 3 weeks to 106 years old.  Fiona’s talk achieved that rarest of things by having people laughing one moment and choked up the next.  This wasn’t mere ‘edutainment’ though.  Fiona discussed her team meetings where, when new ideas are discussed, staff are encouraged to ask, “What’s the best that can happen?”.  This take on an old question shifts the emphasis to encourage people to imagine a preferred future and then set about making it happen.

He drew a circle that shut me out –

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!

–          Outwitted by Edward Markham

 

Fiona was followed by Ian MacMillan, an experienced leader from the financial industry and third sector.  Ian is a non-executive director and chair of Cyrenians, a charity that re-engages those who are excluded, from education, employment or society. Ian was very honest about the fact that teachers and school leaders face a wide range of challenges, from bureaucratic demands, through to the changing nature of curricula and assessment arrangements.  He did, however encourage us all to remember the passion we have for education and continue to kindle the spark that glows within.

“You can’t light the spark in others of it’s not burning brightly within – the greatest thing a teacher does is light a spark, create a trigger moment which creates passion, confidence and allows learners to be free.”

Ian shared his learning from David Marquet’s experiences as a submarine commander when he turned USS Santa Fe from the worst rated ship in the US Navy, into the best.  The key messages can be found in this inspirational and short video clip.

Our final speaker of the night was Gillian Hunt, who reminded us of some stark statistics about the number of young people who leave school without a ‘positive destination’ or more worryingly without a sustained positive destination that enable independent living and positive life experiences.  Many children leave school at 16, but moany of these have disengaged by time they are in second year.  Again Gillian was clear that the majority of young people are engaged in school and are served well by schools, however she is seeking a solution for those to whom school is perhaps not the most conducive environment for learning.  Inspired by Newlands Junior College, Gillian is working with a range of partners from the public, private and third sectors to establish a junior college in Edinburgh.

The forum finished with a very lively panel session where we explored the question – should we have to leave the system to bring about real change?  This led to some deep discussion about the definition of ‘the system’ (are we not all the system?), the power of Mavericks (should we subvert the rules if we know it is the right thing to do?  If so what risks do we take?) and how any individual can change such a vast system (one lone actor can seem like a nut, but when followers join, you have a movement).

“We but mirror the world.  All of the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body.  If we change ourselves then the tendencies in the world will change.”  Mohandas Gandhi.

Throughout the night, I was reminded of an analogy my first head teacher, used to use; some people are like thermometers – they are good at telling you it’s too cold.  Others are like thermostats – they figure out that it’s too cold and then do something about it.

It’s up to you folks.  Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

 

Personal Note: This blog is a personal reflection of the night as experienced through my eyes and ears.  The beauty of SELMAS forum is that because of the structure and wonderful people present, every single person will have had a unique experience – it would be great to hear yours.

 

 

Annual Conference: “Changing Futures: Believing in our young people.”

BOOKING NOW OPEN

Following last year’s highly successful conference in the Caves, on the theme of “Equity and Aspiration in Education”, booking is now open for this year’s event.

The theme will be “Changing Futures: Believing in our young people” chosen by the SELMAS Committee to continue the focus on issues related to the educational experiences of those young people whose needs are not being met by our current system. As always we have signed up a number of spirited and challenging speakers to stimulate discussion and reflection.

These will include:
John Swinney MSP, our Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills who will outline current Government strategies designed to “Close the Gap.”
Mairi Breen, headteacher of Braehead Primary School who will describe how her teachers are making a real and lasting difference to children in their school who are living in poverty.
John Carnochan who as a senior police officer worked for many years in some of the most deprived communities in Scotland where the levels of poverty and deprivation were usually matched by a sense of hopelessness and disconnection from society.
Cathy McCulloch, Co-Director of the Children’s Parliament which works with children in the context of family, school and community. The Parliament connects children with each other, with adults, with their communities and allows them to influence the development of better services for children.
Sarah-Jane Linton and some of the young people from Who Cares? Scotland which is a national voluntary organisation, working with care experienced young people and care leavers across Scotland.
As always the Conference aims to offer stimulating and creative thinking around this key issue for all educators, and an opportunity to engage with others in thought-provoking discussion.

The venue is the Radisson Blu Hotel, 80 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TH and the date is February 2nd 2017

Book via eventbrite: http://bit.ly/SELMAS020217
This conference is supported by and in partnership with SCEL, the Scottish College for educational Leadership
SCEL

An account of the SELMAS annual conference from Jayne Horsburgh –

Equity and Aspiration in Education; The Caves, Edinburgh

Reflecting on the conference I was struck by one particular issue raised by Carol Craig, Chief Executive of the Centre for Confidence and Well-being and author of ‘The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence’. After the last few months of witnessing the unfolding of the refugee crisis in Europe, 13 November saw two opposite and equally momentous events unfolding. At almost the same time as Scotland welcomed the first group of refugees from Syria and offered a hand of friendship and opportunity, the people of Paris were subjected to a horrific attack on their liberty. I considered how the values of equity and aspiration are reflected in completely opposite ways in these events and Carol Craig raised this very issue in her keynote address.

Carol spoke of the way in which the balance of equality and equity in society equate to citizens’ general sense of self-esteem. She explained to the conference how research indicates that, as these values decline, low self-esteem becomes a breeding ground for the outworking of actions such as bullying and race related violence by those who feel they are at the bottom off the social pecking order as they seek out others whom they see as even lower than they are to blame and lash out at. I contemplated whether or not this might be part of what we are witnessing in the sink estates of Paris?

On a lighter note ….

This year’s conference was organised to take place in a unique venue and at the outset Neil Craik-Collins provided us with an insight into its historical significance. During the 18th Century the Caves were one of the venues used by the Oyster Club whose members included James Hutton (father of modern geology) David Hume (philosopher), Joseph Black (chemist) and Adam Smith (economist). Members engaged in deep thinking and debate about the issues of the day, this we intended to emulate while stopping short of eating oysters, drinking claret, and indulging in communal orgy!!

Neil reminded us that, although Adam Smith is remembered as an economist and is often misquoted in the context of capitalist thinking, his intent was to ensure that an economic system would provide an equitable society where every worker would have the means to “wear a linen shirt”.

Our own Oyster Club namesake, Professor Walter Hume provided the first keynote address .Walter, by his own admission, is well known for disturbing the status quo and did not disappoint!

His amusing and yet incisive comments challenged current political policies aimed at ‘Closing the Gap’ and raising attainment as inadequate since school equality on its own will not achieve social equality while reminding us of the notoriety of politics as a short term game where politicians often use “policy a spectacle” [e.g. standardised testing?] and only add to the problem.

Considering leadership he questioned the current emphasis on school leadership, pushing responsibility (and blame?) onto head teachers while their hands are tied by the policy makers. How would you assess the quality of leadership at the upper levels of the educational establishment?

So…..what impact is all of the policy making, discussion and debate really having on young people? Care leaver, ex young carer and now poverty campaigner, Chris Kilkenny’s (twitter: @KilkennyChris) experience, in a society which prides itself on providing free education for all, provided a real wake up call. As a young boy Chris’s story was used as part of the ‘Wrong Trainers’ series and he explained how his choices at school were limited because there was no money in the family to pay for things like Home Economics, school trips etc.  Without blame or self-pity Chris articulated how it really is and what really can make a difference to a young person in poverty. His solutions were not sweeping policy changes or grandiose schemes but a considered plea to simply care. Care about the young people in your class, school and community. Ask if they are OK? Keep asking even if they reject you, don’t let anyone be invisible, make sure education really is free. Chris challenged us to consider: What one thing could you do to make a difference to one young person today?

Jim McColl has certainly taken that challenge personally and is currently making a real difference to the lives of the young people who now attend Newlands Junior College, Glasgow. Seeking to close the ‘opportunity gap’ for ‘young people who are trapped’ in the poverty cycle, Jim echoed Chris’s plea for relationship building with the young people and their families, challenging the lack of parity between vocational and academic education. While I admire this initiative and am grateful that someone is indeed doing his bit to make a difference, it seems to me unfortunate that Jim has had to develop an independent school in order to achieve this. Perhaps GIRFEC really means that there is a need to provide more appropriate provision to meet the needs of our young people in more diverse ways and not maintain what we have been guilty of in recent years i.e. an interpretation of inclusion which forces the impossible on comprehensive schools, expecting them to be ‘all things to all men’ and recognising that one size will not fit all!

Meanwhile, within the state system, Gerry Lyons was able to provide a positive and encouraging account of his very successful comprehensive school where 67% of the young people live in homes on the lowest 15% income brackets. Using what he says staff affectionately call a ‘Stalinist’ approach his mantra is “never settle for second best”. By applying this to every aspect of schooling from employing the best teachers to assertively encouraging and supporting young people, he described obstacles as things which you can jump over or get around but commented that sometimes you just have to have the courage to barge through them. Schools need to have ‘extra mile’ people who are committed to doing everything they can to help  young people achieve to the best of their ability. For me another reminder that whatever the policy makers decide it’s relationships with the young people and their families that will make the difference. Everybody needs to be doing the right thing Gerry challenged us to consider……….. What is your right thing?

While the Cabinet Secretary for Education reminded us that the government is committed to equity and excellence I came away encouraged that there is a recognition and a will amongst professionals who recognise that equity is not just about school education, it is about the whole system surrounding families and communities and not ignoring the resources the people themselves bring.

Schools can however be the places which make a real difference for young people. Lead by head teachers who have the courage and the conviction to make decisions about budgets, about people, about curriculum structures and about partnership working that will sustain a culture where not only young people, but professionals themselves, are encouraged, supported and given permission to do the right thing.

Jayne Horsburgh, SELMAS committee member

SELMAS annual conference 2015: Equity and Aspiration in Education


CIC imageA return to the age of Enlightenment?

UPDATE

We are delighted to announce the support of our friends at SCEL, Scotland’s College for Educational Leadership, and also our sister organisation BELMAS in hosting this event.

SELMAS has chosen an auspicious date and historic setting of The Caves in Edinburgh for its 2015 annual conference

which addresses the theme of equity and education. Once the venue for the famous “Oyster Club” of the Enlightenment, frequented by Adam Smith and other such luminaries, this UNESCO protected world heritage site is the ideal location for an honest and open debate around aspects of the challenge of (in)equity in education.

Cost – £85: book now via eventbrite – confirmed programme:

SELMAS Annual  Conference 2015: Equity and Aspiration – How can education contribute to the creation of a more equitable society?

Friday 13th November, The Caves, Edinburgh

Programme

9.30        Coffee and registration

10.00     Welcome and introduction: Margaret Alcorn, Convenor of SELMAS

10.15     Why the Caves?: Neil Craik-Collins, SELMAS Committee member                                                                      10.25     Keynote 1Professor Walter Humes, University of Stirling    

10.45     Group discussion 1        

11.15     Keynote 2:  Carol Craig, CEO Centre for Confidence & Wellbeing                                                                           11.35     Group discussion 2      

12.00     Danny Murphy leads a conversation between Walter Hume and Carol Craig on comments from the group discussion

12.20     Lunch and networking

1.20        Keynote 3Gerry Lyons Head Teacher St. Andrew’s RC Secondary

1.40        Group discussion 3

2.00        Keynote 4: Jim McColl, Entrepreneur

2.20        Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Life-long Learning

2.40        Panel discussion led by Margaret Alcorn

3.20        Danny Murphy: Final reflections

4.00     Conference closes

Coming soon – #Brainstrust4: the challenges of equity in education

Welcome back to session 2015-16. Everyone at SELMAS wishes all our followers; leaders, educators and students alike every success and best wish for the new term. To kick things off we have organised our fourth Brainstrust event – this time in the new Malala Library in the recently rebuilt James Gillespie’s High School. We are grateful to Mr Donald MacDonald of the school for letting us use the premises and also to the Centre for Confidence and Well-being for their partnership in this event.

What is Brainstrust?

Brainstrust is a SELMAS speciality – it is a SELMAS type of discussion event we like to host on a very topical issue; sometimes in response to a document or report which is relevant to educational leadership, or sometimes on a question or problem which has been ruminating within the system and surfaces at a certain time.

Being an independent body of volunteers we can organise these events quickly, so they have a bit of a “pop-up” feel. Keep on the look-out for them as you don’t often get much warning! To do this we rely on friends and supporters, so we always have a partner organisation with us in brainstrust.

We call these events “Brainstrust” because they involve serious thinking about serious issues  and true to our principles, SELMAS does not defend any particular agenda in the course of the discussion but allows all manner of questions to be asked – difficult and awkward ones included, in order to allow a space for mature, open, informed and sometimes critical conversations about educational matters to take place.

If you are on our mailing list a flyer will be arriving in your inbox very soon. But as a special reward for reading our blog you can preview it here: Flyer for Brains trust 9.09.2015 and get your booking in early via eventbrite. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Two events for your diary

Two very important dates for your diary!
Avis
 
16th June  3.00 – 4.00 “A Conversation with Avis Glaze” at Glasgow University. This will be part of the Character Scotland Conference www.character.scot/conference and spaces are very limited.
Book you place here 

 
 
9th September SELMAS/Postcards from Scotland Brains Trust
“The Challenges of Equity: What is the role of educational leaders in contributing to strategic, political and cultural change?”. Speakers will include Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, Derek Brown, Head of Education at Fife Council and Danny Murphy, author of Schooling Scotland. 
The event will take place in the Malala Building , James Gillespies High School
57 Lauderdale Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH9 1DD

There will be no charge for this event. Places should be booked by emailing Bob.Cook@ed.ac.uk

Invitation to SELMAS members for the launch of the leadership in Scottish Education Newtwork

lisenYou are cordially invited to join us for the official launch of the network which will take place at the University of Glasgow,  5.00-7.00pm in R433, St Andrew’s Building on Tuesday, 2nd June. Gillian Hamilton, CEO of the new Scottish College for Educational Leadership, will discuss ‘The Scottish College for Educational Leadership – vision, progress and challenges of supporting a research informed profession.’

You are warmly invited to attend this event – please register at https://www.eventbrite.com/d/united-kingdom–glasgow/lisen/. Please forward this communication to any colleagues whom you think might be interested in attending the event or joining the network (I have attached a leaflet and a membership form). Membership of the network is open to non-SERA members although we would clearly encourage colleagues to join SERA.

Best wishes,

Dr Joan Mowat LiSEN Co-convenor, University of Strathclyde
Dr Margery McMahon LiSEN Co-Convenor, University of Glasgow