Sheila Laing’s talk on Social Justice: annual conference 2014

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Sheila has kindly made her presentation available to everyone and added an audio commentary  just click on the loudspeaker symbol on each slide to hear it. Many, many thanks, Sheila. Hope others get as much from it as we did on the day.

Click either  here or on the image above  to download Sheila’s presentation.

Social justice in schools: our three priorities exercise

A Capture of our three social justice priorities for schools

A Capture of our three social justice priorities for schools

And here is a summary of your priorities:

SELMAS Social justice conference October 2014

You three priorities for better social justice in schools:

Values and learning priorities

Establish Common values.
Discuss values and empowerment.
Ensure core values adopted across school community & challenge those who don’t.
Shared vision and values.
Develop “political literacy.”
Understanding of difference, respect, acceptance.
Staff development CLPL.
CPD for all school community.
Lead by example.
Remind staff of the power to change.
Discuss assumptions/intolerance.
Challenge assumptions.
Encourage diversity of staff to reflect society. 

Achievement for all priorities

Encouraging high expectations.

Growth mindsets

Greater opportunities for all.
Inclusion – achievement for all through in inclusive curriculum.
No exclusion.
Use GIRFEC in theory and practice.


Encouraging connections priorities

Partnerships across agencies.
Parental needs – involving parents.
Value Parental contribution.
Parental engagement.
Involving parents .

Democracy and power priorities

Challenge status quo.
Sharing decision making.
Involving young people in making decisions.
Devolve budgets.
Promote democracy.

Encourage disadvantaged voices in decision making.
Breaking down remaining social structural hierarchies –setting.
Challenge accepted hierarchies.

And a summary of your 3 priorities for better social justice in Scotland

Worlde SJ2

Professional responsibility priorities 

Take our professional responsibility to challenge structures which maintain and reproduce inequality seriously

Challenge the status quo & question political agendas

Working with partners

Develop positive aspirations and mindsets

Democracy and equality priorities 


More devolution of power

More power to communities

Reform Welfare system – funding to tackle deprivation

UNIRC (rights of the child) embedded in legislation

Ensure political commitment and agreed common plan for achieving greater equality

Establish “citizens’ income” or living wage

Introduce child poverty tax


Schooling  priorities 

More focus on EY

Improve quality of EY experience for all

Extend school starting age

GIRFEC is vital


Remove competitive statistical comparisons between schools

Eradicate discrimination of “less good” school

Reduce school segregation faith/private schools



Wider  priorities 

Use of social media to educate

Adverts on TV to promote social justice

Devlop neighbourhood vocational classes/ certificates/apprenticeships

Reinforce family values

Enforce a better work ethic

Encourage less fear around failure and small accidents

Challenge H&S dictats

SELMAS annual conference 2014: social justice – an impossible ideal?

A participant’s perspective…….Danny Murphy shares his thoughts.

The SELMAS Conference this year lived up to its usual high standard, addressing the issue of how schools and school leaders should respond to the issue which is at the centre of Scotlands future: social justice.

There were three excellent speakers. Lesley Riddoch led us off with a mixture of statistics, information and passion – she drew on her work with colleagues in Scandinavia to develop a vision of where we should be going but she also showed a nuanced understanding of the complex interplay of culture, expectations and school systems – change of this kind is a long term project, not a quick fix, but we need to make a start. Alan Williamson, Headteacher at Lasswade High, reminded us that Scottish schools are already doing quite a lot. The new policy environment of Curriculum for Excellence, GIRFEC and the management information tool ‘Insight’ creates a space in which secondary schools are more empowered than before to to bring all children into a meaningful educational experience leading to a positive destination. Sheila Laing, drawing on her work in West Pilton and Prestonpans, revisited Maslow – until children’s basic needs are met, we cannot expect to develop the four capacities of the new curriculum. Key values are ‘respect, nurture, learn.’ It is important for school leaders to be aware who has power and who is powerless in a school community and to share power across the school community. Although as school leaders we cannot do much at a the ‘macro’ level of Scottish policy, we can make a difference by what we do at the ‘meso’ level of the school and what we do makes a difference at the ‘micro’ level of the individual – that’s where we’ve got to start. In among Sheila’s many stories, we’ll all remember Billy – this year he is getting a poppy.

In between the presentations, we discussed the issues raised in smaller groups, sharing perspectives and experiences. One of the great advantages of the SELMAS event is that it brings people from all sectors and all parts of Scotland and there is always some useful discussion and sharing in those informal moments, over coffee and lunch. Each group had to prepare not two stars and a wish, but three wishes for a socially just Scotland and three wishes for socially just schools. These are being collated by the Selmas committee. We won’t have come up with all the answers, but those present will all go back to their various school communities with plenty of good ideas and a renewed sense that we are all part of a common project to make Scotland a better fairer place.

Danny Murphy was keen to share his thoughts about our annual conference on social justice. Danny’s new book ‘Schooling Scotland’, reviewed as a ‘must read for every adult in Scotland’, has just been published by Argyll Press at £7.99. Find out more on Danny’s own blog

SELMAS annual conference 2014: Social Justice: an Impossible Ideal?

The programme for the 2014 SELMAS Conference has now been finalised. It will be held on Thursday 30 October in the Management Centre at Stirling University. Once again we have a superb platform of speakers for what is always one of the most stimulating days on the Scottish educational calendar.

Our theme this year is Social Justice: an Impossible Ideal? By the time of the Conference the Referendum will be passed but, whatever the outcome, Scotland’s future, the future of its educational system and its capacity for social justice will all remain major issues. SELMAS’s conference will address these.

Our three speakers are broadcaster and writer, Lesley Riddoch; Alan Williamson, formerly headteacher at Hawick High School and now at Lasswade High School; and Sheila Laing, headteacher at Prestonpans Nursery School. The programme is below.

We are keeping prices for the conference at the same level as last year, £80 per delegate. We are also offering the same discount as last year: providing the second delegate has never previously attended a SELMAS event, two delegates may attend for £120. To make a provisional booking simply download this BOOKING PRO FORMA conference 2014

and email it to Alex Wood

Snake oil and ladders – reflections on brainstrust 2 by Alex Wood

Our recent brainstrust seminar at City of Glasgow College in June prompted Alex Wood into some thinking about leadership, imrovement, beareacracy and accountability. He shared this article with us which was first publisghed in TESS. Many thanks, Alex ……alex woodThe assumption is often made that good schools always have good leaders and poor leaders always create poor schools. A recent seminar in Glasgow addressed the issue, asking what leadership is and how we can ensure good leadership.
Former headteacher Danny Murphy insisted that leadership had been too readily separated from management, which was viewed as boring and technical. But leadership and management are intimately connected. Sue Beattie, headteacher of Belmont Academy in Ayr, stated that the quality of leadership in Scottish schools could be a lottery, determined by circumstances beyond a leader’s control.
Certainly, there is huge variation in the quality of professional review across the country, with many teachers sceptical about the support they receive. Too often it’s a tick-box procedure, rather than support for reflective practice. Professional Update, the new approach from the General Teaching Council for Scotland, should improve CPD, but the whole process appears to dodge the issue of competence.
Again, there is huge variation in CPD provision between local authorities. Professional development cannot be delivered on the cheap, especially if the goal is effective leadership. Recruitment and selection procedures also vary from authority to authority, from the exceptionally poor to the highly demanding, with pupil involvement and rigorous screening. There is also, however, reluctance among many teachers to apply for leadership posts.
Walter Humes, visiting professor of education at the University of Stirling, suggested at the seminar that much of the agonising about leadership in recent years had been “unproductive and unhelpful”. Mind-numbingly dull academic contributions to debates about leadership, he suggested, had only added to the confusion – as well as leadership gurus’ ability to sell their snake oil without challenge.
So what, then, is good leadership? Professor Humes expressed it as: “Recognised expertise demonstrated by example, rather than exhortation; a clear sense of purpose; fairness in the treatment of staff; support for colleagues in times of difficulty; praise for good performance; a willingness to address hard issues and listen to critics; and openness to new thinking.”
He suggested that the current emphasis on leadership was partly to shift focus away from issues of policy and resource: “By devolving responsibility on to headteachers and schools, and tying them to a tight agenda of ‘improvement’ – defined narrowly in terms of exam passes – the scene is set for attributing blame when things go wrong. But although responsibility is devolved, power remains not on the front line of service provision but in the back rooms of the educational bureaucracies.”
That’s a perspective many teachers, including committed school leaders, would share.
The above article was published in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland on 1 August 2014:

Walter Humes on Leadership – brainstrust2

Challenging the Discourse of Leadership

Walter Humes

I should admit right away that I am something of a sceptic on the subject of leadership. By that I don’t mean that I think leadership is unimportant but I do think much of the agonising about it in recent years has been unproductive and unhelpful.

Leadership Courses

Consider the record. We have had the SQH – which critics regard as too academic and not sufficiently geared to practice. We have had the flexible route to headship – which has been criticised as insufficiently demanding and lacking in intellectual rigour. We have had Columba 1400 which those who have attended enthuse about but the firm evidence of its institutional – as distinct from its personal – benefits is hard to find. Mind you, I can think of a number of people in Scottish education I would happily send on a course which included white water rafting and free fall parachuting.

We have also had Glasgow City Council developing its own Aspiring Heads programme. The rationale for this programme sounds reasonable – the city’s educational challenges are different in nature and scale from other parts of the country and require tailored leadership training. An alternative interpretation is that senior officials in Glasgow are suspicious about allowing an external perspective which might introduce new ways of thinking and acting that might disturb their assumptions. In a recent evaluation of the different programmes providers were asked to identify the strengths and limitations of their current provision. On limitations, the response from Glasgow was ‘No obvious weaknesses – the Council would address them if there were’. This suggests a disturbingly complacent attitude.

GTCS + Donaldson

In addition to all this there has been the development of the GTCS Standards: Standards for Registration (including provisional and full registration); Standards for Career-Long Professional Learning; Standards for Leadership and Management. These include recommendations for encouraging leadership development at various stages of a teacher’s career and for the promotion of distributed leadership. This is consistent with some of the key recommendations in the Donaldson Report which sees good leadership as essential to the production of a teaching force fit for the 21st century.

Academic Contributions

As if all this wasn’t enough there have been hundreds of mind-numbingly dull academic contributions to debates about leadership. I should confess that I have contributed to some of these. And what has been the result of all this effort? Here’s what two of the leading experts have said. Peter Gronn has written that ‘a significant amount of the field’s understanding of leadership is grounded in highly dubious and problematic assumptions’. And John Macbeath, referring specifically to distributed leadership, has described it as ‘a contested concept embracing a wide range of understandings and often bearing little apparent relationship to what happens in schools and classrooms’.

Leadership Gurus

This confusion has left the way open for so-called leadership gurus who claim to be able to transform jaded individuals and institutions into energised, upbeat agents of renewal. All for a fat fee, of course, and there is no shortage of takers. Some of these gurus advertise themselves as consultants – I always think it is no accident that the word ‘consultant’ begins with a ‘con’.

My Own Position

What about my own view of leadership? It comes in a variety of forms, often linked to the particular personalities of those exercising it. I have known and worked with strong, flamboyant leaders, quietly efficient leaders, leaders who had good ideas but depended on others to carry them through, leaders who were good with people and very much ‘hands on’ but who were less good with paperwork and bureaucracy. I have known leaders who were skilful diplomats and able to negotiate successfully with the bureaucracy. I have known fewer leaders than I would have liked who were prepared to challenge officialdom and willing to say no if they thought they were justified in doing so.But although effective leadership can take many forms there are certain basic principles which can be identified. They do not call for rocket science and can be stated quite simply in common sense terms: recognised expertise demonstrated by example rather than exhortation; a clear sense of purpose; fairness in the treatment of staff; support for colleagues in times of difficulty; praise for good performance; a willingness to address hard
issues and listen to critics; openness to new thinking.

The Importance of Context

The actual embodiment of these principles will depend to a large extent on particular contexts. Government attempts to make everything conform to a single corporate image are likely to fail and should be resisted. We have here one of the central contradictions of Scottish education. The new curriculum for excellence is intended to produce pupils who are flexible learners and can think for themselves. It is claimed that the approach to teacher education recommended in the Donaldson report will encourage more independent thinking. But talk to teachers and you find that their experience is that independent
thinking is fine in theory but not welcome in practice: it is certainly not appreciated by local authorities, by the SQA or by the inspectorate. There is a fair amount of bad faith in the official discourse of Scottish education and that includes the discourse surrounding leadership.

Responsibility Without Power

Let me end by suggesting a rather sinister motive behind the current emphasis on leadership. It seems to me it is, in part at least, a diversionary tactic designed to shift the focus away from issues of policy and resources. By devolving responsibility onto head teachers and schools, and tying them to a tight agenda of ‘improvement’ – defined narrowly in terms of exam passes – the scene is set for attributing blame when things go wrong. But although responsibility is devolved, power is not. Power remains not on the front line of service provision but in the back rooms of the educational bureaucracies, in the inner
circles of the policy communities which continue to be managed by a system of patronage, a system that benefits those who know how to play the political game. The discourse of leadership deserves to be subject to sharp, critical interrogation.