Hope everyone enjoyed the forum on 14th May 2015. Ewan McIntosh, educational innovator and founder of NoTosh attended for the first time and shared his thoughts on the discussions in not just one, but a series of blogposts! Many thanks for sharing this with us, Ewan. It would be interesting to see if we can keep this conversation going……..(also see our LinkedIn discussion group)
Dr Judith McClure
We three arrived early on a beautiful Spring afternoon for our meeting with AngelaConstance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning. The meeting had been set up by Dr Judith McClure who has a CV rich in leadership experiences. Currently she is the Chair of the Advisory Board of SCSSA, and is the architect and convenor of SCEN (The Scotland China Education Network). Each of us had given notice of an area of leadership that we hoped to discuss with Ms Constance. Judith’s centred on the role of headteachers in relation to the local authorities, and how they can be empowered to be innovative and freed up from central control and bureaucracy. Our conversation strayed into a wider discussion of the difficulties that local authorities are currently facing, as budget cuts begin to really bite and the capacity for officers to support schools decreases. Judith argued that change was needed urgently and referred to the recommendations made in the By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education report. I was next up and had very cleverly (well I thought so) combined two related issues. I wanted to talk about our continuing failure to close the attainment gap, an issue which Sir John Jones suggested should be causing us “righteous indignation”. A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation “Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Scotland 2015” acknowledged that progress had been made, but that on current projections it will take a further 30 years before the gap is closed. This is a clear concern of the Scottish Government and we welcomed the setting up of “The Attainment Challenge” and the allocation of a £100 million fund to improve educational outcomes. I argued that innovative and committed leadership of this initiative was needed in order to ensure success from this investment. I suggested that we should seek a charismatic and inspirational leader to create a clear vision, and ensure coherence and consistency. There were some interesting international comparisons which could inform the project, and the leaders of these, such as Avis Glaze who led the transformation of the Ontario education system, or Sir Tim Brighouse who did so much to bring success to the schools involved in the London Challenge could act as consultants for us. I further suggested that the usual model of a central group of experts deciding what needed to be done, the production of “support materials” and a website, launched by a national event, with the implementation then monitored by the experts, was no longer viable and did not reflect research evidence of what makes for effective change management. We needed locally‐driven, bottom‐up, flexible developments which acknowledged local teachers, parents, community members and pupils as the experts.
My second (related) issue was the need to address support for schools in implementing Scotland’s Young Workforce. Again the theme of locally‐owned change seemed relevant. The third member of our group was Simon Macaulay who led the Scottish Government’s Working Group on Languages 2012, and is an honorary teaching fellow at the university of Aberdeen. Simon has become particularly concerned with the development of the teaching of Mandarin in our schools. He asked that the Scottish Government gave a message to secondary headteachers that Curriculum for Excellence does not aim to a narrowing of the curriculum in S4 and that languages, especially Chinese, should be an entitlement for all young people in the Senior Phase. Simon reflected on the good progress that was being made in the 1 + 2 Languages Plan, particularly in the primary sector, but argued he was concerned that the learning of languages in our high schools seemed to be in decline.
The Cabinet Secretary engaged positively with the points that we made, but said she believed that many of our suggestions were concerns for the local authorities rather than for Scottish Government. She was unwilling to become too engaged in pointing fingers or making judgements on local issues. She reiterated the absolute commitment of the Government to the 1+2 Plan, and acknowledged the importance of learning languages to the development of young people. However the balance between empowering headteachers to be more innovative, and offering central direction was a difficult one to maintain. She had been very impressed with the ambition, methodology and scope of the “Raising Attainment for All Programme”which had been launched in June of last year. Twelve local authorities and over 100 schools across Scotland have committed to becoming part of this learning community which will support the implementation of improvement methodology and enable shared learning across the country. The focus in this programme is very much on collaboration in the service of improvements for children.
Finally the Cabinet Secretary also reminded us that there were many positive developments, such as the launch of SCEL (the Scottish College for Education Leadership), the new and developing partnerships between local authorities and universities, and the allocation of significant funds through the Attainment Challenge. The progress made since the publication of Teaching Scotland’s Future in 2010 would be reviewed in a series of legacy events over the next few months.
On 27th January 2015 we will be co-hosting a discussion with our friends at Character Scotland and the University of Strathclyde. The theme of the discussion is:Questions of Character – supporting children and young people to flourish. You’ll find more information and the booking process here – please join us if you can for an open and stimulating discussion.
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
Mark Priestley challenges the forum to think about whether asking questions about autonomy are the right questions to ask and introduces the concepts of input and output regulation, the former of which he suggest we need more of, the latter of which, he suggests erode autonomy, enforce conformity and inhibit change.
Selmas Conference 2009
The Impact of Change
11th September 2009
Once again education leaders from all over Scotland gathered in Stirling for the annual Selmas conference.
As in previous years conference was addressed by the Cabinet Secretary. Fiona Hyslop MSP who spoke of the increase in spending on education by the current administration, and the somewhat disappointing decline in the rate of improvement within the system. She invited school leaders to develop a culture that is genuinely aspirational, and that is built on a commitment to innovation and change. Curriculum for Excellence offers us all the opportunity to engage pupils in learning that has breadth and depth and that raises standards for everyone. She spoke of her optimism for the changes and of her view that schools were now engaged in working on the CfE agenda for change.
Margaret Alcorn followed with a brief input on the need for an aligned system, with confident and cheerful leaders all focused on the “main thing”. She spoke of the need to continue to consider the values and principles of CfE.
We then heard from a panel of 5 educational leaders. David Cameron spoke of the challenge for local authorities to provide consistency and cohesion; Christine Forde spoke of developing leadership to make an impact in the classroom; Neal McGowan asked whether we had the right climate for leadership within Scotland, and suggested too many headteachers were compliant and lacked freedom to act creatively; Alex Wood summarised some of his learning from the International Summer School and Jenny Campbell suggested that some heads were overly involved in the detail, perhaps because this was a comfort zone, and that it was important to develop a high performance mindset. The delegates then engaged in a lively discussion on the points raised by the panel.
After lunch, we watched the “My big idea for Scottish education” DVD, then listened to a description of Learning Rounds from Graham Thomson. The headteacherof Irvive Royal, Stirling Mackie, and a teacher of technical, Alan Hume, from the school then described their experience of Learning Rounds in a school setting.
We finished the day with Karen Prophet of Edinburgh who spoke about models for change in the context of Curriculum for Excellence. She said that in order to interpret the complexity of curricular reform, we require leaders not managers, and returned to one of the recurring themes that had characterised the day, that is the role of headteachers to be “Leaders of Learning”.
The feedback from delegates suggests that once again, SELMAS managed to offer a challenging and stimulating day, packed with opinions, information and opportunities to network.