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There’s only one person who can raise attainment


In my work to support the development of teacher leadership, it’s important for me to reflect upon how this relates to other contemporary drivers in Scottish education, a key one being the National Improvement Framework. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t think that raising the attainment of the children and young people in their care isn’t important. This is equally true of closing the poverty related attainment gap. However, for many teachers, particularly those outwith the challenge authorities, the question often is more about what could they be doing differently in order to achieve these things. The first point I often make is that teachers in Scotland have been raising attainment and working to support children in poverty for years, and we should be seeing ourselves as working from a place of strength. However, it’s clear that for many of Scotland’s children there’s a lot more which could be done. So, what does this look like for teachers and what has it got to do with teacher leadership?

The point I’ve been increasingly making is that ultimately there is only one person who can raise attainment. In the context of this conversation I suspect that people think I’m suggesting that this is a teacher. However, what I actually mean is the learner. In my experience, the only person who can raise a child’s attainment is the child themselves. Only if a child is engaged, happy, ambitious and in possession of a growth mindset can they carry out the cognitive and physical processes required to successfully learn and then confidently share this learning. Attainment being a by-product of successful learning.

In this case, it is therefore those closest to the learner who can have the biggest impact on their ability to learn and succeed. Parents clearly have the biggest role here in terms of supporting and nurturing children, which is why schools are continually developing their approaches to involving parents in the life of the school and learning of their children. However, teachers have a big role to play here also. The relationships and interactions between the teacher and the learner can have a substantial impact on the learning, and the dispositions to learning, of the children and young people in that teacher’s care. And this is where teacher leadership comes in. Here is a section from SCEL’s definition of teacher leadership:

“Teacher leaders are passionate about caring for children and young people. Through informed and innovative practice, close scrutiny of pupils’ learning needs and high expectations they play a fundamental role in improving outcomes for children and young people. Teacher leaders are effective communicators who collaborate with colleagues, demonstrate integrity and have a positive impact on their school community. They model career-long professional learning.”

From SCEL’s Framework for Educational Leadership

Teachers who are confidently developing their practice to meet the needs of their learners, and influencing the practice of their colleagues, are clearly going to be more likely to successfully support their children and young people to achieve. Leaders at other levels in the system are crucial also in creating the right conditions and support to allow these interactions between learner and teacher to develop and flourish, but in the end it is the development of these interactions which is crucial to raising attainment.

In this context therefore, teacher leadership is not “another thing” but a crucial element in our collective drive to improve outcomes for children and young people in Scotland.

Inspiring Leadership #ILConf16


Wow, what a week. I’ve been tremendously lucky to be at the Inspiring Leadership conference in Birmingham this week. This is a high quality event aimed primarily at senior leaders in schools which provides opportunities to learn from inspirational leaders from a wide range of sectors.

One of the challenges however of events like this is that feeling you get at the end. It’s a combination of feeling inspired whilst also somewhat overwhelmed…

In order to help with this I’ve set myself a task as I return home on the train this afternoon. I tend to tweet my notes at events like this and so I’ve gone back through my timeline for the past few days and forced myself to choose just one tweet for each session. Not all of the tweets are mine, some are retweets. You can see each of these below and a short explanation for my choice for each.

You can view the many other Twitter contributions from the conference in the hashtag #ILConf16.

Welcome: Russell Hobby, General Secretary, NAHT
 & Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary, ASCL

The event was impressive in its organisation in that it was collaboratively organised between different bodies. Russell and Malcolm embodied this well in their welcome which seamlessly moved between them both. One of the messages which I liked was around the many ways in which schools in England can work in partnership. I imagine it can be be easy to get caught up in discussions around choosing which model to pick from, rather than working from the needs and priorities for the learners in your school community.

Plenary One
: Andy Buck, Managing Director, Leadership Matters and author

Andy Buck’s opening keynote was very entertaining. Among his many points was this one around the importance of teacher professional learning. Many of us are quite familiar with the potential, and limitations, of effect size data in reference to learning and teaching, I hadn’t seen effect sizes for leadership activities before. The differences in this graph are very interesting and worth further exploration I think.

Plenary Two: Panel session
 – Baroness (Estelle) Morris of Yardley, David Laws & Sir Peter Housden


This panel discussion between Estelle Morris, David Laws and Peter Housden was really interesting. As I say in the tweet, I really enjoy listening to Estelle. She’s got such authenticity and exudes wisdom. They spent quite a bit of time discussing transitioning into senior leadership roles and I really liked Estelle’s point that the best way of doing this is thinking yourself into your next role and then hitting the ground running when you get there.

Plenary Three
: Rt Hon Lord (William) Hague, former Foreign Secretary, historian and humanitarian


William Hague was surprisingly amusing, which was a good thing at this time at the end of the first day. He structured his talk around the seven pieces of leadership advice which he wished he’d known before becoming the leader of the opposition. I like the way this tweet captures these seven pieces of advice.

Plenary Four
: Steve Munby, Chief Executive, Education Development Trust


I thought Steve Munby was really excellent, I just wished I’d been able to pause and rewind him quite a few times! I particularly liked the way his talk was very targeted to the current needs of the audience and yet filled with emotion and moral purpose. I’ve chosen this tweet as these six questions I think could form the basis of a really powerful piece of professional learning for school leaders.

Plenary Five
: Viviane Robinson, Distinguished Professor in the School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice, Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland and Academic Director of its Centre for Educational Leadership


Viviane has clearly got a wealth of research experience and uses this to inform her work with schools. I liked the way she brought the importance of mindsets to the level of the thinking of senior school leaders and then how this then informs the ways in which leaders could interact with others. I chose this tweet as I think it captures the essence of her message.


Leadership with purpose: 
Baroness Sue Campbell CBE, Chair Youth Sport Trust, Head of Women’s Football (FA) and Chair of UK Sport 2003-2013


Sue Campbell was really excellent and she brought two perspectives to her talk. The first was what I’d been expecting about the actions of elite atheletes, but she also shared her leadership experiences from the perspective of chairing UK Sport which involved not only leading that organisation, but also working with the many different sport governing bodies. I’ve chosen this tweet as she manages to summarise her advice on leadership onto one, powerful, slide.

Collaboration as a strategy for promoting equity in education: possibilities and barriers
: Professor Mel Ainscow CBE, University of Manchester


Mel Ainscow was brilliant. He shared the ways in which schools need to develop their cultures within, between and with the community. I really liked his pragmatic approach to both his, and teachers’, research and I really need to read some of his work. I’ve chosen this tweet as it relates so strongly to my recent engagement on teacher leadership across Scotland, and I even bounded (as best I can) up to him at the end to give him a hard copy of the report.

Plenary Six
: Matthew Syed, writer, broadcaster and three times Commonwealth games champion and Olympian


I’m a big mindsets fan and really enjoyed Bounce, however I’d never heard Matthew speak before. I really enjoyed his talk, but he was even better in the Q&A at the end. I’ve chosen this tweet as I don’t think I’d ever made a conscious connection between practitioner enquiry and growth mindset before. Chuffed that I’ve now got a signed copy of his new book and looking forward to reading it…

Plenary Seven
: Zainab Salbi, Iraqi author, humanitarian, social entrepreneur and media commentator. Founder and former CEO Women for Women International


Zainab Salbi was phenomenal…such a powerful story. A thread running through her talk was that she was not a leader. Recently she has come to accept and love the fact that she is. This resonates somewhat with me…I think, like many teachers, I used to associate leadership with promotion and management. It wasn’t something I did, and I perhaps even would’ve distanced myself from that word. Zainab helped me to further realise that not only am I a leader, but that’s ok and something which can be celebrated and enjoyed and used to make my work better. I was hanging on her every word and so didn’t tweet much, but I think Lesley captured it perfectly.

Plenary Eight
: David Breashears, climber, photographer, film maker and founder, Executive Director and Principal Photographer of the non-profit organization, GlacierWorks, Inc.


David was amazing. He shared the story of his team’s effort to record the first IMAX film of climbing Everest in the midst of a horrific disaster. It was inspirational, awe inspiring and emotional and I loved the fact that as they gazed back at Everest as they left and wondered how on earth they had achieved what they had just achieved, this was their answer.

Plenary Nine: 
Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor to Pearson and the Managing Partner of Delivery Associates


I hadn’t realised that this panel session was going to focus on the role of Islam in education. It was a powerful and honest debate and the panellists were excellent. Even more impressive were the students who joined the session and contributed their thoughts both on film and in person. I think this is a conversation which we need to be having more often and in this way, but I’ve chosen Jay’s tweet as the students’ contributions were absolutely fantastic.

Plenary Ten
: Humphrey Walters – Leadership and management expert, sports coach, pilot and sailor


Humphrey closed the conference with a highly entertaining talk based primarily on his experiences as a sailor and a consultant to the World Cup winning English rugby team. I’ve chosen this tweet as I think it captures two powerful messages: focus on what you can control and whatever the turbulence around you is doing, look for the gap in the wave and head for it.

See what I mean? There’s so much in just this small sample of tweets, and there was so so so much more across the three days.

Now I’m planning to let it all percolate through and see where it takes me come Monday…

Putting learners’ faces at the core of improvement

I know I’m not going to get a lot of sympathy for this, but one of the slight tensions you face when you leave daily working in schools is that you’re exposed to lots and lots of interesting ideas but you don’t have the context in which to walk in on a Monday morning and give it a go. I know, smallest violins and all that…


However, I’m currently reading Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence by Lyn Sharratt and Beate Planche, if you haven’t got a copy yet you should totally think about getting one. It’s a great book in that it explores the nature of leading collaborative learning from the level of an education system to classrooms. One of their core ideas in the book is using data walls and putting learners’ faces at the core of collaborative improvement. I’m obviously corrupting their complex and rich research and ideas here to summarise what it’s about…best to read it for yourself!

One idea from the book which I would’ve loved to try is a data wall of learners. As a biology department we could’ve found a space in a base or prep room to clear a wall and stick up a little piece of paper for each student like the ones in the image above. Each piece of paper would have the student’s name, their photo, some prior assessment data and spaces to add assessment data from the learning they are currently undertaking. The wall could be divided into sections such as ‘excelling’, ‘on track’, ‘at risk’, ‘concern’. A big proportion of your weekly departmental meeting would then be spent in front of this wall discussing and moving students, adding data and, most importantly of all, discussing interventions which could be undertaken for those students which are at risk or a concern, or who aren’t yet excelling but could be. These could be added as post-its to the wall and reviewed at future meetings. The book also suggests the provision of case conferences for those students who you’re struggling to find ways of successfully supporting. In the absence of a whole school approach to this a work around could be inviting a member of the SLT, learning support and/or guidance teams to a departmental meeting to join the discussion with a focus on these most challenging learners.

As you can see, I’ve totally envisaged it but with nowhere to give it a go! I think the approach could work in primary also, I’ve just thought it through in the context I know best. I think this sort of approach would have the potential to meaningfully impact upon outcomes for learners and could significantly contribute to closing the attainment gap…it could also go a long way to improve many teachers’ experiences of departmental/stage meetings and make these truly collaborative, supportive, impactful and learner-centred.

If you’d like to discuss this idea further with me with a view to giving it a go, please get in touch, or alternatively have a read of Sharratt & Planche’s book for yourself and devise your own interventions…if you do though, I’d still love to hear about them.

Creative Approaches to Curriculum


Yesterday I attended the EFFE’s Creative Approaches to Curriculum Seminar in Edinburgh. Here are some of my notes and thoughts following this event…

Fiona Carnie

The event was introduced by Fiona Carnie, Vice President of EFFE.  She informed us that this event builds on their Improving Social Equity through Education symposium in Edinburgh last year.

She stated that the outcomes from last year’s event included…

  • there is a need to create inclusive and supportive environments for learning.
  • that we need to respect and value teachers and ensure time for teachers to collaborate.
  • how schools are organised are crucial with a need for greater professional autonomy and more distributive forms of leadership.
  • reform is slow and complex. Book recommendation: Finnish Lessons – Progress in Finland have their roots in 1970s policy changes.

Graham Donaldson

Professor Donaldson’s presentation was entitled ‘Ambition and Curriculum Reform’. Some of my notes included…

  • The OECD are beginning to look at supporting the development of curricula.
  • Are we ‘defeating destiny’ in Scottish education?
  • Education is not the same as Qualification.
  • Need to be creating space for engaging learning and teaching.
  • Building the capacity of the teaching profession…changing the approach to educational reform has implications for what it means to be a teacher – move from a training paradigm to a learning paradigm for teachers.
  • The velocity is great. Globalisation, employment, society, education, resources. Technological developments.
  • Nature of learning and teaching process is being changed by technology. This has implications for curriculum and being a teacher.
  • Book recommendation: Average is Over, Tyler Cowan.
  • Report recommendation: Innovating to Learn, Learning to Innovate. OECD.
  • “Move from what students should be learning towards what they should become.” Priestley & Biesta, 2014.
  • Tension between ambition and reality of learners’  experiences.
  • Metrics driven short-term reductionism curriculum vortex is where we end up despite our original ambition.
  • Addressing the conundrum:
    • ‘better’ teachers (confidence & capacity to engage with complexity),
    • ‘better’ leadership (is the school actually good, rather than looking good? Relentlessly ambitious with a focus on the children),
    • ‘less’ prescription (much more of the responsibility for high quality learning and teaching rests in the classroom),
    • ‘more’ collaboration (peer to peer learning),
    • ‘rigorous’ accountability (easy for rigour to become rigor mortis)
  • Too many curriculum developers take the ‘McDonald’s approach’ – faithful implementation.
  • First approximation. Explore what’s possible. There isn’t a recipe – strategic exploration.
  • We are ‘…at the end of the beginning’ with CfE.
  • Challenge to close gapS and raise standards without compromising longer-term ambition. An over focus on literacy and numeracy would be unambitious.
  • Strategic exploration of ambitious purposes should supersede faithful implementation of received approaches.
  • ‘Middle’ in the OECD report is more conceptual than structural.

Kari Jørgensen

Kari Jørgensen is a Head Teacher of five schools in Denmark. She shared her own journey and outlined the role of project based in learning in her schools. Of particular interest was the Design to Improve Life tool which teachers in her schools use to structure project-based learning and teach innovation: designtoimprovelifeeducation.dk. She finished with the trailer to the film ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ which looks good: mltsfilm.org

Mike Davies

Mike Davies is a former Head Teacher and works with schools on pedagogic and curriculum renewal. He spoke about his experiences reforming a school as a Head Teacher and how he has then gone on to support similar reforms at Stanley Park High School, where he is now a school governor.

  • There’s no difficulty in envisaging something different, but real difficulty in enacting something different. What role can modelling play in helping?
  • Divided a school of 900 into three small schools.
  • Tartan Curriculum. Deliberately promiscuous.
  • Hellerup. School built around learning, not teaching.
  • Emphasising relationships.
  • A Curriculum that Counts (ATL) resource includes a case study of Stanley Park High School: acurriculumthatcounts.org.uk

Lesley James

Lesley James was Director of Education at the RSA and was heavily involved in the creation of their Opening Minds programmes. She shared the background of the development of the programme and how they’ve gone on to setting up the RSA Academy: rsaopeningminds.org.uk

Alan Armstrong

Alan Armstrong is one of Education Scotland’s Strategic Directors. He shared the variety of work which Education Scotland is undertaking to support the development of creativity and digital learning across the system. He made reference to Education Scotland’s 3-18 curriculum impact report – Creativity.

Overall, I left the day struck by the strong interconnectedness between curriculum and leadership. Whilst national curriculum and assessment policies play an important role, the realities of the experiences of learners also depends to a large extent on how these policies are interpreted and implemented by educational professionals working in the system. Senior leaders in schools have a crucial role in creating the culture, contexts and structures to support the creative implementation of curricula, whereas teachers as leaders of pedagogy also play an equally important role in working with colleagues  to make the curriculum real in their classrooms. There were many overlaps between messages from the day and the issues which arose from our recent teacher leadership engagement, however it was useful for me to be reminded of the importance of teacher leadership in the context of developing the curriculum, something which I’ve reflected upon before in a now previous life.


A big move…


I’m making a bit of a professional move over the next couple of weeks. If you’ve looked on this blog at all recently, you will already know that I have been on a secondment to the Scottish College for Educational Leadership to engage on teacher leadership across Scotland. This secondment came to an end at Easter, and the report from this work is due to be published in time for the SCEL Conference on the 12th May.

My intention had been to return to school on completion of this secondment, but continue working for SCEL on a part-time basis. However, over the Easter holidays I finally had a bit of time to reflect and realised that I was really enjoying working for SCEL and that following on from the engagement there was a real potential to meaningfully contribute to the development of teacher leadership across Scotland. That’s not an opportunity that comes along very often! I therefore decided that if SCEL would have me full-time, I would be up for staying on. I was delighted to learn that not only was I keen to stay on, SCEL were equally keen to keep me.

For various reasons however, the best way to make this happen was for me to resign my current teaching post and take up a contract with SCEL…which I’ve done. So, I’m currently in the process of working out my notice with my school, with only days remaining. Leaving school is obviously not an easy call to make…especially Preston Lodge High School, which really is a great place to teach. However, being back in school these weeks has really shown me that due to my recent surgery, a secondary school is quite a difficult place physically for me to teach in just now still. So the move makes sense from the perspective of my health just now also.

So, what am I going to do? Well my job title will be ‘Lead Specialist: Teacher Leadership’ and my role will therefore be to respond to the outcomes from my recent teacher leadership engagement work and put things in place to support teachers. Due to the variety of needs expressed during the engagement, there will need to be a variety of activities put in place. SCEL have already focused their first upcoming conference on teacher leadership, but there will be much more happening beyond that. I’m hoping to continue to use this blog to reflect on my practice in my new role…

I don’t know if and when I’ll be returning to the classroom, so I’ve been enjoying these last few weeks with the students…and I’m especially grateful to have had the chance to do lots of heart & lung dissections with one of my current classes in particular! I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t go down too well in the SCEL offices…