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A Profound Shift in Relationships

The new version of How good is our school? has come out and it makes for interesting reading. There are a few shifts of emphasis which I welcome, but I also like the new layout. The more detailed level five illustrations are helpful, and the omission of the other level illustrations is a good move also I think. I also like the short and sharp descriptions of effective practice and the challenge questions for each QI. I think this will prove a useful tool for self-evaluation at all levels.

I’m also really pleased to note that digital learning, practitioner enquiry and creativity are writ large throughout the document, however the focus of this post is on something else which leaps out from HGIOS4 to me.

Here’s what I mean…


  • We provide a wide range of opportunities and support to ensure children and young people can take responsibility for their own learning, successes and achievements. Our learners are developing the necessary resilience and confidence to enable them to make decisions about their own learning and to lead others’ learning.


  • Our curriculum is grounded in our commitment to securing children’s rights and wellbeing.


  • Learners exercise choice, including the appropriate use of digital technology, and take increasing responsibility as they become more independent in their learning. They understand the purpose of their learning and have opportunities to lead the learning.
  • Learners are fully involved in planning learning


  • Children and young people are at the centre of all planning, as active participants in their learning and development.


  • We ensure children and young people are active participants in discussions and decisions which may affect their lives.


  • They are motivated to explore and challenge assumptions. Children and young people take ownership of their own learning and thinking. They are imaginative, open- minded, confident risk-takers, and appreciate issues from different perspectives. They can ask questions, make connections across disciplines, envisage what might be possible and not possible, explore ideas, identify problems and seek and justify solutions.
  • They feel supported to make suitable, realistic and informed choices based on their skills, strengths and preferences. They are supported to develop an international mind-set equipping them for the rapidly changing and increasingly globalised world.

How good is our school? 4th Edition

It’s clear to me, that meaningfully involving learners in the learning and teaching process is going to become a bigger and bigger element of school self-evaluation and inspection processes. Now, this isn’t exactly news. Back in 2009, when I first read Building the Curriculum 3, it was this shift which I identified as being the biggest challenge to my own practice. Back then, I jumped straight into giving it a go:

Since 2009, I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading and enquiring into this change to my approach to learning and teaching and I have become increasingly convinced that it is the way forward, however I have also concluded that it is not an easy change to make. Here is just a selection of the posts I’ve written on this blog about all this:

Every time I’ve tried this approach, it has been fantastic for both the learners and me. Everyone is more engaged, the learning is richer, deeper and more relevant. So why haven’t I done it more? Partly this is due to having been out of the classroom for 18 months on secondment and two extended periods of absence due to illness, but it’s also because it’s not easy, and is it any wonder?

I’ve just begun a course in Childhood Studies and Childhood Psychology through the OU and there’s an interesting section in the textbook on the issues surrounding the participation aspect of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 12 states that:

Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This right applies at all times.

If the six hours of learning in classrooms which young people undertake each day isn’t a matter which affects them, I’m not sure what is. However, as my OU textbook states in relation to this:

Participation rights have been particularly contested because they represent a profound shift in relationships between adults and children, and challenge conceptualisations of children as unknowing, passive and needing adults to act in their best interests…participation rights have been seen as threatening and upsetting to the status quo. (Farmington-Flint & Montgomery, 2015)

As well as this, there’s also Dylan Wiliam’s point that asking a teacher to change their teaching practice is like asking a golfer to change their golf swing, it’s not simple!

Asking teachers to make wholesale changes in their practice is a little like asking a golfer to change her swing during a tournament. Teachers have to maintain the fluency of their classroom routines, while at the same time disrupting them.

Now, I’m not saying that no-one is doing this already. But I don’t think many teachers are doing it particularly well in the Secondary phase in particular. I have heard of a few noble attempts, but for the reasons outlined above, many of these attempts don’t become a sustained and meaningful change in practice. Quite often they’re tokenistic and are doomed to fail as the teachers are only doing it because they think they should. Or, they have limited impact because although students are asked for their input, this is then largely ignored as the teacher then has to proceed with the preplanned teaching and assessment.

So given all of this, how do we move forward? In my most recent post on this (which if you haven’t already seen you should definitely look at now) my students shared their ideas on how to go about this, so I thought I’d share my own suggestions in this post…

  • Believe that it is desirable, and possible, to involve learners in the learning process and it is worth trying. If you don’t, or are not sure, read this (free) book.
  • Try to take an enquiry approach to your change. Don’t just do it because you’re being told to by Education Scotland, your leadership team or even me, research it for yourself. As well as enhancing what you do, if you propose the change as an enquiry you are more likely to get approval from your leadership team if that is an issue for you.
  • Start small. Choose one class which you think you could work with on this to give it a try. Talk to them about it in advance and explain why you’re doing it. Some classes in the past have thought that I was just being lazy when I’ve not explained it properly! Aim to do it for just one topic and then evaluate it after that.
  • Don’t try to do everything at once. This may be new to the learners as well as you, although it may not be if they’ve experienced this at primary, which many will have in some way at some time. When I first tried it I wanted the learners to collaborate on the planning, teaching and assessment…it was all a bit much. It takes time for the class as a community to work together in this way so don’t rush it. You can involve them a little to begin with, and if it works, involve them a little more in the next topic.
  • Make use of ICT as much as you can. Digital tools are fantastic for supporting this approach to learning and teaching, use them and encourage the learners to find their own ways of using them.

Here’s a list of the sorts of things I do with a topic with a new class if that’s of use as an idea to get started:

  • As mentioned above, I explain in advance how we’re going to learn and discuss with them why we’re going to learn in this way and how best to learn in this way.
  • I don’t start with the title of the topic. In fact, I never tell the class what the topic is called in our schemes of work. I start with a hook. Challenging, interesting and relevant questions which get them thinking, discussing, debating and questioning. I then capture and rationalise these questions either on post-its, or in a Google Document.
  • I bring out the experiences and outcomes for the topics and we unpick their meaning as a class. We decide what questions we would need to be able to answer to satisfy these experiences and outcomes.
  • We then bring in their own questions from the stimulus discussion. Do these overlap with any of the questions from the experiences and outcomes? Do any of them fit in with the experiences and outcomes? Which ones don’t fit in?
  • We then decide how we’ll approach the topic. We discuss which of the experiences and outcomes we should do when and how we’ll address their questions which didn’t fit in (this is quite often a research and present task).
  • They then come up with possible names for the topic and vote on it.
  • I then use all of this to go off and modify the schemes of work to what we’ve planned together. I normally find that this can just be done by making a few tweaks to what was already there because they were made with the same experiences and outcomes that we’ve just explored as a class. In terms of any summative assessments for the topic, if these have been well written from the experiences and outcomes then they shouldn’t be a major problem either…however, I’ve sometimes found that the topic tests have been tests of the scheme of work rather than a test of the learning outcomes and in these cases I adjust the test questions so that they relate to the actual learning outcomes in the experiences and outcomes, but maintain the same structure and numbers of marks etc.
  • As you and the class become more confident you can then do the above more quickly and begin exploring learning outcomes, success criteria, assessment and evaluation…but one step at a time!

Ultimately, if we’re serious about this, we have to get away from the idea of standardised learning and standardised testing. I believe that we should have a core set of knowledge which all children should  learn, but not so much that it (more than) fills the time they have to learn it. There should be sufficient space and time in the curriculum for young people to be able to contribute to the learning and teaching process, and the flexibility in the system to support and encourage it.

What is the point in asking learners for their questions if we don’t (or can’t) then make the time to answer them and check that they understood the answers? It is for these reasons that I think we need to reduce the number of experiences and outcomes, in the third and fourth level sciences at least, and support and encourage teachers to take the time to try out the approaches I’ve described above.

This is a hard change to make and to make it well is going to take leadership and support.

Farmington-Flint, L. and Montgomery, H. (2015) An introduction to childhood studies and child psychology. Open University, Milton Keynes.


This post was so well received, I decided to try and condense down the thoughts in all my various posts on this approach into one page for ease of reading: fkelly.co.uk/switch



I’ve got an idea I’d like your opinion on, but first a bit of background…

As I’m sure you already know, Pedagoo grew out of the TeachMeet movement. We were trying to create an online space were teachers could come together and be encouraged to share their practice between TeachMeets. At the same time, I had another idea also. As well as running TeachMeets in the evening with the 2/7 minute presentation format, why not run a TeachMeet on a Saturday and have longer 40 minute workshops instead? This would allow deeper learning and sharing than is possible in an evening, and provide free and accessible conference style learning opportunities for teachers who are confined to their classrooms from Monday to Friday. And so #tmSLFringe12 was born.

In the beginning, although I attached the Pedagoo name to the event, I tried to still call it a TeachMeet as I felt that what I was doing was organising a TeachMeet with a difference. Over time, this approach has been used by lots of folk to organise loads of great events all over the country, and gradually the ‘TeachMeet’ name faded away from our events a bit and have somehow become ‘Pedagoo Events’. These events have been great, but there’s always been a bit of tension between the focus of the community. My view of it is that Pedagoo is first and foremost an online community of teachers, who occasionally organise events to allow teachers in the community to get together and learn from each other in person and to bring new teachers into the community. Some folk had begun to see Pedagoo to be about the events only, and so we brought in the requirement that to run one of our events you needed to first be a member of the online community. We’d then make you a ‘curator’ and you could use the name to run your event. This meant that we had a relatively high degree of control over our events, but low frequency of events was the cost.

That was all fine until #PedagooPrimary earlier this year. This was the first event of its kind and the idea was to encourage more Primary teachers into the community, and boy did it work. Teachers left this event full of enthusiasm for all things Pedagoo and keen to run their own Pedagoo Events in their local area to help spread the word. How could we say no to such enthusiasm? And so, I suggested we create the PedagooLocal name for smaller, local, Pedagoo events. And now, look what is happening this Saturday as a result!

Some of these “smaller” local events are bigger than the so called full Pedagoo events! As a result of this enthusiasm, I’m beginning to think we need a bigger change to our approach to Pedagoo events. I’m not overly comfortable with this two-tier approach to our events, and I think we should be doing more to allow keen teachers to run their own Pedagoo-style events. Surely, the more sharing the better?

So, my suggestion is that following this Saturday, we ditch both the PedagooLocal and PedagooEvents names and replace them both with #PedagooMeet. The idea would be that anyone with a username on Pedagoo.org could set up and run their own Pedagoo-style event, and all future events using the Pedagoo name would be PedagooMeets, no matter who was organising them. There would be a set of guidelines and suggestions [such as a version of this one] which would provide the boundaries for the use of the name. I think this could help result in the running of many more events which still fitted in with the ethos of Pedagoo.

In terms of the logistics, I’m thinking that we set up a wiki on the Pedagoo.org domain for folk to organise and promote their PedagooMeets. We’re moving Pedagoo.org to a new host next week and after that I’m pretty sure I could add a wiki to Pedagoo.org which used people’s Pedagoo.org username to edit, which would keep the whole thing within the online community whilst allowing them to be organised in a more ‘TeachMeet’ sort of a way.

So, what do you think? It’s quite a big shift and so I’d appreciate your thoughts. It feels right to me, what about you?

An SLF Rant


On my first proper visit to the Scottish Learning Festival in 2009 I happened to share a taxi with Henry Hepburn from the TESS. We’ve kept in touch over the years and he has kindly attended and reported on some of our Pedagoo events. He occasionally emails me if he’s looking for a comment on something, which he did for his recent piece on the Scottish Learning Festival. Sometimes I am canny enough to decline the opportunity to comment, realising that anything I say can end up in print, but I try when possible to do what I can for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I believe that classroom teachers should have more of a voice in these sorts of publications and so if I’m asked I feel that I should try and put my money where my mouth is and say what I think. Also, from a purely selfish perspective, I feel that it’s good for Pedagoo if I have a good working relationship with the TESS. And also, because Henry is a nice guy.

So, when Henry emailed me and asked me for my thoughts on SLF, I replied. I hadn’t got round to looking at the most recent issue of the TESS yet and so when I got the following tweet, I was keen to have a look to find out what I’d said!

Having read the piece (sorry I can’t link to it, the TESS seem to have stopped uploading their content in May unfortunately) I’m surprised to discover that a) I feature so prominently in it, and b) it reads as if I’m having an argument with Alan Armstrong! Which of course, I wasn’t.

And so, I thought I would upload the bulk of the actual email I sent to Henry here (below). I stand by most of what I said, although I probably would’ve toned it down a wee bit if I’d taken a bit more time before hitting send. I also think that perhaps I went a bit overboard on the keynotes, perhaps they are still more relevant and challenging than I’d given them credit for.

“I’m afraid if anyone asks me about SLF I have a tendency to rant on at them. I haven’t been back for a couple of years, but last time I went there were three things which struck me;

– It’s a shadow of it’s former self with far fewer attendees and much less of the SECC being used for it.
– Hardly any of the seminars are from practicing classroom teachers. They’re mainly either Education Scotland/Scottish Government, Local Authority personnel or non-practicing teachers from other bodies such Universities, British Council, Outward Bound, etc.
– The keynotes seem to have become heavily constrained by the centrally determined agenda. It no longer seems to be about who’s good, but who will be most ‘on message’.

I’ve had a quick scan through this year’s programme and it would appear that the lack of teacher-led seminars is still an issue (I have to admit though that this is partly my fault as I had to withdraw my one due to my ankle!).

I think perhaps one has to call into question the purpose of this event. For me, it seems to be much more about prestige/marketing and message delivery from the centre and not of any particularly direct relevance to learning in classrooms. If you stop and think about it, if the purpose was to enhance learning & teaching in classrooms you would design it in such a way that a) lots of teachers could attend and would want to attend, and b) lots of practicing classroom teachers would be made to feel confident enough to sign up to lead seminars. Holding it on a Wednesday/Thursday at a single, large and threatening, venue doesn’t make sense to me if these were the objectives.

What was surprising to me was the reaction we got when some teachers who are planning a local Pedagoo event in Perth suggested that we try to encourage others to run one on the same day: http://pedagoo.org/local/takeover Now these might not all come off, but that’s because these folk are not really getting any support and so a lot of them will probably struggle. The best I can offer is some help with their webpages etc. But imagine if these teachers had the support of an organisation of the scale of Education Scotland! The problem is, because of the very nature of Education Scotland, they’d struggle to cope with the lack of control of such an approach, but at the very least you’d think they could work with a network of local authorities to put together a series of local events across the country.”

I think the reason I get so passionate about SLF is that I think it could be really great. I really enjoyed my first couple of visits, but this was primarily due to the chance to catch up with folk and to attend TeachMeet SLF. I’ve always felt that the seminars were lacking in classroom practitioners, and I’ve long wished more efforts were made to encourage and support classroom teachers to attend and present. In my experience, most teachers in staff rooms don’t even consider trying to attend, let alone submit a seminar, which is a real shame for what should be a must-go-to event for teachers in Scotland.

I agree with Alan when he says that it doesn’t have to be either or. SLF could be fulfilling a role that TeachMeet/Twitter/Pedagoo never could. However, I still think that SLF has the potential to better support the development of learning and teaching in Scotland’s classrooms through better engaging with the teachers of Scotland. I hope the moves to improve teacher engagement described in the TESS article happen and have impact, but many of them I’ve heard rumours of for years, so I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, if you agree with me, rather than waiting for SLF to change why don’t you join me in creating our own opportunities to learn from each other through Pedagoo.org.

Involving Learners in Planning Learning

I’m a big believer in the power of engaging young people in their learning through involving them in the learning process. As Lois Harris argues, if students are going to feel that they own their learning they need to have opportunities to collaborate in the learning process:

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers can achieve these levels of engagement (How). Adapted from Harris (2010).

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers can achieve these levels of engagement (How).
Adapted from Harris (2010).

But how on earth can we as teachers involve our students in planning their learning? I’ve been working on adapting my practice to make this possible for a number of years now, so perhaps I could tell you how to go about doing this yourself?

Well, I’m not going to. My students are. I’d been working with my S1 Science class on developing approaches to involving them in planning learning last session when we were approached by Children in Scotland to participate in their Leaders of Learning project. Children in Scotland, the students and myself worked together over a number of weeks to explore and develop approaches to involve the students in planning their learning to a much greater extent. The project culminated in the students evaluating what we’d done, and producing the following video to communicate what we’d learned together.

Hope you enjoy learning from them, I know I have!

In the wake of change

I started my first ever Open University course today. And what did I do as soon as I got the email saying I was enrolled? I got into the course website and started exploring. Wow, have they got it sorted. The whole Open University concept is so well suited to the internet, it’s hard to understand how it ever functioned without it!

Having got to grips with the system a thought occurred to me, why are we still so far behind in schools? It’s not hard to imagine how better use of the web could really revolutionise the way secondary schools function, and therefore how students experience education. I’m not suggesting that we should shut all secondary schools and replace them with a version of the OU, of course not. But there could really be a lot more variety in the system than there currently is. It just so happens that Ian Stuart shared the following great animation on Facebook today also, with the question “When will education culturally accept this change?“.


Image by Best Reviews

It is amazing, isn’t it? I first used the internet in about 1995 I think, and I got my first mobile phone in about 2000. Since then the use of the web has revolutionised the way we do so much, except learning in classrooms. My school are in the process of switching on an open wireless network throughout the school and opening the door to students using their own mobile devices in class, which is fantastic, but perhaps this shouldn’t really be that cutting edge by now? A mere eight years after the first iPhone was launched and McDonalds first installed free WiFi in all of its UK restaurants!

There is some great work going on in the world of Digital Learning (such as the provision of Glow and the new NDLF in Scotland), but I sometimes worry that the pace is too slow, and even where devices are being provided to students, do our current curricular structures allow and encourage their most effective use? Too often devices are introduced and used to simply replace the pen and paper and our practices continue relatively unchanged. However, the effective use of technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we do things as well augment what we already do. One example of this is High Tech High in the US. I like the way in the following video that you can see that IT is integral to the way they learn, but they don’t really focus on it when they’re explaining the way their schools work:

I recently wrote a little piece for the GTCS Teaching Scotland magazine about how we’ve dropped the word ‘digital’ from ‘digital banking’ as no-one really banks any other way anymore. And yet in education, we’re only beginning to dip our toes into ‘digital’ learning, how much longer will it be until we’ve reached the point when we can drop the ‘digital’ again?

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 16.10.08

Given how far behind we are on this front in education, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of urgency either. For me, I think we need three things to get moving with this:

  1. Significant investment in hardware, networks and software in schools.
  2. Continuous support, encouragement and guidance for teachers and schools who are wanting to do something different in order to make the most of technology to transform young people’s learning.
  3. An agenda of policy reform (probably through the CLTAS forums) which aims to alter the curriculum to enable teachers and schools to modify their practice to make the most of the potential of technology.

I really feel that we need to get a move on with this or we’re putting our young people at a disadvantage in terms of the skills they are leaving us with. I don’t claim to have got it perfect myself yet, but I’ve long tried my hardest within a system which isn’t conducive to change. However, I’ll finish with a quote from one our former students who left us to study medicine at univeristy.

I think that the single best thing that my time at Preston Lodge gave me was such good experience in using Google Drive and other online resources (particularly from the biology/science department). This really let me hit the ground running when I came into lectures etc, as I already had methods to use that I had tried and tested during my time at school. Please keep on encouraging pupils to use Google at PL, it’s very very very very useful!

All we had done was tried our hardest to use Google Apps when appropriate and possible to support learning, which was nowhere as much as we would’ve liked to due a lack of hardware, network and conducive curricula, however imagine how much more confidence our young people could have in using the web constructively when leaving our schools if we could just get on with it!