Saturday, May 14, 2016


Thanks to @selm4s for image

Provocation SELMAS  

I was asked to provoke a gathering of around 140 School leaders from Scotland. I thought I would share my points here and add some web-links.  There wasn’t a fight.

If you are given the opportunity and privilege to talk at a SELMAS event grab it with both hands. I was humbled by the aspiration and experiences of the other speakers and by the commitment of all the education leaders present to improving the life chances of Scotland's young people. 

Thanks to all at SELMAS for the kind invitation.

Provocation - 

I wonder how hard it is to provoke school leaders
If I said that for almost half of my  30 year career I left the classroom and  I worked for SQA and that I’ve worked with HMIE, Education Scotland and SFC, the Scottish Funding Council and many of the agencies that work around schools.

– that is often provocation enough in the kitchen of a party with any teachers present.

But the truth is and like me – many of the staff who work in these organisations come from the classroom – and you can change them and get involved with them. The choice to engage and make changes for the better is yours. 

But I appreciate how busy landscape is. 

For school leaders it is often about squeezing in another change on top of changes that are already in train
Wider Achievement
Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce
Closing the Attainment Gap
Getting it Right for Every Child
The named person scheme
The next school inspection
While managing all the challenges of running a complex organisation with competing demands – and being a role model at the same time.

Currently in the  senior phase of CfE you are getting heads around new national qualifications at SCQF 4 and 5 and looking at a re-aligned curriculum in Highers and Advanced Highers,  while taking a look at the ways schools can work more closely with industry on one hand and with the wider community on the other.

There is always a raft of policy changes and never enough people or re-sources to get everything moving forward – but it is achieved – and thanks to the dedication of you as leaders and your teams.

And we are in a much better place that we were 30 years ago.

Let’s reflect …

I taught in schools in and around Glasgow, in many there was a larger cohort of non-certificated classes finishing their school career in 4th year than there were classes preparing for their O’grades .

In 1986 the system had decided that it was ok to allow large cohorts of learners to leave school with no certification and with precious little engagement.  As a trainee English and History teacher  I was asked to show them videos but not to try and teach them English as they would rebel.

On another occasion, in another school armed with lots of inspiring ideas – I was advised to lower my expectations of learners -  as they were from around here .  The Head of Department hadn’t picked up I was from around the same area and this led to an interesting conversation. 

Expectations were too low at all levels in the system. 

There was never a golden age. There is now and the future. 
We are in a better place and we can make it better still for learners. 

I met the same learners in the local college, now on first name terms and doing courses they were interested in – they performed and were model learners and citizens.
Schools are more like this now or should be.

Often too in those darker days I was more concerned about bullying in the staff room than bullying in the playground. I think we have more professional respect for our peers now and we make decisions based on evidence. Not on who is shouting the loudest.

Things have moved on – expectations at all levels are now in a different place and learners have responded– though the challenges of poverty and in some cases chaotic lifestyles remain in many of our communities and the chasm in achievement among learners from different social economic groups – remains Scotland’s shame.

But the bill of fare in our schools should now be much more appropriate for all of our learners

Now, there should be appropriate choices for all learners and not just more of the same academic fare.

In Colleges we spend a lot of time listening to what learners want and measuring not just their achievements but their satisfaction with the choice available to them and the standard and quality of their learning experience. Do schools really listen to the learners voice ?  And do you adjust your provision in response to this ?

I want to talk about widening achievement – with my YouthlinkScotland hat on
How many school are really using – Saltire Awards , John Muir Awards , SQA Leadership Awards , Duke of Edinburgh Awards  and all the other options that are available across the School

With less funding it will be that route where young people get their first international experience , their first experience of planning an expedition or community project, out with formal education, their first position of responsibility. There are still different sources of funding in the community for these activities and youth groups work hard at raising funds to be inclusive. 

How tuned in is your school to the amazing opportunities , commitments and achievements  young people have through  youth work,  volunteering out with normal school and do you give it adequate recognition ?

Scout story – My volunteers were told – school does offer awards there – but these are only for the thick kids. Their words and perception rather than what they were probably told. But message was clear school still not really valuing wider achievement.

How hard is it for a community group to get notices up inside a school ?  
How aware is the school of opportunities for learners in the immediate community ?

If schools are to be judged as part of a community learning experience how good are you at reaching out and how far are you confident in letting the community reach in to your school ?

If you or someone in the community is doing something good and innovative how aware are you that it can be SCQF credit and levelled and put on Insight Tool and given formal recognition.

I want to talk too about school and employer links :
Things are moving on at pace – Skills for Work programmes give learners an important taste of an occupational area, there are new standards for work experience and many learners embark on Employability awards ( shouldn’t all school leavers do this ?)

School College partnerships should be seen as more than a convenient place to park learners who for one reason or another are not coping with school

A College is a really useful gateway to develop relationships with multiple employers – How good is your relationship with your local College? I couldn't make the whole talk an advert for how College changes peoples lives and plays a major part in closing the inclusion and attainment gap. - but they do. 

Have your teaching staff spent any time in your local College.

It would be a great venue for the next in-service day !

There are new and more complex offerings on the horizon -
Foundation Apprenticeships in 6 key industries are currently rolling out – funded by Skills Development Scotland.
  • Children and Young People
  • Construction
  • Engineering (energy)
  • Engineering
  • Financial Services
  • Social Services and Healthcare
  • Business
  • Software Development
  • Hardware and System Support

These are very different programmes at SCQF 6 – same as higher as exit point . My concern is that this may be too high and that you will struggle to persuade your peers that learners would be better doing this programme,  rather than re-sitting your normal academic fare. These are 2 year programmes – aimed to fit in alongside other school classes – that lead directly into work or can be used as a bridge to College or Higher Education.

Aimed too at a different cohort – the learners who may already be on their way to College or may just get the qualifications they need to get into University. The message has to be clear – as it stands this is not a programme for those you may have traditionally sent along to the College.  

This is for  learners who you might have traditionally offered another academic course or encouraged them to re-sit something in 5th and 6th year .

Foundation Apprenticeships – open up new opportunities delivered in College with an extended workplace component in many cases they cover the main elements of a full apprenticeship.

Schools too can offer too PDA awards that link to industry competencies and in some parts of Scotland schools are now offering HNC qualifications.  Have you a rich and varied enough offering across your local authority for senior phase learners and are you making enough of learning technology to deliver these. Rather than busing or taxiing everyone around at great expense.

I could speak at length on how the learners in the know are now accessing massive open on-line courses and open educational re-sources. Schools still have some way to go to both embed the on-line offerings that are already available or to make similar on-line offerings available.

I am still amazed that there is not a national offering in the Higher Computing space that is largely delivered on-line . It would in one step make computing available to many schools where there is no computing teacher and be a cost effective national solution. For minority languages too or indeed anything that learners could cope with on-line when you can't create a viable class size in your own institution. 

Striking too that the global teacher of the year from England – is a maths teacher – simply up-loading useful lessons on to YouTube as revision aids for his learners – the world started using this re-source – we need more of this ambition in Scottish classrooms.

Are you encouraging your teachers to be content creators and to publish their learning materials openly on the internet with an appropriate creative commons licence ? If this is all in a different language. Find out about Open Scotland and Creative Commons licensing. Every teacher should be an open practitioner.

I asked my first year daughter what one piece of advice I could give you and unprompted ‘ it was find a way to let us use the internet in class – I know everyone does not have phones and the teachers don’t want to embarrass anyone  – but we are allowed to use the school wifi when not in class  – but hardly ever in class. Why doesn’t the school find a way to give everyone a browser’  
Me : A kindle fire is about £49 , a tablet – we need to stop teaching a letter box view of the world and give learners tools to explore the world of knowledge.
How are you closing the growing digital divide – ignoring it is not the answer .
The attainment gap will just grow wider ! and Scotland’s shame grow deeper.

But more change is on the way -

There is a seismic change coming from Whitehall – the industry training levy will impact on every employer with more than a £3million pound pay bill – that includes public sector employers like local authorities and even Colleges . From April 2017 they will pay a 0.5% annual levy effectively a tax.
I’ll say this again – as it seems very surprising.

The UK Government is raising taxes to pay for an improved investment in learning.

Raising Taxes to pay for education !

I'll say that again as it seems in current times a strange concept - the Westminster Government is raising taxes to pay for training from the largest employers to re-distribute to smaller employers to pay for more employee training. 

This will raise 3 Billion pounds across the UK and will in England fundamentally change the relationship that employers have with work based training.

Employers will have training accounts and will get money back based on the training they give their staff .  Small employers will make a contribution and get more back from the pot than they put in. Employers will choose who they contract with to provide the training

Large and small employers will want to either get their money back or in the case of small employers tap in to this funding resource.

The CBI in Scotland finally raised this challenge in today's Herald and I expect new administration will start responding -

I expect next year will be the year when employers start beating on the doors of schools and colleges for learners that are ready to start an apprenticeship so they can benefit from payments from the training levy.

I hope rather than to have provoked you I have given you some some food for thought ! and you don’t get indigestion. 

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