ADES Conference - Throw caution to the wind, take a risk

Education leaders have been told to 'think on their feet' and 'seize the moment' when it comes to implementing new ideas

Henry Hepburn

Headteachers and other education leaders must be freed from Scotland's institutional caution and allowed to make mistakes - with "infinitely more rewarding" results in schools.

Christine Pollock, outgoing president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, told colleagues that traditionally slow responses to innovation would stifle the enthusiasm created by A Curriculum for Excellence.

Speaking at the ADES national conference in Cumbernauld, she said that new ideas in Scottish education had in the past typically been implemented by a process of "gradualist change" involving a series of trial projects. Instead, she called for education leaders to "think on our feet" and "seize the moment".

Ms Pollock, who is director in North Lanarkshire, also backed more local projects over a "one-size-fits-most" mentality that could see schools lumbered with projects that had little relevance to them.

The key to such changes was trust in schools and a "conceptual shift" which she defined as "not seeing ourselves as managers, but seeing ourselves as leaders of learning". The results of such an approach would be "infinitely more rewarding".

She pointed to several examples of innovative practice, including ICT students brought to life by sending them to a sheltered housing complex to help residents go online for their supermarket shopping or to make a doctor's appointment.

She argued that "probably the best way to bring about change is by encouraging creativity and experimentation", a view backed up in smaller group sessions in the day.

Don Ledingham, education and children's services director of East Lothian Council, said it was not necessary for headteachers to "have an imaginative bone in their bodies"; it was more important that they trusted their staff to be innovative.

Others, however, said that there was concern among headteachers over whether staff who took risks with innovative projects would be backed up by local authorities when inspectors came calling.

South Lanarkshire Council's education manager, Lorraine Bell, assured colleagues that there had been a "different feel about inspections" recently; others in her group agreed that inspectors were more supportive now.

Terry Lanagan, West Dunbartonshire Council's executive director of educational services, said that a centralised model of continuing professional development had become "redundant". That chimed with other education directors, who observed that staff seemed to prefer in-house CPD where they got to share ideas with colleagues to being sent away on courses.

The conference itself showed how to innovate by using Glow, the national schools' intranet, to have Melbourne University's Richard Teese address delegates live from Australia for an hour-and-a-half - without a single technical hitch.

Professor Teese, who led the 2007 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development review of schooling in Scotland, backed moves through A Curriculum for Excellence to give schools more autonomy.

He saw Scottish education following a path from "curriculum as law", to "curriculum as culture", with the "monument" of the 5-14 curriculum left behind. "You worshipped at the monument and it became a means unto itself, not a means to an end," he said.

Professor Teese praised several aspects of Scottish education, but was concerned that exams were the basis on which schools were judged; they "sucked in all the energy" of staff and pupils. He called for a "broad leaving certificate", which would prevent less academic pupils leaving school with a "handful of lower-level qualifications".

He also suggested that teachers could be reinvigorated by being made to move between schools more frequently. Several education directors, however, stressed that this alone was not enough to perk up a jaded teacher.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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