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A better way to put heads together

Of Scotland's 2,800 headteachers, around 2,000 are now members of the online community Heads Together. Started in June 2002, Heads Together aims to develop headteachers' management skills, help them in their day-to-day role by providing a mechanism for mutual support, and reduce the isolation of heads in small or remote schools. At the same time, it is expected to improve information and communications technology skills and raise awareness of the potential role of ICT in management and administration, teaching and learning.

Two of the main objectives over the next year are to register and train a further 600 headteachers and increase the level of contributions within the community.

"To have achieved the present membership level in the first two years of Heads Together is encouraging but we want the members to be more active," says Phil Galbraith, the development officer with Learning and Teaching Scotland, which manages the project on behalf of the Scottish Executive.

"At the moment, 90 per cent of the activity is contributed by 10 per cent of the membership. We are aiming for a higher level of participation because, quite simply, the best resource is your colleagues."

With this in mind, LT Scotland's web designers have created software that makes the site easier to use. It was launched this week and can be seen at seminars on both days of SETT next week.

"It is easier to navigate and a powerful search engine has been incorporated to find resources quickly in the Cybrary (the virtual library) and the archived Hotseats," says Mr Galbraith. "We hope the upgrade will enable more heads to contribute regularly as well as browsing."

The Cybrary contains 700 school policies, links to useful websites with resources and policy documents, such as the Scottish Executive Education Department website, and summaries of conferences and papers.

The Hotseat is a secure, members-only section, where papers can be put up for comment and questions.

Other features include a forum for conversations between heads and facilitators, debates and brainstorming areas where heads can anonymously ask for suggestions or put forward ideas.

"The communication tools are sacrosanct and it's important that the site is open to members only. The anonymity of the brainstorming is important because it allows for new and maybe radical ideas to be debated," says Mr Galbraith.

Other features on the site include examples of successful teaching and management strategies, the opportunity to establish local, open or closed sub-communities, and access to UK and international colleagues. Future developments will explore connections with the Scottish Qualification for Headship programme, a sub-community of depute headteachers and links with parallel initiatives in other countries.

Mr Galbraith believes the support team share a "practical vision" because many come from a school management background. He is a former headteacher himself.

"Our job as a team is to work with local authorities and headteachers to encourage the latter to go online to meet others with similar interests, to act as ICT counsellors and to feed in help and ideas," he says.

"We are also developing a user group of local heads who are comfortable with the new software and will work as advocates for it. They will pass information back to us about what their colleagues want."

SETT Heading in the Right Direction, by Phil Gbraith, Wed 1.15pm, Thurs 9.30am

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