Here is my seven-point strategic plan. Climb on board ... Open letter

16th November 2012 at 00:00

Dear Michael,

Can I call you that? I feel we are now firm friends.

In February 2011 you gave a remit to Education Scotland that included:

- to build the capacity of education providers and practitioners to improve their own performance;

- to promote high-quality professional learning and leadership.

These are admirable points, but the evidence from my well-informed advisers is that delivery is limited. The Education Scotland website has some excellent materials. But capacity-building is about rather more than materials.

So how might one go about national capacity building, notably for Curriculum for Excellence? I have drawn on international evidence and on the experience of colleagues, and have sketched out a seven-point draft strategic plan. That is rather presumptuous of me.

1. Select heads, deputes or others with the potential for significant training roles within their school or within a cluster of schools. Preferably have pairs of participants from the same school (especially with large secondary schools) or at least pairs from natural clusters of schools. Over a period of time, one might want to target perhaps 1,200 staff nationally.

2. Plan for them a programme on the leadership of learning. Sustained capacity-building programmes, extended over a period, can contribute to development in a way that "one-off" concentrated courses cannot: the research on that is clear. Make only some of that centre-based, ie, out of school. Centre-based training becomes effective when it is interspersed and followed up with local "between school" and "in school" development.

3. Whatever number of centre-based days can be afforded, put these in two or more blocks, for example, if it is five days, make it 2 +2 +1. There are organisational and financial costs in that. But the game is about cost-effectiveness and the evidence on cost-effectiveness is pretty conclusive.

4. Organise participants into pairs of critical friends or small self-help groups who will provide peer support to each other over an extended period.

5. Give them experienced coaches to support them in their work. There is much research evidence that testifies to the beneficial effects of coaching and mentoring.

6. Make the central focus capacity-building for CfE. Have substantial amounts of the programme concentrate on action planning, ie, how will they facilitate the improvement of learning within their school or cluster of schools?

7. Employ an adult-centred methodology of programme delivery. What is ineffective is lecture-style teaching. What are effective are: a) modelling; b) coaching; c) apprenticeship (working some of the time with a more senior colleague, perhaps their coach); d) concrete suggestions on new teaching techniques; and e) joint analysis and planning. These are the techniques that they should subsequently use down at school and cluster level in running professional development there.

It would all work splendidly well.

Yours sincerely, Iain

Iain Smith was at one time a dean of education in the University of Strathclyde. He writes in a personal capacity.

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