How to bring quality to the limitless potential of everybody

20th September 1996 at 01:00
Colin Weatherley recalls the key events that provoked him into starting a consultancy on learning and teaching. From 30 years in education I would pick out four key events which have underpinned my recent decision to retire from headteaching and venture into consultancy on learning and teaching.

The first was in 1979 when, following discussions with Sally Brown at Stirling University, I developed a master learning approach to S1 science based on the ideas described in Benjamin Bloom's revolutionary book Human Characteristics and School Learning. To my surprise, this was remarkably successful both in terms of the students' achievements and in producing a more positive classroom ethos.

But most significant was the fact that Bloom's seemingly extravagant claims about the modificable nature of intelligence and everyone's limitless potential for learning were supported by my own experiences. From that time I became fascinated with the possibilities for improving the learning of all students - and not a little embarrassed to realise how little I knew about the process of learning and the conditions that might best promote it in classroom and school.

The second event took place in 1991 when, as headteacher, I was responsible for managing the closure of Craigshill High school, Livingston. I learned two main lessons from this experience. First, that effective communications are of crucial importance in any organisation undergoing stressful change (and which school isn't nowadays!) - and this means much more than the mere giving and receiving of information.

Second, that behaviour is "infectious" - and in hierarchical organisations it is most infectious from the top down. This means that headteachers and other senior management staff have a major responsibility to try consciously to model the values which they espouse in all their dealings with staff, students and parents; and at classroom level too, teachers need to model the kinds of behaviour they want from their students.

Following the closure of Craigshill, I became a 5 - 14 development officer responsible for learningteaching and primarysecondary transition issues. Shortly afterwards Lothian education department published its first strategic plan with the mission statement: "The education service in Lothian is committed to providing learning opportunities of the highest quality"; and shortly after that the directorate agreed to recognise this commitment by setting up the Lothian quality learning programme with myself as leader.

At about the same time the Lothian development group on learning and teaching was established and we quickly agreed that our main priority should be to provide guidance to schools on what constituted "learning opportunities of the highest quality". As a result, I wrote the discussion paper "Promoting quality learning" (published in October 1995).

I believe that "Promoting quality learning" is significant in two respects. First, because it was probably the first major attempt in Scotland to describe important principles of effective learning and teaching ("quality learning"), based on a comprehensive review of relevant research and practice; and second, because it suggests that these principles should apply not only to learners in classrooms but also to the management of the whole school - and particularly to staff development issues.

In doing so it follows the ideas of writers such as Michael Fullan, David Hargreaves and David Hopkins - indeed one of my first initiatives as a consultant has been to arrange for David Hopkins' Improving the Quality of Education for All (IQEA) group to run a seminar on their work in Livingston in early October.

The IQEA programme is based on similar principles to those described in Promoting Quality Learning and there is now substantial evidence from England that it is proving highly successful in helping schools to improve their learning and teaching. In essence the IQEA message is that we should follow "quality learning" principles by ensuring not only that initial in-service training is motivating and of high quality but also that long-term plans are put in place by the school to help staff transform this training into effective practice.

This is very much the approach which I am adopting in my own consultancy work by promoting the notion that principles are indivisible; that the principles which should underpin effective classroom practice, for example, are equally relevant to effective staff development.

My ambition for the quality learning consultancy, therefore, is to use my experience in classroom innovation, school management and staff development to help schools develop as true places of learning; as places where no limits are placed on the potential achievements of any individual and where the ethos and climate enables everyone to learn with and from each other.

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