Job swap - looking at how the other side learns

5th June 2009 at 01:00
In Canada, heads and deputes move around their authorities much more than in Scotland

In the first of six pages on continuing professional development, Elizabeth Buie reports on a `depute swap' that benefited schools in Glasgow and Clydebank.

Earlier this year, two west of Scotland secondary schools swapped depute heads. The pupils wondered if - as in the TV programme Wife Swap - the deputes switched houses, families and social lives too.

Seonaidh Black, of Bannerman High in Glasgow, and Eileen Cummings, of Clydebank High in West Dunbartonshire, drew the line at that and simply stepped into each other's professional shoes for a month. It turned out to be the best continuing professional development they ever had - and it was free.

In the coming months, the schools are going to exchange teachers, albeit for shorter periods. Clydebank staff hope to pick up tips on active maths from their counterparts, while Bannerman teachers want to learn more about Clydebank's active approach to modern languages. The heads of each home economics departments have also been sharing their expertise.

The job swap idea was born in neither Glasgow nor Clydebank, but in Canada. The headteacher of Bannerman and depute head of Clydebank were on a school leadership visit to Ontario, organised by Learning and Teaching Scotland. "In Canada, they move their heads and deputes around pretty frequently. They are appointed to the authority rather than a specific school," says Jackie Purdie, head of Bannerman, and that leads to much greater consistency across the authority.

By the time Ms Purdie and Mrs Cummings returned, Clydebank High's HMIE report had been published. Under the new "lighter touch" inspections, it was the first secondary from which the inspectors disengaged after two days. A major factor was its self-evaluation, and this was something Ms Purdie wanted to improve in her school.

At the same time, Clydebank's head, Stewart Young, wanted to emulate Bannerman's S5 attainment results. Although the schools' S4 results are broadly similar, Bannerman's are stronger at S5.

The secondaries have much in common. They appear in the same group of comparator schools, drawn up by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to match those with similar profiles - size, socio-economic profile and attainment. Geographically, they lie not far away from each other, but in different authorities.

Yet when the deputes swapped jobs, they realised the schools were really quite different. Bannerman is more "girlie", says Mrs Cummings, a more emotionally-intelligent school, thanks in part to its "learning community" ethos which encourages teachers to learn from each other.

Clydebank, on the other hand, is structured and disciplined. It has a more focused approach to pastoral care, mainly because it has a greater number of vulnerable children on its roll and in 2006 went through a merger which required a reappraisal of that aspect of its work.

The two deputes also have much in common: good interpersonal skills, blonde, tall, style of dress (in school), and a good sense of humour.

The decision to swap deputes rather than heads was taken by the two headteachers, on the grounds that they themselves needed to remain as constant anchors in their own schools (primary heads on the Ontario trip were considering the option for a week). Also, it had emerged in Canada that the two deputes performed similar remits. There was enough overlap between their jobs to ensure the "nitty-gritty" tasks would still be done.

"A month was what was proposed, and that was just right. It gave an insight into the other school but they were not away so long that any real issue was neglected," says Mr Young.

Ms Purdie was keen to hear an outsider's view of Bannerman, and Clydebank could serve as a "buddy" school from another authority. "It would be like having a critical friend - and I would also have Seonaidh coming back with loads of ideas. Now it's quite natural to ask her, `What do they do in Clydebank?'"

Seonaidh Black was appointed a depute at Bannerman a year ago, having been principal teacher of English. She has been at the school for eight years. Before visiting Clydebank, she was interested in its system for supporting vulnerable young people. But when she got there, she realised her school did not have the same needs, because it did not have the same number of vulnerable children.

"The main thing was the quality assurance procedures at Clydebank. It is so integrated you don't realise you are doing it," she says. "They take all HGIOS indicators and work through them by doing a year's plan in advance, charting when different things will be looked at. Ours happens at the end of the year for the next session, so we do it all at one time and it's hard for everyone. We are hoping to move towards their more structured way of doing things."

Clydebank was also much more advanced in its use of the "click and go" documents system - a big database of school records, pupil profiles, pastoral care needs, tracking all pupils, behaviour referrals and so on.

"Bannerman uses it for registration and other bits and pieces, but not the entire thing. It was fantastic to go somewhere where I just had to click and do it all online," says Mrs Black. "We are definitely moving down that road - we have had a group of teachers going to Clydebank to look at aspects of `click and go', and will start using it in school."

Clydebank's more closely-structured focus was evident in other ways. "At Bannerman, the senior management had a walk-about period, but Clydebank had a better system called a `duty' - the SMT used a clipboard and took notes of pupils you found in the corridor," she adds.

It was very much two-way traffic, however. There is a list of things Bannerman does that Clydebank plans to emulate:

  • The way it uses the whole-school assembly to report back after prelims and SQA exams;
  • Pastoral care: staff explain their caseload performance to the headteacher in the same way a PT curriculum would;
  • Detention: Clydebank has trouble getting pupils to lunchtime detention but plans to copy Bannerman's practice of having a short detention at the start of lunch break, so pupils can't wander off. Its view is that it's not the length of time for detention that's important, but that it has inconvenienced the pupil;
  • Adopting Bannerman's uniform policy (a senior tie), following a consultation with parents and pupils. Clydebank's move to a new building in mid-July will give pupils a reason to show pride in their school.
    • The headteacher at Clydebank also found an unexpected solution to his timetabling dilemma: "West Dunbartonshire has been looking at the 33- period week for a while, but I had been waiting for input from headteachers from other authorities. Because Glasgow had gone down that route, I suggested to other West Dunbartonshire heads that I would ask Jackie Purdie to talk to us," says Mr Young. "Her talk went down a storm because the model that Bannerman had adopted was something that West Dunbartonshire could adapt - 31 teaching periods and five 20-minute period slots for pastoral care. I would never have asked Jackie before the exchange."

      Clydebank's HMIE report had indicated that its pupils did not take on the leadership roles in school that they could, but Bannerman was able to offer some ideas, he says. "One of the other Bannerman deputes came out and spoke to our head of PE and gave us some ideas about developing pupil leadership roles."

      For Eileen Cummings, 11 years on Clydebank's senior management team, it was a personal journey as well as a professional one: She hadn't considered being a head before, but now she is thinking about it. "There was nothing pushing me out of my present situation. But my horizons got widened, not just through the Bannerman experience, but going to Canada and into the schools made me consider my options; Bannerman enhanced that."

      There were some things she wanted to investigate during her month-long exchange at Bannerman, but other - unexpected - things materialised. "I was surprised by how easy I found the change. Part of that was because of the type of school Bannerman is and the type of headteacher Jackie is, and partly because I have been doing the job for so long I didn't have to think about some things."

      For her alter ego, Mrs Black, it was also a learning experience, but different: "Becoming a depute was straightforward - I didn't have to establish myself, so this was a good opportunity to see what my credibility would be like going to a new school."

      Jackie Purdie and Eileen Cummings will speak about Ontario and the job swap at an event organised by LTS and the Scottish Continuing International Professional Development Programme: Leading Learning to Make a Difference in the Classroom, June 10, Radisson Hotel, Edinburgh.

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