Open letter - Transformational change must grow wings in Scotland

21st September 2012 at 01:00

Dear Mr Russell,

At a time when there is talk of how one brings about transformational change in Scottish education, you might be interested to know of my experience in another system. It is a smaller system than Scotland - with 180 schools and about 3,000 teachers and 50,000 students, ie. it is the size of a large Scottish education authority.

In that system (Pakistan's), two foreign consultants and four local staff delivered in June the first eight input days of a six-month programme for 36 senior school staff. The eight days focused these senior staff on: 1) making the professional development of their teachers a central part of their job; and 2) concentrating on the management of teaching and learning (not the management of buildings and budgets). After six months, they now have coaches and recall days and a closed and monitored Facebook community, staffed by two UK consultants and two of their own senior staff.

We have made extensive use of both videos and print from the Scottish "Journey to Excellence" materials. These are now, I suspect, better known in this foreign system than they are in Scottish schools.

Another example that might be worth thinking about comes from closer to home: London. Professor Dylan Wiliam recently pointed out "that London schools have been outperforming schools in the rest of the country not just in terms of the progress made by students, but also in GCSE grades. last year London schools outperformed those in all the other English regions" (The Guardian, 7 August).

If one follows this up, one finds that Ofsted attributes it largely to London Challenge, which has been in operation since 2003. Some of its key aspects include:

- Pan-London networks of schools that allow effective partnerships to be established between schools, enabling needs to be tackled quickly and progress to be accelerated.

- Teaching schools that provide extended coaching and practical activities on their own site to groups of teachers from several schools that need support and are within easy travelling distance.

So these are two examples of professional development work outside Scotland. How many of these activities occur in Scotland? By and large, we can only guess, which in itself is a bit worrying. We know that there has been some considerable work on formative assessment. We know that there has been some use of coaching in workforce development, notably with Scottish headteachers. We know of the work that Tapestry does.

But mostly we know that Scotland lacks systematic provision when it comes to such matters.

Could we do better, Cabinet Secretary?

Yours sincerely, Iain Smith

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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