Keir Bloomer – Leading Learning Masterclass


Posted by upbeat | Posted in Curriculum for Excellence, Featured | Posted on November 20, 2008

Newington Primary School, Annan, Wednesday 19 November, 4.00pm

Arrived hotfoot from HMIE ‘new’ inspection procedures training in Castle Douglas, some 30 miles east of where I was an hour ago, on a now darkening November evening. Brain cells quickly revitalised at the prospect of Keir’s input to the group of around 20 teachers. Annan Athletic jokes, (what’s so funny?) and the dimming(?) of the lights for Keir’s presentation (leaving him and everyone else in total darkness!) set the scene for a twilight session that all those gathered were really looking forward to.

Keir’s presentation was entitled ‘Developing a Curriculum for Excellence  –  Managing Change in the Short and Long Term’.  He proposed that ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ is Scotland’s educational response to global change and increased understanding of the learning process and that ‘Building the Curriculum 3’ (BC3) is a first attempt to realise its vision. However, he contended that the diagram on page 13 of BC3 doesn’t convey any sense of structure.

He presented his own overview for curriculum planning, where schools can use the experiences/outcomes to apply (1) the 7 curriculum principles, (2) effective learning and teaching, (3) provision of personal support for pupils and (4) clearly model and demonstrate values. This then leads to development of the 4 curriculum contexts of curricular areas, life and ethos of the school, interdisciplinary studies and personal achievement. The development of a coherent curriculum which promotes the 4 capacities can follow if this approach is adopted by schools. Keir stated that most of ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ is about ‘Successful Learners’.

How do we take things forward in the next 2/3 years? Where are the priorities? Keir presented several priorities but proposed that key priorities may lie in the following areas:

  • Redesigning the S1-3 curriculum
  • Improving primary/secondary transition

Keir contended that development priorities may include:

  • Continuity 3-18 including transitions
  • Rebuilding the curriculum P5-S3
  • Pedagogy including active learning
  • Opportunities for personal achievement

Currently, the Scottish Government’s timetable has moved back a year, and the first new set of examinations will take place in 2013/14. However, it seems possible that this timetable may move yet again.

If the timetable is to be maintained, it will be important now to determine priorities and start making preparations this session. In 2009/11 it will be important to address priorities with particular reference to P5-S3. In 2011/12 preparation for the new exams begin. In 2012/13 examination courses will be prepared in detail.

In the future, schools will become brokers of learning by providing gateways for young people through partnership working with a range of providers. Schools will need to work closely with colleges, businesses and the wider community. Keir is of the clear opinion that the task of realising a young person’s full potential in the 4 capacities (Successful Learners, Confident Individuals, Effective Contributors and Responsible Citizens) is too big a task just for schools. A collaborative approach will be necessary working in partnership with a range of stakeholders. A variety of forms of delivery may develop through GLOW, video conferencing and self-study programmes. Increased opportunities for promoting personal achievement will be available to young people from a wide range of sources. Involvement in activities at residential outdoor centres and running a mini-enterprise are examples of possible entitlements pupils could access, which in turn can raise self esteem, enhance social skills and promote a shared sense of achievement.

Guidance in BC3 on interdisciplinary learning encourages a flexible approach in planning learning. However, planning should be around clear purposes ensuring progression in skills, knowledge and understanding. Studies can be across disciplines and could also include opportunities for interest-based mixed-stage learning. Keir acknowledged that secondary schools may find interdisciplinary learning very challenging to deliver, but made it clear that they must try. A mix of continuous and short courses in S1-3 through a flexible timetabling approach with teams of staff could help to avoid curriculum fragmentation. S4-6 could be treated as either separate year groups or as a single cohort.

Keir shared ideas for a P5-S3 planning template insisting that coherence in learning across the primary/secondary transition must be given high priority. There must be curricular continuity and coherence in a young person’s experience. It seems ridiculous that young people in P7 have a range of responsibilities in primary school that are all taken from them when they arrive in S1 at secondary. Also, primary pupils’ experience of being taught by a very small number of teachers in the primary school is suddenly altered as they meet many staff for lessons at secondary. Aspects of continuity in bureaucracy (transfer of information), curriculum, specialisation of knowledge, ownership of learning, pastoral, social, relationships (learner/teacher) and pupil responsibility could and should be looked at much more closely in improving coherence in learning experiences across the primary/secondary transition stages. Keir then challenged teachers to discuss in cross-sectoral groups how to ensure continuity in all key aspects across the full P5-S3 period.

He highlighted the importance of emotional security for young people in schools and offered a quote from the Advisory Council on Education in Scotland, 1947. “Education thus presents itself as at once preparation for life and an irreplaceable part of life itself: hence the good school is to be assessed not by any tale of examination successes, however impressive, but by the extent to which it has filled the years of youth with security, graciousness and ordered freedom, and has thus been a seed-bed for the flowering in due season of all that is of good report.”  Although this report was written over 60 years ago, Keir feels that this encapsulates better than any subsequent national education rationale what the educational experience should ideally be for young people.

Keir referred to one of the 4 capacities ‘Responsible Citizens’ as having been somewhat politicised and perhaps not fully promoting the notion of caring for others in the community. ‘Responsible Citizens’ in some ways mirrors one of the types of learning outlined by UNESCO. The term “learning to live together”, central to UNESCO’s mission, is adopted from the Report of the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, known as the Delors Report. Like ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ this report identifies four fundamental types of learning essential to full personal and social development in the 21st century. The other 3 are: learning to know (Successful Learners), learning to do (Effective Contributors) and learning to be (Confident Individuals). Each dimension of learning is closely interconnected with the others, ideally coming together to form a whole lifelong experience. However, as far as Keir is concerned, most of ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ is about ‘Successful Learners’.

In concluding today’s seminar, Keir outlined how BC3 requires us to develop our thinking on personalised learning. Personalisation is not the same as choice. First steps may include mentoring, emphasis on personal achievement and developing alternative methods of delivery. Personalised education is not fundamentally about subject choice and not the same as individualised learning. It is learner centred and encompasses variety in content, pedagogy and pace. Personalised education emphasises the social dimension of learning and sees real learning as co-produced. Keir stated that learning is mostly a social activity. Obstacles to personalisation include the class as the unit of organisation, rigidity regarding age/stage and educational establishments’ limited fixed opening times. We are still showing our mid-Victorian origins of the school institution. Today’s session concluded with group discussion on how we might make practical progress over the next 5 years beyond the initial ideas on personalisation in ‘Building the Curriculum 3’.

New HMIE Inspection Procedures – Training for Senior School Managers


Posted by upbeat | Posted in HMIE | Posted on November 19, 2008

An early start and off to Castle Douglas to meet Headteachers and other senior staff to look at the new HMIE Inspection Process. The Douglas Arms Hotel had the heating on (which was good), and the group considered the new procedures for secondary schools. Staff from Castle Douglas, Dalry and St Joseph’s looked at the key features of the new inspections and heard from Frank Davis about Annan Academy’s recent inspection under the new arrangements.

We looked at an overview of the new inspection process considering

  • the presentation to be given by the headteacher
  • self-evaluation and its impact on learners
  • the 5 core Quality Indicators 1.1, 2.1, 5.1, 5.3, 5.9
  • opportunities for professional dialogue
  • less documentation
  • Community Learning & Development (CLD)

We also looked at the new HMIE documents ‘Improving our Curriculum Through Self-Evaluation’ and ‘Improving Outcomes for Learners Through Self-Evaluation’ (both published September 2008). The group undertook a short task in school groups considering questions such as ‘To what extent does our vision for the school give direction to self-evaluation?’ and then listing sources of evidence and how this evidence might be collected. Staff involved in today’s training session felt that the new documentation was very helpful as a tool to assist in the management of the self-evaluation process.


Dylan Wiliam


Posted by upbeat | Posted in Learning & Teaching | Posted on November 4, 2008

Sustaining Teacher Learning Communities

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Cairndale Hotel, Dumfries

Around 130 Dumfries & Galloway teachers met in the Cairndale Hotel for a professional development day led by Professor Dylan Wiliam. Yes, just the one L in Wiliam! Teachers attending today’s course are planning to take part over the next year (or two!) in Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs). A TLC consists of a group of (ideally 8-10) teachers who commit to meeting together regularly to improve their teaching and learning, supporting each other in the process. Additionally, each TLC will be supported by tutors engaged by the Tapestry Partnership with 4 meetings between now and june 2009.

Following a welcome and introduction from Keith Best, the day started with the Ceilidh Band ‘Shoogle’ from Wallace Hall Academy. Their musical contribution was greatly enjoyed and appreciated. Dylan Wiliam then led sessions on formative assessment looking at research evidence and practical techniques.

Dylan Wiliam expressed the clear view that the single most important variable in school effectiveness is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. How can we improve teacher quality? Dylan’s position is that there is compelling and convincing research demonstrating that the only realistic and cost effective way forward is to improve the quality of existing teachers through their development in the use of formative assessment and assessment for learning techniques. “Teaching is a complex business and a lifetime is not long enough to master it,” said Dylan.

Formative assessment is all about students knowing where they are, where they are going and having an understanding of how they might get there. The effects of formative assessment should demonstrate improved classroom practice and improved student engagement. Dylan highlighted the importance of teachers developing skills in the quality of questioning of students and in the various types of feedback given. Assessment is only formative if the information fed back to the learner is used by the learner in making improvements. Other aspects of formative assessment discussed by Dylan included sharing criteria with learners, peer-assessment and self-assessment.

The day concluded with a discussion on arrangements for establishing TLCs across Dumfries & Galloway and a vote of thanks to Dylan for leading an excellent staff development day in presenting the effective use of formative assessment techniques.



Posted by upbeat | Posted in New Music | Posted on November 3, 2008

John Maxwell Geddes with Paragon musicians and Castle Douglas High School students

John Maxwell Geddes with Paragon musicians and Castle Douglas High School students

Lochside Theatre, Castle Douglas, Sunday 2 November 2008

A beautiful sunny Autumn day in Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway. I arrived at 11.00am at the Lochside Theatre to listen to the Paragon Ensemble trio of musicians on violin, cello and horn in rehearsal, all feeling the heat under the stage lights.

New Vistas is a unique project devised by John Maxwell Geddes, one of Scotland’s leading composers working in association with Paragon Ensemble. A Creative Scotland Award made by the Scottish Arts Council in 2007 has enabled John to work with young aspiring composers from across Scotland, in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Castle Douglas.

New Vistas has had young people composing music inspired by Seascapes (Aberdeen), Starscapes (Glasgow) and Landscapes (Castle Douglas). The first of these concerts showcasing new music by 6 young people from Castle Douglas High School was a great success and also featured compositions by John. His final piece was entitled St Ninian’s Cave, a piece based on a NONOGRAM puzzle. Students’ themes are placed in a square of 9 boxes (3 x 3) and the performers begin and end on the central idea, moving to any adjacent idea and returning to the centre after each event. The work ends when all events have been played by each player.

Castle Douglas students have been developing their compositions over the past year with support from John. Ocassional visits to Castle Douglas from John and Paragon musicians have allowed them to develop their musical ideas through discussion and having their pieces performed at early stages of development. John has a particular talent for inspiring young people in their music making and composition. The resultant concert, featuring the students’ pieces and John’s work, was a fantastic success. An appreciative audience of family, friends and invited guests were treated to an excellent, varied concert of new music.

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