Proposals for ‘Dumfries Learning Town’


Posted by upbeat | Posted in Creativity, Curriculum for Excellence, Learning & Teaching, New Learning | Posted on June 25, 2011

This week’s Times Educational Supplement Scotland leads on innovative proposals for the ”Dumfries Learning Town”. Dumfries is the largest town in the council area of Dumfries & Galloway, in South-West Scotland.

The River Nith, Dumfries

The River Nith, Dumfries

Dumfries could be the first place in Scotland to create a new model of senior secondary school, serving all 1,100 S4-6 pupils in the town.

Colin Grant, director of education services at Dumfries and Galloway, will next week outline to parents and teachers the council’s vision of the “Dumfries Learning Town” which would see its particular concept of a senior secondary built alongside further and higher education institutions on Crichton campus.

TESS understands that at least three other authorities – Perth and Kinross, Aberdeen City and Fife – have explored similar concepts, but are not as far advanced as Dumfries and Galloway.

If the Dumfries model wins the backing of parents and teachers, pupils in S1-3 in Dumfries High, Dumfries Academy, Maxwelltown High and St Joseph’s College would remain in their current schools, but would work more closely with local primaries.

The proposal would allow for the creation of actual or virtual “middle schools”, offering more specialist teaching for upper-primary pupils and less fragmentation of the curriculum for lower secondary.

S4-6 pupils would have access to a wider range of subjects in a single senior secondary; they would also have more vocational options by being located next to Dumfries and Galloway College and local businesses.

With Glasgow University and the University of the West of Scotland also running courses on the campus, schools could collaborate more closely with higher education – HE lecturers could deliver Advanced Higher work – said Mr Grant.

He stressed the council wanted to “ask questions rather than give answers” in its consultations with locals.

“We have good schools, but many talented and committed staff are working in tired buildings and our young people are learning in limiting physical environments. We also have great challenges around continuity and transition,” he said.

Past reviews of the school estate, which had recommended closing one or two of the town’s secondaries, had run into difficulties, he explained.

When Mr Grant became education director three years ago, he wanted to ensure that communities did not lose their schools.

“With Curriculum for Excellence has come a unique opportunity. If we were starting again, we would not build primaries and secondaries separately. Here was an opportunity to look at the whole big picture,” Mr Grant told TESS.

Greater momentum has been added to the vision by the current financial backdrop. “We are past the day of replacing a school with a like school. And politically, how could you argue that any one of the four should be replaced and not the other three?” he added.

The proposal would have obvious implications for teachers: some might opt to teach S1-3 and some S4-6, while others might be timetabled across the two. If the “middle school” takes in P6-7 pupils, the General Teaching Council for Scotland would have to be consulted, as its regulations categorise teachers as either primary or secondary.

Educational consultant and former Clackmannanshire Council chief executive Keir Bloomer was involved in early planning stages of the proposal. “A senior school like this will be able to create a much wider curriculum, greater choice and will be able to do that simultaneously at lower cost,” he said.

The template could be applied to towns supporting three or four secondaries or cities, he said.

CPD filming with Keir Bloomer and Gary Kildare


Posted by upbeat | Posted in Collaboration, Creativity, Curriculum for Excellence, Featured, HMIE, International Education, Learning & Teaching, New Learning | Posted on October 7, 2010

Gary Kildare and Kate Raeside in Gary's office

Gary Kildare and Kate Raeside in Gary's office

Keir prepares to ask Gary a few questions

Keir prepares to ask Gary a few questions

It’s a wet and windy October day for driving up from Dumfries to Edinburgh to meet Keir Bloomer for lunch and a chat before our appointment later in the afternoon with Gary Kildare. In the past few weeks we’ve made a start to the production of some short films to assist Dumfries & Galloway school staff in implementing ‘Curriculum for Excellence’.

Keir arranged for us to meet Gary Kildare (IBM Vice President, Human Resources, Europe, Americas, Asia Pacific) to capture on film Gary’s thoughts on the skills and attributes young people need to live, work and be successful in the 21st Century. Gary’s contribution to this CPD video for teachers is much appreciated and very significant, given his role as a leading figure in the global business world. We’ve already filmed Keir’s introduction to this ‘Skills’ video and will also include excerpts featuring school pupils demonstrating ‘higher order’ skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking.
It’s been a busy day, and this evening I fly to Birmingham for the ABRSM Course Leader and Mentor training weekend. Fortunately I managed to get a good sleep on the short flight down south!

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’.

Keir Bloomer – Leadership for Learning


Posted by upbeat | Posted in Leadership for Learning | Posted on October 8, 2008

Easterbrook Hall, Dumfries       Tuesday 7 October, 2008

An excellent day in Dumfries as Keir Bloomer, former teacher, Education Director, Council Chief Executive and key player in developing Scottish Education’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ led a group of promoted teachers, heedies and central education staff in a day of discussion and reflection looking at Leadership for Learning.

He set education in the context of a rapidly changing world, giving examples of dramatically escalating football transfer fees over the years highlighting the fact that we are now seeing the effects of globalisation. He also raised the issue of an exponential increase in knowledge and that teachers are now teaching for a future we cannot see.

As a proud grandfather, Keir was able to use pictures of his lovely grand-daughter to illustrate that human beings are ‘the greatest learning machine on earth’. She isn’t taught to talk, but is of course learning to talk. She will succeed in learning to talk because she is well motivated, observes, experiments, performs and imitates  –  a sound learning process. Young people learn best through intrinsic, natural ways by constructing their own reality  –  all true learning is like that.

Keir stated that intellectual development is sometimes inhibited by giving students too much visual information, thus diminishing the capacity for imagination. He outlined the cognitive apprenticeship model of (1) the master modelling, showing by example how  (2) supporter, giving help where appropriate (3) fading, where the master withdraws and (4) coaching. Learning can be like an apprenticeship.  

He looked at the world of education over past centuries with references to seats of learning and their specialist/reductionist approaches, which has been deemed a success in the eyes of academics and many others. However, that was then and this is now. Another view is that learning can be lateral  –  just look at websites. This form of literacy demands you access information laterally, not sequentially.

Schools need to send young people out to the world of work or further education as lifelong learners keen to engage in learning and not having been put off learning because they’ve been stuffed with content/knowledge in a way that’s put them off for life.

Which brings us to the rationale for Curriculum for Excellence and the purposes namely; successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

In addition to the core areas of literacy and numeracy, Keir outlined the importance of recognising the key 21st century skill set of information handling, problem solving, synthesis and creativity. The curriculum is not an anthology of content, but a development of capability.

Most of us would probably not fare too well if we had to re-sit certain exam papers again; however the issue is not about recalling content, it is about the development of the capacity to think effectively. Education is what remains, when we have forgotten all that we have been taught.

The challenge for schools is to ensure young people are challenged and enjoy their learning. Enjoyment is not the same as fun with a teacher cracking jokes throughout the lesson – it is more that pupils are truly engaged with a sense of purpose, possibly even in a state of ‘flow’ where they are totally engrossed in the activity. Depth in learning is also very important where pupils can see real meaning in their work and are motivated to learn more. Relevance is also a new theme within Curriculum for Excellence. Keir stated that aspects of Personalisation & Choice are more challenging to develop as schools still echo the Victorian organisation of 100 years ago.

Children should have a stake in their own development and teachers should be led to adopt an increased professional self-confidence.

Keir also outlined how school leaders can make a difference. The key thing was to focus on things we can actually do something about. School leaders can make a significant difference in 3 key areas. These are; Pedagogy, Relationships and Innovation. The biggest potential difference for children is in the classroom with their teacher. If a teacher’s practice can improve, this will make a positive difference to learning outcomes for children. Keir’s winning formula in classrooms is for children to have challenging goals and effective feedback.

However, the single most important factor to being ‘a good school’ is the development and nurturing of good relationships.

We look forward to working with Keir during the current session as we seek to develop leadership capacity at all levels in our schools.

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