This week I have been delighted to have made two visits to schools in the Cowal area. On Tuesday morning I began the day at Sandbank Primary where I was delighted to be shown around the new Gaelic pre 5 provision which is taking shape and looks as though it is going to be a really stunning facility when it is completed. The team involved in the works have been trying hard to ensure the build stays on time. It now looks as though it will be completed by December 2017 in time for the new registrations for next session.
This week has been very busy with a variety of meetings focusing on consultation and future plans.
On Monday I was involved in a telephone conference in relation to 1140 hours expansion programme for early years. This is a very important development across Scotland at this current time. All Authorities are asked to submit a delivery plan to be with Scottish Government by the 29th of September. The Early Years Service are working hard on this with other services of the council. This is a very big project. A consultation on the increased hours is currently available at:
First thing Monday morning I drove up to Oban to meet with the Head Teachers from Oban High, Tobermory and Tiree to discuss the recent SQA results. A very good professional discussion took place with some innovative solutions of how the schools could support each other. This type of networking and working together is going to become more important as we look at raising attainment. I then drove out to Lochnell Primary where a lovely welcome and lunch awaited me. Shirley Matheson the Head Teacher and her team gave me a real welcome and I enjoyed a couple of hours at the school lea ring about their successes and challenges. I had a tour of the school with 3 P7 guides in the shape of Katy, Ewan and Bobbie. These young people really knew their school and could explain very clearly how the school was ensuring the action points of Our Children Their Future are being developed. Visits like these and discussions with the heads give me a real sense of the work happening at the chalk face and make me very proud.
The advisory group of Head Teachers met with myself and the Executive Director on Tuesday morning to discuss various strategic issues and ensuring we move forward together. I then joined the Education Management Team on Tuesday afternoon to continue with our strategic planning and in particular the self-evaluation in relation to our current inspection action plan. The inspection team from Education Scotland will return the week beginning 26th September.
My main base is at Inveraray Conference Centre and this year I am trying hard to have at least one day a week at base to try and catch up with correspondence and strategic planning. My week is usually spent out and about and in various offices. This week was no different.
On Monday, I began the week with Community Services Departmental Management Team (DMT) where we examined many issues related to overall strategy of the Council in relation to finances, HR and particular elements related to Community and Culture and Education. This fortnightly meeting with the Executive Director ensures that all Education Service matters are represented within overall Council strategy. My words of “but it is different for Education” are often uttered.
Welcome back to the new school session. I hope that the summer although rather damp has been restful and given time for enjoying many activities. For me it has been a summer of family activities with my eldest daughter getting married. There was much organisation, ticking off lists, socialising and above all else happy times filled with love and laughter. The time spent in the run up to the wedding and during the wedding was a time to reflect on how small communities come together for events and the wedding demonstrated the support from many friends and community members. Community help was available from flowers to car parking and much more. Argyll and Bute has a special community feel and we need to be proud of this as we think about how we live and work in the area. We have a wonderful environment and great community spirit and these should be core to our lives and a big part of our Education Service.
June is almost over and the school year is coming to an end. I can hardly believe that a year has passed since I took up post as Acting Head of Education for a period of 3 months and here we are a year on. It has been quite a year and there have been many challenges but also a great deal of successes too. I continue to be very proud of Argyll and Bute Education Service and all the staff who do so much for all our young people. One of the highlights of the year have been meeting with the staff and understanding their challenges and sharing in their achievements too.
Earlier this month I was lucky to join some of the P1 teachers who were all attending a training event looking at transition and the pedagogical approaches to benefit all P1’s as they move from Pre 5 to P1. The day was led by Alice Sharp from Experiential Play and our own Education Officer Kathleen Johnston. A key part of the day was looking at how to use the new Early Years Learning and Development resource. The resource gives clear progression pathways across the early level to ensure that a sure foundation for learning is in place. One of the key objectives of Our Children, Their Future is to ‘Ensure Children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed’. The resource has been developed by the Early Years Team to help deliver this objective.
Another important event that I attended was joining the showcase event for this year’s PGDE students who have just completed their study with UHI at the Argyll College campus in Oban. I was very interested to review their enquiry projects. Some very interesting topics covered including outdoor learning, positive behaviour strategies and the use of music on behaviour. The work carried out this year has been first class and the tutor Caroline Boyle has been very impressed with this cohort which bores well for the future of Education in Argyll and Bute.
On the 13th of June we welcomed the newly qualified teachers who will be joining us in session 2017/18 as probationers. This year’s cohort have had an initial welcome day and I was delighted to be able to given them a formal welcome to our Authority. I have done this now for several years and it is always a really important and special welcome for me to undertake. It is such a privilege to see the world of education through the eyes of our brand new teachers. As the year moves forward I will be touching base with this new cohort to see how they are developing and how we can support them in their first year of teaching.
In the past two weeks I have been leading the interview process for Head Teacher posts across our Authority both in Primary, Secondary and 3-18 Schools. It is a very important task and to ensure that each school community has a perfect fit with a leader who will take forward the school in its community. Rural schools bring the support of the community which can be a real asset for Head Teachers but it also can mean a real level of scrutiny which isn’t seen in more urban schools. Many of our Head Teachers are moving on to a brand new life of retirement and have given a lifetime service to our young people. I wish Cathleen Russell from Toward and Innellan Primaries, Geoff Urie from Hermitage Academy, Fiona Johnston from Kilmartin and Achahoish Primaries and Sine MacVicar from Dunbeg all the very best for this next part of their lives. I have been delighted to see Sine’s career being acknowledged in the Scottish Education Awards and the TES Awards by being awarded the lifetime Achievement awards.
The central education team are also looking to losing two members who are joining the retirement team. Fiona Johnston and John MacPherson will be retiring at the end of term. I wish them both well and hope they can enjoy time for themselves and their families.
Our staff are our greatest asset and another key objective in Our Children, Their Future is to ‘Strengthen leadership at all levels’. So to all our staff I wish you a very happy holiday when it arrives and an enormous thanks for the incredible commitment to ensuring that education in Argyll and Bute is improving and our young people get a good deal.
A lot of my time and thoughts over the past few weeks has had a focus on planning for the future. At this time of year throughout educational establishments there is real focus on the future. It is often described as the New Year preparations for the education world.
The exam timetable began on Tuesday 2nd of May and is still in progress. Our S4, S5 and S6 pupils have been taking part in important exams which will impact on their future lives. Across our 10 secondary schools there have been a variety of celebrations as they have been saying goodbye to their S6 pupils and some S5. Over the next few weeks the new timetables will be going into place and there will be much work done with transitions from P7 to S1 and Pre School into P1. This is a real time of looking forward and looking back at success and planning how to make the next stage even more successful.
I have heard about some transition work based around our partners at Benmore Outdoor Centre.
Last week end the P7 schools cluster in Cowal spent some time at Benmore preparing for their move to Secondary and getting to know each other better. This work each year is led by Alison Currie, PT Learning Support and has been a huge success over the years.
Also visiting Benmore recently were the combined cluster of P6 and 7 pupils from Minard and furnace primary schools. They had some great experiences gorge walking and testing themselves on some adventures and succeeded in risk taking. All good skills for their future ahead.
Skills for the future are difficult to predict as life is changing very fast and as more and more technology comes into place skills are developing to meet this area. There are some skills which are always going to be necessary and important whatever field of study or career is ahead. In session 2017/18 there will be a continued focus on literacy and numeracy skills.
In my job planning the future has consisted of staffing updates and planning which posts are required to be filled, discussing with colleagues both in and out of school the need for reviewing posts to future proof. This is often a difficult decision as to go with the same structure or to evolve and meet the new needs of the service. The later has been very much my approach in the last few weeks and this has seen new posts becoming available.
Schools have been busy looking at planning their PEF spend and looking to the future as to what this additional money can do to support the learning for pupils in the schools. The returned application forms regarding PEF have been coming in to the centre and I am pleased to see some innovation and clear thought out strategies in clusters.
On Friday 19th May it was my honour to spend time with the probationer cohort of 2016/17. These newly qualified teachers have had the expert support during their probation year of David Mitchell, Janice McGregor, Sharon Burt and Mairi Livingstone. They have been at each of the support days and co-ordinated the programme for probationer development. The strength of our probationer programme in Argyll and Bute is the support from in school practitioners. We wish them all well in their future careers and do hope many stay in Argyll and secure permanent posts.
Many colleagues are also thinking about moving on to retirement and thinking about a bright future not governed by bells. Whilst it is sad to be losing valued and much respected colleagues it is also an exciting time celebrating their great achievements. Their retirals also provide great opportunities for some new folks to be promoted and enjoy a new challenge. I am very busy at present putting dates into my diary for interviewing for Head Teacher posts before the end of the term.
Whilst we take many positives from the past and our experiences we should never forget that the future is bright. Our Children, Their Future is key to the work we undertake in schools on a daily basis.
This is one of the key objectives in Our Children, Their Future and I have been delighted to certainly see this in action over the past week.
On Friday the 21st of April I was involved as part of the interview panel for the Into Headship course with SCEL. We had a fantastic day interviewing 12 candidates who were all keen to share their views on leadership and how they felt they could contribute at School and Authority level. The candidates were put through some challenging questions but all gave good answers.
The following Monday 24th of April I was delighted to visit the new Digital Hub in Dunoon and we were taken through our paces in relation to coding and programming. The P6 and P7 digital leaders were very impressive showing great leadership skills and supporting their class mates and the adults present. This is a very important part of our work – the leadership of our young people. The digital leaders were also given the opportunity to link the world of work to their tasks. Aileen Goodall our 16+ Officer shared with the young people how their digital skills can be used in the world of work.
I am afraid that I haven’t managed to update the blog for a wee while. Hopefully now Spring is in the air that I will manage to keep up with the blog.
It has been a very busy time within the service and a particularly difficult time. The Education Scotland report on the Education functions of Argyll and Bute Council was published on the 21st March. The report has detailed the following specific areas to be addressed within the service:
- significantly improve young people’s attainment across the authority;
- improve the use of data, ensuring greater rigour;
- continue to improve the quality of educational provision with consistently higher levels of support and challenge from central officers and elected members;
- improve relationships and communication, promoting a more positive ethos amongst all stakeholders; and
- improve the quality of strategic leadership and direction at all levels within the education authority.
I spent Monday morning in an online meeting discussing transformational change within the Council Services. An interesting concept about how we deliver services differently and more efficiently. I have been challenged to look at our Education Service and how we deliver differently. I am keen to hear any ideas from colleagues. Can we look at using learning technologies, do we use our resources differently? Please let me know.
After lunch I enjoyed meeting with the Mid Argyll, Kintyre and Islay Head Teachers to discuss staffing allocations for 2017/18. It was great to get the chance to hear about the challenges and how we can get to grips with getting adverts for next year on the go as quickly as possible. Anne Margaret Houston, Admin Officer: Staffing and Fiona Johnston, Education Officer have been working hard to get the overall staffing picture for the Authority.