Category Archives: Falkirk Council Educational Establishments

New Developments in Practitioner Enquiry in Falkirk Establishments

Yvonne McBlain has been working with probationer support team colleagues and colleagues in schools for the last 4 years to promote practitioner enquiry as an integral element of good practice. Practitioner Enquiry has been a mandatory part of each professional standard defined by the General Teaching Council for Scotland since 2012 – click here to visit their site.

Stephanie Ross, class teacher at St Andrew’s Primary School, and Susan McCudden, class teacher at Denny High School act as “critical friends” for teacher colleagues across Scotland with the Scottish College for Educational Leadership programme. They are passionate advocates for the positive impact practitioner enquiry has on pedagogy, and on pupil attainment and achievement, and Yvonne is delighted that they would like to take on a supporting role across our authority. Click here to find out more about practitioner enquiry and SCEL, and here to visit the practitioner enquiry section of GTCS website. GTCS enable access to reading and research materials for enquiry projects which were previously tricky to get, and have also created a collection of teacher research projects (enquiries) via their Education Hub which can be accessed here with your GTCS log in details.

Stephanie and Susan will work with Yvonne to deliver an information session about practitioner enquiry on 15th March 4.15-5.15 (CPD Manager Falkirk code YMc 1-18. Below, they introduce their own journeys so far with practitioner enquiry.

Stephanie writes:

My first experience of practitioner enquiry was at the end of my undergraduate degree when it took the place of the traditional dissertation approach. Following this I then had another chance to partake in an enquiring approach during my masters degree. Both of these experiences were very positive, I felt empowered and satisfied by having the freedom to delve into issues that mattered to me and the learners in my classroom. I see practitioner enquiry as a truly authentic form of CLPL as it enables you to evidence and actively lead productive change in teaching and learning on a continual basis.

Although valuable, both of these initial experiences were relatively isolated and formal. So as a class teacher I then became intrigued as to how to integrate this process into the everyday fabric of the classroom and utilise what I have done to help others to develop a manageable enquiring approach. As a result I came into contact with SCEL and became a ‘critical friend’ on their Teacher Leadership Program. Afterwards I also attended a two day ‘Supporting Teacher Leadership’ conference. Both of these were a great opportunity to share how practitioner enquiry is being approached across authorities and develop my understanding of enquiry in the classroom.

As practitioner enquiry is built so firmly into the GTCS standards I feel it is important that teachers are appropriately supported in building knowledge and confidence of the enquiring approach. This has furthered my enthusiasm to support others and I am looking forward to developing this process alongside other colleagues.

Susan adds:

My experience of practitioner enquiry has been through the programmes offered by SCEL. In July 2016 I applied to take part in the Teacher Leadership Prototype Programme- I had only ever heard of practitioner enquiry as a project carried out by Falkirk Council probationers, so I didn’t really know what I was signing up for. The programme led me through the process of carrying out a practitioner enquiry and allowed me to engage with other teachers from across Scotland- we kept weekly blogs and had online tutorials about our progress. For me, the best part of the practitioner enquiry was the fact that it gave me control of my own professional learning and allowed me to spend my CPD time on work that would directly inform my practice. I had complete ownership of my own enquiry and learned a lot from other people through reading their blog entries and engaging in online discussions.

At the end of the programme, I was invited to be a critical friend and have supported participants this year by coaching them through their own enquiry. I have thoroughly enjoyed this process and have been excited to work with a group practitioners who are enthusiastic and committed to professional excellence.

Like Stephanie, I attended SCEL’S ‘Supporting Teacher Leadership’ conference in January 2018, where I learned even more about the fundamental importance of practitioner enquiry- not just in terms of our CPD but also in fulfilling the GTCS standards that are so important in delivering the high quality teaching and learning that our pupils deserve.

I found practitioner enquiry to be extremely worthwhile and enjoyable and I was able to fit my work into my classroom practice really easily. I hope to inspire others to adopt this approach to CLPL and look forward to learning more from colleagues in the process.

Susan and Stephanie have kindly provided the links to the Teacher Leadership video below, and this link to SCEL’s online learning space for developing teacher leadership.


Grangemouth HS Developing Practitioner Enquiry for Professional Learning

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Yvonne McBlain attended the most recent meeting of secondary professional learning co-ordinators to hear how Falkirk secondary schools are using an enquiring approach to their self-evaluation and development of teaching and learning. Yvonne provided an update on the success and impact of the practitioner enquiry element of Falkirk Children’s Services’ probationer induction programme. Co-ordinators from each school then shared how they are exploring the extent to which this approach can impact on learning. Ash Wood, depute head at Grangemouth HS wrote up the following account of what this looks like in his school.

We have purchased resources to supply a “practitioner enquiry” section for teachers in our library.  We also offer limited financial support to enable teachers to buy resources to support their enquiry.  When they have completed their findings these resources are added to the library.  We have created a one side of A4 template for teachers to complete to share their findings with their colleagues.  Mrs Laura Gallagher (Teacher of Chemistry) has developed an interactive “toolkit” for teachers to use to help them understand, prepare for and complete a practitioner enquiry.  She has also conducted a pilot of the tool with her faculty colleagues and received very positive feedback both about the toolkit and the benefits of the practitioner enquiry process.  Laura has also shared and demonstrated her toolkit to CPD Co-ordinators in the authority.

Dr Alex Fraser (Teacher of Biology) will present his practitioner enquiry on pupil voice to our Extended Leadership Team later this session to promote the benefits of practitioner enquiry and demonstrate its relevance.  His findings will support PTs who have pupil voice as part of the Faculty Improvement Plans.

Laura will promote her toolkit, and practitioner enquiry in general at our staff meeting in February.  Leanne Welsh and Amy Nichol, two of our NQTs from last session who are now with us permanently, will also share their practitioner enquiries from last session to illustrate the process and how it has benefited their practice.

We are currently considering using our core School Improvement Groups as a way of taking practitioner enquiry forward, while conscious that the voluntary nature of the exercise is key to teacher “buy-in”.


Moray Primary use Storyline Approach to Develop Literacy Skills

Rebecca Spalding and Rachel Keane are using the Storyline approach to develop their pupils’ language and literacy skills. They are class teachers at Moray Primary school – Rebecca has a primary 1 class, and Rachel teaches primary 2 pupils. They chose a Fairy tale context to target specific language skills and have been supporting each other in planning the structure of their storyline episodes since February. Both teachers feel the approach has had a very positive impact on their pupils’ literacy and personal skills.

The photos throughout this post evidence pupil development of sequencing skills within language tasks, creating a variety of texts, and the development of independent writing.  

Rebecca feels that her pupils are better able to write sentences, and can interpret visual texts and re-tell stories with much more confidence and flair. Her class get so excited each time a letter or a message or book is left by the “dragon” (their main storyline character). The dragon leaves a trail of glitter to let the children know he has been, and they’ve decided that he sneaks in through their classroom window when they are not in school. The children are thrilled when each message appears and relish the tasks they need to do for the dragon. This approach motivates and engages the children and they can’t wait to post their messages into the dragon mailbox.

Rachel’s class have a knight as their main character and their classroom includes a wonderful castle frieze and life-size drawbridge where the children can play. Both classrooms are very stimulating learning environments because they have evolved and been led by the pupils’ response to the clues and messages received. The messages from the knight enable the children to take a problem-solving approach to each task he sets. Pupils are developing their creativity skills and a positive mindset towards their literacy. The photos show how relevant each literacy experience has been for the children, and where Rachel and Rebecca have taken advantage of natural links across learning. (Growing a bean when studying Jack and the Beanstalk, applying measuring skills and completing a technology/expressive arts rich homework task).

Rachel feels her pupils are much more engaged in their work. They are more confident about their literacy skills and are more willing to share their ideas and suggestions. They can sequence a story better and are more independent when writing.

One of the most noticeable changes for Rachel and Rebecca has been the increase in pupils choosing to read. Pupils are reading for enjoyment and picking up books much more often than before. Both teachers feel they have been able to build personalisation and choice into their storyline by following the prior knowledge their pupils have of traditional tales. Using these stories as a focus fits well with the discrete active literacy work being done in class, and offers opportunities for pupils to broaden, challenge and apply their literacy skills. Both classes are perfecting their classrooms and preparing for their big storyline celebration in the last week of term. The pupils are looking forward to sharing their learning with the guests they have invited along.

Falkirk Probationer Teachers Present their Practitioner Enquiry Projects

Between October 2016 and February 2017, probationer teachers working in Falkirk secondary schools have engaged in Practitioner Enquiry. The photo on the left shows a quick, light-hearted, visual evaluation by one of the teachers who took part in the process.

This experience is an important part of our Falkirk probationer induction programme, and helps probationers fulfil the following elements of the GTCS Standard for Full Registration (December 2012):

  • 2.3.2 Have knowledge and understanding of the importance of research and engagement in professional enquiryProfessional Actions Registered teachers:-know how to access and apply relevant findings from educational research-know how to engage critically in enquiry, research and evaluation individually or collaboratively, and apply this in order to improve teaching and learning.
  • 3.4.1 Read and critically engage with professional literature, educational research and policyProfessional Actions Registered teachers:-read, analyse and critically evaluate a range of appropriate educational and research literature;-systematically engage with research and literature to challenge and inform professional practice.

By including this experience in our induction programme, we hope to support newly qualified teachers in their development of an enquiring and reflective approach to their ongoing professional learning. The first years of teaching are challenging on so many levels, and we try to demonstrate how practitioner enquiry can become a natural, integrated part of teaching, rather than something huge which enlarges workload in an unsustainable way.

Teaching Scotland’s Future, (Scottish Government, 2011)  stated that:

“Long term and sustained improvement which has a real impact on the quality of children’s learning will be better achieved through determined efforts to build the capacity of teachers themselves to take responsibility for their own professional development, building their pedagogical expertise, engaging with the need for change, undertaking well-thought through development and always evaluating impact in relation to improvement in the quality of children’s learning. That is the message from successful education systems across the world.”

When asked to share the impact the project has had on their practice, probationer teachers said:

“Better able to think critically about making positive impact on attainment & achievement”

“More aware of best ways to meet the needs of learners – approach to questioning has changed, and impact seen with pupils”

“Methodical application of new strategies rather than straight to it without evidential basis”

Gillian MacLennan, Graeme HS, Julie Cairney, Larbert HS, and  Sarah McQuade and Kevin Smith, from Braes HS, took on the role of mentors for the probationer teachers throughout their practitioner enquiry. Laura Baird, probationer support teacher, and Yvonne McBlain, curriculum support teacher, led the project and probationers got help and encouragement from their probation support team  “in school” too. Professional Learning Co-ordinators and probationer supporters joined members from the Service Support and Improvement team on 21st and 22nd February to take part in the presentation event. Click here to visit the OneNote document in Glow where probationer teachers shared their presentations and academic posters – the photo on the right shows a selection of these displayed in Camelon Education Centre.

Gillian said: “I have been impressed by this enquiry process which puts learning at the centre and moves teachers towards research based practice, rooted in improving pupils’ experience and attainment.”

Probationer teachers gave useful evaluation  – click here to view the summary of their comments. This feedback will be used to shape and improve this element of the Falkirk Children’s Services probationer teacher induction programme.



Denny Cluster Continue Their Collaboration for Skills Transition


Yvonne McBlain joined primary and secondary teachers from the Denny cluster at their transition project meeting on January 26th between 4-5.15pm. They have been working together for over a year to develop quality, skill-based transition within their cluster. Their task is “To build a shared pathway of progressive learning across the broad, general education in the Denny cluster”. Click on the slide to view the presentation used by the group.

The transition group have identified a core group of skills which they know their pupils need to develop across the curriculum to help them raise their attainment. These are:

◦Working with others


◦Presentation skills

The teachers are currently planning interdisciplinary and cross-curricular learning experiences which will help pupils progress these skills. Click here to see one of the emerging plans which staff are working on. They are being creative and flexible in their approach to what, when, and how the learning can support transition. Once the learning experiences have been planned (involving the pupils where possible), the teachers will work out which ones can happen during a transition showcase event or time period, and which ones should be delivered in another way. Some of the groups are planning to use a Scottish/Jamaica context to engage pupils in this work, and to extend their understanding of global citizenship and international education. This helps all of the schools build Learning for Sustainability into their curriculum framework as once of the cross-cutting themes too.

Eilidh King, primary 7 teacher at Denny PS, and Kerry Smith, English teacher at Denny HS have already benefitted from this collaboration. Their collaborative planning during the transition project inspired them to design an engaging Christmas learning experience which involved Kerry and Eilidh team teaching together at Denny PS. Eilidh’s class thoroughly enjoyed finding their Christmas clues and solving the Santa mystery!

This slide shows some of the elements of national policy and daily practice which the group have pulled together during their planning:


The transition group  consists of a small number of secondary teachers from Denny High school, and primary teachers from most of the Denny cluster schools. The group is led by Judith Donaldson, teacher of home economics, and Iain Farrington, primary 7 teacher at Antonine PS. Aileen McKeown, DHT, Denny HS, and Yvonne McBlain, curriculum support officer, form the remainder of a small, strategic working group with Iain and Judith. The project is fully supported by the cluster head teachers, and Aileen provides updates for them at cluster meetings. Everyone involved is looking forward to putting their plans into action with pupils between spring and summer 2017.



Probationer CPD – Active Literacy

This week Probationers in Falkirk Council have been engaging in professional development on Active Literacy – one of the resources used in Falkirk Council to teach literacy in our primary schools.

To begin the session an introduction video from Falkirk Council’s YouTube channel was shared.

Further videos to Active Literacy can be found at the link below.

The session was then broken down into three sections – spelling and phonics, reading and writing.

The teaching of phonics using magnetic boards was explained and the importance of distinguishing between the spelling of tricky words (words which cannot be ‘sounded out’) and phonics was discussed.  Spelling strategies in upper school were also shared and evaluated.

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Kayleigh Docherty then introduced how she taught reading in her classroom using the Thinking Reader approach.  Kayleigh completed her probationary year in Falkirk Council last year and was happy to share her experiences.

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More information can be found on Thinking Reader at the following websites: