All posts by B McLaren

Memories are Made of This

In a bit of a sideways move I have chosen not to go with a Christmas track.  I’ve said before that I am not a huge fan of Christmas music, although I’m as likely as the next person to be singing along anyway.  What I am a great fan of though is live music.  I don’t go nearly enough but I thoroughly enjoy it when I do go. Over the last year I’ve been to see Barenaked Ladies, Black Sabbath and then last week it was Royal Blood.

Going to see Royal Blood was the first time my older boy had been to a gig and he had a great time and as we were driving home he was asking me about bands I had seen live.  The very first band I ever saw live was a band called Twisted Sister and I saw them in 1985 at the Edinburgh Playhouse when I was roughly the same age as my older son is now.  My parents had bought me a ticket and one for my pal and dropped us off at the Playhouse.  I remember the concert so clearly; the excitement, the noise, the smell and the feeling of the bass in my chest.    These memories are over thirty years old now but still incredibly vivid and I’m sure that if I bumped into Lindsay, my pal who went with me, he would have the same opinion.

One of the things we are trying to do in school is to provide children with experiences that will stay with them for years as well.  I spoke in my last blog about a conference I had attended called Leading with Care.  One of the other speakers spoke about the issue of the cost of the school day and how this could be an enormous block to children being able to do the things they want to do.  Through the Pupil Equity Fund and the sterling work of our Parent Council, we as a school, are able to reduce the burden of cost and to work towards ensuring equity of experience for all of our children.  Andrew from Active Schools works with our children every day either before school or during lunchtime, Mr Robbie is now leading our guitar band (with a set of new guitars), the cost of school trips has been significantly reduced and we are planning a whole school excursion to the Science Centre in Glasgow and perhaps the biggest of all – the whole school visit to the Pantomime this week.  We are able to use these funds to ensure our children have these collective experience without the burden of cost and in the words of Curriculum for Excellence ensuring they have ” have experienced the energy and excitement of presenting/performing for audiences and
being part of an audience for other people’s presentations/performances”

I hope when our children meet each other in thirty years time they look back fondly on their trip to the pantomime and remember the shared experience and excitement they had on the run up to this Christmas and for all of their time as part of our school community.

…and far be it from me not to drop in a little bit of Christmas music at the end…


Teach Your Children Well

I’m sure I have mentioned before that I do enjoy playing the guitar.  I have an acoustic guitar and recently treated myself to a new electric guitar as well.  I have to say that I am not any good and might be best described as a campfire strummer but I do enjoy it.  My older boy plays drums so now I can accompany him on my electric guitar and imagine that I am selling out the Clyde Auditorium!   Every now and then Crosby Stills and Nash pops up on my random playlist and there is something about their harmonies that really appeals to me.  The fact that this song has such a simple chord progression that even I can play it is an added bonus.

Last week I attended a conference called “Leading with Care” in Glasgow and much of what I heard was genuinely inspirational and I wanted to share a little of what was said.

The highlight of the two days for me was listening to Richard McCann.  Understanding the  impact of ACEs (or adverse childhood experiences) is becoming a much bigger part of our work and recognising the long term implications of them in terms of the health and wellbeing of adults is growing in prominence.   This video gives an outline.

When you hear the story of Richard McCann then in light of this knowledge you can understand the initial trajectory of his life.  If you have the heart for it you can follow the link to read a part of his story, but be warned it is not an easy read.  What is really worth us remembering though is his conclusion.

“To every teacher on the planet I say this: Never underestimate the potential that lies within each and every young person you come into contact with, and, possibly more importantly, never underestimate the difference that your words of encouragement may have in their lives.”

I see all of the staff in Easter Carmuirs show this encouragement every day; constantly looking for the thing that makes each child special and unique and showing that we care.  Identifiying and nurturing talents as best we can.  Many of our children lack a little bit of confidence and our staff constantly strive to challenge them and make them step out of their comfort zone a little every day and learn to challenge themselves.  Our children need to know that it is better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit.

Quote “It is better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit.” Les Brown image with beautiful image background

You may have noticed a message coming out through Twitter and ClassDojo over the last week that a number of guitars are working their way into school.  There are a few reasons for this.  There is research that shows that involvement in music has a positive impact on attainment , the creation of a band helps foster an identity and pride and the opportunities for adults and families to join us helps develop our community.  We have traditionally offered sporting activities in school so we thought we would try to diversify a little.  There is also the sense that if you are supported to try one new thing you are much more likely to try other new things…  We’ll maybe make it to the auditorium yet 🙂

Getting it Right for Every Child

The last band I saw live were these guys just about a year ago.  I bought their first album Gordon, back when I was in college and have followed them, on and off for the last 20 odd years.  Their lyrics are smart, funny and sometimes touching with the added bonus that I can strum some of their tunes on my guitar.

This track describes what it is like for a new entrant to school (high school in this case I think – I’m not terribly well versed in Canadian education!) and for those of us who have been through secondary school I’m sure some of the lyrics resonate.

At this point we have a number of new children in school; from our new p1s to families we are welcoming from significantly further away.  We are welcoming children who have been all through our nursery and are comfortable and happy in our environment and we are welcoming children who have travelled thousands of miles to be with us in incredibly challenging circumstances.  It is our challenge and privilege to ensure that we get it right for them.  The title of this blog post is the expanded version of what you may have heard spoken about as GIRFEC.

THis is the definition from Scottish Government “GIRFEC is the national approach in Scotland to improving outcomes and supporting the wellbeing of our children and young people by offering the right help at the right time from the right people. It supports them and their parent(s) to work in partnership with the services that can help them.”

This approach is central to the work that we do in Easter Carmuirs Primary, and is something that takes an enormous amount of planning and organisation, liaising with associated agencies and preparing the referrals and reports, chronologies and assessments.  The point of the blog title refers to the challenge of preparing our children to make sure that their voices are heard, that their opinion is valued and that their wishes are central to any decision making process.  This includes our very youngest children, children who receive additional support and children for whom English is not their first language as well as every other child enrolled in our school.  It is so important that we find ways to find out what it is like to be a pupil in our school, like a new start in Grade 9 with a humongous binder! One of the ways we will be doing that this year is through the introduction of a programme called Emotionworks. Through this programme, along with a range of other approaches, we will be supporting our children to understand and describe their emotions  and to articulate themselves to help us understand what it is like for them to be a pupil in our school.

We also have a number of new staff who I’m sure are enjoying the challenge of learning new routines and getting to grips with who everyone is and what the secret number is for the colour photocopier!  I think at one point last year I was the only person in the building who did not know what the secret number was 🙂

You also may have noticed a Dojo School Story this week about a meeting I was a part of, attended by the minister for Early Learning and Childcare in Scottish Government, discussing attendance in school.  Easter Carmuirs Primary has one of the lowest attendance rates across Falkirk and through working with Falkirk Council  over the last year we have identified a direct link between attendance and attainment.  Put very bluntly the more children are in school the more they learn and the higher they attain.  We are putting a much stronger focus on attendance this year and would ask for all of your support in making sure your children are attending school as often as possible.

Let’s Go round Again

Dearie me! Can it really be three months since my last blog post? Doesn’t time fly when you are having fun 🙂  I am thoroughly enjoying this term as I am bumping into things that I was aware of this time last year.  Although I wasn’t actually in post until the August I had been through the interviews by now and met some of the children and staff.  I had also popped into school to visit the Summer Fayre and meet some of the Parent Council and other families.  So this song seemed like it met the criteria, it also sounds like a properly summer song to me so a winner on both counts!

Again I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but the thing I particularly like about the Average White Band is that that they kind of defy expectation.  If we knew of a band from Scotland with members including  Alan, Robbie, Hamish and Malcolm, hands up who would expect them to sound like this!  That defiance of expectation really tickles me and is something that is regularly floating about in my mind.

As we talk as a school community one of my favourite phrases is “We will be judged on what we do, not on what we say”.  I say it at most assemblies, in all classes and in regular meetings too because I believe it to be true.  If the name Easter Carmuirs Primary School is mentioned outside of Camelon, what is the expectation of our school and of our children?  Does the rest of the world have as high expectations of our school as we all do?  I don’t think they do – but I believe they should and the best way to change expectation is to confound it.   We are currently building our Standards and Quality report to share with you early in the new session and this is a really encouraging piece of work because it forces to look at how far we have come in a year, where the improvements have happened and evaluating what has been successful.  It also challenges us to continue and develop that improvement.  Let’s go round again 🙂

We also have a number of staff changes heading into next session as we noted on the tweet below

so there will be a good number of new faces around the place next session but our core business remains the same .

We work closely as a team around our children to support and challenge the attainment and achievement for all of our pupils; understanding and taking account of all factors that influence them.

We are also really looking forward to sharing the plans for next year. The School Improvement Plan is in place, supported by the contextual analysis outlining the main areas for development and driven by the feedback from families, outlining the barriers to children attaining as highly as possible.


How should we spend £72k ?

Pupil Equity Funding is allocated directly to schools, targeted at those children most affected by the poverty related attainment gap. Funds will be provided through the Attainment Scotland Fund directly to Headteachers to use for additional staffing or resources they consider will help reduce the poverty related attainment gap. This money will be distributed on the basis of the numbers of pupils in P1-S3 known to be eligible and registered for free school meals.

Please fill in this short survey and let us know your thoughts.

Cool Runnings


Primary 7 will be heading along to Falkirk High School later today to work with the music department.  They had to choose a song to reflect success and ambition and I was making suggestions out of my back catalogue which were summarily dismissed!  One of my suggestions was this song. I do enjoy music and, like many folks, have accounts with Amazon and Spotify.  What I do tend to do though is listen to the same songs and playlists over and over again to the great annoyance of my children as I tend to choose songs that I like to sing along to.  One of the songs that is on my playlist is the Hothouse Flowers version of this song and as I was looking for it I stumbled across the fact that this song was also part of the soundtrack for Cool Runnings which tells the story of the first Jamaican Bobsled team and their journey to the winter Olympics in Calgary.  A film about self confidence and belief in your abilities and as an added bonus has John Candy in a starring role!

The sentiment of the film tied up neatly with a conversation I was having with an instructor at PGL Dalguise. We have just returned from a brilliant week at our residential experience in Dalguise.  I’m sure that you will have seen a selection of photos coming through our twitter stream and many more will be uploaded shortly.  We are very proud of our children who abseiled and ziplined, climbed up and fell down and supported and encouraged each other to push themselves into challenging experiences. As I was speaking with one of the instructors they felt a large part of their job was to support children who say “I can’t” when they mean “I don’t want to” – or “I don’t know how”.  The residential experience has a core theme of Challenge by Choice which encourages children to push themselves a little bit further than they feel comfortable doing.  And the big question for all of us is how to effectively support our children to do just that?   We are all pretty good at laying out the things we are no good at,  and find it much more challenging to share the things we are good at.  I suppose it’s part of not wanting to seem boastful or big headed but it does mean that too many of us have a more negative view of our abilities than we should.

As a school we are beginning to think abut ways to address this with our own children.  Bounceback  resilience education is one way we have been attempting to do this and I have written about this before.  Next year we will be looking to develop our understanding of a growth mindset.  This is based on the work of Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology in America.  You may have seen the beginnings of some growth mindset work around our school if you have been in recently and ClassDojo has some really good short videos to help explain the concept to children too.


Teen Spirit

Last week Kurt Cobain would have been 50. More frightening than that, it will soon be 23 years since he died.  I was about half way through college when Nevermind was released and for a while it was the soundtrack to student life.  While Nirvana never made it into my top ten bands half a dozen or so of their songs still revolve around my playlists.

You can draw your own conclusions as to why  think this track and band makes a really interesting introduction to the blog post.  The tweet below set the tone for this week’s staff training and was used by Sir Harry Burns at the Raising Attainment for All conference a couple of years ago, the focus being on raising attainment and reducing inequity.

I was part of the Raising Attainment for All programme in my previous job and heard this introduction live.  It was a very powerful, moving and inspirational talk and I’ve linked to it below.  If you have half an hour spare, watching it will be half an hour well spent.

As you might have read in previous blogs I really believe that understanding the context of the school is one of the keys to driving improvement and reducing inequity and this talk provides a really clear picture of the national context.  Watching this as a staff and then considering what it means to our work was a fascinating experience and really drove home to me the emotional involvement all of our staff have in their work.  While we considered strategic direction and possible interventions to improve attainment and reduce inequity, the conversation inevitably turned to how this will make things better for our children.  Everything we do in school should always have an impact on our children and the challenge at the moment is establishing what the impact actually is.  We will be developing our use of the model for improvement and a cycle of Plan Do Study Act.  Using this approach will provide us with a really useful evidence base for our work and highlight what interventions are working and,just as importantly, what interventions are not working.

Anyway Italy v England beckons on the TV…..


The Same but Different

I enjoy rugby, although nowadays it is all watching and no playing.  Having played for about 20 years and retired from 3 separate clubs I feel like my playing days are over although every now and again I have a wee inkling to rake out my boots.  Like many primary teachers I can be guilty of hoarding and hanging on to things just in case they are useful so I still have a pair of boots in the garage; just in case Vern Cotter gives me a call.

In honour of a recent brilliant Scots Assembly in school and a brilliant performance by the national rugby team I have chosen a Scottish tune.  My aunt and uncle used to live opposite my family home and I spent loads of happy hours raking through their record collection and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band was one of my favourite finds.

All local authority schools in Scotland follow the same curriculum.  Curriculum for Excellence has been around for a while now and is intended to help children and young people gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century, including skills for learning, life and work.  The point of the title of the blog is to highlight the fact that although all schools follow the same curriculum we all do it differently and make sure that it fits the needs of our children and community.  Whether you prefer Tom Jones or Alex Harvey, you can still sing along.

One of the things we will be looking at as a staff at an upcoming InService day is how to plan effectively for learning and teaching within Curriculum for Excellence.  As research and evidence, experience and understanding develop then schools regularly find that processes and procedures need to continue to adapt and develop to meet these needs and this is something we are looking forward to tackling.  The other big news in Scottish education is the recent news regarding the Pupil Equity Fund where most schools in Scotland receive an allocation of funds to target children most effected by a poverty related attainment gap.  If you follow the links in the Scottish Government website you can see what each school received.  We have an additional allocation of £72 000 which is an enormous amount of money and will allow us to make some really ambitious plans over the next year.  There are a range of meetings coming up soon to go over the operational guidance regarding the spending of the allocation but we will also be working really hard as a staff and seeking further views to supplement the recent online family survey.

Forthcoming Attractions

Here we go; a new year beginning and lots to look forward to, including going to see Black Sabbath in a few weeks at the SECC Hydro!  Its easy to feel down in January, the weather isn’t great, the days are short and the nights are long.  Christmas and all the excitement is past and the bills are due to arrive but we are all rested and reinvigorated and frankly, if the holidays went on very much longer I might not be able to fit back into my suits.

There is such a feeling of potential in the school just now.  We are making strides with the School Improvement Plan and the Curriculum Rationale that I have spoken about previously is taking shape.  We have undertaken consultation with staff and families about what is important and I wrote about  the feedback from the recent survey on the link below

Mrs Buchanan and the Pupil Council met on Friday afternoon to discuss playground improvements.  They were also thinking about ways to seek the views of the rest of the pupils about what they want from the school.  Once we have that information we will have most of the relevant information to build an effective rationale.

Miss Benson and Miss Wilson have finished the interviews for the Digital Leader team

We are really excited to see how this new team develops over the rest of the year and the impact they have on learning in our school.  The Eco group are in place and we are waiting to have our new Green Flag award placed on the flagpole at the front of the school so look out for photos of that coming soon hopefully.  There is also a selection of signage on order to make visiting our school a little easier as well as a few planned improvements for the school building although this is likely to be after Easter before they are in place. There are loads of other pieces of work going on in school that are sustaining  a really positive ethos and as our communication channels continue to develop we shall  share as many of them as we can.

Many of our classes are now sharing lots of their work through the ClassDojo app and we would really encourage you to sign up to this to find out about what your child is learning. Invitations will be sent out again to families who haven’t signed up yet.  Our new text messaging service is bedding in well and we will soon be using the email service to send newsletters directly to families without the environmental impact of using paper newsletters and  we are continuing to develop the website including links to useful websites to support home learning.

This is just a little taste of what is still to come over the rest of the year without even mentioning the next learning breakfasts, whole school focus events, next round of wonderful week of learning jotters and a range of worthwhile, challenging and exciting learning in every one of our classes.

Back and Forward

I have to say that I am not really a fan of Christmas music but as I was thinking about a track to link with this post, I thought about this.  My grandpa was an enormous jazz fan and Duke Ellington would regularly be blaring in my grandparents house so this seemed like a good choice.  Even though the rest of the post is about looking forward I do think that Christmas is a lovely time for looking back as well so this seemed to fit.

As the year draws to an end lots of folks start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, all the different ways we plan  to create a new and improved version of ourselves – more gym, less food (as if!) healthier lifestyles, thinking more about others and so on.  School however doesn’t really work like this as our year runs very differently and has it’s own interesting chronology.  Our New Year starts in August and we spend a lot of time collecting evidence and data, opinions and research over the year before making our resolutions for the school improvement plan.  One of the key things we are working on at the moment is an updated curriculum rationale.

Education Scotland says  “When a school has a rationale for its curriculum, it means that everyone involved with the school can answer the questions ‘What is it we want for these children?’ and ‘What are we going to do to achieve it?’.”  As a staff we have been discussing this and a survey is live asking families for their views on what our children need.  (If you haven’t had a chance to complete it please take a few minutes to share your thoughts).  We will be working with the pupil council to gather the opinions of our children as well as looking at things like SIMD data, key documentation from Education Scotland  and updated definitive guidance from Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney ,  before sending out a draft of the new rationale before the end of the year –  that’s June as opposed to December!

I have to admit I am looking forward to a couple of weeks of spending time with my family, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company without having to be anywhere at any particular time.  Our tree was delivered at the weekend and the amount of wrapped presents in the corner of the living room is growing at an alarming rate; however the decorations are still in the loft and a number of key gifts are yet to be sourced so there is still a fair bit to do before we can relax.

It is the same in school, still loads to do before we can relax and the whole school is still buzzing with learning.  Some of this can be seen through our Twitter timeline, including some very impressive dancing !