The Reading Challenge deadline is here!

The First Minister’s Reading Challenge supports reading through the medium of Gaelic and English.

The challenges for which you can submit an entry are:  GME Reading Journey, School Reading Journey, School and Community Reading Journey, Pupil Reading Journey, School Reading the Most Books, and Pupil Reading the Most Books. You can submit an entry for one of the challenges above or, indeed, all of them! Click here for full guidance on what the different challenges entail.

Please submit your entries for categories before Wednesday 3 May 2017



Time to celebrate bugs in the Cairngorms National Park

Which animals would pop into your head, if you were asked to list the most iconic species of wildlife found in the Cairngorms National Park. Red deer? Golden eagles? Red squirrels? Pine marten perhaps? Or maybe it’s the charismatic capercaillie? It’s probably fair to assume that the tiny six-legged creatures that creep, crawl and flutter by might not be the first things that come to mind.

An emperor moth.

This is despite the fact that the Cairngorms is home to an amazing suite of insect life. Researchers at Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust – have been putting together a list of key sites around the country that are vital for conserving our rarest invertebrates. The initial analysis shows that the Cairngorms National Park is one of the most important areas for invertebrates in Scotland. This is because the Park supports a high diversity of insect species, including many rarities. Some of these species are unique to the National Park and conservation work taking place here is vital to maintain their status in the UK.

Pine hoverfly. © Iain MacGowan
Scots pine stumps cut with rot holes to attract pine hoverfly. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

One example is the pine hoverfly. Due to intensification of forest management over the decades this is now an endangered species, so rare in fact that it is restricted to a single location in the Cairngorms National Park. It depends on the deadwood cycle – the process of trees (in this case big old granny pines) falling over or succumbing to fungal disease and decaying. The pine hoverfly’s larvae live in wet role holes created by this process – a very specific niche. Natural occurrences of these “rot holes” are nowadays few and far between because most pines in forestry are felled before they get to be old, knarled granny pines. To help save the pine hoverfly from extinction, a range of organisations in the park have been making artificial holes in tree stumps to give the pine hoverfly a home. It is hoped that in the future numbers of the hoverfly will increase to levels that allow it can survive on its own, and with more pine forest in the park being managed less intensively, natural rot holes should become common again.

Freshwater pearl mussels feeding in a highland river. ©Sue Scott/SNH
Tree planting on the Clunie Water, part of the Pearls in Peril project work. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Not all of the key invertebrates are insects; the fresh water pearl mussel, a bivalve mollusc, lives in cold water rivers and streams. Its life cycle depends upon salmon – the pearl mussel’s larvae actually live inside the gills of salmon (causing no harm to the fish) for the first year of their life. Pollution, climate change and poaching have all contributed to the huge decline of this species across the UK, the watercourses of the Cairngorms support internationally important populations of this species. The Pearls In Peril project has focused on improving the condition of watercourses to support this species, working with landowners and engaging local communities to develop a wider understanding of the plight of this very special mollusc.

Butterflies are a harbinger of summer and sunshine. Their night-time counterparts – the moths – often have a reputation for being dull and boring. However, if you were to see the diversity of moths that live in Scotland, you would be surprised at how they rival the butterflies for colour, shape and lifestyle. In fact, three moth species which are almost entirely restricted to the Cairngorms in the UK are all day-flying species. And thanks to the Victorians, they all have fantastic names: Kentish glory, dark bordered beauty, and small dark yellow underwing. The Kentish glory (once known as far south as Kent, hence its name) is a big, fluffy, chestnut coloured moth and the males have strikingly large antennae to “sniff” out the females which “call” to the males using special sexy pheromones. The dark bordered beauty is a much daintier creature, but none the less beautiful, displaying autumnal oranges and yellows on its wings. Its caterpillars depend on aspen and it has a reputation for being elusive –only small numbers of adults are usually seen, making conservation work for this species very challenging. The small dark yellow underwing lives on heathland where its foodplant bearberry grows. It loves to fly in sunshine and zips across the heather at incredible speed – the best way to find it is when it stops for a breather on a fence post or tree trunk on an overcast day.

A wood ant, the UK’s largest ant, one of many forest species which calls the Cairngorms its home.

A wood ant, the UK’s largest ant, one of many forest species which calls the Cairngorms its home.

The Cairngorms acts as a vital refuge for many of insects that are in some cases found nowhere else in Scotland, and even the UK. The range of species is huge and here are just a few examples of the diversity of amazing invertebrates that call the Cairngorms their home. They are every bit as exciting, and beautiful, as our more familiar furry and feathered friends.

Cairngorms BIG weekend.

Cairngorms BIG weekend.

The Cairngorms Nature BIG Weekend 12-14 May is a celebration of the fantastic natural heritage of the Cairngorms National Park. With over 50 activities taking place across the Cairngorms National Park there will be something for everyone, from families to the more seasoned nature lover.

We have a number of events where you can discover and explore things that creep, crawl, flutter and buzz, including a ‘Minibeast safari’ with TV naturalist Nick Baker!

You can see the whole programme and book places at

Confident collaboration for improvement – the legacy of QuISE?

by Dr Bill Maxwell, HM Chief Inspector of Education

The publication of our report on Quality and improvement in Scottish education (QuISE), ranging back over the period 2012 to 2016, has been a great opportunity to take a step back from more immediate short-term concerns and take a ‘bigger picture’ view of what has been achieved over a period of major reform which has touched every area of Scottish education.

Having launched the report, I would now encourage each education setting to read their dedicated chapter and consider it in their self-evaluation.

Of course there is already good evidence around that, as result of the professionalism and expertise of staff and of course the efforts of learners themselves, outcomes have improved over that stretch of time. National Qualification outcomes have steadily improved and the proportion of young people entering a positive destination post-school now sits at a record high. Although there is still a long way to go, we have also seen evidence of progress in beginning to close the attainment gap between pupils from the most and the least disadvantaged backgrounds.

Equally, of course, not all in the statistical garden in rosy. We have also seen some unwelcome indications that we should be concerned about the pace of progress in literacy and numeracy through the broad general education, for example, and we saw a disappointing set of PISA results for 2015.

The QuISE report, offers a distinctly different, but complementary, perspective from that which you can get by simply looking at the statistics. It provides an analysis based on first-hand observation and evaluation of the quality what is actually happening in playrooms, classrooms, lecture rooms and other educational settings throughout the country. It summarises observation and evaluation undertaken by expert professionals, HM inspectors and indeed many other associates and lay members from education sectors across the country who join our inspection teams contributing a valuable additional perspective.

Our analysis of what has emerged from that more qualitative evidence base over the last four years has led us to conclude that there are some very positive and growing strengths in the provision and practice within Scottish education. These are strengths that align directly with the ambitions of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and other related reforms.

We are seeing improvement in the quality of learning experiences, with the result that young people are increasingly well motivated, engaged and actively involved in their learning. We are seeing schools and other education settings becoming more inclusive, we are seeing a broader range of achievements being promoted and recognised, and we are seeing the impact of strong leadership, with a clear and sustained focus on raising the quality of the day-to-day learning and teaching that learners experience.

The report also sets out a set of five priority areas. This is where we believe targeted improvements in practice and provision would reap dividends in enabling us to make further progress towards meeting our collective national ambition of achieving excellence with equity for all Scottish learners. They include: exploiting more fully the flexibility of CfE; improving assessment and personal support; enhancing partnerships; strengthening approaches to self-evaluation and improvement; and growing a culture of collaborative enquiry. In all cases these go with the flow of current reforms and national strategies and in each case there are already examples of excellent practice in the system.

Taking a longer view of what has been achieved over the last few years, and thinking about where we go next, has also had quite a personal dimension for me, as I retire from the role of Chief Executive of Education Scotland this Summer. As I prepare to move on, I am convinced that the Scottish education system is well placed to make substantial progress across each of these key areas.

If I were to pick out a linking theme it would be about collective commitment across all partners in the education system to work together, to help each other, and indeed to constructively challenge each other, in ways which provide richer, more coherent, more personalised learning pathways capable of matching the needs of all our learners. Confident collaboration for improvement rather than competitive isolation should be the Scottish way, reflecting our deep national commitment to a strong education as a common public good.

Taking account of the themes in this report, and with the National Improvement Framework providing a new level of clarity and focus from national to local level, I am confident that we can rise to the challenge that the OECD left us with following their 2015 review: to make sure we achieve the potential of a progressive programme of national educational reform, by taking bold and specific action to fully realise its benefits. I hope the QuISE report helps inform discussion and debate in education settings of all types, across the whole country, about where that specific action is needed and how boldness can be ensured as it is pursued.


Creativity Posters for every Education Establishment in Scotland!

Colourful posters, de-bunking creativity myths and exploring creativity skills for learners and staff, are currently being delivered to every school and early learning and childcare centre in Scotland as part of Education Scotland’s work on the national Creative Learning Plan.

The posters support learners, teachers and leaders in sharing a common understanding of creativity skills, and their place across all subjects and areas of school life.

You can find downloadable versions of posters and more on the National Improvement Hub:

To learn more about creative teaching and learning you can speak to your local creative learning contacts or email Stephen Bullock, Development Officer for Creativity

How collaborative scientific investigation will help conserve Glasgow’s hidden geological gem

A team from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is helping us to safeguard the future a 325 million year old geological site. Our blog today comes from Dr Lyn Wilson, Digital Documentation Manager,  Sarah Hamilton, Conservation Scientist and James Hepher, Surveyor/Spatial Analyst, all from HES.

A perspective point cloud view through the building across the fossilised tree stump area. The colours represent intensity of the reflected laser beam.

A perspective point cloud view through the building across the fossilised tree stump area. The colours represent intensity of the reflected laser beam.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Glasgow’s Victoria Park lies the hidden geological gem of Fossil Grove Site of Special Scientific Interest. Discovered during landscaping of the park in 1887, the site contains the beautifully preserved casts of 325 million year old Carboniferous Lycopod tree stumps and their Stigmarian root systems. Recognised at the time as a site of great interest and importance, the Victorian city fathers chose to encapsulate the site as a visitor attraction rather than send the fossils to a museum. As a result of this forward-thinking, Fossil Grove is the only site in the world where these trees have been preserved in their growth positions and is considered one of the world’s first examples of geoconservation.

However, in recent years the much modified Victorian building has begun to suffer from water penetration problems leading to discolouration and decay of some areas of the fossil exhibits. HES offered the services and expertise of their Digital Documentation and Conservation Science teams to undertake a 3D laser scan and mineralogical analysis to help gain a better understanding of the site and the problems faced. It is hoped that this work will help to inform future recommendations for improving both the fabric of the building and its environmental conditions, in order to safeguard and ensure the continued preservation of this fascinating site for future generations.

Point cloud plan annotated with sampling locations for salt efflorescence analysis.

Point cloud plan annotated with sampling locations for salt efflorescence analysis.

The Conservation Science team have used a technique known as X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) to analyse the mineralogical make up of the main rock types found at Fossil Grove, and to identify the salt growths which are causing discolouration to some of the rock surfaces. Only tiny quantities of material are required for this type of analysis, meaning that already loose fragments of rock were used and no further damage to the fossil exhibits was necessary. Interpretation of the results is ongoing, but by identifying the salts present at the site, we can assess where they may have come from, their damage potential, possible methods for removal and determine the most suitable environmental conditions required inside the building to minimise their future growth.

James laser scanning around the exterior of the Victorian building.

James laser scanning around the exterior of the Victorian building.

The Digital Documentation team came armed with two laser scanners, with James undertaking a traverse around the outside of the building with our survey-grade Leica Geosystems ScanStation P40 scanner and Lyn covering the interior with our light-weight Faro X350 scanner which is set up on a photographic tripod – well suited to scanning close to the fossils themselves. The two scanners had overlapping areas at the building’s doorways, allowing the exterior and interior scans to be joined together giving us one overall 3D ‘point cloud’.

Lyn laser scanning the fossilised tree stumps.

Lyn laser scanning the fossilised tree stumps.

A point cloud is a 3D representation obtained from laser scanners or other digital documentation equipment, with accurate spatial coordinates representing surface geometry. Point clouds can be processed and developed in lots of different ways, making them useful for conservation, site management, interpretation and education – just to name a few applications! Within HES, our current task is to record all 336 heritage sites we look after using 3D laser scanning, primarily for conservation purposes. It allows us to monitor the condition of sites by comparing laser scan data from different time periods. We do this to check on coastal erosion at Skara Brae for example, every two years.

A perspective point cloud view through the building across the fossilised tree stump area.

A perspective point cloud view through the building across the fossilised tree stump area.

We are fortunate to have gained a lot of experience over the years working in partnership with The Glasgow School of Art on The Scottish Ten project. This saw our combined team digitally record all of Scotland’s World Heritage Sites in 3D plus fantastic international heritage sites such as Mount Rushmore and the Sydney Opera House. The data we captured has been used to provide virtual access, create architectural visualisations and virtual reconstructions, to help in site management and to bolster UNESCO World Heritage nominations.

Back in Scotland, part of our role is to support our partners in the sector so we were really pleased to be able to help SNH at the gem that is Fossil Grove. We hope our scientific analysis and 3D records will be of practical use in the conservation process, as well as supporting the future architectural redesign and interpretation process.

Find out more about the work of HES’s Conservation Science and Digital Documentation teams and about the Scottish Ten Project.

Gaelic Language Enrichment Course for teachers of Gaelic Learner and Medium Education (GLE and GME)

When: 2 – 7 July 2017 and 23 – 27 July 2017

Where: South Uist

Fee: £250

Language level: Beginner to Fluent

Brief: This Gaelic Enrichment Course is a career-long professional learning opportunity for teachers of GLE and GME. The course aims to support teachers use and develop their Gaelic language skills within a community setting. The course will be tailored to the specific needs of the teachers.  It includes: conversational skills, grammar, resources for the classroom, workshops and field trips.

For more information, please contact: Ceòlas Uibhist, Taigh Gleus, Dalabrog, Uibhist a Deas HS8 5SS Tel: 01878 700154 E-mail:


Fuji Festival – Taiko Drums

Join P4 students from Law Primary for some very loud music, as they learn about the thunderous Taiko drums of Japan. Get your earplugs ready as we get a demonstration from the Tsuchigumo Taiko Group. This highly physical form of music is guaranteed to leave you energized and upbeat.

After the demonstration you will get a chance to talk to the players and students from Law Primary to put your own questions.

Sign up and join us on Friday 21st April at 9.45am – Fuji Festival – Taiko Drums

If you unable to join us for the live event you can always catch up with the recording at another time – Glow TV’s Watch Again.

Has spring really sprung in St Cyrus?

It’s not just the weather that’s been busy these last few weeks at St Cyrus NNR as Andrew Ferguson, our reserves assistant, student placement, recounts.

Skylark. © Lorne Gill/SNH

Skylark. © Lorne Gill/SNH

It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet,
when larks rose on long thin strings of singing
and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.
Greenness entered the body. The grasses
shivered with presences, and sunlight
stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
the woman from the fish-shop. ‘What a day it is!’
cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
And what did she have to say for it?
Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves
as she spoke with their ancient misery:
‘We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it!’

Alastair Reid

Raven. © Lorne Gill/SNH

The weather has been nice at St. Cyrus NNR for about three weeks now. Too nice. Worryingly nice. Skylarks are reeling and singing over the cattle field, the first early wildflowers (primrose and lesser celandine) have started to bloom, the ravens have built their new nest, the number of geese overhead is dwindling and at home there is more frog spawn in the pond than water.

“Spring is here!” people announce recklessly.

I am less convinced, squinting suspiciously at the sunshine and staunchly wearing full thermals, ready for the inevitable April blizzard.

Another month, another carcass washed up on the beach. This time it was something a bit different to the usual occasional porpoise. The carcass was about eight feet long, definitely cetacean and in quite an advanced state of decomposition. Identification of marine mammals in this state (known as blobsters) is difficult but based on the size, the skull and the shape of the body the team at SMASS thought that it could be a beluga whale, an arctic species and extreme rarity around the coast of Scotland. It was collected and necropsied as far as possible by a team from the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. On closer inspection it turned out to be a very large bottlenose dolphin with some spinal deformities. Still very exciting but not quite on the beluga level.

Everyone joined in with Surfers against Sewage to clean up the beach.
23 bags of rubbish and 68 cans and bottles from the beach!

We have almost finished the mammoth job of arranging our events programme for the year. Our events kicked off on Saturday the 1st April with a spring beach clean! We were joined by ‘Surfers against Sewage’ and lots of locals to blitz the beach! Greggs the bakers also kindly provided cakes. The events program then takes an arty turn and on Sunday 7th May weopened an exhibition in the visitor centre collated by the team at Arthoos, a collective of local artists. Ther will be three weeks of art workshops and, linking in with the Aberdeenshire Wellbeing Festival, an art therapy workshop. In summer we have an eclectic mix of events including wildlife identification workshops, four sessions with bushcraft expert Willow Lohr and our popular fungal foray. We will advertise exact dates and times on the Facebook page and down at the reserve.


The singing of the skylarks, the ravens’ nest-building and the imminent return of the swallows and house martins all serve as a reminder that the bird breeding season will soon be underway. As always we ask that from this time of the year dogs on the reserve are kept on a lead and under close control to minimise disturbance to the birds at this critical time and to respect the sanctuary area in the Southern part of the reserve.

You will be glad to know that in the time since I wrote the first paragraph of this article, the wind has picked up, the bins have blown over twice and some malevolent-looking dark clouds have closed in from the direction of Montrose. That’s more like it.


EXCHANGE – Be Seen – Be Heard – Be Inspired: An event for young people interested in the music industry

This unique event provides an excellent opportunity for young people interested in a career in the music industry from production to performance and connect with key people in the sector!

Date:   Friday 2 June 2017 Venue: SWG3, Glasgow


Registration for the day and sign-up for performance opportunities is now open: 

The deadline for performance sign-ups is Monday, 1st May.

Aspiring young musicians from across Scotland will flock to SWG3, Glasgow on 2 June for Exchange 2017 – the unmissable event for young people looking to get ahead in the music industry.

Music for Youth’s Exchange is giving young performers from across Scotland the chance to learn from established artists and be inspired by industry professionals and their peers alike.  Hosted by BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway, Exchange is a whole day of keynote speakers, workshops, performances, advice, networking opportunities, a marketplace, and a line-up of music industry speakers covering a whole range of useful topics. Musicians also have the chance to be seen, and get their music heard by performing live for audiences throughout the day. Our professional Music for Youth Music Mentors will be on hand to offer each act feedback on their music and stage presence and highlight areas for development to take their music further. All groups that perform will also be considered for other opportunities such as the Music for Youth Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in November 2017.

We will be confirming panels, workshops and sessions to get involved with on the day shortly, so sign up and stay tuned!

Sign up for performance opportunities (deadline of 1st May 2017) or register for the day by visiting:

For more info call Tom Spurgin 020 7759 1838 DON’T MISS THIS UNIQUE EVENT.

EXCHANGE is supported by the Scottish Government’s Youth Music Initiative (YMI) which is administered by Creative Scotland, and the Viviendi Create Joy Fund.

David McDonald Creative Consultant Mobile: 07715 976 707


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