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Episode 111: The night the kettle died

Tonight we begin a really interesting conversation with Alison McLoy, DHT at Kirkintilloch High about parental involvement. We say start, since once the conversation began it became apparent that there are still  many questions and avenues to be explored on this theme.  So we look forward to Alison’s return to discuss this further, May 29th.

Good golly, it’s Molly, could be one title for the podcast as we get a puppy interruption as michief Molly jumps on Steve’s lap and chews the headphones, in between planting kisses.

In the news: Headteachers and stress, article by Steven Robbins, in “Educational leadership programmes in the UK: Who cares about the school?”  Management in Education, 27, 2, 50-55

Matthew loses sleep over BBC journalism about sleep deprivation

Barry Schwartz “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less”

Episode 110: The Seventh Hat

Tonight we talk to Graham Leicester, Director of International Futures Forum. He is a former member of HM Diplomatic Service and has subsequently developed a special interest and wide experience in areas of governance, innovation, education and the arts.  Graham talks about his latest work with Scottish schools, and futures thinking in the public service in general: Transformative Innovation.

The International Futures Forum site here

Link to the book Transformative Innovation in Education

An interesting background article written by Graham here


Episode 109: We’re not going on a summer holiday

Unfortunately we were not joined by our scheduled guest tonight so we dove into a spontaneous news programme full of the wisdom and  profound insight that you have come to expect from insidelearning.

First up is Mr G’s speech about needing longer school hours and shorter holidays;

Gove urges longer days and shorter holidays for pupils By Judith Burns BBC News education reporter

But is he misleading us about the evidence? See

Matthew is psyched out by psycho story. or rather by the way it was promoted

We get into a discussion about early years education and insidelearning’s lack of knowledge about the evidence base.  This follows from Liz Truss’s call for more French style nursery education and the reactions it provoked: here here & here

Bill Boyd’s blog




Metaphorical Cathedrals

“Longpath” for Learning part 1

This article was partly inspired by reading the following article on Wired Magazine by Ari Wallach:

Photo from Wikimedia at

This is what education should be focusing on now. In a recent Inside Learning episode/show, I realised that political oscillations and playing idealogical football with education would not provide the long term thinking we need to take us forward. At present, education in Scotland is run by a combination of 32 local authorities, with central government setting the main direction and monitoring the work of these authorities through financial controls and of course inspections. Interestingly, we have had a change of government in Scotland and it has held reasonably true to the “Curriculum for Excellence” implemented by the previous administration, so in some ways, we have long-term thinking happening at present. Contrast this with the English situation in which Michael Gove’s department has radically changed the approach to governance and now examinations. The next UK election is reasonably close, and if the conservative/liberal alliance is not returned then who knows what way the next administration will go. In episode 89 we discussed this with columnist and activist Fiona Miller who is clearly close to Labour policy makers but got no clear conclusion about Labour’s way forward. Pity the English schools who are constantly wary of the next big political storm while still at the centre of the current one. In Scotland we are enjoying more stability than that at present, but if Independence fails to happen, and the current SNP government wanes, we could be looking at a Scottish storm-of-change in due course. My point, it won’t serve us for a long term future, we need predictable leadership of education that is relatively independent of government fluctuation.

Various governments have enjoyed the politicisation of education and have made capital from moral-high-ground-adoption about slipping standards and society’s ills. However, most serious commentators are now accepting that the system is becoming so complex that simple solutions don’t seem to work and that education has not made the clear improvements in the couple of decades since the 1976 “Ruskin” speech that politicians might have hoped for. Indeed there is a danger that politicians may be beginning to see strong policy initiatives as poisoned chalices that simply lead to disappointment being pinned on the responsible politicians. More school autonomy from the Curriculum for Excellence is lauded, but schools are confused and lack confidence. Reduced class size pledges from the SNP administration have backfired as they can’t be afforded and haven’t made much impact anyway. A decade of strong inspection hasn’t raised standards significantly and has cost huge sums of money while possibly damaging school creativity. In short, this is a complex business with few easy answers and a track record of initiatives that cost a lot in time and effort and successively seem to confuse schools more.

It could be argued that part of the problem is that we haven’t actually got a well formed vision for education. Graham Leicester of the International Futures Forum has said that despite a huge focus on international comparison using PISA and other tools, no-one can point to any one system that has got it right; we really don’t know! If you want innovation within a system to lead to sharing of great ideas leading to desirable system change, then we need a direction to work toward. We don’t need a plan or a map, because we don’t know the details of where we are going, but we need a “North” and a compass so that we can explore the complex territory and still head in the right direction. For me that “North” will be a set of simple and consistent statements backed by simple and consistent values that we can align-to as we try to develop education to better answer the complex needs of the modern world.

Is a political party with a 5-year mandate the right way to develop this? Are our 32 Authorities with their ever-changing political leadership the right local stewards of the complex changes? While leadership at local and national levels is trying honestly and working hard, I believe that they are unable to provide the educational leadership that is required. I believe there is a loose precedent in Blair/Brown’s decoupling of the control of monetary policy when they handed inflationary targeting to the Bank of England. Successive governments have been able to leave the optimisation of monetary controls to control inflation to a relatively independent body, and the result has been relatively stable inflation  over a couple of decades despite the awful international financial situation. With hindsight, any current government is probably happy that they are less likely to be confronted with runaway inflation and there seems to be no political appetite to grab those levers again with the attendant danger of backfire then blame. The Bank of England does this relatively well because they can take a long view regardless of coming elections or prevailing political winds.

The financial analogy is limited, but I believe the time may be right to set up a National Education Council, decoupled from politics and with direct control of policy and practice. This body should combine academics, educators and representatives of business, industry and the arts. Perhaps similar to the kind of representation that the General Teaching Council Scotland has at present. The reason that the Bank of England decoupling has worked, is that a simple target for inflation could be set, (broadly 2%), in education our next challenge is to set targets, in a similar way for a National Education Council to work towards over the long term. Those targets cannot be the SQA exam results, as they tend to be at present, because that is not providing us the change incentives that we need at present; we mustn’t repeat the old targets and expect different results.

We can’t honestly say that short term political leadership has provided the great-leap-forward that our system needs. Perhaps the time has come, to quote Ari Wallach, when we should stop with the short-term planning and begin to “build metaphorical cathedrals”. Not using short term goals, but with an eye on our “longpath”.

What might these agreed targets be for a National Education Council? I will look at this thorny problem in a follow-on article shortly.

(Views in this article are personal and may not reflect my employer’s views)

Episode 108: “Beware of the Blob”

Tonight Matthew and Steve discuss the poor state of educational debate in the UK and how teachers are not best served by snapshot inspections and the terrors of audit regimes conducted by senior leadership teams under pressure to ‘perform’.  Whilst we acknowledge that accountability and striving for the best we can be are essential, how can evidence be gathered, disseminated and then coached in a developmental manner when there are single modes of data collection and a lack of trust in the profession to self-improve?  A tone that is antithetical to learning from each other is set politically through such outpourings as Secretary of State Michael Gove’s extraordinary article in the Daily Mail. Why is he reduced to caricaturing and name-calling opponents of his reforms rather than engaging with the arguments and any evidence that critics might present?  A 100 academics who were signatories to a letter in the Independent newspaper warning about the potential dangers of English curriculum reforms, were variously labelled as the “Enemies of Promise”, “Marxists” and characterised as the Blob.  Contemporary educational debate does not seem to draw upon any thing we have learnt about what makes good learning.  Apparently David Laws made a more conciliatory speech about teachers – can he teach his boss something about public debate?

Gove Daily Mail article

100 Academics

David Laws



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