The panacea of school improvement and raising attainment:- Looking for Solutions AND Finding Answers

Here in Scotland the search goes on.  Everyone is looking for the panacea which will transform school’s fortunes and outputs, change their attainment levels and ensure better outcomes and attainment for our children.

Across the world, hundred, if not thousands, of research papers, books, articles and advice pieces have been written about how to achieve the same goal.  However, how many have gone full circle taken theory into impact?  How often does the next “bright idea” or “potential solution” come around?  These may well be well formed and with great moral purpose, alas how many have the desired, long term, sustained impact on improvement?  Here is often where the gap lies most gaping: – Theory into practice.  Does a single golden ticket even exist?  If it does, is it a simple panacea or a multi-faceted beast reflective of the complexity education itself?

The matter has been high on the policy agenda in recent years and months.  As no solution is instantly found another approach is adopted: – CfE with its reduction in assessment and more focus on sound learning across the broad base of Scottish education; the millions of pounds worth Attainment Challenge with a tight focus on Literacy, Numeracy, Health and Wellbeing; and now discussions around potentially changing the whole governance structure of schools to a model potentially akin to English academies.

The attainment challenge itself was an interesting gamble. Not least because it avoided the national agency for improvement and also because it went to schools direct, avoiding local authorities per se.

However, is this broad enough?  And will this approach likely lead to improved standards in education and the well documented Government aim of reducing the poverty gap?

One irony is that Scottish education’s Inspection framework contains seventeen quality indicators.  None of these are explicitly the three strands of the Scottish Attainment Challenge.  If , what the Scottish Government has called the three “foundations for learning” (Attainment Scotland Fund, Education Scotland website), are literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing then they the Scottish attainment challenge must have something radically different to offer.  For strategies, policies and “improvements” in these areas have been requested,  refreshed, revised, relaunched, re-visioned,  re-evaluated and revamped for many years before (literacy and numeracy perhaps more so than the more recent thrust of activity around Health and Wellbeing).  What is different about this new thrust, this new funding and this new approach via the attainment challenge?

The reality is, these three areas will need to be core components and indeed core outcomes in this recent push, however there will need to be a wider range of areas to be address than just three if we are to reduce the poverty gap.  Education is more complex than that.  And so it should be.  For, if there was a panacea then it would have been taken a long time ago.  Simply returning to how we teach and assess literacy, numeracy and health & wellbeing will not in itself reduce the poverty gap.  What is more, the testing of students will not in itself see an increase in attainment.  “You cannot fatten a pig by weighing it” a former inspectorate colleague once frequently said.  Furthermore still, it is not as if the pig has not been weighted before.  A plethora of testing (standardised and also within the more fluid CfE framework) has taken place across schools and authorities.  What will be different about this particular testing via the National Improvement Framework, that will ensure reduce inequalities in the system.


Any improvements in any education occur due to a variety of interlinked and composite factors.  The Scottish education system equally is complex in its makeup. Multiple organisations have their roles and inputs to this within Scotland.  Learning and Teaching Scotland and their Inspectorate colleagues, merged into Education Scotland; The General Teaching Council for Scotland; Scottish College for Educational Leadership Initial Teacher Training Institutions; local authorities and their differing strengths and demands; not least the vibrant diversity of individual schools themselves.

Within this arena lies an array of different frameworks from ‘Teaching Scotland’s Future’ and GTCS Professional Standards, to ‘How Good Is Our School and Inspection Frameworks’ to the ‘raising attainment’ and ‘closing the gap’ programmes from Scottish Attainment Challenge to Scottish Government / ADES advice that are the focus of this article.  Out with the system itself, studies from a plethora of education researchers, from Tim Brighouse to John Hattie, also add insights, approaches and advice.

However, if we were to take the cycle recommended by HMIe on EducationScotland’s recent How Good Is Our School’s revision then what would we see?  What lessons could we learn from “Looking Inwards –  Looking Outwards –  Looking Forwards” if we use this approach to simply look at the Raising Attainment element of Scottish educational policy.

Looking Inwards

Looking inwards we can see that this is nothing new.  Raising Attainment strategies have been written before, indeed written in the very near past.  Indeed the uncoordinated writing of the separate  ADES and Scottish Government Raising Attainment papers (but later to become a joint paper)perhaps highlighted part of the problem of coordination.  Nevertheless, a paper was written.

And that was it.  What was done with it?  How was the broad areas of Culture, Ethos and Vision; Effective Enabled Learners; Professional Practitioners; Excellent Learning and Teaching; Successful Learners; Parents, carers and the wider community ever progressed; how was good practice shared and how was the policy tracked?  Was progress with this paper ever reported on or was anyone given a lead role to progress the areas across the country?  Or was this just another document thrown into the mix among many more before and after it?

Did “Raising Attainment, Improving Life-chances: Attributes of Success” really improve Life Chances and demonstrate the Attributes of Success that are found in successful policies?  Was any evaluation of its recommendations and the effectiveness of those ever carried out?  Were roles and responsibilities in the three strands of classroom teacher; school community level and local authority level ever consulted upon, made clear, agreed upon and acted upon?

These questions might seem critical but they are not meant to be.   They are a stop point, a thinking point before we embark on further documents and policy papers without first seeing practice emerge that is promotion improvement.  Policies, and the process of forming them, must do this and not simply procrastinate, pontificate and prevaricate.

Looking Outwards

The second phase of Education Scotland’s cycle for school improvement encourages educators to look outwards. This comes at an interesting time when John Hattie’s publications recommend practitioners avoid the “politics of distraction” focussing all their efforts instead on improving Learning and Teaching and consider what progress will look like in the short, medium and long term for students and cohorts of students.[1]

His paper notes that there are multiple “distractions” in education improvement.  Appeasing the parents   is one of the distractors (although one might assert that parents need to be seen less as just another stakeholder at best, the enemy at worst- they are essential co creators alongside pupils and the local community in establishing education provision which is world class through the lenses of each town and city across Scotland- it takes a village to educate a child according to the African proverb.  One might assert it takes a connected city to educate a global citizen in this 21st century context).  Parents’ calls to reduce class sizes and give more choice in schools is ascribed a distractor by Hattie.  Amongst his statistical evidence summations is PISA data which shows China, Japan and Korea all attaining higher levels of attainment data despite their significantly larger average class sizes than comparators.  The second “distractor” of “fixing the infrastructure” notes the pursuit of more effective curricula, more rigorous standards, more frequent testing and the physical buildings in which schooling taking place as having limited impact on outcomes.   His third “distractor” of “fix the students” and the desire to have better, harder working, more prepared students is an interesting one given anyone who feels this needs fixed perhaps requires reminded of their role to help shape, enthuse and model the traits herein mentioned.  The fourth “distractor” of fixing the schools with more money and more autonomy is also minimised as a potential for necessarily improving education.  Again, it is shown from OECD comparisons that spending in itself does not equate to better performance.  Better trained teachers who were paid for performance and embraced technology is shown to be a fifth “distractor” whereby simply “fixing” the teachers” will not result in better student performance.

His follow up paper, “The Politics of Collaborative Expertise” [2], gives some indication of how we might consider raising attainment.  It shifts the narrative from fixing the teacher per se to sharing of collaborative expertise amongst educators.  Building on the theme of progress it asks educators to define what progress will look like over a period of time.  Hattie than considers how teachers build the assessment tools to support them and their students.   One interesting note is the plea for more tools to measure learning and not just achievement outcomes.  After all, if we return to his initial point, it is learning itself that will improve learners and education.   Hattie argues teachers need to have expertise in diagnostic, interventions and evaluation.  They need to know the impact.  And everyone needs to have a responsibility for that impact happening.   The last part of his follow up paper is perhaps the most difficult.  For, scaling up success if an often used phrase in education management.  However, often the circumstances of success are so bespoke that they are hard to replicate.  Furthermore, this author believes they are very much so predicated by the teacher facilitating the learning.  Hattie’s last point goes some way to noting this and going on to discuss the autonomous being of those who are achieving success. How often do we analyse those achieving progress with students and those who are not and then look at how any equilibrium might be restored (by raising the floor and not lowering or hindering the roof’s growth one might add!).

If there is one thing the Scottish Attainment Challenge has done, it has encourages schools across the country to share and to share what they feel is making good progress for students.  This is to be commended.

And so, where else might we look if we wish to continue to outwards, beyond Scotland at how we best simultaneously improve schools and close the poverty gap.  Well a starting point for this might centre on New York given it is here that the First Minister travelled to the United States on a four day visit in June 2015 to “learn lessons from New York education system that could help raise attainment in Scotland.”  On her visit she saw the work of Daniel Hale Williams school alongside the broader work of New York City to improve the education and life chances of young people across the Big Apple.


New York Schools have been working through an improvement model with Student Achievement at the centre (of course achievement internationally translates to attainment in our parlance).  Some of the surrounding influencers on this include a Supportive Environment, Rigorous Instruction and Collaborative Teachers.  Thereafter this is followed by the influencers of Effective School Leadership and Strong Family and Community Ties.  Surrounding this whole framework is the circle of Trust.  This last bit would appear too many Scottish educators as a missing element right now as policy leaders swing to another new approach and structure which screams out lack of trust and faith in educators to produce better quality young people by being left to teach and being given the tools to do it.


If we look deeper into the New York model it offers a multi-faceted approach which supports student achievement and might offer the key to closing poverty gaps.  What is different from Scotland’s model- well it is broader and shows a realisation of the importance of many strands weaving together for common good.

If we look at Closing the Gap models shared by Scottish Government it has many of the components but also some key elements missing.


(Source: Scottish Government & Education Scotland Website)

Compared to NYC we can see some clear areas for consideration:- parent and community ties might be seen via parent zone however this appears as one way traffic in terms of a communication medium, it is not collaborative in the true sense of the word.  For the third sector there are platitudes of exploring  effective links and sharing ideas. Where is the action- the third sector have a key role in instigating action in communities and affecting change.  Compared to the NYC model, Scotland offers nothing concrete in its framework on guidance councillors; there is nothing on academic summer programmes for students (this needs reactivated via re investment in community education and youth work) and there is nothing on longer school day.  All of these features in the NY model giving them a chance of success.

Looking Forwards

As we can see, Raising Attainment is nothing new- in Scotland or beyond.  However, what is new in the Scottish push is the dual focus on raising attainment and closing the poverty gap.  An initial survey of work carried out in Scotland shows that previous policies were never taken to conclusion and evaluated on impact.  Indeed CfE itself is now proving hard to evaluate as there were no definitive aims and KPIs attached to it.  Furthermore, there is nothing new in the approaches being floated just now around attainment challenges which offer anything new on the matter of reducing the poverty gap.  Indeed, far from widening the reach (to encompass factors which might impact on poverty reduction)to help close the gap, the most recent iteration of Raising Attainment in Scotland, through the school’s programme seems to more reductionist that previous iterations.

Surely Scottish education deserves more than that.  Surely the complex range of multi-talented students going through a complex, multi-faceted system deserved multiple approaches taken to help them as they enter a multi fasted world where simply solutions do not exist  and to believe so is telling them a great lie.

Our country demands more and our young people deserve more.  Let’s start learning the lessons from Denmark on assessment, New York on wide ranging approaches to increase achievement and reduce poverty and most importantly… let’s start sharing the lessons from across Scotland at how best to improve our young people’s chance of success.  Key themes come through from both Scandinavia and New York- trust and partnerships.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Strange Death of CfE

NB this post was first written in the summer of 2016.  A couple of additional notes below show that the themes flagged up still pervade and look unlikely to be resolved.

The Strange Death of CfE

The strange death of Liberal England remains a discussion point for historians. George Dangerfield’s work provides the back drop for the classic debate: – was the Liberal Party knocked over by the omnibus of the Great War or were its multiple cancerous tumours (Conservatism, Ulster Unionism and Suffragettes) going to kill it anyway.   Can the same conceptual framework be applied to the apparent death of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), Scotland’s much heralded and reformist education agenda?

In our case, what will be CfE’s ‘Great War’- impatience?; GERM Warfare (Global Education Reform Movement) or similar?; or was there something altogether flawed about CfE’s design and implementation.  God forbid it suffers the same fate that blights education community.  One North American observer recently commented, “education is the only community where we eat our children.” Thankfully, these were not actual children but the point is well made.  Often the destructive factor comes from within- from a profession to keen to criticise and to knock each other down rather than build each other up.

So in the ‘build-up’ of CfE, what knocked it back down? Was it the design and implementation?  I recall a colleague suggesting that CfE had become an unholy alliance of “the holy sandaled brigade and the men in suits.”  There certainly was something of a hybrid in it with the broad brushstrokes of educational wholeness and utilitarian desires being omnipresent albeit reconciled with the ‘suited men’ of exam results, performance management and hardwired linkages to statistics and economic output measures.

The lack of clarity around clear, definitive and agreed goals of CfE must have caused recent OECD review teams no end of challenge as they sought to evaluate the impact of this new approach.

Alas, schools operating in the wide open expanse of education policy do have some firm anchors they can hold onto. For despite the proclamations of a new approach they are well aware of the reliance on exam data as an accountability measure and align much of their improvement planning to the structures of ‘How Good is Our School’ documentation for improvement and inspection.

The publication of HGIOS 4 is a welcome and timely one as it has updated previous documents to reflect major areas of work which are now evident within schools embracing CfE:– more active, engaged students with a voice and leading learning alongside a renewed focus on employability and its new overarching policy, “ developing our young workforce.”

An initial reading of the document provides a potential process model around the core themes with (1) leadership and management being in place and ensuring there is (2) excellent learning provision which (3) achieves successes and achievements. This clear three part process and framework gives a clear focus on the core of what education is about:- leading, learning- and the excellent outcomes all aspire to achieve.

However, the word excellence itself has morphed as time has gone on. Many have discredited the word- finding it hard to define and unhelpful in context. I was interested to see how often the word was actually used in inspection and improvement documentation.   My interest was sparked after a search for one particular part of the HGIOS document for another piece I was working on.  The results were startling.

A simple search of the HGIOS4 showed that it appeared only 8 times in the HGIOS4 (2015) document).  HGGIOS3  (2007) document showed that it appeared  only 15 times.  And that is including a footnote reference however does not include the various pages which are marked on the side with branded “Curriculum for Excellence” statements.  One might be surprised by the lack of mention of the word even in 2007, far less a definition.  One might contest that this was at the outset of CfE, however Building the Curriculum 1 (the first of the CfE ‘building block’ policy and practice documents) was published the year before in 2006.

However Excellence is a title is one things but what was it to achieve. CfE had four pillars at the heart of what it was trying to achieve.  The notion of Successful Learners, Effective Contributors, Responsible Citizens and Confident Individuals was at the heart of the new curriculum and inspired many.  So how did these key concept fair in the documentation vital to the implementation of CfE.

Successful learners only appeared 4 times in HGIOS3. Fast forward seven years and it only appears once in the documentation.  Effective Contributors suffered the same fate with five references in 2007 and only 1 now.  At least responsible citizens feature twice in 2015 documentation.  Nevertheless it reduction from 5 references in 2007 follows a similar trend to its now crumbling pillars.  And so, what about confident induvial?  It appeared the least in the initial documentation with only 3 references.  Like its other now decimated pillars, by 2015 it only appeared once in the documents.  The pillars have crumbled and the temple has fallen.

How about the National Improvement Framework? Does this offer more hope for the four capacities despite the well-articulated and much publicised fears that it will return Scottish education from utopian ideals to education by examination? All four pillars are mentioned once in the vision statement at the start of the document but are never returned to.  If this is the vision, how is it ever to be realised without any detail sitting behind it?  The National Improvement Hub might offer some hope of a revolution from below.  However, whilst successful learners is mentioned in 16 resources on a simple search of this resource (some provided by school cases studies, others form national documents) , the other pillars do not feature strongly with only 3 mentions of both Effective Contributors and Responsible Citizen respectively and four of confident individuals.  [Search undertaken early summer 2016]

So, what killed of this grand ambition? Why have the four pillars collapsed so quickly over time.  They were key elements in the founding documents of Building the Curriculum however the loop was never closed and they were not kept high enough on the agenda.  With the HGIOS document being such a key driver of what schools do it appears the vision of CfE was doomed by the very authors who acted as the central repository for the national debate on education and from that debate carved the New Jerusalem for education in the first place.

One might say that if CfE was killed by its parents then it was also let down by its best friends. As an education community, did we all do enough to champion the progress of young people as effective contributors, responsible citizens, confident individuals and successful learners?  Were the same planning tools, focus, tracking devices and celebrations of success attached to the four pillars as are to exam performance?  Some schools can hand on heart say “yes.”  If not, then we got what we were set up for.  This takes us back to the original question- was CfE killed off a single hit or were multiple factors at play when it did not take off.  One thing is for sure, with only one mention in the National Improvement Framework its revival seems unlikely.  As policy makers and leaders look south for solutions there is more chance of a revival of neo liberal England than our own CfE.


Stop Press (5th September 2016)

With the publication of an updated CfE Statement for Practitioners in late August 2016 there might have been some hope for a reaffirming of the Four Pillars of CfE. This document does however state that the key priorities for CfE are now:- Literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing alongside the Closing the Gap agenda.  Our much heralded and hoped for Four Capacities again get only one mention.  Whilst they are sitting at the top of a chart with core information, they do not appear until the second last page of the document.  Perhaps our national education body feels these are now embedded?  If so, what is the evidence of this and have we measured it with the same gusto we are about to embark upon with the assessment element of NIF and the huge amount of work dedicated to NQs updating?  If we do not feel it is embedded- why has it dropped off the radar in terms of placing and significance in policy documentation.  Have we witnessed the Strange Death of CfE?



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The education revolution is coming

But it is not the one people predicted nor perhaps wanted. Education’s progression and change has been slow and evolutionary. This is at best. At worst it has been somnolent. When we look into schools today, many classrooms don’t look that dissimilar to the ones we experienced during our own childhood formative years. Admittedly there have been some changes. Bonny new school buildings pepper the country; more active learning is evident as opposed to rote, and greater student voice perhaps the biggest differences to our (still) world envied education system. The ‘Lochgelly’ has gone too as a method of control.

Meanwhile, technology features in some classrooms. In the schools deemed “excellent” a bank of tablet devices are used to good effect. However in most schools computer suites pervade, or have come and gone, replaced only with a computer or two are dotted around the classroom. One of those is usually situated the teacher’s desk connected to an interactive whiteboard that has taken the place of the front and centre blackboard of old. And so, even the technological revolution has not been quote sparked the education revolution just yet. In essence the format is the largely same.

There are a few revolutionaries in the system- philosophers, idealist and visionaries. There have been reports (Commission on School reform) and books (RF McKenzie’s ‘State School’ and others) and blog posts (headteachers, directors of education and frontline rebels following Ken Robinson and the like). However even the education revolution predicted by McKenzie in the 1960s and 1970s has not changed the format of our schools. Many would read his books today and find themselves nodding in agreement with the way in which education needs framed, delivered and valued. However it has not come to be.
I spoke recently to one wise retired director who reflected on the slow pace of education change compared to the “cycle time” taken in business to progress change. This resonated with a conversation with a former Chamber of Commerce lead who often regaled me with an image of the entrepreneur pitching in when clarity is poor, risk is great but opportunity huge meanwhile the public servant only dots the ‘i’s and crosses ‘t’s when everything is clear, risk is removed and the opportunity long since gone. Many examples of this come to mind with reports for change (NB not revolution) coming out of committee stages to solve the problems for children of years, if not decades, previous.
And so, Scotland had an opportunity with the much needed Teaching and Learning for Excellence. After a decade of consultation clarion calls were sounded and the focus was on Scotland to change the educational world. Officials toured the country with PowerPoints showing schools with open spaces for learning, interdisciplinary learning across longer blocks of teaching time, assessment supporting progression and growth, and a balance of attainment and achievement. Students would be skilled, knowledgeable and develop character and values making them active and responsible citizens in a Scotland who would once again lead the world.

The tides of change however came to nothing more than a trickle and a tinker. And now leaders’ eyes are back looking elsewhere for solutions. Scandinavia has been visited before (I still think the best model of assessment I ever heard came from Denmark- the headteachers presentation almost sparked an education revolution at the conference he spoke at- many wanted the pillars of their system in our own evolving assessment approaches), New York’s broad and yet radical approach (see later article) clearly did not hit home with messages on tackling the roots of poverty. So, all eyes are now on our distant and much envied beacon of educational excellence… England.

The last year or so has seen the London City Challenge proclaimed as a method for improving schools and now it looks as though the structural change to school governance will see English styled academisation started sooner rather than later.

The current format of 32 Local Authorities (LAs) in Scotland seemed inevitable to change. However their locus in education was always up for grabs. With academisation some of the calls from the Commission on School Reform will be met with greater autonomy for headteachers. With that autonomy comes greater accountability. Experiments will precede any sea change- Scotland being a nation of excellence in piloting but not necessarily taking full scale reforms to outcome and seismic improvement point. Those experiments will of course need to ensure test conditions are fully implemented with schools severed from LA control- full autonomous for everything including broken windows, blocked lavvies, hire of ancillary staff, legal and HR advice, lining the sports field and the more mundane incidentals sitting now with the headteacher and their autonomous team.

Having worked for several years with and in LAs the changes both alarm and inspire in equal measure. In my years of working within a local authority I often , and rightly, re-evaluated my role and the “public value” that one brought to the table when the front line was where the action was at and where the ”rubber hit the road” (to quote one LA college). As a LA manger I firmly believed that the role was one of equity. Ironically no different to that espoused by those toying with the latest round of tinkering. Via the LA, resource within a geographic area could be allocated accordingly to ensure that it was best targeted to those in need. That support might be that in support time, staffing of physical resource to ensure that every learner had the opportunity to achieve their potential.
However, one had to be careful in a LA role. For this “middle man” position could cause more harm than good. National curriculum or learning & teaching matters were a classic example. Sometimes the best thing to do was to step aside- letting the policy or practice filter straight from national bodies into schools. Some headteachers wanted a filter to this to help them priorities. However, often the middle man became the tumble dryer. Issues were taken from on high, popped into the dryer, spun around a few times, and then the issues came out hotter than they first went in. Some things came out higher in the pile of washing, sometimes briefs got left in the machine and sometimes an odd sock appeared from no where. In some cases this reshuffling and reprioritisation of the washing was right as it met local circumstances and covered the areas requiring a towel put around it at that time. In other cases, justification and evidence base for the prioritisation was less robust.
And so, as we look towards the potential of academistation in Scotland. One might say, avoid the tumble dryer, and let resource, autonomy and accountability go straight to schools. In fact, lets return to what CfE was really all about, building from the bottom. Let the good practice flow up the way and grow it from the chalk face (sorry Interactive White Board face…. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it).
In diversity there is goodness , surely?  How long before the political pendulum swings back as postcode lotteries see poverty even more pronounced in poorer areas. This despite regular turnover of staff and leaders to attempt the right “fit” for the pupils there. One might ask if that is any different to the status quo. Conversely, the worst excesses of empire building will simply transfer into more establishments across the country. Checks and balances can avoid this. If local authorities are not going to provide this- are pupils and parents prepared for that role? I have not seen many of them on the barricades so far. For them the question has perhaps been taken out of their hands as figures far higher seem to be on the brink of unfurling the latest flag for us to follow. One things is of for sure, that flag could have the outcome of capitalism despite the fact some might have intended cooperativism. “To be or not to be might be the question” but for Scottish education at present the question is clearly LA or not LA.
Alas, Hamlet offers a quaint warning as this decision point looms over our school pupils.
“Whether it is nobler in the end to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or take arms against the sea of troubles.”
The Prince of Hamlet is an apt closing point reflecting back on where educationalist took the most inspiration in my experience of the CfE evolution. It was from Denmark no less that the sparks sat. However perhaps education leaders need to stop looking afar and “neither a borrower nor a lender be.” And maybe the system itself “doth protest too much.” Let’s finish the revolution we started ten years ago and let’s do it based on the strengths of the Scottish education system we are all proud of and which has, and can, rise up to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

#44more #PushUpSitUpStandUp4Veterans #StandUp4 Mental Health

For the past #22 days I have participated in the #22pushupchallenge . I have done push ups in historic locations, in the hottest places and coldest, on even on trains and planes. There have been some great examples of great ways to raise awareness (see below for some of my own videos alongside some of the ones which I have most liked).
A great initiative to raise awareness of the mental health issues facing veterans. Whilst the social media phenomenon is based on the stark fact that on average 22 US veterans commit suicide every day- this is repeated the world over amongst veteran communities. Only last weekend we watched “The Railway Man” tell the story of Eric Lomax and the mental horrors he harboured years after he returned from living hell of the Burma Japanese Prisoner of War Camps. The issue is not a new one. Recently, the issue of mental health has skirted around the policy agenda but more work needs to be done, especially in the broader but much hidden area of men’s mental health challenges.

During the challenge, it has been great to see others join in and the whole thing go viral over the past week or two. However, what happens when the campaign comes to an end?
To that end a couple of things spring to mind:-
• Those who serve us see far more than 22 days service.
• Many who served did not have the option to join in (whilst there is no conscript army now, the armed forces are still the place of last resort for many)
• The #22pushupchallenge has sparked many into regular physical activity- does this just come to an end (especially when the worldwide epitome of physical endurance, the Olympics, is on our screens)
• The #22pushupchallenge has raised awareness however what is really needed to help is resource to give professional support

Some statistics for Scotland might be enlightening before I share with you a proposal:-
• 44% of Scotland’s adult ex-service community say they have experienced a welfare difficulty in the past 12 months (1)
• 44,000 veterans suffer from mobility issues. (2)
• 400,000- the estimated size of Scotland’s veteran’s community. (3)

Having looked at the above I have decided to continue my challenge for another wee while longer. If anything, I hope that it will raise even more money for a charity right here in Scotland who do so much to help veterans with mental health issues, mobility issues, employment issues and so much more.

Inspired by videos such as the Royal Marine amputee still pushing 22 out, I am taking the challenge to a new level. Will you join me in the #44more ?

It will be interesting to see how many go the extra mile. The drop out rate in the 22 challenge is quite phenomenal. Can you imagine if this happened during a war defending democracy and liberty? Furthermore, if only the mental health issues only lasted for 22 days and you could just “drop out.”

All you have to do is continue with 44 pieces of physical activity over 44 days. This can be 44 press ups, 44 sit ups, a combination (22 press ups and 22 sits up) or whatever else you choose. It is up to you. But please do set up a link to raise some much needed funds alongside your extension to this awareness raising campaign.
For my own charity link click here:-
Some videos that have helped grow the challenge:-

Good luck …. and join the #44more !

(1) Poppy Scotland report 2015
(2) Poppy Scotland video 2007
(3) Scottish Government Report :

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can we all be positive?




[Executive Summary: Neil McLennan will share the rationale and learning gained from a wide-ranging exploration of character and values in Scottish education. A national conference was held on Character, Culture and Values in 2015 and from there a subsequent ‘Pathway Project’ Group was designed to work out a coherent plan of action. This led to a shift in thinking from ‘traditional’ forms of character education to a broader construction of ‘character development.’ The approach to making change has similarly taken a new approach.]

Today I travel to Dallas, a city wrenched by the atrocities there of over a week ago. Whoever would have thought that within ten days another such atrocity would occur. Horrific events are occurring the world over. Many of you will recall a recent blog post which was the paper I delivered at the UK Thinker of the Year awards on “Can we bring an end of global terrorism?” Amongst the solutions offered was education, as one would expect.

The conference I am attending next week is about bringing balance back to education between on one side, academics (attainment),and on the other side, character & well-being. In 1998 UNESCO offered a helpful definition of the purpose of schooling:-
Learning to know
Learning to do
Learning to live together
Learning to be

These could almost translate into:-
Knowledge and attainment
Skill development
Cooperative approaches
Health & Wellbeing, Values & Character Development

In Scotland we have done much to work towards parity of esteem in education between knowledge and skills. Cooperative learning is emerging but is no means embedded or consistent. However, are we doing enough for “being human”? Are we explicitly planning for character development or opportunities to consider, develop and learn about values? This is the perhaps next paradigm that needs attention and perhaps some balancing of approaches in Scotland.

Those attending my presentation at the conference might find the following useful pre-reading as it charts the journey of the Pathway Project & Lighting the Sparks report in Scotland. The group are looking at how we form education going forward in Scotland. We have inadvertently capture some of the things which seem to be universally wanted but for some reason are not filtering through in consistent every day practice. Hopefully sharing this with others will help spark conversations in other countries. Moreover, my own learning next week I hope will fan the flames we have already sparked. The time is right for change in education. The evidence is clear, the aspiration is there, the narrative is clear- all it needs now is combined action.The time to be doing something about character and values education could not be more appropriate as we start to consider not just ‘what kind of people does the world need’ but ‘what kind of world do people need.’

Character Scotland 2014 Conference Report:-

Gary Walsh, Lead Author “Lighting the Sparks” Report blog piece on Character Development:-

Gary Walsh International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement Paper:-

Key Sparks of the Report:-

Sparks 1Sparks 2

What has been so powerful about the Pathway Project/Lighting the Sparks group has been the collaborative and collective way in which diverse views have come together for common good. The groups work is only just at the beginning. This in itself is refreshing. Real and sustained change takes time, effort, buy in and willpower. At a recent CPD course the presenter suggested to make significant and sustained change in a primary school takes up to 5 years; a secondary 5-7 years and a city or local education authority 7-10 years.

Over the next week I am looking forward to hearing where everyone else on their change journey, learning lessons from around the world and hopefully sharing some of them via Scotland’s group of Character Development champions.

Keep an eye on twitter over the next day or two- I will be using the hashtag #SpeakingofValues

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bloodshed and horror…all for a few yards.

Bloodshed and horror…all for a few yards.

A week ago I blogged about the Battle of the Somme and wrote an article for the Herald newspaper. It was a great privilege to offer comment in a national newspaper on this important commemoration. My message was one of thanks, respect and remembrance to those who gave their lives that day; thanks to those who keep their memory alive and a reminder of how our daily actions can slide into catastrophic consequences if we fail to learn the lessons of the past. Fast forward two weeks and how much has changed- how much ground have we gained?

At this point in time 100 years ago, the Allied gains on the Western Front were minimal to the say the last. The only real breakthrough of the battle saw the 36th Ulster Regiment break through enemy lines however have to return back again that evening as communication lines could not be established to alert commanders of the breakthrough and thus exploit the attack. And so, the war returned to the attrition warfare that now epitomised “The Great War.” Last weekend saw the 100th anniversary of the South African attack on Delville Wood (known to many of them as Devil’s Wood) and the Welsh attack on Mametz Wood. Barring commemorations in those nations, talk of the Somme and the lessons from it has come to as sudden a halt as the Allied advances.

That said the activities arranged to commemorate the Somme deserve signigicant praise and those who arranged them require credit for a wonderful effort and humbling service. The Fife school students who made art representations of soldiers silhettoes in the sand, those who arranged and took part in the #wearehere moving and powerful re-enactment activity and those who arranged and took part in indivuals and group pilgramages to the Somme region over the past period and commemoration events across the Commonwealth.

Since then two other violent catastrophes have hit the world- one in Nice and one in Dallas, Texas- the city I am to visit next week. The Dallas attack, a revenge assault on innocent police officers keeping safety and order at an innocent march following the death of two young Americans. The lessons I mentioned in the newspaper article and blog post appear not to have been learned. The cycle of violence and hate continues.

The photo above shows me tour guiding on the Somme with school children. Many of the Great War veterans returned there to work on the battlefield and in particular on the Commonwealth War Graves. Their return to civilian life in ‘Blighty’ was simply too difficult. Moreover, the return to war almost 20 years later must have been difficult for those who could tell you only too well what war and conflict brought to civilisation. Their only care as they tended Commonwealth War Graves was continuing the support the alliances they had formed- not to nation states but to fellow man before they stepped “over the top.”

The last week also marked the 240th Independence Day celebrations for the United States. That day also saw the 70th Anniversary of the Special relationship. Across the world peace has been founded on the quality of relationships, the solidarity of alliances and the motivation to seek cooperation.

I ended my Somme reflection article in the Herald by asking not “Lest we forget” but, can we start to remember? I always recall one of my mentors in my early teaching career reinforcing, “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always had.”

And so I reflect, are we any further forward two weeks on? My guess is that we have travelled only a few yards….. even if that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Somme Lesson

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”
“War is politics by other means”
“We will remember them”

I am writing this not long after attending the Battle of the Somme vigil at the Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle. I will blog post it tomorrow minutes before 7.30 at which time I will make my way to pay my respects at the Haymarket Memorial to those from Edinburgh who fell in the ‘Great’ War.

One hundred years ago men all along the Somme front line woke to the summer sun and prepared letters and last thoughts before going into battle. Many were confident and assured although, despite artillery bombardments on German lines and huge mines exploded under them giving weight to commanders assurance, many waited in trepidation at “going over the top.” Their trepidation was well placed as the darkest day of British military history dawned in contrast to the bright glow on French farmlands. Beyond a nation’s grief it was a symbolic catastrophe of civilisation

The Royal British Legion has called on the public to attend their local Commonwealth War Graves and blow a whistle (three short blasts) in remembrance at 7.30am. What should follow from that national rallying call is a thunderous noise of whistles followed by lull and quiet peace of the morning in respectful and reverent silence.

What will follow is more likely to be isolated but deeply respectful acts of remembrance. The limited numbers attending the Beating the Retreat, the Service tonight and associated commemoration events reflects that the world has moved on.

As the quote says, “People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf.”

Much of the world will sleep blissfully unaware, indeed unbothered by the major commemoration taking place. And why should they bother? They owe nothing to the generation slain in 1916…. Or, do they?!

The truth is, that generation were not rough men. They were a cross societal representation of European and international society. They were not war mongers. And yet they laid down their lives in war whose sequence of events forged the world we know today (to say they saved our world would be an over representation). They are however a lost generation.

And yet the cross societal representation tonight, as it will be tomorrow, is and was limited. Twenty thousand died on the first day of the Somme, forty thousand were injured, many in the first hour of battle. We will be lucky if the nation musters that number at 7.30 in remembrance.

International casualty lists from the battle are likewise horrific. Who remembers that more Germans fell in this pivotal clash?

And so, have the lessons be learned? If “war is politics by other means” then, the calm of peace should be a reflective educator by direct means. Sadly, conflict and the peace that followed have not educated. Not only do we see apathy towards remembrance, but a lack of collegiality counteracting conflict. The events of the last few weeks have seen harsh words exchanged, attacks happen and cooperation break down. The entity we are about to leave provided stability and prevented world war. Whilst it can be argued as to whether it’s extended power corrupted, the words exchanged since democratic voting are a indictment of the society democracy aims to achieve. Lest we forget? First, let’s start to remember.

In 1916, 141 days of battle on the Somme region continued. It’s death toll averaged over 890 a day. Two and a half years of war endured beyond this pockmark in the landscape of bloody war. All to be repeated again almost twenty years later. Have we broken the chain? Will history repeat itself? If you haven’t blown a whistle, do a bit by your every day actions. Cooperation over conflict is the key. Cooperation after all is civilisation by other means.

Neil McLennan is a former history teacher, Past President of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History and chairs the Wilfred Owen 1917-2017 Committee.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment