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Collaboration in the South West region

Douglas Hutchison, Director, South Ayrshire Council and Lead for the South West Improvement Collaborative writes:

Space and time for coaching, reflection and collaboration

I was fortunate enough to benefit from a few sessions of coaching during lockdown. This wasn’t my own version of Joe Wicks, but involved a few evening sessions with Margaret Barr, who runs her own coaching practice. Margaret carried out most of the professional learning on a coaching approach to professional review and development, when we originally introduced professional update in South Ayrshire. The attraction for me was sitting down in an online session with someone who will not judge, but just reflect on key issues and help me turn these into some concrete actions. When the world has been turned upside down, leaders need space and time to step back, get their heads up and chart a way forward. The sessions helped me to reflect on the first eight weeks of lockdown and what had helped me in my role as Director in South Ayrshire and as lead for the South West Educational Improvement Collaborative.  

Shared learning for leaders

Without question, the positive parts for me were when the headteachers in South Ayrshire gathered together online to reflect on what was working well and what we still needed to do. I was always encouraged by their positive, problem-solving approach. We also met at times as a group of secondary headteachers to discuss the complexities of dealing with accreditation at the senior phase. The people living with the problems came together to share their thinking and make collective decisions about the best way forward. That was also the thinking behind the recent SWEIC Blether. On this occasion, the offer was to all headteachers across the South West. One of the central planks of the collaborative is to work at a scale beyond an individual authority and share learning across boundaries. This is where Fiona picks up the story as Quality Improvement Manager for the SWEIC and the key person behind the recent event.

Fiona McDougall, Quality Improvement Manager, SWEIC writes:

An opportunity to blether

I was able to participate in a number of Education Scotland Big Blethers during lockdown and was struck by the seeming ease of bringing large groups of people together for online learning opportunities. I especially enjoyed the series of international blethers, being able to engage with Peter de Witt, Jenni Donohoo and Paul Bloomberg. What an amazing opportunity arising from the need to move professional learning online.

The SWEIC Blether

After discussing my intention to organise a SWEIC Blether, Alison Allan from the Professional Learning and Leadership team at Education Scotland offered support to set up the online event and assist with the delivery. We used Microsoft Teams and colleagues from the Education Scotland and local authority IT teams ironed out technical issues. The SWEIC Blether was at the end of the school day. Douglas introduced the event, encouraging headteachers to come together, talk about the real issues and identify a way forward. Elaine, John, Martin and Lorraine, headteachers from each local authority in the South West, spoke about their experiences of different aspects of lockdown and school recovery and their thoughts about how the system could respond to lessons learned.

SWEIC Blether, Tuesday 6 October 2020

School recovery themes

Participants moved into break-out rooms to discuss themes that had been identified during registration for the event. These included parental engagement, blended learning, early years and learning and teaching. The discussions were facilitated by leaders and authority representatives of the SWEIC workstreams. I’m very grateful to all who supported this Blether, particularly members of the Education Scotland team who ensured the smooth running of this online event.

Views about the SWEIC Blether

The Blether was attended by nearly 80 headteachers and senior leaders from the South West. Feedback was very positive with many participants looking forward to future opportunities to come together to share practice and identify solutions for common challenges being faced. One headteacher said, 'Really interesting to hear how similar many issues are and the varied and creative ways that people have solved these issues.' Many leaders asked for the online offers to be extended to all staff in the collaborative.

Next steps

Regular Blethers and other online opportunities are planned to allow leaders, different networks and practitioners to engage with each other. These opportunities are intended to create time and space for leaders at all levels to step back, reflect on the key issues and come together to support one another in a positive, problem-solving approach.

Douglas Hutchison is Director of People and Depute Chief Executive of South Ayrshire Council and strategic lead for SWEIC. Prior to returning to South Ayrshire, where he had been principal psychologist, he was an Inspector with Education Scotland. His teaching past was as a secondary teacher of RMPS and additional support needs teacher.

Fiona McDougall is the seconded Quality Improvement Manager for the South West Educational Improvement Collaborative (SWEIC). She has been in post since August 2018. Her substantive post is headteacher at Cairn Primary School in South Ayrshire.