Modern Apprenticeships ELHA⤴

from @ Careers



An opportunity has arisen for a Modern Apprentice position within our Asset Management Department with a Business Administration focus.

The Modern Apprenticeship placements will be fully work based in our head office in Haddington, East Lothian, with ongoing support from Limelight Careers to achieve the SVQ Level 3 in Business & Administration. The placement duration will be for 18 months with the successful trainees in post before March 2015.

Networkrail Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme⤴

from @ Careers

Expert training. Thousands of pounds in your pocket. And a lifetime of engineering possibilities. When you’re transforming Britain’s vast railway network, you get more than just an education. Over three fascinating, surprising, career-advancing years as an apprentice, you’ll gain the kind of skills that can set you up for life.

Our next Engineering Apprenticeship Scheme begins on 12th September 2015, but you can start the journey right here, right now. Applications will open on the 27th January 2015. You can register your details so that we can keep in touch to let you know when applications are open in January. Please take a couple of minutes to register your name, email address, postcode and mobile telephone number and we will email you with an update when the scheme opens.

More details here

Inequality is entrenched in our education system, and the new ‘appeals’ process is just the tip of a much more challenging iceberg⤴

from @ I've Been Thinking

Originally posted on This Little Earth:
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) have, unsurprisingly, declared the new approach to exam appeals a success: the number of appeals has plummeted from 66’000 in 2013 to 8500 this year; successful appeals have dropped to just 2000 from 32’000 last year; and the costs to the (taxpayer funded) SQA…

On observations: 4 approaches from Harry Wolcott⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

I’ve been reading Harry Wolcott’s book “Transforming Qualitative Data” (Sage, 1994) and have really enjoyed the chapters on observation. Wolcot takes more of an ethnographic stance on observation than I do, but there is much to ponder in what he says, and lots of interesting questions .


Wolcot relates how in discussion with students about conducting observations he is surprised at how quickly the conversation digresses into ethical issues about the process of observation and the role of the observer, and the “how” and the “what” are largely overlooked. I think that the role of the observer and the how and the what are closely connected. If I think about how I am going to observe teachers in learning rounds, I need to be aware of what I am doing. In the “doing ” of observation I can look around, look at, look for and listen, without needing to interact much with the others in the room. In schools, however,  there is a “prevailing institutional norm”   (Wolcot 1994:155) which usually turns visitors into passive observers, so I need to accept that in classrooms, observing teachers who are in turn making their own observations, my role will be passive, as will theirs, I suspect, but maybe a little less so.

What exactly will I observe? There are problems with approaching this and  knowing what you’re looking for so strategies are necessary, and awareness of  the context is also important.  Wolcot talks of the dangers of over-familiarity with the observational environment. I think this could be something that teachers conducting observations might need to acknowledge as Wolcot points out the tendency in teachers to want to evaluate, not observe when they are in their own familiar environments. Being  aware of this might mean assuming a “business as usual” understanding of the situation (e.g.  business as usual in classrooms might be: teachers give instructions, students follow instructions and check for clarity, accuracy until task is complete, or something similar). What might be interesting to focus on using  this model would be the interruptions to “business as usual” – the events which disrupt it; specifically what constitutes an interruption? How are interruptions dealt with and what are their effects?

Wolcot describes 4 approaches to observation which are helpful:

1: Observe and record everything. It’s fair to imagine that this will result in a mass of data, which quickly prompts the researcher to be selective, and also to be reflexively aware of observing and recording habits, which can be a useful exercise in itself. Observing everything especially in the early stages, Wolcot suggests also allows for the researcher to provide a broad overview of the observational situation. It may be helpful to revisit this at the writing -up stage for the purpose of  offering a new-comers’ viewpoint to potential readers who will need some orientation towards the project, while  the researcher having been immersed in the project may be well beyond this stage and overlook that need.

2. Observe and look for nothing in particular. If the situation is too familiar (as in the classroom situation describes above) or too unfamiliar ( e.g. perhaps the green room in a TV studio; inside a petro-chemical refinery; somewhere you’ve never been and had no experience of) this might be a useful approach. It acknowledges that too much might be occurring too quickly for the unfamiliar observer to make sense of so instead of trying to take everything in, imagine the  observational landscape is flat and focus on the “bumps” the things that seem to stand out. I can see how this might work in the classroom situation for a teacher, but I’m finding it difficult to imagine separating out the “business as usual” from the disruptions in an unfamiliar situation – how do you know which is which?

3. Look for paradoxes. Wolcott’s idea is that there is  interest in the contradictions and dilemmas of observational situations. He gives an example from his experience observing a  fishing community, but I can imagine this will be something I can work on. The obvious paradox for me will be the observation/evaluation problem. In previous research I found that in spite of clear intentions and statements indicating that they would not evaluate practice in observations, teachers in all situations I researched used judgemental language and expressed concern about reporting their findings to colleagues. This was useful data for me as the study was looking at what teachers do when they say they are doing learning rounds, but for this study the focus is more on the processes -what actually goes on inside a learning round so the observation/evaluation dilemma will play a different part perhaps revealing the nature of some relationships, the purpose of the LR within the school/LA national policy context etc.

4. Identify the key problem confronting the group.

As far as I understand this relates more to interview questions than the process of observation. Wolcott gives an example of medical students who come to realise they cannot learn everything they need to know to practice medicine in medical school, so they focus on what they need to learn first, to be able to stay in medical school. For me I understand this as:  If LR is the answer – what is the question? What need/ requirement is this collaborative learning activity responding to? What are people’s reasons for engaging with it and what are their expectations of it?  What questions might it answer for them? These are questions I will be seeking answers to in my interviews, I’m not sure observation would be the method for eliciting these answers.

The context for observation is subject to past present and future influences. Future because the observations always serve a future purpose – the paper, thesis, film etc that results from the study. Present influences can often be limitations (or enablers) imposed upon the study by contextual factors -e.g. time or funding constraints. Past influences will be found in the body of literature surrounding the focus of the study, and the culture of the organisation where the observations are taking place.

All in all this chapter offers good guidance and pointers on framing and  conducting observations which I’ll try to make good use of in coming months.


Wolcott, Harry F. (1994) Transforming Qualitative Data: description, analysis and interpretation. Sage Publications

Creativity across Learning #5 – How do we develop creative learners?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

This 5th asks how do we respect and build on the ‘learner’s world’ in educational provision, and develop ‘creative learners’ who are motivated and take responsibility for their own learning? Once again the following text is drawn from the unpublished report of 2011.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.
(Carl Jung)

Is it really feasible or practical to start off with what interests the learner and then build the curriculum from there? Can we find meaningful and motivating contexts for deep learning? Can school really be a place that connects with the world of learning beyond school?

There is a long tradition in education in which educational practitioners have sought to bring the classroom to life by creatively pulling in aspects of the world of their students. There is no excuse for the curriculum to be boring. Even the most difficult content can be presented with engendering intrinsic interest in mind when teachers design lessons that flow and will stimulate learners’ thinking, making them more enjoyable so that children and young people can be fully engaged and absorbed.  The capacity to motivate is not just the key to deep learning; it is also the key to creativity.

Designing learning on this basis will be demanding if the educational practitioner is an isolated individual working behind closed doors. It suggests a need for teachers and others concerned with young people’s learning to be connected to communities of practice engaged with on-going curriculum and pedagogical development and sharing ideas, practice and resources.  Increasingly this engagement will be with teachers beyond their own school, local authority and country.

All effective educators recognise that it is essential to understand the learner as well as to understand what needs to be learned and how the process of learning works as a constructed, social and cultural process. We need to know what individuals bring to learning so that we build on that and encourage them to understand and manage their own learning. This has always been vital because of the role of parents and communities in learning, but it is even more important when there is increased access to learning through technological developments.

We also need to understand learners so that we can engage with them and motivate them. One of the motivating factors most commonly cited is ‘relevance’, but not all content or approaches will be equally relevant to all learners. Personalisation and choice are established principles of Curriculum for Excellence [the Scottish curriculum], but neither can be exercised without knowledge of the learners and their active participation.

The experiences that learners bring need to be understood and respected as the building blocks for further progress. We also need to find talents and dispositions which will be foundations for further learning. Such a process also needs to involve challenge, so that learning is demanding but not out of reach, and mistakes and failures are embraced as a spur to further efforts.

All of this suggests that learning needs to be based on more carefully structured, open-ended tasks and questions. This should not be interpreted as meaning that there is no place for different and, in some instances, more didactic approaches. But such approaches need to support learning that is constructed, self-regulated, situated and collaborative, where learners also have the role of active creators and designers, not just passive consumers of content and resources.

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Creativity across Learning #4 – What does a creative learning environment look and feel like?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

In this fourth post the idea of a ‘creative learning environment’ is explored. Again the source is the 2011 unpublished report Creativity across Learning. This section starts with a quote from the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

In recent decades, OECD economies have experienced a rapid transformation from industrial to knowledge-based systems in which lifelong learning and innovation are central. Individuals who become self-directed learners are able to acquire expert knowledge in various fields, to change careers, and to endow meaningful lives with creativity and variety. Developing these capacities is not only important for a successful economy, but also for effective social engagement, participatory democracy, and more equitable communities. Despite the challenges of the 21st Century, many of today’s schools still operate as they did at the beginning of the last century and are not encouraging the deep learning and skills that underlie innovative activity.
(OECD-CERI – Innovative Learning Environments)

Creativity can be both ‘caught’ and ‘taught’ in the right environment and with the right kind of support.  We are all born with a huge potential for learning and creativity. Some people, including Sir Ken Robinson, would go as far to say that it is systematically ‘schooled out of us’.

Creativity is not just about abilities: it is also about attitude.  A creative environment will encourage a willingness to play with ideas and consider possibilities, a flexibility of outlook and a desire to improve.  Mistakes and failures should be expected and accepted and seen as providing opportunities for reflection, self-evaluation and feedback for learners, helping them to understand and take responsibility for their own learning.

Malcolm Gladwell stresses how important opportunity and time are in enabling individuals – like Bill Gates – or groups – like The Beatles – to develop skills, understand processes and then translate these into innovation and invention.  Schools and other settings can provide this kind of support by being committed to fostering creativity and creating time and opportunities for its development.  However, simply believing that creativity can be fostered is not enough.  We need to be clear about what conditions we should create to help young people become more creative.

Teaching clearly has a technical component that fits comfortably with a ‘ticking boxes’ approach to management.  However, the effective teacher needs to be much more than a technician. Successful professional practice is a highly complex and adaptive challenge. If systems of accountability do not recognise this then the practitioner can be de-professionalised, with a negative effect on the learning environment.

It is recognised that for teachers, innovation and creativity enable new ways of working and also present major challenges.  We need all educators to be collaborative, open-minded, flexible and experimental and to bring out the creativity in learners in non-threatening environments. Collegiality and collaboration for learners and staff alike are enhanced by teams and partners who think creatively and are keen to find innovative solutions to problems.

Now that we understand something of how the complex dance between the ‘natural’ and ‘nurtured’ happens we can consider what we can do to make sure that the dance is supported in a way that helps young people to exploit their full potential.

Young children come hard-wired, genetically predisposed to be creative.
(Stanley Greenspan)

If they knew how hard I have to work to achieve my mastery they would not think it so wonderful.

It is widely accepted that an important part of creativity is based on intrinsic motivation – the desire to carry out something for its own sake.  People who are being creative often work long and hard, not necessarily because someone else has asked them to, or because of the hope of some kind of external reward, but because of a deep interest, love even, for what they are doing and a deep desire to create.  Teachers need to bear this in mind in working with young people.

Too many carrots as well as too much stick are inimical to creative intuition.
(Guy Claxton)

We can help develop a personal disposition to be creative.  This related to what Robert Fisher in Teaching Children to Think calls the ‘experimental’ self, rather than the ‘safeguarding’ self. Of course we always need to a bit of both and success lies in supporting learners to recognise when each might be important and find the right balance for the appropriate context, including how to keep themselves safe from harm.


The ‘experimental’ self is: The ‘safeguarding’ self is:
curious cautious
confident lacks resilience
speculative sticks to what it knows
shows independence relies on others
takes risks avoids risks
is playful is serious
flexible rigid
likes surprises avoids surprises
shares dreams keeps feelings private


People who are able to work creatively can also be thought of as having relatively few inhibitions to thinking ‘outside the box’ – they don’t have what Roger Von Oech in his book A Whack on the Side of the Head describes as the ‘mental locks’ on creativity.

Mental locks on creativity

The right answer Follow the rules That’s not my area Don’t be foolish
That’s not logical Be practical Play is frivolous Avoid ambiguity

To err is wrong

I am not creative


We can help young people to develop their capacity for creative thinking.  This means not only growing their natural talent for divergent, exploratory thinking, but helping them balance and use it alongside convergent and analytical thinking.

The brain is built to linger as well as rush and sometimes slow browsing leads to better answers.
(Guy Claxton)

A key factor here is what might be called ‘unconscious intelligence’. This entails helping students to be able to tap into the power of their unconscious mind and use what has been variously called ‘fuzzy’, ‘dreamy’, ‘contemplative’ or ‘intuitive’ thinking or ‘learning by osmosis’.  Thinking too much or too hard can get in the way of creativity; wanting an idea too much and trying to hard can interfere with the gestation process.  Although intuitions can be wrong, they are often more valuable and trustworthy than we might think.

The importance of unconscious thought is no better described than in Claxton’s book, the very title of which presents a challenge to much current thinking in the education system: Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: Why Intelligence Increases When You Think Less. For Claxton, allowing the mind to meander is not a luxury: we need the tortoise mind as much as we need the hare brain.  He believes that educational establishments have traditionally been very poor at valuing, supporting and helping young children to develop this kind of thinking and in fact it has been actively discouraged.

This has to an extent been exacerbated by the emphasis that has been placed at all levels of the education system on curriculum coverage, with not a minute to be wasted as we seek to cover the ground faster and faster.  An overemphasis on ideas about accelerated learning can also be detrimental to opportunities for slower yet purposeful reflection.  Claxton suggests that the notion of ‘think fast, we need results’ is as absurd as the old Polish saying ‘sleep fast, we need the pillows’.

[The next post examines how we can respect and build on the learner's world to promote creativity.]

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Creativity across Learning #3 – What is creativity?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

Having set the context the next question is one of defining the concept in a way that makes sense and is useful from an educational perspective. Again the text below is taken from a 2011 unpublished draft of Creativity across Learning. It starts with one of my favourite definitions of creativity from Sir Ken Robinson:

Imagination is not the same as creativity.  Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level.  My definition of creativity is ‘the process of having original ideas that have value.’  Imagination can be entirely internal.  You could be imaginative all day long without anyone noticing.  But you never say that someone was creative if that person never did anything.  To be creative you actually have to do something.  It involves putting your imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions. You can think of creativity as applied imagination.
(Sir Ken Robinson, 2007)

Creativity is an ambiguous and often controversial term.  It is used, for example, in relation to the achievements of extraordinary individuals such as Beethoven, Curie, Einstein, and even Lady Gaga.  It is also used in relation to the inventiveness and experimentation that is well within the capacity of people generally.

It is also important to remember that creativity can have what Arthur Cropley has called a ‘dark side’, for example in the invention and use of cluster bombs and ingenious instruments of torture.  The creative intentions of people, the processes they follow in ‘applying their imagination’ and the products they create always sit in a wider social and cultural context and are shaped by the creator’s values.  They can sometimes cause more harm than good. So creativity, like all other aspects of human existence, always has an ethical dimension and this should be considered as an integral part of responsible citizenship.

Creativity is not the same as remembering, understanding or applying knowledge. Although it builds on these foundations, creativity is the culmination or ultimate act of learning, the process that takes humanity forward rather than just reproducing the way we have done things have been in the past.

Creativity is by no means limited to the so-called ‘creative arts’.  When we think about it, what is more creative than good science, technology, mathematics or social science?  Expert scientists, technologists and mathematicians are no less creative than talented artists or authors.

Equally misguided is the notion that the creative process just happens – all inspiration and no perspiration. This derives, in part, from a belief that creative thinking is somehow separate from other forms of thinking and that it is not possible to plan for creative ideas.  The notion that ‘creative’ individuals will come up with ideas because they are ‘good at that sort of thing’ and that disciplined thinking is at odds with creative thinking need to be challenged as representing what Carol Dweck would call ‘fixed mindsets’. Everyone can learn to be more creative, but only if they have the right attitude, what she calls a ‘learning mindset’.

Although creativity is not amenable to being described neatly, it does have a number of important characteristics.

  • It always involves originality, the ‘forming’ or ‘making’ of something new, whether it is an artefact or action, or a system or procedure.
  • It involves the purposeful application of often laboriously acquired knowledge and skills.
  • It includes various ways of thinking, doing and communicating: creative developments involve, for example, contributions of imaginative, intuitive and logical thinking.
  • It can be evident in the thinking and actions of groups and communities as well as individuals.
  • It is not of itself a good thing; rather its expression is influenced by values of all sorts, not least ethical and moral values.

Another way to try and understand creativity is to consider the characteristics demonstrated by people whose work is recognised to be highly creative.  Research on such people has found that they are not utterly unlike ourselves.  They are exemplary, not because of what they ‘do differently’ but because what they ‘do more of’.  As Arthur Cropley points out, any list of the characteristics of such people has a taste of mother’s apple pie about it.  Nor does it contain any surprises that could not have been guessed at without any research.  Who would expect those we associate with creative work to be narrow-minded, rigid, conforming and lacking self-confidence? We might however expect them to be adept at some of the following skills:

  • Making remote or uncommon associations
  • Constructing unusual categories
  • Finding new starting points
  • Going beyond the information given
  • Building broad networks
  • Producing novel configurations
  • Trusting personal intuition
  • Not being put off too easily when they are faced with challenges

Promoting critical thinking is one key to fostering creativity. Critical thinking and creative thinking are not at odds.  Although distinguishable, they are interconnected and rely on each other.  This realisation has profound implications for the way we think about creativity and the way in which it is developed.

Creative processes occur when there is an integration of the characteristics of both critical and creative thinking:

  • Openness combined with a drive to focus
  • Imagination combined with a strong sense of reality
  • Critical and deconstructive attitudes together with constructive problem-solving
  • Cool neutrality combined with passionate engagement
  • Self-centredness coexisting with altruism
  • Tendency to beak rules while remaining within acceptable limits
  • Self-criticism and self-doubt together with self-confidence
  • Tension and concentration side-by-side with being at ease
[The next few posts will explore how we can foster creativity.]

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Creativity across Learning #2 – Why is creativity important?⤴

from @ Laurie O'Donnell

In this second post I want to to set the context by returning to the unpublished Learning and Teaching Scotland Advisory Group document of 2011. The text below is all drawn from a draft of ‘Creativity across Learning’ and should be seen as the efforts of an ‘expert’ group rather than my own work.

The introduction started off with a quote from the Scottish Government’s Excellence Group on ‘Higher Order Skills’ [which I can't seem to find online anymore???]:

In a small developed country like Scotland with the aspiration to maintain a high wage economy, economic issues are of great importance. There requires to be an understanding of the link between the prosperity of the national economy and the employment prospects of the individual. The curriculum needs to foster the development of the skills and attitudes that underpin enterprise, creativity, sustainable development and the ability to compete successfully in high added value areas of activity.  Even relatively small improvements in these areas can have large impacts on social as well as economic wellbeing by reducing disadvantage and alienation while at the same time releasing untapped potential.
(Scottish Government
Higher Order Skills Excellence Group) 

If this is accepted then the challenge for every society is how best to enable its citizens to acquire the knowledge, skills and competences necessary for success in our rapidly changing and turbulent world. It is in this context that creativity is becoming increasingly recognised as at the heart of all learning for all of us. Creativity is a crucial agent of transformation for Scottish education, at the very core of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

A good basic education may have been the best inoculation against poverty in the past but it takes the spark of ingenuity, innovation, adaptive competence and creativity for people to thrive in today’s world.  This is a central tenet of CfE, and if we are to succeed in taking forward this challenging agenda, both the culture of education and educational systems need to change to support it.

Curriculum for Excellence is …Scotland’s educational response to the new demands and challenges posed by global change. This change is rapid, accelerating, pervasive and profound. It embraces technological and economic change but also change in custom and belief. Few aspects of life are being left untouched.(Higher Order Skills Excellence Group, 2011)

It is difficult to deny that traditionally creativity has been a low priority in our thinking about school education and the curriculum. This has been the situation not only because of often narrow perceptions of how learning takes place, the primacy given to curriculum content and constraints of timetabling practices, but also because the cultivation of creativity tends to make classroom organisation more complex, lessons more fluid and outcomes less predictable. Fostering young people’s creativity presents significant and demanding challenges to both schools and the wider community.

Teachers can therefore feel real tensions when it comes to the curriculum. They know that there is often too much thinking and learning done in tidy boxes with too few opportunities to make connections across curriculum areas to ‘join-up’ learning. The pressure of time and the constraints of the timetable and our subject-based qualifications framework have often militated against meaningful and sustainable innovation in the classroom.

However, if Curriculum for Excellence is to succeed, the role of creativity as an essential dimension of thinking and learning must be strengthened, with interdisciplinary learning and the skills framework seen not as alternatives to depth, but rather as another means of developing creativity in and through the curriculum.

An emphasis on higher order skills is … integral to Curriculum for Excellence. It is an inescapable consequence of the social and economic realities of the twenty-first century; the need to evaluate increasingly complex issues, the ability to compete on creativity and quality rather than scale and cost, the capacity to anticipate the ‘next big thing’, and the agility to respond quickly and effectively.
(Higher Order Skills Excellence Group, 2011)

For every teacher and every learner Curriculum for Excellence must above all be a curriculum where excellence and creativity become synonymous.

[In the next post the focus is on defining our terms -  what we do we actually mean by creativity?]

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