In Scotland’s Schools, it is still 2008

June 3, 2016

Every so often it occurs to me that if you became a teacher in the last 3 or 4 years, and you trained in a good school or possibly on a good university course, you might not be aware of the situation that inspired this blog and also inspired the posts that had the most impact. Then I remember just how many schools there are that just haven’t changed and how many blogs by trainees repeat experience of the same old claims and I realise that almost everybody reading this has heard about the “OFSTED teaching style” (now no longer endorsed by OFSTED).

But just in case you are not familiar with it, the idea was that there was a correct way to teach. Key aspects of “outstanding teaching” were:

  • Sharing long-winded learning objectives (preferably differentiated) and revisiting them at the end.
  • 3 part lessons (starter, main, plenary). The main could be made up of multiple activities.
  • Avoid, or minimise, teacher talk and explanations. Students must be “active” not “passive”, i.e. doing activities not listening. You could be condemned if your class were working too quietly.
  • Progress every 20 minutes, which meant something new would be introduced and assessed in every 20 minute chunk, i.e. no time for prolonged practice or time spent getting better at things they could already do.
  • Do group work every lesson. (Tables would be expected to be in groups not rows.)

There are still managers out there expecting this stuff in every observation, but the days when mosts schools had a checklist provided by a consultant, which would be used to grade teachers on whether they ticked the boxes are gone. This is no longer the era where making this all happen was considered massively more important than exam results. The tide has turned in England, largely because OFSTED have said they aren’t looking for this stuff.

Yesterday, I discovered that Scotland hasn’t moved on. You may have seen headlines such as “Teacher struck off because lessons were ‘too boring’, tribunal rules after complaints from pupils” about the case of Gillian Scott, a teacher in Scotland who was struck off for not living up to the teacher standards. A lot of the response I saw was to the way media coverage suggested that silly complaints (like being “boring”) which are subjective and could be levelled at almost any teacher on a bad day, had been a part of the case. Others pointed out that she had not responded to attempts to improve her teaching and suggested that this could provide better grounds for striking somebody off.

However, what amazed me were some of the complaints mentioned in the final judgement, much of which was based on the lesson observation judgements of David Macluskey, a senior manager. Firstly, it needs to be noticed that actual exam results were dismissed as a measure of teacher effectiveness:

In response to whether it was possible for a teacher to secure A passes for pupils if the suggestion was that the course was not being delivered, Mr Macluskey said that such a result could be down to a variety of factors, including the pupils’ own ability, outside tutors, prior learning, although the teacher would have an impact. Mr Macluskey said that the Respondent would follow the course but there were other issues.

So if exam results cannot show a teacher to be effective, what sort of evidence can be included to show they aren’t? I should say now that I am not trying to summarise the full case, just the bits that amazed me. And I have missed out things that I find objectionable, but cannot be sure are misguided or malicious. Here, from the complaint, are some of the examples of teaching that didn’t meet the teaching standards:

On 2 February 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey….There were no clear learning intentions or success criteria identified at the start of the lesson…

…In or around September 2011, you planned to deliver lessons to your S2, S3 and S4 classes which were repetitive…

…On 21 November 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:

  • You did not refer to success criteria.
  • You failed to recap the learning intentions at the end of the lesson…

…On 15 December 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: You did not use learning intentions or success criteria other than have the pupils copy them down….

…On 2 February 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: You implemented a task which was meant to be co-operative learning but it was not…

…In or around November 2012, you spent three lessons reading a novel to your S1 class and did not engage the pupils in questioning…

On 3 December 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: …You did not end the lesson with a plenary session and did not refer to success criteria.

On 13 December 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:You did not end the lesson with a plenary session.

On 6 February 2013, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:

  • You quickly referred to the learning intentions and success criteria, however you failed to have any discussion or interaction about these with the pupils.
  • You failed to end the lesson with a plenary in order to check for pupil understanding

On 14 February 2013, in a lesson observed by Mairi Houston… instruct pupils to write an essay following the plan on the board without providing a clear indication of the objectives of the lesson in terms of the learning outcomes and success criteria.

…You failed to communicate with pupils in ways which involve them actively in classwork.

For example: On 21 November 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: There was no active learning by the pupils…

On 15 December 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: You led the lesson from the front of the class and did not use a variety of learning techniques including co-operative learning techniques.

On 12 November 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:

  • Pupils sat as far from the front as possible.
  • Pupils were not actively engaged in the lesson and there was little personal interaction between yourself and the pupils.
  • You failed to implement a variety of learning techniques and in particular cooperative learning…

…On 6 February 2013, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: There was little evidence of dialogue between you and the pupils and between the pupils themselves.

…On 14 February 2013, in a lesson observed by Mairi Houston:  …Pupils were spread out across the classroom, isolated and did not interact with each other…

From the summary of the actual case:

Mr Macluskey confirmed that all Perth & Kinross staff had been sent on a course about cooperative learning teachniques [sic] but that he did not think that the Respondent understood the concept. He said that one of the other teachers tried hard to help her understand it but she refused to listen. He said that he had not ever seen her using the technique effectively.

Mr Macluskey said that he was horrified at how bad the Respondent’s lesson was on 2 February 2011, that he had observed. The teaching was so low level that the whole class was bored; the Respondent was telling the class rather than teaching….

…Mr Macluskey said that he had discussed strategies with the Respondent in advance of an observation he was carrying out on 21 September 2011. He said that there was some improvement in this lesson. However, the Respondent had not taken on board most of the things 18 that they had discussed. After a technical malfunction with a YouTube clip, the class became engaged in an ethical discussion about boxing. Mr Macluskey said that the class was ready to be engaged and had strong discussions. However, the Respondent stopped the discussion too early…

…In respect of the classroom observation that he had carried out on 21 November 2011, Mr Macluskey said that the Respondent had set learning intentions, albeit that they were vague. However, he could not remember any success criteria being used in that lesson. He met with the Respondent on 29 November to discuss the observation. He said that it was not as bad as the other lessons but there was no learning or engagement; the Respondent either gave out handouts or told the pupils information…

…Mr Macluskey said that he carried out a further observation on 15 December 2011, after which he prepared a note on the Respondent’s progress on the action plan. Mr Macluskey said that she did not use learning intentions or success criteria, other than have the pupils copy them down; the pace of the lessons was slow and there were no extension materials nor was there any cooperative learning…

…  It was clear that she did not understand co-operative learning…

…Mr Macluskey said that the Respondent got mixed up between what was a learning intention and what was success criteria…

…Mr Macluskey said that he felt that if the Respondent had just “seen the light” then she could have been a better teacher.

…Mr Macluskey said that his concerns that the Respondent did not understand or apply co-operative learning techniques was a recurring theme. He said that there was a variety of different nuances and techniques regarding co-operative learning but that the principle is the same…

…Mr Macluskey was asked whether there was an obligation to have a plenary in a lesson. He replied that it would be strange not to “wrap up” in order to check the pupil’s understanding. He explained that in education, a plenary session is the time to check for understanding, to recap and make sure the pupils have learned what was intended before moving on. He said that it was not compulsory but if a teacher did not do it then they would need to have a good reason, which was not evident in the Respondent’s lesson…

… Ms Libreri said that the observation was carried out on 8 March 2011, with an S1 class … there was a significant period where the pupils were very passive and not engaging in the lesson…

…She said that she could see no active learning on display during the lesson. There was no plenary at the end of the lesson…

… Ms Liberi said that the task given to the pupils of ‘what makes a good friend’ was too long; …

…She said that she discussed with the Respondent what would make good learning intentions and success criteria. She also discussed incorporating a variety of teaching methods, such as role play…

… the Respondent came to observe one of her lessons with the specific purpose of looking at co-operative learning, which encourages pupils to discuss their thoughts and ideas. … Ms Libreri said that she did not see any evidence of co-operative learning during the lesson that she had observed…

…Ms Libreri said that she would expect any probationer teacher to understand about learning intentions and success criteria. In her opinion, the Respondent did not understand the nature of them…

… Ms Libreri said that a plenary session in a lesson is a dialogue as to whether the pupils had achieved the outcomes set and that using success criteria is a good way to form a plenary. Asked whether it had to be at the end of the lesson, Ms Libreri said that a plenary is a summary to assess learning and identify next steps. Asked whether every teacher is required to use learning intentions and success criteria in every lesson, Ms Libreri said that every teacher should be using learning intentions. She said that a plenary could take place during the lesson but that there should be evidence of where the pupils are with their learning and where to go next…

…Ms Houston said that there was a lack of communication from the Respondent and a lack of proper interaction with pupils. From the start of the lesson, there was no clear indication of what the objectives of the lesson were in terms of learning outcomes … She said that she would expect a teacher to set out clear learning intentions and success criteria for pupils so that they are clear what they should be learning and how they would be successful in demonstrating their learning. … She said that she did not think that the Respondent understood why learning intentions and success criteria were important and that she did not believe that a person could teach effectively if they did not have that understanding. Ms Houston said that the six pupils were spread out across the classroom; they were isolated. There was no encouragement from the Respondent for them to interact with each other. She went on to explain what she would have expected from a lesson on how to write a critical essay, including having pupils sharing practice. She said that the purpose of the lesson should have been to equip the pupils with the skills to write a good critical essay, rather than just have them following basic instructions on how to write the essay…

…Ms Houston said that she would have expected even a student teacher on an early placement to have a basic understanding of learning intentions and success criteria but this was not evident in the Respondent’s performance…

… Ms McPherson said that the class were largely passive in their learning and that there were missed opportunities for active learning,..

… Ms McPherson said that it is standard practice, at the end of the lesson, to return to the learning intentions in a plenary session. In the observation, she noted that the learning intentions had not been clearly identified at the start and so the Respondent was unable to draw the pupils back together in a satisfactory way. She said that she could not recall how the learning intentions were conveyed to the pupils but that she would have expected the Respondent to stop and recap on them…

I still haven’t read every part of this case. It is complex and a lot has been written and I am not familiar with the Scottish system. But what I do know is that this year in Scotland, failing to comply with fads from ten or twenty years ago, which have no proven benefit for learning, can be used as evidence that you are not fit to teach.


  1. It is quite scary to think that in Scotland I could be sacked for the way I teach. I only sometimes share lesson objectives, never make a big thing of them and I’m not sure I’ve ever used success criteria at the end of a lesson. Rather lucky for me that I don’t teach in a school with a checklist to judge teacher effectiveness.
    It does strike me as odd that this teacher seemed so incapable of working out how to ‘play the game’ required but very unsettling reading the ‘charges’ against her and knowing I am just as guilty.

  2. I would have thought good exam results could be a pretty sure-fire way of assessing whether learning occurred. Unless it was a school for geniuses. Odd she didn’t play the game. Maybe she was taking a stand? Would be interesting to hear her side.

  3. Any wonder we’re short of teachers?

  4. I haven’t read all the detail on this case either and have no idea whether this teacher was being treated fairly or not (although the overall point you make and the examples you helpfully highlight are sound IMO).
    However, it raises a question for me. What are the situations in which a teacher should be “struck off”? Gross misconduct, sure, that is an easy one, but what about consistently poor teaching without any improvement? In all walks of life, people should be put out of their misery if they are in the wrong job. And teaching is more important than a lot of jobs…

  5. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  6. I don’t know about this particular case, but there has to be more to it than meets the eye. This is *not* the reality of teaching in Scotland.

    To paraphrase a line in ‘Educating Rita’, you practically have to bugger the Bursar to get struck off by the GTCS.

    • I’m sure there’s plenty more as to why the school pursued it. And most teachers would have resigned a lot earlier in the process. And I am sure there are plenty of schools which don’t enforce the official line on how to teach. But the point is: this is the official line. Also, plenty of Scottish teachers have got back to me to say they have been told this is how to teach.

    • I think you are being naive there – when people have it in for someone they will go to the ends of the earth. There are just as many nasty people in teaching as in the population.

      • I think you are right (except I don’t count most managers these days as “being in teaching”). This person may have been deadly dull and “old fashioned” in style, but doesn’t seem to be completely useless.

        The best ever lesson I came up with was a “Hacking” game designed to teach information systems (this was pre-internet so it was all fake). The “objective” was “break into the exam board computer and change all your exam grades to an A”. The children thought it was brilliant and it was very effective in terms of teaching information systems. Nowadays I’d probably be had up for teaching them to be criminals.

        (obviously it was much much simpler than real hacking)

  7. […] have been talking this week about the case of Gillian Scott, who was recently struck off. Some have asked “But what were her results like?” They […]

  8. It is an incredibly complex, lengthy and difficult procedure to get someone “struck off”, unless it is a criminal offence which has been committed, requiring years of detailed procedures showing support measures in place for staff. I am unfamiliar with this case but know that there must be much more to it and that this was, perhaps, the only “evidence” they could pursue. There must have been something more serious impacting negatively on young people, because there continue to be “boring” lessons being taught which do not follow an OFSTED style model. But please don’t be so quick to stamp a label on an entire country’s practice based on one case. That I find offensive. Having taught in England, Wales and Scotland I can assure you nowhere is getting it right 100% of the time, but at least Scotland has the GTCS to try and support maintaining and promoting high standards of teaching practice. You would have to consult HMIE to see what they are currently looking for in lesson observations. These are just my personal observations as a classroom teacher, currently working in Scotland.

    • The evidence is that there was far more to the striking off than teaching styles, for instance, the teacher had been a whistle blower.

      But that makes using teaching styles as the grounds for forcing somebody out of the profession worse, rather than better. Pursuing somebody like this is not acceptable and it takes a real faith in authority to excuse it.

      As for the idea that the GTCS is enforcing high standards, the point is that they are not doing so in this case. They are enforcing fads, stuff that goes in and out of fashion without actually improving learning.

      • I didn’t say the GTCS “enforces”, I said “tries to support maintaining and promoting high standards”. Schools and their management and authorities “enforce”. GTCS are the last to get involved. But I appreciate your concerns re using teaching practice as a measure for dismissal.

        • Given that the GTCS is meant to be the professional body for teachers, shouldn’t it be opposing enforcement of fads on teachers? Rather than doing the exact opposite?

          • The GTCS is a professional bureaucracy only interested in itself.

  9. […] Andrew writes of a recent case in Scotland where a teacher was barred from teaching for two years because, for […]

  10. […] flaws need to be identified and rectified. In the above example, Scotland is cited. Coincidentally, a Scottish teacher was recently fired for being “too boring,” according to the inspection evalua…. Such examples are likely the reason the ATA abolished observations years ago, and why it would […]

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