Teaching Scotland Blog


24 June 2016

We hear from Marion MacLeod, Policy Manager with Children in Scotland, about the importance of including both parents in a child's education.

Why schools need to be inclusive for all

Most of those working with children and families will have seen all the research that demonstrates why including both parents in a child’s educational experience is beneficial. Various research studies have all concluded the same thing: children whose parental involvement in their education is high achieve more, keep pace with their school and homework, have better behaviour and relationships and show a positive attitude towards school. The active involvement of parents in wider school life helps to create a learning community, which in turn supports children in their development, and can even make life better for practitioners as positive relationships flourish.

Not only is it good practice and beneficial to parents, pupils and schools alike, but in Scotland, it is also a statutory requirement.

The Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act aims to help parents be involved by encouraging them to express their views on education and welcoming parents and carers as active participants in their child’s learning.

This is often straightforward and relatively simple when parents are already keen to be involved in their child’s educational journey and attainment. But things can get complicated when the parents either are disinclined to engage with the school or do not even get the chance.

When we, along with Fathers Need Families Scotland, recently conducted a study we found that, particularly where parents no longer live together, a swathe of inequalities and often injustices existed for the 'non-resident' parent. A non-resident parent may be seeing his/her children every day or by agreement or court order on a regular basis. Even a non-resident parent who isn't seeing his/her children at all is entitled to information about their progress unless it has been withdrawn by due process where it may not be in the best interests of the child.

Non-resident parents we spoke to said they often found it hard to ensure schools kept them informed in the way the Act requires. Their feeling of 'walking on eggshells' with the school can be exacerbated where there's a less than amicable relationship with their former partner.

It may be difficult, perhaps even feel impossible, for schools and other educational bodies to manage differing parental expectations when families break down - but we know that the child benefits immeasurably when clear, transparent and constructive involvement is achieved. This, therefore, is the best practice we must strive for.

When Families Need Fathers Scotland conducted their own research in 2015, they found that two-thirds of the non-resident fathers they spoke to had a positive relationship with their child’s school or nursery. This is an encouraging statistic but, conversely, it also reveals that one-third of parents surveyed did not. Case studies in our report illustrate how bad it can get when the relationship gets off to a bad start.

We don’t believe any education establishment is being intentionally obstructive, but the guidance to the Act stressed that schools and authorities should “work hard” to engage with non-resident parents (among other hard to reach parents). We do believe it is down to a fundamental lack of support for the investment in time and effort required to build good relationships and guidance which adequately prepares those in the sector to be equally constructive to both parents.

It has been 10 years since the Parental Involvement Act was passed in Scotland and some schools are still struggling to deliver the fair and equitable policies that will reap rewards for all involved.

We hope Helping Children Learn, the new guide produced by Children in Scotland and Families Need Fathers Scotland, will go some way to addressing this disparity and gap in information, helping schools and education establishments work together for a more inclusive approach. It provides details of the current legislative landscape whilst providing practical guidance and some best practice examples.

We owe it to the children and their future to adopt an inclusive approach - for the benefits of all involved, the child above all.

Helping Children Learn was produced by Children in Scotland and Families Need Fathers. The guide can be download for free from the Families Need Fathers Scotland website:

Download the report

Caroline Farquhar

6 May 2016

We hear from Caroline Farquhar, founder of MindJump, about how her health and wellbeing programme aims to help the ‘whole’ school grow mentally, emotionally and physically.

Challenges happen

Challenges happen and knowing how to deal with them is important. I started MindJump four years ago, only back then I didn't know what it was. At the time I was going through some really tough personal challenges and I embarked on several self-help courses and realised that the Mindful techniques were not only having a huge positive affect on my health and wellbeing but making a big difference to the behaviours, confidence and happiness of my own children – it was magic. So I wanted to find out more and trained with other leading practitioners. That was when I created MindJump – a health and wellbeing programme to help the ‘whole’ school grow mentally, emotionally and physically.

The MindJump programme looks at six key areas, encouraging staff to improve their own health, happiness and wellbeing by learning new and easy strategies to enhance their experience and gain an understanding of how to thrive during challenging times. Doing this encourages a growth mindset whilst creating a sense of calm and wellbeing in our schools. Supporting experiences and outcomes as part of the Curriculum for Excellence, the fun and innovative tools and techniques can be lifted into the classroom and used with great success across curriculum areas in a variety of ways including at whole class, group or individual level. The programme can easily be delivered to the wider community so that they can get involved and support the activities.

As part of the Scottish Government’s Attainment Challenge, it’s vital that we improve health and wellbeing in our schools and we can all benefit from helping make positive choices and learn to deal with challenges in a much more confident way. Using a combination of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Neuro Linguistic Practice, Calm Kids Meditation, Reiki, Emotional Freedom Therapy and Rainbow Kids Yoga, MindJump offers tools and techniques that provide skills for life mentally, emotionally, socially and physically that can be taken from early years into adulthood.

What can MindJump do?

  • Encourage positive energy
  • Reduce stress and absences
  • Improve relaxation and sleep
  • Increase focus and attainment
  • Build resilience and confidence
  • Improve mind and body connection

How do we do it?

MindJump looks at the ‘whole’ person by concentrating on these six key areas.

  1. Exercise – having a healthy mind and healthy body is really important as we all live in a ‘doing’ culture that measures everything we do or possess. Being over stimulated means that we are seldom allowed to ‘just be’. Meditation when done regularly allows us to discover a deeper sense of wellbeing and allows everyone to start from a place of balance. The benefits of this are: reduced stress, improved emotional control, reduced aggressiveness and anxieties, increased focus, memory and concentration, help to release negative thoughts and build self-confidence. Combining meditation with yoga improves our mind and body connection and promotes an overall sense of wellbeing.
  2. Environment – encouraging us to accept that what goes on inside our bodies affects our outside world and what’s happening outside also affects what goes on inside us too. In life, challenges show up; for some they might be small, daily ones and for others they might be life changing. It’s important we know how to navigate our way through these challenges and understand the way they make us think, feel and behave, learning to change what we can and let go of what we can’t is important to keep us balanced, happy and healthy. Using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy participants learn goal setting. Doing this improves their ability to plan and prioritise, prepare for change and improve focus and mental flexibility.
  3. Confidence – celebrating what we’re good at and learning how to cope when we’re not feeling our best is important for keeping us connected emotionally, mentally and physically. When we feel connected we feel really good about ourselves and our verbal and body language is positive; but what happens when we don’t feel like this? Negative thoughts and emotions manifest themselves as physical symptoms; understanding this means we can learn to control our unhelpful thinking by changing our thought process allowing for more emotional flexibility and strengthening impulsive actions.
  4. Sleep – recognising why sleep is important for all of us, the impact sleep has on our cognitive functions and how we can achieve the best sleep possible is covered in this area. Offering tools and techniques to set down healthy sleep habits for a lifelong practice, encourages key executive functions, connects home and school relationships and improves overall emotional, mental and physical health and wellbeing.
  5. Thoughts and feelings – emotional flexibility is important and understanding the full range of thoughts and emotions in ourselves and others is healthy, helping us to manage our behaviour better and build healthy relationships. This can be done by offering four simple questions. This tool helps to reduce impulsive behaviour, encourage emotional control, engage mind and body connection and raise self-awareness.
  6. Diet and hydration – this programme is not ‘eat this don’t eat that’. It is about making healthy choices around food and drink, helping us to stay balanced, happy and healthy. Understanding that the choices we make influence the way we think, feel and behave is important in establishing lifelong habits and encouraging positive choices. The link between mood and food is a two-way one; there’s a large emotional influence on what we eat and drink so by identifying the thought/feeling/behaviour/action we can help change the things we can and let go of the things we can’t. This encourages many more positive, healthy, lifelong practices.

Dundee University recently carried out research on the MindJump programme delivered in select primary schools in North Lanarkshire, measuring the impact on individuals mentally, emotionally, physically and socially. The feedback from the teachers, pupils and parents was amazing, with teachers saying 'they felt happier, healthier and calmer'. Pupils felt better too, adding ‘and it’s good because usually our classes they are noisy and so everyone was calm’. They were keen to share their learning in the playground and at home saying ‘I told my friend cos she was annoyed with someone. I told her to take like breaths in and like use the technique’.

MindJump is available to every member of staff in early years, primary and secondary schools across Scotland. Reducing stress levels in the staffroom leads to improved health and wellbeing in the classrooms. Delivered in-house to small groups by way of twilight sessions, in-service days or non-class contact time, all materials for use in schools are included.

I know from my own experience the difference MindJump can bring and the many benefits improving mental, emotional and physical health this programme delivers. Start your journey now.

Get in touch today to find out the difference MindJump can bring to you and your school.

Contact Caroline Farquhar on 07703 577005 or check out:


Maureen McKenna

26 April 2016

We hear from Maureen McKenna, Executive Director of Education at Glasgow City Council, about the progress of the Making Maths Count group.

Transforming Scotland’s attitude to maths

As Chair of the Making Maths Count group tasked with increasing enthusiasm for maths, I’m delighted to update you on our work and our interim report.

As Executive Director of Education at Glasgow City Council, it’s no surprise that educating our young people is my priority. But, as a maths teacher, challenging the negative attitudes and myths that surround maths has been my lifetime’s work – so Making Maths Count is the place for me.

Our group brings together colleagues from education, alongside experts from the fields of business and science. This mix of expertise has been invaluable in helping us look at the issues from different perspectives and will be crucial as we delve into the detail of potential solutions.

In our interim report we’ve outlined three main areas of work we’ll be focusing on ahead of our final report this summer:

  • Transforming public attitudes to maths.
  • Improving confidence and fluency in maths.
  • Promoting the value of maths as an essential skill for every career.

That first area I would argue is a must if we’re to succeed with the others. For some reason, similar to many western nations, too many people are happy to be labelled as being “no good with numbers”.

Harmless fun? No, this attitude is holding us back educationally, economically and socially.

Transforming attitudes is going to require everyone’s input. We’re looking at what can shift the nation’s psyche, but making maths fun and making maths relevant to real life situations are two of the messages coming through from the thousands of responses we had to our online survey.

We’ve seen a lot of work in recent years to encourage engagement with reading and writing. We want to look at what we can learn from that and how we can get across the message that maths skills are as important as literacy. After all we use them every day, whether it be reading a train timetable, budgeting or doing DIY.

Too many people think maths is all about numbers but it is so much more – patterns, shapes and problem-solving are all critical areas for skills for life, learning and work. This is not appreciated enough as too often people try to avoid using the word maths, because they know it can make people nervous. ‘Problem-solving’, and ‘logical thinking’ aren’t separate from maths. They’re part of the fundamental set of skills that that all should have.

Improving mental resilience and instilling learners with confidence will be key to enabling them to participate in maths, to whatever level they wish to take it to for their personal goals and ambitions.

That could be the individual we spoke to who is faced with managing their diabetes and finds the calculations involved are really quite daunting. Or the wonderful pupil who described how she uses maths on the football pitch. Being good at maths will certainly never hold you back.

So whether it be mastering fundamental maths skills for everyday life, or going on to study Highers or beyond to open the door to a career in many vital and growing sectors such as digital technology or engineering, we want to show maths is for everyone.

Read the Interim Report

Visible Learning Midlothian

15 April 2016

The Visible Learning team, Midlothian, recently held #VLNetworkUK to collaborate and share practice in Visible Learning.

Visible Learning in Action - #VLNetworkUK Gathers in Midlothian

On 11 March practitioners from all corners of the UK gathered in Midlothian to collaborate about Visible Learning and the impact it is having on teachers and ultimately learners. The buzz was audible; this was a fantastic opportunity for collaboration and professional dialogue. For us in Midlothian, the greatest impact was the feedback from our visitors about the impact of Visible Learning on the learners, teachers and the wider community.

Read more in our two blog posts:

Stepping back to leap forward

#VLNetworkUK Gathers in Midlothian

To hear more from two schools in Midlothian as they develop Visible Learning you can follow their blogs:

Hawthornden Primary School

Roslin Primary School

Teaching Scotland team

15 February 2016

Elkie Kammer, Support for Learning teacher, shares her thoughts on equality and the attainment gap.

The attainment gap

I am more and more wondering whether the problem of inequality lies at least partially with what we are measuring as attainment. Assessments predominately focus on literacy and numeracy, although, as has been explored in Multiple Intelligences, there are many other areas in which people can excel. In our society it is generally accepted that work based on skills in literacy and numeracy is of higher value than work based on physical strength and manual skills. This is especially evident in the wage gap between different occupations. And yet, we all know that for example in a hospital the cleaners are of equal importance as the doctors, though in status and monetary value we treat both groups very differently.

In my opinion, in order to break the cycle of poverty and to close the attainment gap, we first have to change the ethos of our society and acknowledge that all skills are of equal value. We need to widen the curriculum and especially the assessment process to incorporate and recognise a greater variety of skills, be they academic, creative or practical. At the same time we have to narrow the huge wage gap in our society in order to reward more equally whatever skills people bring to the functioning of our communities. Maybe instead of talking about the Attainment Gap we should address the inequality in measuring and valuing attainment.

Teaching Scotland team

30 November 2015

Geoff Ogle, Chief Executive at Food Standards Scotland, talks about their new online game and teacher guidance, Cookin Castle.

We created Cookin Castle to educate eight to 12 year olds about healthy eating and good food hygiene in a fun and interactive way. It was important for us to create a resource for children as the diet of Scotland’s young people needs to improve drastically. The current intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre is too low and the consumption of sugar, saturated fat and salt is far too high. As a result, 29% of children in Scotland are already at risk of becoming overweight or obese when they enter adulthood, increasing their risks of developing type 2 diabetes. 

The amount of sugar consumed by Scottish children has been a huge contributing factor to the fact that 32% of pupils in Primary One and 27% of pupils in Primary Seven have dental decay. All of this is entirely diet related and therefore preventable.


The game was successfully piloted by 500 pupils in schools across Scotland before the launch in September and we received many supportive comments after this, including one teacher who said the game “engaged a section of pupils who may otherwise not apply their knowledge, gaining further depth and understanding”.

Cookin Castle supports the Scottish Government’s Health and Wellbeing area of the Curriculum for Excellence so teachers are able to use the online game as an educational resource. Our chief goal is for schools across the country to use it as a tool in the classroom to help children make better decisions about food and take this knowledge home to their families. Educating and engaging with children on the importance of healthy eating and food hygiene is crucial to help halt the formation of poor dietary habits and instead encourage healthy behaviours to take them into adulthood. And if children start talking about what they have learned in school about healthy diets and that encourages more parental engagement that can only be a good thing. Diet in the home needs to be a whole family activity so that learning in school is translated to changes in the diet at home.

Cookin Castle is just one step Food Standards Scotland is taking to provide children with a solid foundation for establishing lifelong healthy eating habits.

Charlaine Simpson

11 November 2015

Charlaine Simpson, Senior Education Officer, talks about her journey from supply teaching to leadership roles, and now to a seconded post at GTCS.

My journey from Teacher to Senior Education Officer

Having graduated in 1992 from Moray House, I was let loose into an education system where permanent jobs were scarce. In the months from August to December, I did supply work in 14 out of the 17 high schools in what was Central Region. I think that this gave me a good foundation from which to develop adaptability and classroom management skills as I was in lots of different environments in quick succession (mostly with support but sometimes not!). I once had a group of S1 pupils believing I was a science teacher in the morning (which I was) then a music teacher in the afternoon (not in a million years!).

On the last day of term I was called to ‘interview’ for a part-time temporary job. I waited to be called – but no call came. At 12.30pm (the schools broke up at 1.45 pm) I called the school and got the job. Later the Principal Teacher told me it was only because I phoned back first!

Excitedly, I started the new session into a science department where I was the tenth man – yes, me and nine guys. It was a little daunting; I would comment that some department meetings were like ‘swimming in a sea of testosterone!’ During this time I was asked to take on responsibility for the 5-14 development as some of my colleagues were still not onboard with this change. This is where I cut my teeth in leading and managing others. I didn’t realise at the time but the skills I developed in this environment have formed the bedrock for how I interact and support colleagues throughout my career.

I quickly expanded beyond the department and got involved in whole-school activities. I adored taking part in events and continued to do so until I moved to GTCS this year. I had the privilege to learn with students in environments beyond the boundaries of the school. This gave me a whole new experience and lens through which to reflect on how children learn, and what inspires and motivates individuals. There have been a few bumps and scrapes along the way but these are opportunities I would strongly suggest that all teachers get involved in. It is exhausting, and it can be messy and basic (I don’t do spartan very well!), but these experiences are amazing and worthwhile.

Throughout my career I have taken opportunities and have learned to say yes when it feels 'right’ or ‘scary’, and then worked out 'how to' on the way. Being a Principal Teacher of Science has opened up lots of opportunities to work with some amazing people and to lead the curriculum. I am passionate about ensuring all pupils’ needs are met and have loved the chance to develop creative and innovate learning experiences through the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence. Colleagues have inspired me to take risks, be reflective and make changes that we firmly believed to be right for students in our school.

I also had the absolute privilege to lead and manage the Creative and Aesthetic Faculty, which I still find funny! But this experience was incredible; it allowed me to put leadership skills into practice in a new context and develop new ways of working with the curriculum and with colleagues. The faculty colleagues were so supportive and patient when I asked again, 'Why is this not like this?' No-one rolled their eyes (that I saw anyway!), and someone would very carefully explain again that it’s more subjective and there is no correct response, unlike in science!

My first foray as Acting Depute really opened my eyes to a more holistic approach to leading and managing people. As Acting Depute, I was most excited when leading learning and teaching, working alongside colleagues to make improvements that would benefit our young people. Part of this was to lead a group of Aspiring Principal Teachers throughout the session, to give an impression of the Principal Teacher role and to allow space for professional dialogue and reflection. I was involved in supporting teacher learning via the first line ‘Lead or not to Lead’ opportunity and the Teaching for Deep Learning, supporting colleagues across the Council to develop pedagogical and leadership skills.

After completing the Scottish Qualification for Headship, I decided to complete a postgraduate certificate in Supporting Teacher Learning. At this time, I also became a Development Fellow for a time-limited project with the University of Stirling to develop an enquiry framework to support the transition of probationary teachers to career-long professional learning, and I was also a critical colleague to aspiring MEd candidates. These experiences really supported my development in research and helped me to develop a professional learning network through Twitter. This led me to Pedagoo and I have subsequently delivered at three Pedagoo events. I find Pedagoo inspiring as it is ‘for teachers by teachers’, and I love the sharing and learning that goes on at the events but also on a weekly basis as practitioners share their learning via the Pedagoo blog and #PedagooFriday.

So now I am seconded to GTCS as Senior Education Officer for Research and Professional Learning. I am amazed at the support that is offered by GTCS beyond its registration and Fitness to Teach processes. The wealth of knowledge and experience is astounding, given there are only five Senior Education Officers in the whole organisation, all with their own remits but having a commonality in supporting Professional Update. In taking up the reigns, I hope I am offering support to help practitioners engage with research and adopt an ‘enquiry as stance’ approach to their professional learning. I truly believe in the dispositions entailed in ‘enquiry as stance’ – this is the way in which we can continue to grow as practitioners but also improve the life chances of Scotland’s young people.

Charlaine will be presenting at Pedagoo's EnquiryMeet on Saturday 14 November at Grangemouth High School.

Find out more about the event

Follow Charlaine on Twitter:


Follow Charlaine's personal blog:


Teaching Scotland team

25 September 2015

Emma Hely, a History/Modern Studies teacher at Buckie High School in Moray, talks about her eye-opening experience teaching in Rwanda.

I am not entirely sure what I was expecting before the trip. I knew that there would be culture shock and I knew it would be pretty hot but I don’t think I was prepared for the reality of life in Rwanda. It is a beautiful country and the people there are welcoming and friendly. I worked in E.S. Kamabuye ( a secondary school) and spent a lot of my time in G.S Myange (a combined nursery, primary and secondary). Both schools are 15 minutes from Nyamata, which is a town in the Bugesra region of Rwanda. The location itself was great. We had access to a regular market and a paved, concrete road to and from our schools. We travelled by local bus that cost 50p and sat between 14 and 20 people. There was enough room for 14 at a push. Twenty was definitely crowded! We had a few power cuts but nothing we couldn’t handle. Water was an issue as it was the dry season combined with a drought meaning that many had to go quite a long way to fetch water. Houses and families were hoarding 25 litre jerry cans whenever water was available, as they knew it would not last.

Scottish teacher Emma Hely pictured at her placement in Rwanda

I lived with Hollie Shearer, an early years primary practitioner at Strathburn Primary School. We worked side by side with Cledonia, our mentor, who was an educated and strong woman. She genuinely cared for the people she worked with and was passionate about improving practice and bringing in counselling and guidance to Rwandan education. Ugandan born, she was a friend and a guide to all things Rwandan. It was through working with Cledonia that I began to really see the challenges Rwandan teachers face.

Like many teachers here in Scotland I am used to a certain level of comfort in my classroom. Our expectations are that the power will be on and our classrooms will have projectors, white boards and maybe even a SmartBoard. We all face challenges in teaching and we all feel the pressure when our learning aids falter.

The contrast to the schools in Rwanda could not be more different.

Scottish teacher Emma Hely pictured at her placement in Rwanda

The schools do not have the luxuries we do; in fact they are often without power for large chunks of the day. The one computer I saw working in E.S Kamabuye often cut out mid-typing and the teachers just started all over again when it did come back to life. The teachers are teaching topics and lessons without the equipment we are used to using here. Science lessons occur every day without the materials to practice an experiment. Just the word of the teacher saying if you try it, it will happen. There are ICT and computing classes being taught with no computers, just the teacher writing the information on the blackboard. The challenges these teachers face are far greater than ours. They are challenges that I know I could not teach through. But they overcome them every day and keep pushing through to give the children in front of them the best education they can. To see the teachers in Rwanda teach and educate students despite these challenges was eye opening.

However, there were similarities too. The teachers were eager to try new things and wanted to improve their teaching as much as possible. They wanted to help the students in front of them the best they could. Teachers were giving up lunchtimes and free time to sit with pupils to go over any issues they may have or to help them catch up with any gaps in knowledge. In fact, the schools I worked in had specific after-school catch-up sessions to ensure girls, and other children that seemed likely to drop out or could fail, were catered for. Staff stayed behind to try and help those who needed it. Just like we do here. Teachers are still writing reports but for the 60 to 80 children they teach in class, not the 20 to 30 we teach.

Students are students no matter the location, resources or school. Younger children were playing games at playtime and were eager to greet the visitors. Teenagers were a little more laid back and many focused on exams over the visitor. The English Club at Kamabuye was the exception. The children in the club were eager to talk at any time and practice their English. The group performed role-plays for me based around scenarios, and their command of a language that is not their own was remarkable. The club had clearly worked hard on vocabulary, performance and even a few chat up lines! This was a highlight of my time in Kamabuye. The fact the students had been in school since 7 am and stayed 4 hours after home time to take part showed me their commitment and eagerness to learn.

Scottish teacher Emma Hely pictured at her placement in Rwanda

Another great moment was when Hollie and I were working on a writing project at G.S. Myange. Not only was watching 11 to 13 year olds write a book in English that they had worked on for hours hugely satisfying, but watching them take such pride in the illustrations and hand writing was humbling. Watching them be creative and be so proud of their work was lovely. On top of this, a few of the morning primary school students had been watching and were interested in the project. They even came in to read the books from the library over and over again as if fascinated by the stories. We managed to go outside and read with them, which was a lovely spontaneous moment. We had them jumping like frogs, baa-ing like sheep and swimming like fish. When we went back inside a few of them read to me in Kinyarwanda and English from the books. It was wonderful to see them so confident, hours after school, as they proudly read to me as I had read to them. Moments like that reaffirmed why I wanted to teach.

The whole experience was eye opening. I haven’t looked at anything the same since. From the convenience of a supermarket to the luxury of a flushing toilet, I see nearly everything with a new view point. School is so different over there. From class sizes to children actively seeking further education and skills. Teachers who face huge challenges, including English and low pay, but are still committed to helping children learn and grow. I met some amazing people and worked alongside some fantastic practitioners. Inspire, Educate and Empower Rwanda is a fantastic organisation that used the entire cohort to the best of their ability. From in-school training, to training sessions for all 60 IEE mentors. This ensured it was not just the 15 schools with a visiting teacher that benefitted, but all mentors got a chance to learn from the Scottish teachers. It was a truly empowering and humbling experience and I cannot wait to put the skills and knowledge I gained to good use in my classroom and school.

Teaching Scotland team

9 September 2015

Primary school teacher John Steel updates us on his teaching experience in Rwanda.

I want you to imagine that you have received a memo from your headteacher that you have to attend a meeting after school. The memo does not state the subject matter of the meeting but simply states the time and says in bold IMPORTANT. At the meeting you are told that you will no longer be teaching in English but will instead be switching to Spanish. How do think you would feel? Please take a moment to contemplate this.

Class teacher John Steel in Rwanda

This is the very challenge many teachers in Rwanda have had to face since switching from teaching in French to teaching in English seven years ago. In 2008 the Rwandan government announced a switch to teaching in English. They said this was key to regional and global business and trade. Having just spent a month working in Rwandan schools I have been able to see where English is developing and where there are still challenges.

As I mentioned in my last blog I was taking part in the Global Learning Partnerships programme, which is organised by The Wood Foundation and sends teachers from Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Angus and Moray to work in Rwandan schools with I.E.E. (International Education Exchange aka Inspire, Educate and Empower) mentors. The I.E.E. mentors are involved in teacher training and are vital in supporting the switch to English.

I was based at G.S. Gasaka School in the Nyamagabe district of the Southern Province. The first thing that struck me in the district and many other parts of the country is the beauty of the landscape. G.S. Gasaka looks over one of many spectacular valleys in the region.

I was introduced to the I.E.E. mentor I was going to be working with in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the evening before travelling to Gasaka. His name is Boaz and he is a Ugandan national and has been a mentor for a few years. Boaz became an excellent guide to Rwandan education and activities at G.S. Gasaka, as well as a good friend.

Gasaka School is very close to Kigeme refugee camp which hosts refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The camp has its own school with a role of around 6,000 but due to the volume of children in the camp around half of Gasaka’s role are refugee children. The overall role of the whole school is around 2,000. This has meant that teachers are educating classes of around 40–60 learners. Pupils sit at benches attached to a long desk and learn from the teacher at the front of the room.

A Rwandan Classroom

On my first day at Gasaka I was welcomed by the headteacher and staff. I was asked various questions in the staffroom about my personal and professional life that helped the staff in getting to know me. One of the first activities that I took part in was to observe a couple of lessons with Boaz. He explained to me that observing lessons was very much to support the teachers with their strengths and areas for improvement. Something that struck me when observing teachers in Rwanda is how good they are at energising their learners at the start of lessons. They use many songs and rhymes to do so. Coupled with the enthusiasm the pupils already show, they are very much ready to learn. Boaz also helps the teachers with identifying learning objectives and planning. Feedback is also given straight after observations so that the teachers can build on their skills quickly.

As well as observing lessons I was asked to provide some learning experiences with the children and did so to support problem solving in maths as well as strategies for reading lessons. I also carried out CPD on reading strategies with the staff.

On the whole lessons varied. With the challenge of having to teach in English some teachers are relying on textbooks that have outdated literacy and numeracy concepts. Through the school based mentors I.E.E. are trying to implement a more progressive and active approach to learning. This can be seen through various projects taking place at Gasaka including an art group who produced books based on Rwandan life for me to bring back to Scotland. The drawings by Primary 5 pupils are detailed, imaginative and of a high quality. As well as this I was given items made by a knitting group that included a book bag and a table cloth.

On top of this there is an enterprise initiative taking place at Gasaka where the children are learning farming techniques whilst growing crops to (hopefully) be sold.

Children learning farming techniques

Boaz also runs an English club where pupils are encouraged to recite poems, perform songs, create writing and take part in plays. I was given the opportunity to teach the children a Scottish song that they responded well to. They now know a few Scottish words to implement and enhance their English.

Friday morning assemblies at Gasaka are something that I will always be in awe of. With one teacher chanting a line the children sang back with an energy and enthusiasm that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Assemblies are an important way to get the day started. School starts at 7 am and ends at 5 pm. This is achieved with the children coming in two different shifts resulting in a very long day for the teachers.

Overall I had a very positive time at Gasaka. I was made to feel very welcome by the staff and children and shared some very memorable moments.

While working at Gasaka I stayed in a house nearby with my colleagues Adam Douglas, who is a physics teacher at Aberdeen Grammar, and Tim Whimster, who is a class teacher at Kittybrewster Primary School in Aberdeen. They were both placed at Kigeme Camp School. Our accommodation was basic but very comfortable comprising a living room, three bedrooms, a kitchen and a plumbed in toilet. This is a luxury a lot of the rest of our cohort didn’t have, having to use a long drop instead. We were also lucky to have electricity as this was not a feature of everyone's home.

Going out and about in the local community gave us a real sense of how it can feel to be in a minority. Locals were not used to seeing white people and showed a lot of interest in us. This was mostly positive interest and everywhere we went we were usually accompanied by a group of children who wanted to chat with us.

As well as being based in various different schools the cohort also went back to Kigali for a few days to deliver CPD for the I.E.E. mentors. It was on one such occasion, half way through the trip, that I suffered a slight set back. During my stay at Gasaka I had noticed a lump on my upper right arm with reddened skin. I thought it was a bite so got it checked out at hospital in Kigali. The doctors discovered it was an abscess with around 8 cm of infected fluid underneath it. I was told I would have to go under general anaesthetic to get it removed. I had a dilemma, go back home and get it seen to or go ahead with the operation in Kigali. At that point I felt very alone and far from home but this was soon remedied by the care and love shown from I.E.E., the teachers in my cohort and The Wood Foundation who were on the other end of the telephone. Before I knew it there was a group at the hospital to support me. I was also given confidence by the knowledge and professionalism of the staff at King Faisal hospital in Kigali. A senior doctor told me that if I didn’t get the abscess and related fluid removed I could risk septicaemia. This made my decision for me and I decided to go with the operation. I was very impressed with the care I received at the hospital and my abscess wound has almost fully healed as I write. As a result of the operation and some other medical issues Adam, Tim and I had to spend the whole of our third week in Kigali. This however became a positive as we got to work in a city school as well as visiting a couple of nursery schools. This allowed us to make a comparison with the rural schools we had been working in.

John Steel with pupils in Rwanda

There were many great moments in Rwanda and trips that the cohort took part in including visiting Nyungwe rainforest and going on a canopy walk, visiting Akagera National Park for a Safari, visiting the Volcanoes National Park in Virunga to spend time with a family of mountain gorillas and visiting a traditional cultural village where we took part in a mock traditional wedding, drank banana beer, danced like warriors and gifted goats to local families.

However the main thing I will always remember about Rwanda is the warmth, friendliness and love of the people from the many smiles and hellos to the passionate and celebratory send off the I.E.E. gave the cohort. I would highly recommend the Global Learning Partnerships programme to any teacher. It is very enriching and enlightening. My colleague Suzanne Munro (Craigievar Primary) from the cohort said, “Rwanda is a feeling, you can only get it when you are there.” It is certainly a feeling I would welcome any day.

In my next blog I will be back at work in Scotland and continuing learning on Global Citizenship. I am starting a new post at the beginning of the session at Seaton Primary School in Aberdeen. I will still be linking with Gasaka School and am also taking part in an exciting literacy project that Christine Beard (Depute Headteacher, Hazlehead Primary) has been running between Rwanda and Scotland.

Teaching Scotland team

23 July 2015

This summer fifteen Scottish teachers have headed to Rwanda to live and work for four weeks. Emma Hely and John Steel share their thoughts on the eve of their departure.

Emma Hely, History/Modern Studies teacher, Buckie High School

Scottish teachers taking part in the Global Learning Partnerships programme 2015

My name is Emma Hely and I am a History/Modern Studies teacher at Buckie High School in Moray. I have been fully qualified for a year and it has been an amazing year teaching the young people at Buckie High. Travelling is a passion of mine. I love to see the world. More accurately than that, I love the experience of travelling. Mingling with new cultures, visiting new places and getting lost in every place I visit. I have spent time living in China and the USA and have travelled to various other places too. The Global Partnership opportunity was presented to me at a meeting in Elgin and I immediately emailed asking for an application. Both my students and myself have been eagerly researching and learning about Global Citizenship, and development in Africa and Rwanda itself. The students are excited for me and have asked on several occasions if I could steal a Gorilla for them. I politely declined their request.

I leave in two days. That means 48 hours to soak in Wi-Fi, long hot showers and the comfort of the familiar. I am nervous/excited about the trip but I feel as physically ready as I can be. My main concern would be not being valuable to the host school. We are going out there to help education and help the teachers in Rwanda to get a perspective on what education is like here. We hope that we can help their education system in any small ways we can. I know that I will take everything I can from the visit and use it to alter, inform and mould my teaching here. I just hope I can make even a small contribution to the team in Rwanda too.

I have been butchering the Kinyarwanda language and trying to prepare CPD to suit the needs of my host school. I am being placed in E.S. Kamabuye, which is close to Nyamata in the Bugesera region of Rwanda. I will be staying in Nyamata which is steeped in history and will be an amazing base for me. I will be staying with a primary teacher from Aberdeen and we are both excited to attempt to navigate cooking for two on a hot plate together. Over there we plan to deliver CPD to schools and best facilitate the teachers we work with. We will observe the school and see what we can do to hep the school grow and develop. We will work closely with IEE and a school-based mentor to ensure what we are doing is in aid of the school. It will not be all work. We have managed to squeeze in a safari in Akagera National Park and a mountain trek to see the endangered Gorillas in the wild.

This will be one of the best experiences of my life and I am definitely nervous, excited and ready to embrace the experience. I can only hope that my trip is as fantastic as advertised; that I make even a small difference to education in Rwanda; that it is as beneficial to teaching as I hope; and that my friends and family do not tire of the stories I tell when I come back.

John Steel, class teacher, Kintore Primary School

Rwandan school children

Hello, my name is John Steel and I currently teach a Primary 4 class at Kintore Primary School in Aberdeenshire. I decided to take part in the Global Learning Partnership programme run by The Wood Foundation so I could learn about education in another culture and gain an insight into how I as a teacher in Scotland can relate to this. I am really looking forward to working collaboratively with teachers in Rwanda and I am sure I will gain an experience that I will be able to use when teaching back in Scotland. I will be placed at G.S. Gasaka School in the Nyamagab area of Rwanda. This is next to The Kigeme refugee camp where two of my colleagues will be placed. I am also hoping to gain some experience in the camp. My colleagues and I will be working alongside mentor teachers from The International Education Exchange, based in Rwanda.

I have been very fortunate to be teaching some very conscientious pupils this year who have helped me in preparing for my trip. The class have been enthusiastically learning about Global Citizenship aspects such as needs and wants and how these link to rights. They have also been linking Global Citizenship to other topics such as engineering by learning about how simple materials can be used effectively.

The class would like me to find out about the daily routine of a child in Rwanda so they can compare it with their own day. They also want me to take plenty of photographs of the Rwandan landscape and wildlife. The class would like to also know how children in Rwanda entertain themselves.

As I write this final paragraph I am anticipating flying to Rwanda the next day. I am a bit anxious about going into the unknown but mostly excited about what I am sure will be a life changing experience that will have a positive impact on me personally and professionally. My next blog will be written from Rwanda. I hope to have internet access at some point to post it during my visit.

The Wood Foundation's Global Learning Partnerships programme has been accredited by GTC Scotland for Professional Recognition in Global Learning.

Learn more about Professional Recognition

Learn more about the Global Learning Partnerships programme

Jackie Brock

26 June 2015

The ethos of the new Education Bill is welcome but are appropriate resources in place to deliver on its promises, asks Children in Scotland’s Chief Executive Jackie Brock

From B minus to A plus


When a new Education (Scotland) Bill was introduced to Parliament by Cabinet Secretary, Angela Constance, Children in Scotland was encouraged by its intention to reduce inequality of outcome by introducing legislative measures around content, delivery and fulfilment of education practices in Scotland.

Too many children from deprived backgrounds finish their formal education with significantly lower levels of attainment than their more affluent peers. Children in Scotland strongly supports the current political priority of reversing this trend.

We welcome measures contained within the Bill aimed at narrowing the attainment gap. The Bill will bring a fresh impetus to those with local and national responsibility for delivering education services to concentrate specifically on addressing the needs of children experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.

However, while additional focus on the needs of this particular group of pupils is welcome, we fear that the Education Bill will have a limited impact on its own. We believe, in order for it to be effective, ‘inequalities of outcome’ should be interpreted as broadly as possible. It should encompass both academic attainment as well as other factors that influence outcomes, such as those outlined in the Curriculum for Excellence.

The Bill, as it stands, does not allow education authorities any further power to take action over and above the steps they are able to take. Long-term, sustained and evidence-led strategies that are targeted on improving every aspect of the lives of those affected by poverty are clearly required. While this Bill represents an important and necessary statement of intent, it must form part of a series of measures aimed at tackling this longstanding issue if it is to achieve the outcomes that are desired. National and local level reporting could provide valuable statistical information that will aid in development and increase accountability. This will help inform what wider community action and intervention should be taken.

With regards to the planned extension of rights under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, we welcome steps that would strengthen the role played by children to make choices that effect their own lives. However, we are mindful of the potential for conflict – either in situations where a parent or guardian disagrees with the course of action pursued by their child, or when the local authority disagrees that a child has the requisite capacity to use their rights. Consideration and great care must also be given to the decision-making process around who has and who doesn’t have such capacity.

Finally, expanding the provision of Gaelic Medium Education (GME) with a standardised process to handle requests in a timely and efficient manner is undoubtedly welcome, as is the introduction of greater transparency and clarity, benefiting child, parent and local authority alike. However, in a system where demand often outstrips supply, the Scottish Government, in partnership with Bòrd na Gàidhlig, must ensure local authorities are properly supported in order to carry out these duties and that resources are made available in areas where demand is likely to be higher.

So while we support the ethos of the Bill, if it really is to make the long-term change in outcomes we all hope it will, we need to do a bit more background research as well as ensure there is the appropriate resources available to deliver on its promises. Then, it really will be worthy of an A+.