Visible Learning takes Scotland by storm

12 December, 2016

A couple of weeks into my new job as Director of Learning, Scotland with Osiris Educational I finally found some time to reflect on #VLScotland. The interest in #VLScotland was overwhelming, we had 400 delegates, a waiting list of 100 and we were trending on Twitter.  For those who weren’t able to come I hope I can provide a flavour of the day by summarising some of the key messages. You can also check out the tweets here.

On 7th November over 400 educators came together at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh for Scotland’s first Visible Learning conference, co-hosted by Midlothian Council, Osiris Educational and supported by General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS). There was much excitement about the opportunity to hear from the man himself, Professor John Hattie as well as the time and space to engage in professional learning and dialogue about Visible Learning. Ken Muir, Chief Executive of the GTCS was an excellent host for the day providing points of reflection for delegates about how the key messages relate to the current context of Scottish education.

The day consisted of two keynotes from Professor Hattie and a variety of workshops which provided an opportunity for delegates to explore elements of the Visible Learning approach. In addition there were case studies from schools, leaders and teachers who shared the impact of Visible Learning in their school. We were also lucky enough to have Graham Ogilvie with us to turn the words into pictures as the day unfolded (see below).

Professor Hattie had done his homework he had read How Good Is Our School 4, the National Improvement Framework and the Professional Standards. Aware of the Scottish attainment challenge and the focus on equity and excellence and the financial investment in this, one of his opening messages was that it’s not how much we invest in education it’s how we invest it that matters. Professor Hattie’s research helps us to answer the question about what works best in education, it allows us to invest our money, time and energy in the things that will have a significant effect on pupil learning and outcomes. Often, in education much of what we do is about change, we need to make sure we are making the right difference. Lots of teachers and schools are making the right difference, we need to recognise the success that we have and build on that success, building a coalition of success.

We have a tendency in education to talk about teaching and Professor Hattie urged us to change this narrative to talk about the impact of our teaching. He said Scotland has a good curriculum, we shouldn’t tinker with it instead we should focus on knowing our impact. Of course this means we need to understand what we mean by impact and it is this thinking that makes the difference.

impactWhen we talk about impact we don’t just mean data, we need to include the narrative of the learner’s experience. Pupil voice is a powerful measure of impact and progress. ‘High achieving schools are not always our best schools’ Hattie dropping those truth bombs’High achieving schools are not always our best schools’ Hattie dropping those truth bombsWhen teachers collaborate and focus on the impact of their teaching there is significant impact for their pupils.  The Midlothian case study delivered by three primary schools in Midlothian demonstrated what this can look like and the impact it has had on learning, teaching and pupil progress.

Professor Hattie reminded us of the reaction to a comment picked up in the media last year when it was reported that he said ‘teachers should not be researchers’. He clarified this by saying that teachers can be researchers in their own right but better to be evaluators of their own impact. The value and merit in evaluating our impact is about being able to answer not ‘what is’ but ‘so what’ – this is the value of teacher research. Professor Hattie urged teachers in Scotland to embrace the principle of teachers as evaluators and shout about the key message of How Good Is Our School 4 – ‘self-evaluation for self-improvement’.

To quote a tweet from the day, “’high achieving schools are not always our best schools’ Hattie dropping those truth bombs” (@MissMacL).  Achievement in schools involves confounding expectations, successful schools ensure that all pupils make progress.  Excellence and equity is about all children achieving at least a year’s progress for a year’s learning no matter their starting point. Focusing on progress will take care of attainment and we need to get better at understanding how to measure progress, not just attainment.

It’s our job to show our pupils what success look like, through this we set the goals for growth and help pupils know where they are going so they can measure their progress. Many children give up because they don’t know where they are going, they don’t understand the rules of the game of learning so it is our job to make these visible and explicit. We therefore need to make sure we build a language of learning across our school communities – pupils, teachers and families.

When was the last time you walked into a classroom and heard pupils thinking out loud?








Professor Hattie summarised some key points for us to consider in Scotland

  • More time for collaboration and within and across schools
  • More processes for the moderation of teacher judgement
    • More crowd sourcing and less meetings
    • Inspecting to help moderation not judge teaching
  • More esteem of expertise and develop high level of trust
  • More focus on learning and less on changing curricula
  • More measure of progress and less of only achievement

More excellence in implementation and impact cycles towards the dream

By building pupil, teacher and leader capacity we will build sustainable improved outcomes for pupils in Scotland. The purpose of education in Scotland is to help children exceed what they thought was possible, this requires us to be courageous. We have many inspired and passionate teachers in Scotland who are making a significant difference for our pupils but what next?









Visible Learning is a ‘one size fits one’ approach; each school has a unique story of visible learning. The Visible Learningplus Programme and professional learning delivers whole school change which is evidenced based and improves outcomes for learners. If you are interested in finding out more about how your school, cluster or Authority can get involved please get in touch!

Keep your eyes peeled for the next Scottish conference…

Sarah Philp

Director of Learning, Scotland

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