The conference ran over three days and comprised: six keynotes; sixteen workshops; school visits; speed dating (entirely professional!); reporting and discussing ESHA and EU work; and a great deal of networking.

Rather than lead you through each and every session this conference report aims to pull out the key themes arising, a couple of the highlights and to give one reflection on the experience as a delegate from Scotland.


3 Key recurring themes

  1. Policy
  • Because of its strong links to earnings, employment, overall wealth and the well-being of individuals, education can reduce inequalities in societies, but it can also reproduce them.
  • Colleagues around Europe are facing many of the same challenges as we are (e.g. budget cuts, lack of applications for headship).
  • Politicians change frequently and are interested more in short term sound bites than long term improvements.
  • We are the ones who know pedagogy, that is our profession – less so parents, politicians and other professionals – educators, need to drive the long term change.
  • We can learn from one another but be careful to adapt not adopt.
  • Resist the temptation to make major school and system changes based on simple interpretation of simplistic tests and measures.
  • You cannot change a society’s culture in one PISA cycle.
  • Focus on addressing disadvantage and raising aspirations.
  • Our job centres are the place to look for answers. They are full of people who we have mis-educated.
  • Education needs to be seen as an investment rather than a cost. And, while adequate funding is essential, there is a lot more to it than money.
  • Education is so much more than chasing exam or PISA results.
  • Don’t forget the children!


  1. Education
  • Every generation is different, make sure education stays relevant.
  • We are moving from the Newtonian Paradigm when our world was simple, law-abiding and controllable, to the Quantum Paradigm in which our world is complex, chaotic and uncertain.
  • No individual can master all information, changes and future directions. The headteacher can no longer be in control of all school functions all of the time.
  • Consistency of conduct by staff provides coherence for pupils.
  • Teacher quality has a much bigger impact than class size.
  • Focus on the quality of expansionist pedagogy not attainment targets and standardised tests. Attainment follows creativity and engagement not jumping through tiny hoops.
  • Whilst we all look for ways to measure success and progress in a quick and easy way, it is vital that we do not narrow our curriculum and pare it down to the ‘easily measureable’.
  • Schools and HTs risk being paralysed by the sheer volume of data being collected/demanded.
  • Pupil progress, rather than attainment, must be the central measure.
  • Data in schools is important but be careful:
  • only collect as much as you need: champion the importance of professional judgement and sampling.
  • match the data you collect to your school’s priorities
  • look for trends and patterns
  • use the data to generate questions
  • act upon what the data tells you: celebrate success and challenge underperformance.


  1. Leadership
  • To improve outcomes, focus on leadership rather than management
  • Leadership is not a position or title, it is action and example.
  • Dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things but by the absence of vision.
  • If you are going to go on a journey you need to have a destination in mind with stops and signposts along the way.
  • Quality comes in small steps, incremental improvement.
  • Give everyone permission to make mistakes so that they can learn and move on.
  • Recognise those who go above and beyond.
  • Praise in public, reprove in private.
  • Leaders must create a positive climate with high expectations and clear goals for staff and pupils.
  • If we distribute leadership we risk feeling we are losing ground, losing power and losing control. But for staff to be part of the decision-making, the steering of future direction of a school, allows them to feel more in control and safe.
  • Collaboration is very difficult to among teachers who are king/queen of their own classroom – isolation is the enemy of improvement.
  • Change is not optional – “The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.“


Something that became very clear over the course of the conference was that one delegate’s highlight could be another’s low point and vice versa. It very much depended on whether the speaker’s contribution aligned with the priorities or challenges faced in each country. Out of all the keynote sessions there were two that stood out for Scottish delegates – Pasi Sahlberg and Guy Claxton.

Pasi Sahlberg delivered the first keynote session and pulled out a number of the key themes which were developed across the three days. He argued that the advent of PISA in 2000 had given rise to some worrying trends, that he called GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement), as countries sought to move up the rankings.

GERM had led to competition to be the best characterised by: increased standardisation (teaching to the rules rather than to the pupils); seeking to ‘weed-out’ rather than develop poorer teachers; promoted school choice over ensuring equity across school provision. On this final point Pasi highlighted recent report from Sweden and Australia which showed that competition between schools had worsened aggregate outcomes. In short, he argued that GERM was a corrosive response to PISA which had led to a reduction in system performance.

He urged delegates to stop the GERM and instead look at the alternative way:


Guy Claxton argued that it is not enough for education to be about preparing children with a set of experiences of knowing. 21st Century education needs to prepare children to think on their feet. To enable people to engage with new things. He argued that schools needed to gradually build up pupil exposure to unexpected situations to build resilience and challenge our learners to stay intelligently engaged in things that are complex, ambiguous and uncertain rather than opt out.

He discussed the importance of self-regulation and resilience as powerful predictors of success in later life. He also referred to the PEARLS study and how building capacity in relation to reading for pleasure rather than for assessment better equips a child to engage in all aspects of their later life.

Through an excellent, equitable and expansive education we can prepare our learners for the complex world they will live and work in. It can cultivate the personal habits our learners require personally (self-control, self-regulation and concentration), socially (kindness, honesty, empathy, tolerance) and epistemically (curiosity, determination, imagination, collaboration).

He described the habits of an ‘Expansive’ School as:

  • checking what you are told (could this avoid young people being recruited by extremists or indoctrinated by propagandists?)
  • asking interesting questions (could this lead to new ways of thinking about problems and new solutions to big questions of our time such as energy production and global climate change?)
  • thinking on our feet, unearthing problems and harnessing our imaginations to collaborate to find solutions (crowd sourced problem solving was a very new example of this way of working)
  • designing our own learning, being bold & trying new things, helping ourselves when we are stuck and checking and improving our own work (we will not always have access to leaders in a single place so we will have to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness)
  • seeking and valuing feedback (so that we can actively learn from our past performance – building resilience) and giving feedback to others
  • working well in different groups and networks, learning how to operate in different groups and networks, using technology to facilitate group working in dynamic networks.
  • listening carefully and respectfully

How often are you distracted by administration instead of checking that these things are being consistently applied across the school?

For an practical example of modelling constructive, honest and continuous feedback in a caring classroom go to and learn about Austin’s butterfly.

For more information on Guy Claxton:

One final highlight worthy of note…the Croatian Education Minister demonstrated his commitment to school leaders and learning from other systems by staying for almost all of the conference sessions. He gave a keynote highlighting his ambitions for the Croatian education system but also reflected on the considerable challenges they face – not least a very small and possibly shrinking budget. Despite this, they have a highly qualified teaching workforce, are following an ambitious programme for improvement and are developing a HT licencing system which seems not dissimilar to the proposals for a mandatory pre-appointment headship qualification set out in a recent consultation here.

My ESHA experience

My initial application to attend ESHA Conference 2014 stated that I would relish the opportunity to make links with other schools across Europe and extend and enhance the Global Citizenship opportunities offered to the pupils of my own school. I was not disappointed.

There were many opportunities to network and learn about other countries, their education systems and their individual school settings. Other delegates provided me with thought provoking ideas and insights into their countries’ approaches to education.

In particular, I met a wonderful group of Principals from The Netherlands who shared their country’s diverse approaches to aspects of education as well as speaking passionately about individual schools and their contexts. After exchanging email addresses, I was delighted to receive and email from arranging a visit to our schools along with 4 directors of education from surrounding areas. They plan to visit in March 2015 and this will provide us with a fabulous opportunity to establish links with schools from this area of the Netherlands and to set up communication between schools as well as involve our pupils in information sharing, joint projects and ultimately a possibility of exchange visits.

Our visit to a local school in Dubrovnik also provided opportunities to establish links between my own school and a school in Dubrovnik. The visit to a school in the heart of Dubrovnik old town, was a fabulous experience. While it can be said that the Education system in Croatia still has considerable challenges to overcome, the journey they have been on and the gains they have made must be recognised. Of course, children are children the world over and their presentation skills were excellent as they delivered a power point presentation to a formidable crowd of over 50 head teachers. Recognising another opportunity to promote global citizenship, I asked the staff if they could send me the pupils’ presentation to share with my own pupils on my return.

When I did so, the presentation from Dubrovnik was extremely well received. It generated a great buzz in the school with lots of inquisitive questions about these children and their very different school life. My pupils were keen to create their own powerpoint presentation to send in return and they are currently working very hard on sharing lots of different aspects of our school and our culture. We are confident that we will continue to communicate with our new friends and look forward to a long and rewarding partnership.