If you’ve seen the LEAP Principals’ Exchange information and are wondering whether you should apply…stop wondering and do it! The experience exceeded my expectations in all aspects.

This is the first year that Scotland has participated in the LEAP Programme. There were colleagues also from Ireland, Canada, England and The Netherlands.

My background is Additional Support for Learning. I have been Head Teacher of two ASL schools in Glasgow and am now Principal of NAS Daldorch House School, a 52 week residential school for young people with complex autism. I was matched through the LEAP Programme with Sandra Acevedo-Rugg, Learning and Engagement Co-ordinator with responsibility for a range of specialist services in NSW schools. During the programme I stayed with Sandra and her family. Before the visit I did have some apprehension about staying in the home of a complete stranger for almost two weeks and wondering whether either of us would find this stressful – not to mention hosting the return visit in my own home. Sandra and I discovered very quickly that we had more in common that our professional outlook and the time spent in her home was comfortable and upbeat. Her husband and family whole-heartedly embraced the exchange experience (corked hats and didgeridoo included, but that’s another story). I learned so much more about the Aussie culture than if I’d been a tourist or staying in a hotel. I’m looking forward to hosting Sandra and her husband when they come to Scotland.

There’s no debating that I worked hard during the exchange. Australians are happy to travel long distances. I accompanied Sandra most days to and from her office in Glenfield, a suburb of Sydney, on an almost two hour drive each way. I would then go with a member of her team on school visits. I saw a range of schools, elementary and Secondary, mainstream and special, including an Aspect School. Aspect is the Australian equivalent of National Autistic Society. One of the most interesting visits was to a high security facility for young offenders. The Australians were interested to hear about my school. They have no equivalent there. I already knew my school is unique!

I attended an Inservice day where the topic was “Classroom Observation”, something new for Australian teachers. I was asked to speak about what we do here and talked about our supportive, coaching approach to classroom observation which is what they aspire to. There is no formal Inspection process in Australia. Some believe that this has led to a deterioration in standards. Principals have autonomy, even to the point of declining the Director’s “advice” on how to manage their school!

The final day was a Conference in Sydney which focused on Professional Learning. One of the speakers was Helen Timperley. This was a highlight for me as Helen Timperley was much quoted by me in my Masters on Professional Learning through Coaching and Mentoring. I had a chat with her during morning tea. Incidentally, they do “morning tea” in a big way!

LEAP was a worthwhile professional experience. While I did not learn anything earth-shatteringly new, nor did I bring anything earth-shatteringly new with me to Australia, I saw different ways of doing familiar things. The exchange of views and ideas was stimulating and motivating. I met interesting people with interesting ideas. I enjoyed the dialogue and the different perspective. It was an exciting couple of weeks. Feedback at the Conference dinner was positive and animated from all participants.

I gained a lot on a personal level. I made new friends and experienced the culture at first hand. I enjoyed their balmy “winter” weather, much better than the summer here. Most days were sunny and 18 or 19 degrees. I got to explore Sydney. I have seen the iconic images of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House hundreds of times, but to see them in reality for the first time is a wow moment. I did the Skywalk on the outside of the Sydney Tower Eye. It was a white knuckle hour 268m above street level, partly on a glass platform. I went to Bondi Beach and paddled in the Pacific. I saw a roadsign that showed 1027km to the nearest city, Melbourne…it’s a big country! I met koala bears and fed kangaroos. I took the opportunity to travel to Australia via Hong Kong and to follow it with time in New Zealand with family.

LEAP was unforgettable for numerous reasons. I look forward to reciprocating my hosts’ hospitality with the Scottish experience, and would encourage anyone to do it.

Bernadette Casey, Principal, Daldorch House School and AHDS ASN representative.

Margaret Anne Ferguson

Keen to expand my horizons and undertake a professional adventure, I took part in the LEAP programme in July. This was a whirlwind 2 weeks with a blend of professional and social activities planned. Unfortunately, a 24 hour delay in Dubai meant I missed the first of these, the ‘Launch Lunch’ and the opportunity to meet the many LEAP participants from around the world.

My host, Stacey’s school was set within a brand new community facility and shares its site with an early education centre, a health centre, and a purpose built out of school facility. The school had capacity for 600 children but at the time of the visit only 85 children had enrolled.

The school is situated next to the Olympic Park where the children have excellent opportunities for outdoor learning and overnight camping! (Stacey is keen to develop outdoor learning so if anyone reading is a Forest School, please let me know so I can put you in touch!)

What struck me most during the visit was the investment in education in terms of the financial independence of schools and the staffing situation. An example of this would be absence cover – there is no expectation that a Principal will cover absences. Principals can purchase a computer package which allows them to view and select teachers they would wish to cover an absence. Having selected up to 5 possible cover teachers, the package sent text messages to those teachers in order. Cover teachers replied to the text message and secured the job! Simple! Another example would be ‘Long Service Leave’ which teachers accrue each year to allow them to take extended (paid) holidays.

One of the highlights was ‘The Schools Visit Programme’. I visited a school where teachers were released from class at Stage level for one hour every week for focussed tracking meetings. It was a privilege to observe one of these meetings, where teachers looked at reading targets and discussed the progress of groups and individual children. The meeting was led by a different teacher each time and experience and ideas were shared. This work was based around the Literacy and Numeracy continuum – similar to our experiences and outcomes.

One of my areas of interest was the implementation of Professional Standards and the range of opportunities for shared leadership. In New South Wales, staff at all levels are supported in their career long learning and this is linked to pay.

The Leadership Conference at the end of the Programme was entitled ‘From rhetoric to action’ – developing teaching capacity for improved student learning. A range of national and international experts shared their research and practical findings. It was interesting to note that around the globe we are all aware of the importance of insightful and relevant dialogue.

Of course, the Programme was not all about work! I had the chance to visit the Opera House, Botanic Gardens, and go for a sail round Sydney Harbour. Bondi Beach had lovely views!

A great option with the programme is to extend your stay! I stayed on in Australia to spend time with my daughter and explore some more of this beautiful country.

The return visit will take place from 20th– 30th September. I am looking forward to showing Stacey the many wonderful aspects of our education system and culture. I would recommend this peer-shadowing experience as a means of reflecting on practice and learning about new ways to tackle common issues.

A wonderful experience!

Margaret Anne Ferguson