Costa Short Story Award

What a fabulous surprise.. not only shortlisted but this year’s winner. You can watch a short video of the presentation event here:

and read or listen to the winning story – ‘Rogey’ – here

Now I have to ease myself out of education and start taking my creative writing seriously!

Watch this space!!


The National Improvement Framework for Scottish Education

See also blog on national testing.

This is my abbreviated response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the proposed National Framework for Scottish Education. Responses are welcome either here as comments or to my e.mail at


I wholeheartedly endorse the vision and commend the political commitment to realising it in practice. Setting out a clear vision and values for Scottish education is helpful. However, the document (and consequently the Framework) contains a number of conceptual confusions. Many of these conceptual confusions arise from the way in which the term ‘equality’ is used in the document, and in more general public discourse. As a result, the practical steps proposed are not well targeted. The Moray House School of Education, the EIS and others have made a number of valuable responses which contribute helpfully to the debate in terms of practice. As a result, I will limit this response to the foundational issue of conceptual clarity and one or two recommendations. I hope this response is helpful to you and would be happy to be involved in any further consultation / discussion on these matters.

The concept of equality:

  • different ‘equalities’: at times in the document, equality is used to mean equality of opportunity and at other times to mean equality of outcome. These are very different types of equality. Other aspects of educational equality are equality of value and equality of input. Each of these aspects is important and is explored briefly in turn below.
  • equality of opportunity: this is generally considered to be the weakest form of equality, if what it means is equality in the opportunities offered, even though different individuals will have different levels of capacity to take up the opportunities. Delivering even this weak form of equality would demand greater equality of input than is currently the case (see below).
  • equality of outcomes: if this very strong form of equality is the desired ambition, the government needs to be clear which of the many possible inequalities are to be ‘equalised’ – the categories of the ‘equalisation equation’ in which greater equality is to be measured: socio-economic (deciles, SIMD or occupational class), gender, ethnicity, rurality, in-care, age (on average, those who start school at a younger age have a very unequal experience of education and continue to learn and achieve less well through to age 18[1] ) etc. Another important aspect is the age at which ‘equality’ of outcome will be judged – in addition to the school stages at which it is proposed to conduct national assessments, a case can be made for stage appropriate assessments at 3 (much of the different at P1 can be predicted at age 3) and 25 (the latter would fit with the GIRFEC framework in maintaining public interest in the progress of all young people, and also takes account of the influence of postgraduate education, unfunded internships and other later inequality in educational opportunity).
  • equality of value: the society into which Scotland’s future citizens are growing values individuals very differently according to the skills they bring to the job market. In contrast, every public school in Scotland aims to value each child equally. However although teachers and schools strive to do this, the schooling system does not value children equally, particularly as selection effects influence the character of schooling through the examination system. What does ‘Higher’ say if not that everything else is ‘lower’? A universal graduation certificate, allowing for diversity in achievements but requiring a minimum ‘threshold’ level, could restore balance to the way the system values young people (see below).
  • equality of input[2]: the two most important sources of input to a child’s education are those of the parent and the schooling system, and great inequality in these inputs contributes hugely to inequality in outputs. (a) Parental inputs vary greatly and at all ages, for example: in the value they place on school education; in differential levels of support in learning to read; in the purchase of privileged access to private education or private tutoring; at later stages, where advantaged parents can find routes to success in the job market or use their social advantages to put a ‘glass floor’ beneath their children. Because the selective function of schooling, and consequently the examination system, is competitive, advantaged parents use every advantage to ensure that their children succeed in the competition (b) School inputs also vary greatly. At present, equality is measured (bizarrely) only by looking at the outputs. Important factors such as the range of additional support services or the amount of money provided for each pupil by different local authorities (including significant differentials in funding to support individual special or socio-economic needs) are not measured or accounted for in the ‘equalisation equation’. Public and political discourse on ‘equality’ needs to recognise the importance and scale of the different inputs made by parents and local authorities and the extent to which these influence the capacity of schools to ‘close the gap’.
  • equity[3]: equality should not mean ‘sameness’. We value diversity and freedom of choice. As young people near the end of their school career, they are exercising agency and choice in a variety of ways in their personal lives. This is also true in school education. Equality cannot and should not therefore be done to the students, but must be done with This is where the concept of ‘equity’ is important: the vision of the Framework is for equity, which is about fairness, not an equality of sameness. At present, the senior phase has become too individualised for those not aiming for Higher examinations, with the consequence that greater inequality may be embedded ‘by the back door’ as the selection effects of competitive examinations kick in. The original vision of Curriculum for Excellence outlined four ‘capacities’ of every educated citizen. Scotland should revisit that vision in the context of ‘education to age 18’ and identify a minimum threshold level of achievement in relation to the desirable outcomes of education, to which every young person should be entitled. These can be matched to the graduation certificate (see below) to provide a strong curricular map for the 15-18 stage, one which values fairly the differing achievements of young people rather than positioning them on a linear scale of examination results, in which some will inevitably be less well positioned than others.
  1. Some recommendations:
    • a Graduation Certificate for all[4]: the government therefore needs to be clear exactly which ‘equalities’ it intends to improve and how it will measure whether the desired improvement has taken place. It is helpful that health and wellbeing are to be included alongside literacy and numeracy. However the principle ‘measurement’ of educational success in our schooling system remains the SQA examinations. The use of ‘positive sustained destinations’ offers one element of a more balanced evaluation. However a genuinely equal valuation of all our young people would certificate the diverse range of achievements and talents which they ‘bring to the table’, not simply their academic progress. In 2007 the OECD report recommended that Scotland introduce a graduation certificate to mark each young person’ progress from full-time education. We should (a) ensure that all young people remain in education (whether in a training or workplace, school or college) to age 18; (b) pilot and then introduce a graduation certificate which would include the variety of ways in which different young people achieve and bring value to our communities (not simply their academic achievements – important as these are). Such a graduation certificate should initially be piloted in chosen locations before widespread introduction.
    • diagnostic individual character of testing[5]: I am in agreement with the idea of standardising testing across the country – at present we have this ‘de facto’ since so many authorities administer standardised tests. However much more care needs to be taken with the conduct of the tests, messages about their intention and communication of their results. At present, too much testing in schools results in judgement, with negative consequences for those whose test results are not seen as being ‘good enough’. The fundamental purpose of testing in education should be, as it is in health, diagnosis – a purpose in which a degree of norm-referencing plays an important part, particularly in relation to development. I therefore propose that, as is the practice in medical/health testing, results are confidential to the young person, his/her teacher(s) and his/her parent and are used only to support planning. Such confidentiality should apply within classrooms as well as more widely.
    • other purposes of testing: currently examination results are used for two further purposes and it seems that the Framework will also use standardised tests for these purposes: (a) to hold schools to account – where standardised testing has been used for this purpose in other systems, it has generally had negative effects of increasing inequality as the schools in the poorest areas tend to be labelled and judged more harshly leading to a negative spiral (b) to provide an overview of the system as a whole – this important function should be delivered through anonymous sampling of standardised results, as was done with the previous national survey.


[1] Murphy, D. (2014) Schooling Scotland (Argyll Press) p21

[2] See Murphy, D. et al (eds) (2015), Everyone’s Future (Institute of Education/Trentham Press)

[3] Ibid Chapters 5 and 11

[4] Murphy, D. (2014) p115ff

[5] Murphy (2104) pp61-63

Book Launch


Everyone’s Future

Lessons from fifty years of Scottish comprehensive schooling

This (click on the word!) is how I’ve been spending a lot of my time the past few months!

‘This is a must-read for those of us who have lived the theme of this excellent book. It is even more so for those who in their lifetimes could have an impact on the future direction of education in these isles. It is an excellent account of Scottish education over these fifty years and is a fitting tribute to one of Scotland’s foremost academics. Insightful, enlightening, thought provoking and very challenging, its timing in the development of Scottish education could not be better.’

Ken Cunningham, CBE FRSA, General Secretary, School Leaders Scotland

‘This book revitalizes the debate about comprehensive education by going back to first principles –equality, liberty and fraternity – and examining the Scottish education system in the light of them. In doing so it provides new insights into the concept and the difficulties of realizing it in the 21st century. It is a fitting tribute to an inspirational colleague Professor David Raffe.’
Professor Ann Hodgson, UCL Institute of Education

It is fifty years since comprehensive education was introduced in Scotland, England and Wales. But while the ideal of comprehensive education has been largely abandoned in England, comprehensive schools are alive and well in Scotland and command public support.

This long-term overview of the development of the Scottish system, with contrasting accounts from England, Northern Ireland and Wales, concludes that comprehensive schooling, linked to underlying democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity, has made a positive difference to the development of contemporary Scotland.

Drawing on a wide range of research, documentary and policy evidence, the book provides a critical account of developments in curriculum and governance and the impact of comprehensive schooling on its students’ outcomes, social class and gender inequalities. It exploits a unique series of surveys to give voice to young people and their increasingly positive attitudes to school, especially among the less academic. But the Scottish system’s success is still only partial.

Looking forward, the book outlines lessons from the Scottish experience both for Scotland and for other countries considering how best to educate young people of secondary-school age. A valuable resource for students, teachers, academics and policymakers.

– See more at:


Marx the Journalist

During after dinner chat last night, we got onto talking about how well Karl Marx, the journalist, wrote.  We had been looking for his quote on historical events repeating themselves, and I went back to my much abused copy of ‘Basic Writings’ to look up his take on the 1848 revolution in France… I was sure it was in there somewhere.  Eventually, this morning, I found it at the beginning of his extensive essay ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon’ – a fabulous piece of sustained journalistic polemic.


Marx was so much better as a journalist than he was as an economist, his incisive analytical commentaries on the key events of the day based directly on his deeper philosophical writings, but not weighed down with the ponderous prose of economic theory.  Racy, exciting, opinionated but often right on the button.  Here are some sample quotes: the first is the one I was looking up, from the start of his essay on the seizure of power by Louis Napoleon, mimicking his uncle’s seizure of power in the 1790s:

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice.  He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.  Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the ‘Montagne’ of 1848-1851 for the ‘Montagne’ of 1793-1795, the nephew for the uncle.”

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please.. but under circumstances encountered, given and transmitted from the past.  The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living..”

“It is not enough to say, as the French do that their nation was taken unawares…  It remains to be explained how a nation of thirty-six million can be surprised and delivered unresisting into captivity by three swindlers.”

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”

Pure political and philosophical gold.

“Dilemmas” Reviewed

Very gratifying to find a good review of ‘Dilemmas’ in the latest EMAL journal.   Full text in Educational Management Administration & Leadership, March 2014, 42: 314-315, but some key extracts of the review below….

If this whets your appetite, search this blog on ‘dilemmas’ and you’ll get some extracts.

Book Review: Professional School Leadership: Dealing with Dilemmas (2nd edition) Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, 2013; 176 pp.: ISBN 978-1-78046-018-5 (pbk).   Reviewed by: Karen Stephens, University of Leicester, UK

Murphy’s second edition develops previous insights into how teachers and school leaders perceive and approach the tensions and dilemmas encountered in the daily life of modern schools….  he paints a clear picture of the expectations, aspirations and practicalities that compete for attention, thereby producing potential experiences of dilemma…….

The book is divided into two clear sections, the first dealing in detail with the theory underpinning Murphy’s model followed by a practical application of this model. …… A range of vignettes, taken from the real life experiences of school leaders in a variety of schools and career stages…….help illustrate and …. provide examples for further discussion and reflection……

 Murphy emphasises the evolving, developing nature of wisdom and insight that leaders accumulate as they engage with dilemmas, making the structure of the book useful both as an initial training resource and as a continuing guide…..

I found this book very interesting and inspiring ….. School leaders, especially those finding themselves grappling with dilemmas, would find may useful insights here……

The book makes a timely and useful contribution to the profession at a time when schools and school leaders face huge change and challenges.

Food Inc, Food Sovereignty, Agribusiness and WDM

Just back from a chilling exploration of the US Food Industry – the film Food Inc

If you weren’t vegetarian before, this may just change your mind.  I’m shamed to be a human being, one of a species that treats other species in this way.  If you must eat meat, eat ethically sourced meat!

The other major aspect of the movie was the extent to which global corporations control the production of food in the US on an industrial scale.  In UK, it seems that the major supermarkets have a much stronger role, and are often responsive to consumer pressure. This is one of three ways in which individuals within a democracy can act to resist the force of international corporate greed dominating the production and distribution of food to the ultimate damage of individuals (health, liveliehood), the environment (mono-cultures and food miles) and our fellow species on earth (degrading and unhealthy lives before industrial scale slaughter).

The second is through education.  I think Scottish schools are making a better go of this these days, with healthy eating, global citizenship, eco-awards etc. all prominent in many schools, particular at primary ages.


The third is through political campaigning.  WDM (click here ) has been at the forefront of political campaigning to support justice in trade and international finance for 40 years.  Most people have not the time, the energy, the expertise of the resource to ‘investigate’ complex matters like the impact of international futures markets on farmers in developing countries or of new trade agreements between the US and the EU.  Pressure groups such as WDM play a vital role in taking on the corporate legal and lobbying teams of big international companies.  The briefings and information they provide are educational, informative and come from sound values of justice and equity in human affairs and environmental sustainability in our relations with the planet and its other inhabitants.   Sometimes they get things a little bit wrong, or in their enthusiasm, don’t see room for useful compromise, but that’s what you want in a campaigning organisation.  I’ve not been that active recently – other than through campaigning letters and personal behaviour – but I’m proud that my annual subscription for all of those 40 years (I think!) has helped to keep up their excellent work.  The relevant campaign to this evening’s film is on the concept of ‘food sovereignty’.  Key points are:

  • food is a right not a commodity
  • food providers should be valued
  • local markets are more important than distant markets
  • natural resources such as land and water should be controlled by local producers
  • it is better to build local skills than to import deskilling industrial technologies
  • protect natural resources.

Sign up for more information or join up and join the campaign HERE!!

12 years a slave

Joan and I watched this film at a crowded Cinema 3 in Glasgow’s Renfrew Street Cineworld on Sunday evening.  I have added Solomon Northrop’s account of his captivity, subjugation and eventual escape (click here to read online) to my ever expanding list of ‘must reads’.

12 years

The film was compelling viewing with script, cinematography, music and actors combining to deliver a moving personal story in the most powerful medium.   Like the story of Kunta Kinte (here), the hero of Alex Haley’s 1970s novel ‘Roots’, it brought the worst reality of the slave trade straight to the heart.

Of course, as a onetime student of History, I think I know a great deal about the Atlantic slave trade, and its many parallels in other parts of the world and other eras such as the Muslim Indian Ocean equivalent (less publicised and active much longer).  But  the emotionally engaging technology of a well-made full size film touches the heart in quite a different way.

As a onetime teacher of History, I can only envy the capacity of the film maker to spin the story of the past, whether evidenced or imagined or a mixture of both, to tell an important truth about humanity in such a powerful and affecting way.  The proper study of history, with due attention to evidence, is a necessary part of the truth of the past, ensuring that those with access to the most powerful media do not distort the story for their own ends.   Yet film can communicate in a way that a history book never can.

I like to believe that had I been a Scottish or Irish gentleman of the 18th or 19th Century, forced to seek my fortune elsewhere by family poverty, I would have avoided the southern states or the West Indies and gone for the clean living honest labour of the frontier, like John Muir, though I acknowledge that even he had the advantage of being able to follow a peaceful path across the continent, as his predecessors had already eliminated most of the original inhabitants!

In fact, I have my own ancestral ‘get-out’ clause, an easy route to an easier conscience.  When Solomon Northrop was labouring as a cotton picker on the Louisiana plantation where much of the action is set, many of my ancestors were starving in the Irish potato famine, or fleeing Ireland to settle in the worst slums of Victorian Edinburgh.   Yet I still feel a strong sense of ‘guilt by association’, as a child of a country that profited more than most from the slave trade.  This is not about race.  It is important to recognise the conceptual trickery by which a false, ‘white’ identity can be assumed. I completely reject such a ‘white’ identity.  I equally dislike the false prison of ‘national’ identity, one of the reasons I am uncomfortable with the nationalist undertones of ‘Scottish independence’.  I assert a human identity.  Pale skin cannot make me responsible for the crimes of the 19th Century slavers.

However there is some responsibility.  The wealth of contemporary Scotland was built not just on the labour of the cotton factories or coal mines, or the Irish navigators who built the railways and canals, but  also in part on the backs of the sugar and tobacco plantations of the New World.   My current wealth and ease is built on the stories of the past.

We, who live today in comfort, must acknowledge the harm that was done, empathise with the sense of loss and injustice of those who share a slave heritage and ensure that the future is built on stronger foundations of human dignity and rights, our shared humanity and our shared responsibility for each other.

I commend both the film and the book.  I want now to read his story, to hear Solomon Northrop speak to me down the ages; to hear him speak for himself.   The following extract from the book, faithfully portrayed in Steve McQueen ‘s film, finds Solomon at the point when he has been kidnapped into captivity and refuses to accept the demands of the slave trader, Burch, that he should acknowledge his new identity as a slave:

As soon as these formidable whips appeared, I was seized by both of them, and roughly divested of my clothing. My feet, as has been stated, were fastened to the floor. Drawing me over the bench, face down-wards, Kadbum placed his heavy foot upon the fetters, between my wrists, holding them painfully to the floor. With the paddle, Burch commenced beating me. Blow after blow was inflicted upon my naked body. When his unrelenting arm grew tired, he stopped and asked if I still insisted I was a free man. I did insist upon it, and then the blows were renewed, faster and more energetically, if possible, than before. When again tired, he would repeat the same question, and receiving the same answer, continue his labor. All this time, the incarnate devil was uttering most fiendish oaths. At length the paddle broke, leaving the useless handle in his hand. Still I would not yield. All his brutal blows could not force from my lips that I was a slave. Casting madly on the floor the handle of the broken paddle, he seized the rope. This was far more painful than the other. I struggled with all my power, but it was in vain. I prayed for mercy, but my prayer was only answered with imprecations and with stripes. I thought I must die beneath the lashes of the accursed brute. Even now the flesh crawls upon my bones, as I recall the scene. I was all on fire. My sufferings I can compare to nothing else than the burning agonies of hell!


At last I became silent to his repeated questions. I would make no reply. In fact, I was becoming almost unable to speak. Still he plied the lash without stint upon my poor body, until it seemed that the lacerated flesh was stripped from my bones at every stroke. A man with a particle of mercy in his soul would not have beaten even a dog so cruelly. At length Eadbum said that it was useless to whip me any more — that I would be sore enough. Thereupon, Burch desisted, saying, with an admonitory fist in my face, and hissing the words through his firm-set teeth, that if ever I dared to utter again that I was entitled to my freedom, that I had been kidnapped, or any thing whatever of the kind, the castigation I had just received was nothing in comparison with what might follow. He swore that he would either conquer or kill me.