Alison Fox looks at the social constructivist underpinnings of CSP and explains how she put the theory into practice in her postgraduate work with teachers in Scotland.

I was lucky enough to attend the very first CSP event in Edinburgh in 2000. Jane Fox (no relation!) was inspiring when describing the way she developed in her infant pupils an independence and a desire for learning using the Critical Skills model. After more than 20 years of teaching, CSP gave me ways of being the teacher I wanted to be, in that it offered a language and some very simple techniques and tools to ensure that I enabled learners to learn – and have fun in the process. It wasn’t that I wasn’t doing some of it before, and it wasn’t that it was a huge change to my practice: it just gave me a framework in which to understand what I did as a teacher and it gave me the courage to take risks and move forward in my practice. The Critical Skills Programme is based on social constructivist theories of learning. There is a fundamental understanding that learning will take place most effectively within a collaborative learning community in which learners know that it is safe to take risks and make mistakes, while exploring their own understanding of the world around them. They actively share that understanding, learning in the process that we all see the world from our own perspective and that we can learn a great deal from the process of sharing and collaborating. A CSP practitioner will ensure that a collaborative learning community is built and actively maintained in each setting in which they work, be it with pupils, colleagues or in their work with members of the wider school community. I was a newly appointed headteacher at the time of my CSP Level 1 training and being part of that collaborative learning community was a hugely enriching and enlightening experience to me. CSP gave me the structure and language to take back to school and to work with staff to start to put into action the shared values and beliefs we had about learning and teaching. By the time I left the school to work at the Institute of Education at the University of Stirling, several teachers had done Level 1 training and the language of quality (quality learner, teacher, friend, listener etc) was well embedded. At Stirling I worked with the CPD team to develop the MEd Professional Enquiry in Education (Chartered Teacher) Programme. We established from the outset that we all believed learning to be a social activity, and that adult learners should be offered the same opportunity as school pupils to discuss, debate, share and demonstrate their understandings. Consequently the pedagogy of the course was designed to ensure that taught sessions allowed teachers the time and the space to co-construct their understanding of the complex issues involved in teaching and learning. Structures and procedures are offered to ensure that teachers on the programme are able to actively reflect on theory and their own practice, and then share that understanding with colleagues, thus enriching that reflection further. However, before any of that takes place, each cohort of teachers construct what they believe to be a quality learning environment, which serves as the basis of their collaborative learning community. They, like their pupils, need to know that they are working in a safe but challenging environment. The first cohort has recently graduated and several claim that the experience has changed them on a personal as well as professional level. The CPD Team at Stirling has now expanded and all five of us have completed at least Level 1 CSP training. We use CSP techniques when teaching across all our courses, including the SQH (Scottish Qualification for Headship) and PG Certificates in Professional Enquiry: Educational Leadership, and Creativity.

As a CSP coordinator, I have worked with a number of primary, secondary and further education teachers, and senior managers in the primary sector. I have worked with a school that wanted to focus on team building, while another wanted to look at formative assessment, and another still wanted to develop their understanding of A Curriculum for Excellence (a programme to improve the learning, attainment and achievement of children and young people in Scotland). The flexibility of the Critical Skills model allows individual teachers to take their own practice forward, but where it is embraced by the whole school community, it enables transformational, systemic change.


1. EC Wragg, Caroline Wragg, Rosemary Chamberlin (2004), Jersey Critical Skills Programme An Evaluation click here to view. 2. T Richardson (2005) States of Jersey, Assessment at Key Stages One and Two: Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Teacher Assessments, Serco Learning Consultancy

3. Lynn Raphael Reed and Bernadette Fitzgerald (2005) Evaluation of the Critical Skills Programme in the Success @ Excellence in Cities Action Zone with a Focus on Creativity in Learning – Final Report, Faculty of Education, University of the West of England