Service Design Academy

Professional Development Award Learner Story 

Leigh Watson Senior Education Officer - Curriculum Design Education Scotland

Leigh Watson  
Senior Education Officer – Curriculum Design 
Education Scotland 

Leigh works for Education Scotland as a Senior Education Officer in Education Scotland’s Curriculum Innovation team and is committed to ensuring education meets the needs of Scotland’s learners. Leigh graduated with a Professional Development Award in Service Design (PDA) in 2023.  

Leigh shares her story of how the PDA was a gamechanger for her work in curriculum innovation. 

My service design journey begins

I had an awareness of Service Design through the Scottish Approach to Service Design and had used this approach in my previous role as Education Manager in a local authority.  When I joined the Curriculum Design team in 2022 I felt it made sense to explore it on a deeper level. Part of my role would be about supporting and shifting mindsets to drive change and improvement rather than a more traditional knowledge exchange model of support so it made sense to explore evidenced based learning to support me in doing that. 

My first experience of Service Design Academy was with a 2-day introductory course I attended with other colleagues. Although it was online and remote delivery, I felt like I was “in the room” and liked the way it was delivered, it kept me engaged and involved. I was delighted when the PDA was offered as an opportunity to me to do some deeper learning and also to develop my skillset when facilitating work with education partners.  

Before I joined the PDA, I had the obvious concerns about balancing full-time work with study.  A number of colleagues in the team had previously completed the PDA so I was reassured that because I could apply the assessments to real work based problems I would be blending my learning into my day job. 

In the Learning Labs

When I started the course, I quickly realised there was so much to learn, and I made the effort to read suggested texts and review content. In the learning labs, going through live tasks with colleagues from different organisations was so interesting. If you are learning with people from the same background, like education, you end up talking about the same matters. It was so refreshing to be working with colleagues from across the world and from different sectors. 

The interactions with the tutors were superb. They had nice clear delivery, the resources offered were a good support and easily accessible and the flow was well-paced. It also helped they have a good sense of humour too. 

The balance of learning labs, doing work back in your own place and having online sessions as worked well and I found it a nice balance between lab and self-directed learning. 


Assessments? Yes, they can be a pain, but I’m sure that’s the same for anyone doing a qualification while working. Because the content was so relevant to my work and helped with live projects, they were worthwhile. 

Taking the SDA team’s advice, my Tools and Methods, User Research and Co-design unit assessments were based on discrete pieces of work to demonstrate learning in these areas.  

My final project culminated in a huge piece of work to support the Interdisciplinary Learning Co-design Group. This national group of educators is currently researching and developing support for education reform through the lens of interdisciplinary and project based learning approaches. There’s a great deal of interest in this work: the group has over 150 colleagues coming from across the education landscape – schools, local authorities, universities, colleges, early years, Community Learning Development and Education Scotland. 

Through my project unit I facilitated the group to do all the exploration work needed to define work streams. Three subgroups are now set up and the project is now in its second iteration. These three work streams will deliver outcomes on professional learning, on shifting culture and practice, on the pedagogy for Interdisciplinary learning, but also looking at project based learning for secondary school learners. 

We are evolving the model through Knowing,  Doing and Leading and are now in the developing phase of the design process.  This continues to be a iterative process in response to the needs of the wider education context. 

The support that I was offered outside of the PDA online classroom made a valued contribution to my final project. Any time I had a question, an SDA colleague gave me a quick call and we’d talk something through, giving me examples of where to find resources.  

Impact of the Professional Development Award

Without the deeper knowledge and understanding of the service design process, (being a PE teacher at heart, that’s not part of what I would learned in my core pedagogical practice), the shift to the user centric element of design was a key outcome of doing the PDA. 

The impact for my practice in education innovation is that I constantly ask “what would the learner say?”  Not only from a hypothetical response, but really asking them in authentic ways.  There has been a real shift in my mindset. The education arena has its own language, so I have had to lose assumptions that everyone understands ‘eduspeak’.  The PDA really helps you think about how to communicate with people outside of education. 

I’ve found my skills in co-design support many elements of my role in the Curriculum Innovation Team including partnership working where I’ve supported how to reduce siloed working, lose duplication of effort and activate cross organisation teams.  As a team who have almost all completed the PDA, we not only have the potential to support our external education partners, but we use this as part of our  core practice. This has helped to improve efficiencies in work and better connected thinking using a range of perspectives.  

As part of a significant piece of work across five different local authorities, I facilitate curriculum design workshops in different localities. I make sure that what is being done fits with the co-designers’ priorities by having deep discussions in advance. In workshops, it’s made me much more responsive to their needs and to follow and support the direction co-designers are taking.  

The PDA has helped me realise I’m working on two levels – creating the right conditions for people to co-design through my facilitation and this also supports the design of Scotland’s curriculum into the future. 

Advice for new PDA students

Protect times in your diary so you can be at all the live learning labs. You’ve got people there to practise design challenges with you and you also get a chance to work with people with different expertise and refreshing perspectives in a safe space. You’ll come out of your bubble to look through a collective lens with other learners, before you apply your learning in your work context. Be prepared for the challenge of managing your workload, and above all else enjoy learning how to do things differently.   

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