#EduPic11 – Reflecting on Scottish Education – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Whilst the event is still fresh in my mind, I thought that I’d take the opportunity to put some thoughts down onto ’virtual’ paper. #EduPic11 was different to many forums that I have attended in the past, and dared to take a step from the norm; removing the usual keynote speeches and presentations and allowing more time for productive discussion and debate. Hosted by The Real David Cameron and Laurie O’Donnell, the outline followed a basic, but effective structure which focused on reflection, closing the gap and re-imagining the future of education. The conversation was stimulated by a number of provocations and I felt that the discussion was dynamic and responsive. Attended by some of the most interesting and imaginative people in Scottish education, the day inspired genuine ideas, explored issues and probed concepts.

So, what did we discuss? Clear from the outset, everyone wanted the same thing – a better future for Scottish education and ergo improved life chances for our young people; born through the identification of barriers to progress and recognising the next steps that may need to be taken to remove them. It is a common issue for most educators – the lack of time to reflect and develop a vision where anything is possible, and this is exactly what we were encouraged to do.

I recommend that anyone who reads this article, if they have not already done so, follows the online conversation on Twitter, using the #EduPic11 hashtag.

Although directly related within the Scottish context, I believe that international colleagues will share an interest in the conversation, especially where education and curriculum reform is underway. There are far too many themes to cover in any single article so I’ll pick out two or three to give you a feel of the debate. There was a common feeling amongst the majority that Curriculum for Excellence was positive and that it had the potential to embed within our young people something that I term as a responsible confidence; self belief, self-determination and self-esteem. I firmly believe that we must focus on improving the life chances of our young people if we are to realise this, and that driving attainment is not the answer in itself, rather the statistics will improve if we get the other elements correct. It must never be the other way around as this leads to inequalities and a lack of inclusion. This of course, must be underpinned by learning and teaching which is fit for purpose and prepares our young people for a world which we cannot yet imagine. It was generally felt that some school leaders had lost sight of the core business – to support children and young people to become rounded members of society. 

Leadership, accountability and managed risk taking featured throughout the conversation; a concept that they are all part of the same problem, or perhaps a potential solution. Imagine a world where HMIe does not exist and schools are not held to account by an inspectorate – instead they (and I include the Headteacher here) are accountable to the young people and to the wider school community. This could result in a culture of learning and not the existing culture of control which creates an inflexible and rigid system of education.

Personally, I feel that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has made a significant impact on learning and teaching pedagogy in recent years. It would be a shame to take the proverbial ‘foot off the pedal’ to focus on something else – indeed this needs to be a process of reflection and continuous improvement. Our young people, and the world in which we now live, demand nothing less. I wonder – given to other demands and priorities, how many school improvement plans still feature aspects of learning and teaching. I suspect that a large number only have room for developing national qualifications and CfE policy frameworks. There is nothing wrong with this, but it isn’t quite right either.

When CfE was first introduced by the former Cabinet Secretary for Education, Fiona Hyslop MSP, she made it clear that Scotland’s new curriculum (and I’ve blogged about the culture, structure and practice of our system on many occasions) should not simply be a ‘tweaking around the edges’. Instead, it must bring systemic, transformational change. Unfortunately, I believe that we have not yet achieved that kind of change. We have a glossy ‘front end’ embedded in learning and teaching, but the same old system sits at the back – focused on inspection and accountability – and too much on driving attainment – perhaps for the purpose of performing well within the international community. Indeed, politics plays a role here and this is transferred down to local authorities, school leaders, teaching staff and of course to our children and young people. It takes a brave Government to put aside instant results and imagine a future where the outcomes are measured in fifteen years time. Instead, there is often a focus on ‘telling the story’ before the next election period. This also sends out the wrong messages to parents, carers and potential employers. Successful Learners, Confident Individuals, Effective Contributors and Responsible Citizens cannot appear from nowhere as a result of driving forward national qualifications. Schools are not magical boxes which process children and produce valued members of society. Indeed, it is this perception that places the blame onto schools when things don’t go according to plan. They are but one component within a lifetime of experiences in play and learning and this begins at home. Young people can learn from a multitude of sources and a diverse range of people including parents, peers, siblings and role models. Yes, assessment is an important marker against progress, but arguably so are the core or life skills of an individual. The ability to interact with people, realise what is acceptable behaviour and what is not – learn organisational and communicative skills and being honest, reliable and timely are equally, if not more important. They are the building blocks on which education is built. My vision includes a world where young people take responsibility for their own learning and they cannot do this if we coach them through their learner journey. To quote Richard Gerver “Smart kids pass examinations, coached kids may not”.

I am especially interested in exploring the value of education – that includes our perception as professional educators and the perception of parents/carers, the young people, employers and the wider school community. I have no doubt that our values, if we were to write them down, would be different and we should really allow our young people to develop their own values as they grow. They will only respect those values if they conclude them by themselves, yet we continue to force our own personal beliefs onto them.

The event was captured by an amazing artist, Graham Ogilvie and the dynamic Ollie Bray, our resident expert in education technology. The images below are but a small example – a result of their hard work and the inspiration came directly from the small but interactive group which had gathered in Glasgow on a blue sky, cold and refreshing morning. They make provocative viewing – capturing the moment for further reflection and exploration.

The event was concluded through a variety of provocations, issues and challenges – indeed these were filmed and will be available for viewing in the coming future. I will leave you with a challenge of my own – something to ponder upon over the next few days. How can you alter your own practice to instill an ambition of learning amongst our children and young people? How can we give them room to develop their own values? What would your ideal education system look like without barriers and constraints? Perhaps, one day, you will be the factor which influences the systemic transformational change that we so desperately need. It’s time to stop saying ‘we cannot do that’, and instead to start the discussion with ‘what can we do?

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Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction

Posted in Curriculum Design, Learning & Teaching, Reflecting
3 comments on “#EduPic11 – Reflecting on Scottish Education – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
  1. How can you alter your own practice to instill an ambition of learning amongst our children and young people?

    Is it an ambition of learning (ie something to aim for) or a love of learning? I’d pick the latter, given the choice.

    How can we give them room to develop their own values?

    By being role models. Very often on key matters such as sustainable development, education practitioners and the whole education sector do not practice what we preach from the top down. Better looking at a bottom-up model that begins with children’s interests can captures their passion

    What would your ideal education system look like without barriers and constraints?
    I was rather impressed with this alternative school in Seattle – http://pscs.org/ The founder, Andy Smallman, staff and young people would probably be happy to do online linkups and provide info.

  2. Lee Dunn says:

    Thanks, Juliet. I totally agree that by being ourselves and acting as appropriate role models we can give our children and young people the room that they need to develop their own values – starting with respect, responsibility, passion etc. Thanks for your comments and the link – I’ve already had a look at it and it is really interesting.


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