More Change Ahead?

Depending on when you measure it from, the new Scottish Curriculum (or Curriculum for Excellence as it’s more commonly known) has been around in one form or another for approximately nine years given that the report from the Curriculum Review Group was published in 2004. In these days of rapid changes in society one could argue that a decade would be around the right sort of time to begin the process of looking again at what’s happening in our education system. However, in terms of the process of implementation of the new National Qualifications, which most Secondary teachers rightly or wrongly will be measuring implementation of the new curriculum by, we’re only half-way through. The cohort who are the first to sit the new NQs are currently in S3 with potentially three more years of school ahead. With no one yet to sit the new qualifications, I can just imagine the sharp intake of breath at the mere suggestion of a major curriculum review. However, in case you’d missed them there have been two substantial reports on the progress and direction of change in Scottish Education in recent months. As a result I’ve been wondering two things. Firstly, does this signal the beginnings of further policy change? And secondly, are there any overlapping themes in these reports which might signal the direction of any such changes should they occur?

The reports I refer to could almost be looked at in the opposite order from the sequence they were published. The most recent one “By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education” was published this week by Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy. This report is more standard in its format and approach having taken a series of written submissions and produced a report brimming with numerous recommendations. Whilst clearly aiming to improve Education in the future it does so by attempting to paint a picture of the current situation and then a make a series of recommendations which could be implemented in the short to medium term.

The first of the reports, published last month, is “By 2025, Scotland will be regarded as a world-leading learning nation” by the Goodison Group in Scotland and Scotland’s Futures Forum. This report takes a radically different format. Having held a series of events with different groups of stakeholders the final report takes the form of scenarios. It presents four possible visions of the future and outlines approaches groups could take to engaging with these scenarios. To me therefore, this would seem to be more about identifying the future we wish to achieve and working out the necessary steps we ought be taking to get there.

Obviously I can’t really do justice to both reports here, you’ll need to read them yourself, but what sort of change do they indicate? Are there any overlapping themes? For me, there are two major similarities between the two reports. Both seem to indicate that we still have a lot to do in terms of equality & social justice and that sufficient changes to the structures and processes of schools have yet to be achieved in order to meet the needs of our citizens in the 21st Century. This is perhaps best summarised by the axes in the following diagram from the GGiS report:

This I think correlates with the following recommendations from the CfSPP report:

2 The Scottish Government should make clear that it views Curriculum for Excellence as a long-term process of iterative change rather than a one-off programme intended to achieve only specific short-term objectives such as the introduction of new qualifications.

5 Change processes in Scottish education are not as effective as they should be. The improvement of these processes must be seen as a matter of the highest priority.

7 The allocation of support for pupils and schools experiencing disadvantage should be reviewed and needs to be better targeted. More of the available support should follow the individual disadvantaged learner.

8 Talented staff should be encouraged to teach and remain in schools in the most disadvantaged areas. Such schools should be resourced in a manner that will make them attractive places in which to work and develop a career.

10 A dedicated centre for the improvement of educational outcomes in Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities should be established.

17 At all levels of the system, vigorous and sustained effort is needed to create in Scottish education a sense of common endeavour, an understanding that learning is co-produced and a culture of mutual respect.

20 The autonomy of schools should be greatly extended. As a general principle, decisions that can competently be taken at school level should not be taken elsewhere.

By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education

There are more also, but I think that’s more than enough to demonstrate the overlap. So, is a replacement to CfE on the horizon? The CfSPP report rightly points out with its first recommendation that there’s no real need. All of these ambitions are set out in the Curriculum for Excellence documents and there is therefore just a need to realise these ambitions still. I suppose that ideally it shouldn’t really matter what we call these policy initiatives as long as we achieve the outcomes we hope and aim to achieve, but I suspect the name might well matter. A.V. Kelly (no relation) rightly points out that the success and failure of changes to educational policy lies in the hands of teachers. Whilst many might baulk at the idea of further change, it could be argued that if there is a widespread perception in 2016 that it’s job done because the cohort has progressed all the way through the new NQs then any further substantial change might be difficult to achieve, perhaps creating the need to indicate the necessity of further change through a “new” policy. Either way, for these much more ambitious outstanding aims of Curriculum for Excellence, it will require a much more sophisticated approach to implementation, support and leadership than has been managed thus far. I think the approaches described in the GGiS report demonstrate the sorts of professional development opportunities which will be needed, as well as the CfSPP’s recommendations on leadership and research, such as:

32 Steps should be taken to strengthen educational research in Scotland.

One thing I am very pleased about is that both of these reports encourage us to continue on the journey we’re already on. If we don’t continue to persevere with this direction of travel as a profession and a society I fear that one day in the future these sorts of reports will begin to look a lot different and begin demanding that we start taking backward steps instead…we only need to look South to see just how possible this is.