12 comments on “Stands Scotland Where It Did? (Macbeth Act IV Sc 3)

  1. ‘ Is it possible to make radical changes to an education system while operating within the same subject structures which have changed little in the past 50 years?’

    Very thought-provoking article and I particularly liked this part as it is a question I often ask myself. I worry the structures are too rigid to enable the full potential of education. I also think many of the ideas about this potential are fixed within the system.

    • Thanks Fiona. The voiceover describes the importance of ‘interdisciplinary’ studies and projects, and I know there are many excellent examples of these on the Education Scotland website and elsewhere. The question really is whether these projects are significan enough to bring about the changes which are necessary to develop young people as independent and lifelong learners.

  2. Hi Bill, very interesting article. Though I don’t live in Scotland, I believe all parents are concerned about, how well our education system prepares our children. But what concerns me as well is that constant reform makes it very difficult to bring all the puzzles together over the course of the years. I have heard from friends in Germany that every 2 -3 years teaching systems are changed. It makes it difficult for pupils as well as teachers. I think we need a balance between modernisation and continuity. Peggy

    • Hi Peggy,
      Thanks for the comments. I know what you mean about the frustrations of constant reform, which can be disheartening for everyone concerned. However, in the case of the Scottish reforms, it could be argued that actually very little has changed in the ten years since the review, despite almost universal agreement that these changes were necessary, if not vital, for our system to prepare young people for the realities of the modern world.

  3. Bill this is an excellent article. Yes indeed barriers are high and thick in the daily grind of teaching. I agree it is time to ditch the excellence part of the title. When I worked at LTS in the early days on the science E&Os I was full of excitement at the prospects of this new vision of learning and teaching. Now I am depressed at how this vision has been hijacked by schools with the tick the box mentality and coupled with the lack of time during the day to prepare hinders the delivery of quality. There are too many issues pressing on teachers at the moment for successful implementation of this visionary curriculum. Your article deserves to be discussed at future inset days.

    • Hi Danny,
      Thanks again for your generous intro. One of the interesting questions for me – and one we always find difficult to discuss – is who is responsible for ‘hijacking the vision’ as you put it. It may be unfair to lay the blame with schools. I am frequently puzzled by the local authority role in the implementation of the curriculum eg to what extent they should prescribe what is taught in their schools, if any? What about the role of inspectors – are they a help or a hindrance?
      Who exactly is responsible for driving the ‘performance agenda’? I think these issues need to be addressed before we can make progress. I would be delighted of course if the blogpost was discussed at future inset days, as you suggest, and I would be more than happy to facilitate the discussion, if invited!

  4. Great stuff, as ever Bill. I think we have to make a paradigm shift to a more heutagogical approach. Real meaningful learning will only take place when the learners are interested and engaged. As to holding teachers accountable, it’s probably next to impossible. While we still stick rigidly to an exam system predominantly based on memory rather than ability and skills acquisition we just promulgate the problem. We should ask nothing in an exam that could be found out on Google…
    Now there’s a challenge!

    • Many thanks Jaye. I suspect that learners still have very little say in determining the content and context of lessons, generally speaking, though I’m sure there are a few honourable exceptions to that as well. As far as teacher accountability is concerned no one, including teachers would argue that they shouldn’t be accountable. However, in my view they should be accountable first and foremost to the young people, parents and communities they serve, not through an inspection system which uses a ‘one-size-fits-all’ template, and which still puts a disproportionate emphasis on exam results.

  5. Hi Bill, great post. Questions that need to be asked, questions I’ve asked myself and been asked. I’ve got three comments all to do with Key Question 1.

    “Who does have responsibility for determining the content of curriculum areas….”

    This is thought provoking, it can be phrased to make a worrying point of uncertainty, and to be honest that’s how I felt for a moment when I first read it. If nobody has responsibility then we’re in serious trouble! If the question even needs to be asked, it implies the same. I’m quite surprised to see that it’s 10 years since we collectivity started talking about all of this and, if ten years later it’s still a topic for debate everyone should be worried. However, I remember at the start of CfE the concept that this whole question would be the responsibility of everyone involved in educating the children in Scotland. At the time, it was one of many ideas that caused confusion and uncertainty. The concept behind it was that an education system where responsibility was imposed upon teachers (and thus pupils) from a government structure was detrimental to learning: teaching towards the test because of a specified curriculum was something that we all wanted to move away from . I would argue that if it’s ten years on and kids are still getting educated, schools are working in general, then the answer to the question is… it’s the responsibility of everyone and that is on the way to being achieved! The inability to pinpoint a final person or organisation with this responsibility is the very evidence of success.

    I agree with you that, “the reality is that the secondary school curriculum is currently built around subjects and subject knowledge” and I agree that perhaps the advances in getting students to make connections across the curriculum has not been realised in quite the way it was envisioned that it could be. Again, at the start of the process was the idea that, there was Science in Geography, why shouldn’t those connections be explicit? Students who could write conclusions to English essays couldn’t transfer these skills to their work in History. If only we could break these barriers down, if only pupils didn’t switch to a different mindset when the bell rang and could continue their learning as the organic whole learning experience it should be. So why didn’t this happen? Well, among many factors was the fact that, as you have said, the adoption of cross-curricular project style working didn’t quite work out as well as imagined. There was a LOT of it, we all know that, but it became a thing to tick a box. Why? Because of uncertainty, because of the need to be seen doing something of that sort.

    “CfE can all be delivered through project work, it’ll be great.” was an idea that some people clung to like a drunk man to a lamppost: more for support than illumination. In general the kids loved it, and there’s no doubt that it increased engagement and encouraged innovation in teaching. However, we (collectivity) never found a way to prove it worked educationally, these activities became pleasant “low risk” diversions for pupils and for some staff inconvenient diversions that were hard to justify when subjects lead to exams and exams lead to qualifications.

    What seems to have happened is that the approach of non-standard assessment has been embedded lower down the educational system but we still have formal exams at 17. Why? Because “people”, employers, universities, both value and, at the end of the day, really need these things. Put yourself in the mind of the employer: if you have 400 applicants, what are you going to sift by first?

    I am neither pro nor anti exams. I was enthused by CfE by the promise of a broad range of assessment methodologies, including exams, which would be all round fairer to the individual student. I worry that kids will never sit an exam upon which “real life” depends until they are 17. I worry for the kids who are competent but do not perform well in exams. I worry that by setting the exam experience so late we are making a new 11 plus. In real terms, a one off shot upon which everything else depends. Failure equals dreams shattered and success becomes a vague yardstick by which to measure ability. That’s certainly not a fair thing where it’s one event that determines the rest of a person’s life. I had hoped we’d get away from that.

    My third point is related and follows on from, “I wonder how different it could be if the curriculum was instead organised around the development of the key cognitive skills identified in the film – particularly problem-solving and critical thinking skills” The part of me that is a teacher really cares about this. I was working on just that when working on Rich Tasks, developing the Queensland model and adapting it for CfE. It worked, pupils made great strides and DID make connections across areas of learning and it DID work as a method of assessment. It was as robust as something like assessing talk and it would have developed/challenged the problem solving skills and critical thinking skills we aim to instil without the horrible (personal opinion) formal teaching of such things as critical thinking. Teaching of critical thinking is just box checking, critical thinking is not a panacea. Not at all.

    If project based tasks were more “high value” in general (i.e. it was like a Standard Grade English talk grade, which counted for less than a third of the grade but could swing/ compensate for poor exam performance due to the maths of the folio of 5 pieces plus the two exams) then perhaps we would not be worrying about a final exam point at 17 quite so much. At the end of the day you need some kind of assessment with some kind of value to develop and foster the view that learning is valuable for the learner.

    Phew, sorry that was so long, but I wanted to say it fully. To conclude, let’s be realistic, yes it took ten years to get here, and IMHO it will take another 5-7 years (2-3 digests/ cohorts of pupils going thorough the new system) before we arrive at stability and can fully assess the advances we have made. Then there will, and should, be further adjustments to be made, further things to focus on. Nothing is ever perfect in education. It was always going to be that way, given the radical change that needed to be made to move away from the SUBJET=EXAM=QUALIFACTION formula.

    We’ve done something right with CfE (call it whatever you like). The gap between girls and boys when measured nationally and internationally is better than average. I could on at length about this. It might not seem like much, but it’s one of the harder statistics to improve on and I think it’s one of the ones that matters. Achieving a curriculum that is relevant is always going to be a process that is constantly changing.

    • Hey Paul,
      Good to hear from you, and thanks for the lengthy response! Just proves the point that you should probably be writing your own blog. You make many interesting points, and I don’t intend to respond to all of them, but let me take your first point, ‘the inability to pinpoint a final person or organisation with this responsibility is the very evidence of success.’ I disagree. I think it is the very evidence of confusion. I wholeheartedly agree, as I said in the original post, that it is not the role of governments to determine curriculum content, but neither do I believe that it can simply be left to chance. There is no doubt in my mind that local authorities need to back off from the ‘target-setting’ and so-called ‘quality assurance’ agendas which have ballooned over the past couple of decades, and be more involved in setting a broad curriculum framework within which their schools operate. This is the missing link at the moment and it is vital if young people are to show progression in their learning rather than simply moving from one fairly random set of experiences to another. In a very broad sense, learning is of course ‘the responsibility of all’ but within that key figures, and dare I say it especially well-paid ones, should have specific responsibilities to provide guidance and support to teachers and schools.

  6. Bill
    Agree wholely that we need wider consultation on what we learn and also to cut down on change for changes sake. How many reports and projects are moved on from without full and complete implementation then evaluation.

    Would be keen to hear your views on my report into history education which draws on both the above themes- consulted curriculum planning and completing old recommendations (eg excellence group reports)

    • Thanks for the contribution Neil. Have watched with interest the debate on history teaching in England but was unaware of your report on the Scottish situation so I will definitely read it.


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