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Comments from the RSE Education Committee on the Commission on School Reform Report, By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education (March 2013)
The Report1 from the Commission on School Reform is welcomed as a profound document that engages the history, current circumstances and future possibilities of Scottish school education. The Centre for Scottish Public Policy and Reform Scotland are to be congratulated for initiating this enterprise that has a prime concern about change, rather than the traditional focus on details of curriculum, school organisation and assessment. The hope is that the Scottish Government and others will respond rapidly to decide on the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. In particular, we look forward to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee undertaking a detailed examination of the Report, and the Scottish Parliament debating it as it did in the case of the Literacy Commission Report. The RSE Education Committee’s response is firmly positive because: > The Report is as comprehensive as one publication could hope to be (although it leaves plenty of work and development ahead for others) and offers a narrative that has achieved consensus across the very varied perspectives that made up its 15-strong authorship. > Unlike most reflections on education (often hobbled either by deep concerns or by complacency about current and past policy and practice), this Report clearly looks to the future. > It anticipates wide debate with priorities for action continuing for many years as there is increasing impact on schooling from the challenges that arise from economic priorities, globalisation, expanding scientific knowledge, technology changes and international competitiveness. > The Report acknowledges the historically high reputation of Scottish education, and accepts that its schools still have some strengths and offer a sound education. However, it uses persuasive argument and strong supporting evidence to contend that we are no longer among the world’s best and are improving at a much slower rate than many of our competitors. It emphasises how change and improvement to yield secure progress must be undertaken much more rapidly than in the past. > There is welcome support in the Report for Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as the mechanism for change, together with a clear stress on the importance of systematic review and modification of the developments as this programme evolves. CfE is fundamentally different from earlier approaches to change and should be regarded as a relatively long-term process or journey, not as a one-off event. > Recommendations are made for government to introduce adequate and systematic independent evaluation. These have the RSE Education Committee’s firm support and include those aspects of the programme where the responsibility lies with Education Scotland. There is, for example, a need to examine the overall quality of the experiences and outcomes, to clarify and develop multidisciplinary and active learning, and to move rapidly from the heavy traditional focus solely on successful learners and give more attention to the development and assessment of the other CfE capacities: confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.
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> The Report pays admirable attention to the nature and purpose of young people’s intellectual activity, development of understanding based on experience, building of a variety of skills, growth of social relationships and capacity to bring together different aspects of learning. It alerts the reader to the implications of research findings relevant to learning (e.g. from neuroscience) and presses the importance of school education becoming increasingly evidence-based. The need for availability of and payment of attention to relevant data sets is clearly argued. > The culture of Scottish education is seen as remaining too hierarchical and that this is a barrier to innovation. Schools do not make proper use even of those freedoms they have, at least partly because they feel disempowered in a very top-down culture, with insufficient upward communication and insufficient respect for practitioners and their views. In consequence of this, on leadership and control of new programmes, the Report argues that the roles of those at different system levels must be explicit, accountable and, in operation, open to criticism. Government should exert central strategic leadership, but resist the urge to micromanage other levels. > The Report persuasively argues for a change system whereby schools operating within the general strategy may be early or later adopters and all should have the autonomy that encourages innovation and diversity. It identifies the factors and general circumstances that are required for the necessary transformative changes to take place. > The strong call in the Report for the recommendations of the review of teacher education, Teaching Scotland’s Future, to be taken forward by all concerned as a revitalisation of the teaching profession is firmly endorsed by the RSE Education Committee. Teachers’ engagement with, and capability for, the changes that the Commission is seeking are absolutely essential elements of any reform. > A very significant part of the Report addresses the crucial matter of the association between low achievement and deprivation. While Scottish education has long been aware of this unsatisfactory state of affairs, and despite various efforts for change, Scotland’s schooling is not equitable. The establishment of a dedicated centre for the development of policy and practice based on theory and experience is recommended.
Additional Information and References
RSE response to the call for evidence from the Commission on School Reform (May 2012) http://www.royalsoced.org.uk/cms/files/advice-papers/2012/AP12_06.pdf Any enquiries about this Briefing Paper should be addressed to the RSE Education Committee Secretariat, Mr William Hardie (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) Responses are published on the RSE website (www.royalsoced.org.uk).
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