Beyond OECD: Renewing Scottish Education

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“Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence continues to be a bold and widely supported initiative, and its design offers the flexibility needed to improve student learning further. CfE’s vision to achieve excellence for all students is widely shared by stakeholders and continues to be an inspiring example equated with good curriculum practice internationally.” – Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future, OECD 2021 Review  

The recent OECD report into implementing the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) in Scottish education commended Scotland’s pioneering approach to education and its commitment to ensuring the education system should be an international exemplar of inclusivity.

However, while the report’s recommendations intended to manifest continuous improvement rather than wholesale change, there are still issues to address. The overarching critique of the CfE is an apparent lack of a long-term view in policymaking. This is partly due to the politicisation of education policy in Scotland.

The OECD report identifies the single biggest issue in CfE’s design is its application to the senior phase of Scottish education. According to the report, there is a lack of clarity between breadth and depth of learning in this phase. The OECD also highlight a misalignment between the curriculum and student assessment. This issue leads the OECD report to observe that Scotland has a 21st-century curriculum and a 19th-century system of assessment.

Now available to watch online for free, we struck our own balance of breadth and depth as we analysed the OECD report. We discussed how the Scottish Government and the wider education establishment should respond and what this may mean for the curriculum and the broadly-defined workforce.

The event also looked at the other key aspects of building an inclusive and holistic education system. These include the attainment gap, supporting the mental health of children and young people, and how the education system’s recovery from the pandemic may affect the system as we move forward.

This event is CPD certified in principle

Up until 2019, while progress was slow, the consensus was that the attainment gap was beginning to close.  Two years on from the onset of the pandemic in Scotland and the interruptions to education that has caused, there have been fears that progress made has stalled and may even be undone.

In this discussion, we will assess where we are at in tackling the poverty related attainment gap in Scotland, putting this at the very heart of the recovery plans for the sector and policy interventions that are needed at this critical juncture to move forward with this. 

The link between poverty, poor mental health, poorer health outcomes generally and poor attainment is well-documented, if not, well-understood in Scotland.

Even before the pandemic, and despite statutory child poverty reduction targets being in place, it was well-remarked that, welcome as they may be, the Scottish Government’s policies (at the time) were not enough to stop child poverty going up, rather than down, over the next decade and following the rejected referrals scandal, provisions for the lack of adequate mental health services for children and young people was a hot political topic.

As we look beyond the pandemic, a recent report by the Poverty and Inequality Commission has recently concluded that the Scottish Child Payment, already doubled, would need to actually quadruple for the Scottish Government to attain their interim target on the reduction of child poverty and the next pandemic, particularly for Scotland’s young people, has been cited as being in mental health.

In this session, we mainstream these issues in a post-pandemic context, with lightning talks on them. 

The OECD report, explored in greater depth in the proceeding session, identified some important workforce issues, particularly in relation to teacher contact time but also their intended roles as curriculum builders. There is clear buy-in across the profession for CfE, but there has also been a multi-lateral burden on teacher’s time the red-tape entailed through implementing CfE over the last two decades, contributing to designing the curriculum as well as having less time to do so relative to other comparable OECD countries.

Furthermore, with the onset of continuous assessment and teacher grading, necessitated by the pandemic, even before the publication of the OECD report’s recommendations on diversifying and modernising our system of qualification and assessment to align it better with CfE, the role of teachers has been changing in real time.

Understandably, due to the constant feeling of flux and the role changing as a result of long-term institutional-structural change combined with short-term political and policy measures, morale in the profession is reported to be low.

As the Scottish Government looks to recruit an additional 3500 teachers and classroom assistants over the next parliament, our esteemed panel will delve into these issues – and others – in greater depth, to unpick solutions as to how we can improve the attractiveness of the profession for those already in it and to those who are interested and what we need to do over the next decade to develop and to support our education workforce to enhance their knowledge, skills and aptitude to align with a reformed system of assessment and qualification and potentially a refreshed approach to curriculum philosophy; content and design. 

In broad terms, what we want to teach and how we teach it is really the essence of what the OECD report was about.  Indeed, while the report commended CfE as inspirational for its “bold, future-oriented approach” that has served as an example to many other countries, there were some fairly glaring issues that needed to be addressed. 

The report stated that, 

“For the secondary sector, the absence of alignment between curriculum and assessment is the single biggest barrier to the implementation of CfE.”

Not unrelated to this, but separately, it stated that the experience of CfE was clearly better for those aged 3-15 and also, that there were fundamental issues in the design of CfE that also needed to be addressed such as the balance between breadth and depth of learning, the role of knowledge and that its ownership was fragmentated with many stakeholders lacking clarity about their responsibilities.

In this discussion, following on from the report and also with reference to the most recent National Improvement Framework and the work published by both Professors Stobart and Hayward, we will discuss the future of CfE in Scotland. 

In the Scottish Government’s immediate and initial response to the OECD report and the disconcerting issues raised between what the report described as “19th Century assessment and 21st Century curriculum”, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills announced the abolition of the SQA.

As lauded in the report, the Republic of Ireland has a similar ‘line in the sand’ moment in the middle of the last decade, and in their Comprehensive Review, chose to take a stakeholder-driven approach in stipulating the purpose, future, structure and functioning of Senior Phase education. 

In this session, we will hear of Ireland’s experience and what Scotland can learn both in terms of rebuilding our assessment and qualifications body and framework as well as the process of getting to a point of clarity in knowing what we want to assess.

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    • Start Date
      10 Mar 2022 10:00 am
    • End Date
      10 Mar 2022 3:00 pm
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