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Asking for more from less

By 28 April 2012No Comments

The theme for this year’s Scottish Learning Festival was Learning, Teaching, Assessment, Making the Connection.  Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education, praised the qualities of Scotland’s schools, with their collegiate, democratic traditions, but insisted that more required to be done.
He outlined specific initiatives including improving life chances for all by raising attainment, improved results in the forthcoming round of PISA testing and an adherence to the first round of the new, Curriculum for Excellence exam diet in 2013-14.
Raising attainment was being addressed by an advisory group of five current and recently retired heads with strong records in that area.  The attainment agenda also informs the proposal to make the learning of two languages plus the native language, the norm.  The buzz in the conference coffee bars however was around how this fits with the Government’s strong endorsement of Gaelic.  Is the two plus one formula a Trojan horse for a much wider endorsement of Gaelic outside the traditional Gaeltacht?  There was also the inevitable question when an additional, compulsory element is proposed for the curriculum: what is to be dropped to make way for the innovation?
There was a strong acknowledgment of the educational leadership agenda and a recognition of the need to support school leaders.  We have very good school leadership development programmes and we encourage distributed leadership but we require to make teachers ambitious to be school leaders while never forgetting that every teacher is a leader in the classroom and needs these leadership skills developed.
There was strong endorsement of the Donaldson report on the training and continuing professional development of teachers and a welcome for the McCormac report on teachers’ conditions.  On McCormac however, major discussions had still to take place with the unions and the local authorities before there could be any systematic endorsement of the specific proposals.  On teacher numbers and employment however there was an assertion that, after some difficult years, the supply of and demand for teachers had now been brought into balance.
The Cabinet Secretary outlined four personal priorities for the forthcoming period: post-16 education; Curriculum for Excellence; early years; and the Children’s Rights Bill.  Curriculum for Excellence is patently at the centre of everything in Scottish education.  There is a growing consensus that getting education for the early years right is the key to resolving many other issues, not least some recurring failures in literacy.
Post-16 education however, is at the heart of the present budgetary storms.  The need to pump substantial amounts to Scottish higher education to maintain the government’s pledge on free entry to university, has meant that substantial cuts in the further education colleges are now pending.  At the same time however the government has pledged that young adults will have a cast-iron guarantee of a job, training or a place in education.  It is not yet clear how that circle will be squared but the likelihood of increasing mergers among Further Education Colleges seems certain but what also seems likely is the abandonment of many courses in Further Education which do not fit the government agenda.  As the Cabinet Secretary put it, “You can’t lose the money we’re losing without dropping some of what you offer.”  Watch this space as the arguments grow more shrill. Many will identify the government’s insistence on maintaining free entrance for university students while cutting back in FE as Robin Hood in reverse.
In a sharp, if controversial, contribution, perhaps the most disappointing aspect was the repetition of the new mantra, “We are asking for more from less!”  That’s not a message with which Scottish teachers today will happily cope.
The above article was first published in SecEd on 13 October 2011:;category_uid=115

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