Article for Herald, 4 February 2019. Thankfully, there has been some progress with music in Midlothian since then.
Narrowing Education? Bring back the broad general education.
The narrowing of Scottish education has been long noted in the senior phase, most recently by Professor Scott’s sharing of evidence with the Education Committee. In the early years of education Upstart have also raised concerns about curriculum narrowing. Senior phase narrowing was a perverse outcomes of qualification reform. Meanwhile, concerns in the early years are around the national assessments potentially hollowing out teaching and learning focussing only on literacy and numeracy.
Last week two events signalled the continued retraction of Scotland’s once proud broad general education. Innovative approaches also withered on the vine.
Firstly, Midlothian became the first authority in the country to signal an potential end to music tuition. There has been a long campaign, trumpeted by #changethetune amongst others, to protect music tuition and promote music education. Sadly, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
The second sad story was the demise of entrepreneurial attempts to enhance education through a new type of schooling, Newlands College. Established with the backing of Scottish businessman Jim McColl, Newlands College provided senior schooling for students who had disengaged from traditional education. It reported a 100% success in getting its students into employment:- no mean feat and a tremendous achievement given the individual and societal risk of lost human talent if something different was not done with these young people. The school was led by innovative headteacher Iain White. He previously led Govan High on a model which focussed the curriculum and learning on a consulted set of skills for learning, life and work.
Many had much hope for Newlands. Having led an alternative education programme in West Lothian many years before I welcomed the move. The DEANS (Developing Enterprise Attitude and New Skills) Programme saw students maintain key curriculum area of literacy and numeracy, whilst actively learning entrepreneurial skills, social skills and vocational craft and technical skills in a partnership between the council, schools and local training providers.
Such schemes are still however ‘bolt-on’ rather than the norm in Scottish education and the demise of Newlands marks the end of an era of potential in Scottish education.
Our system is regressing to narrow measures to please promised political policy priorities. The focus on closing the attainment gap is hard aligned to ‘qualification’ statistical outcomes. The policy misses the bits in the middle, those which are the root cause of poverty and depravation. As well as not giving enough attention to the middle part, it has also seen the education system morph from the original broad aims of CfE to narrow outcomes to achieve set goals. Unintended outcomes are aplenty. So far, success is being acknowledged in the new policy landscape is the increased number of low socio-economic decile students attending university. This continues as school results fail to demonstrate the significant progress heralded and hoped for. However, even the university results require scrutiny. For one, simply by widening and opening access to more students from lower SIMD deciles, we can alter statistics. However, the more worrying trend is as follows. Whilst more students might be accessing HE, especially in some new universities, the numbers who are completing courses is not always as positive. We might ask where positive outcomes for people feature in this policy pursuit.
Whilst universities should be open and accessible to all, they should not always be seen as the ultimate goal. A rich tapestry of “education” exists in Scotland if we continue to protect it. In his introduction to a recent ‘Learner Journey’ document the education minister set out his aims for education. He noted three of the four aims of the UNESCO schooling purposes (knowledge gain, skill development, and self-actualisation & protection) (community cohesion was not explicitly noted).
We need all purposes promoted to thrive individually, locally, nationally and as global citizens. Scotland is a diverse and rich country, with a rich and diverse past. Its future prosperity relies upon rich and diverse thinking. All need inclusion in ‘education’: English and maths; music and arts; STEM and humanities; central and community inputs; schools, colleges, training providers and universities; work and play. The day we start hollowing out education, is the day we step back from strong pillars of our past and future foundations. We need a broad education and enlightened educational thinking.