A Warning from History?

Keynote speech, SATH Autumn Conference, University of Edinburgh, 19th November 2011

Scottish education is currently going through the biggest step change it has seen in perhaps the last 20 years or more.

History educators know better than most the causes and effects of change and continuity.  We know the perils and opportunities that change brings; and the benefits and dangers of maintaining the status quo.  A balance of maintaining all that is good in Scottish education whilst embracing effective and emerging teaching and learning has seen history educators cope well with the dual effects of system wide education change alongside a major reduction in resources.

Indeed many were practicing the key principles of CfE before the green folders even arrived.  We have engaged with active learning, interdisciplinary learning, innovative and effective assessment techniques, inspiring young people, developing courses which offer breadth, depth and application; effective knowledge transfer and equipping young people with the skills, knowledge, attributes and qualifications that will make them successful in future learning, life and work.

However, we are not complacent.  History changes, education changes.  Our pastoral transitions between the learning stages are exemplary, indeed they are one of the strong points of the Scottish education system.  However our curricular transitions remain weak across the country and in all subject areas.  Today’s coming together of primary, secondary, FE/HE, history and heritage education providers opens up further dialogue and sheds lights on emerging and effective practice in each area.

Secondly, despite the beliefs those who are in eternal darkness and deprived of not being brought up on a diet of the queen of disciplines- history- the subject is not, and will not be a stagnant subject.  History also changes just like our education system.  History educators are constantly evolving.

As history changes so to does pedagogy, learning approaches and assessment techniques.  Gone are the days of learning lists of dates, kings and queens.  History by investigative enquiry, research skills and making conclusions based on sound evidence are all evident in our history classrooms today.  We must however always refresh and today we refresh our knowledge of history itself by linking with those at the coal face of research in the morning.  And then in the afternoon with those who are at the front of the whiteboards.  Hopefully you will all find the dialogue on both cutting edge history research and learning and teaching methodology of value.

Thirdly we learn from beyond our own borders.  We are delighted to have with us not only a cross sectoral audience but a cross European audience.  We often look east for a system that will provide us with an education, or public sector utopia.  Benny there is no pressure on you later on, but we look forward to hearing your views on how you set it up and how it is going in that utopian world we aspire to for history and for education more generally.

We also have with us project managers and editors from EUROCLIO, the European Network of History Education Associations.  I am very much so looking forward to them sharing with you their, our, ambitious Historiana project.  What has impressed me most about EUROCLIO has been their drive, determination and perseverance to make what seemed an aspiration goal into a project that now has the potential to grow, expand and deliver on learning, cooperation, understanding and multi-perspectivity.

The latter concept is not a word we use very often in Scottish education and I would like to hear it being used as part of our language of learning.  The more I speak to my European colleagues the more I learn, but also the more worried I become.  The economic crisis is very much so taking its toll on education, research and lifelong learning goals we would all subscribe to.  With it has come a revival of right wing leanings which many of my colleagues are expressing concerns with regards to.  They are expressing concerns both on an educational level and sounding a wider societal alarm bell.  We must guard against the parochial, one dimensional approaches that the True Finns are espousing or that are being talked about by Vlaams Blok in Belgium, the FPO in Austria, the Northern League and National Alliance in Italy, the LPF remains of Pym Fortuyn’s party in the Netherlands and some Latvia right wing political alliances to name but a few.  Their narrow approaches go completely against the grain of learners who are now more connected to the rest of the world than ever before and are truly Global Citizens.  Many of the changes being implemented in those countries are being implemented on a whim and without statistical or validated research of evidence about impact on learning.

As ‘experts’ of the past we must ensure the current generation are not exposed to any narrowing of the broad general education where the sole motivation is political gain.  I am confident that SATH will continue to work with partners in, and outsideScotland, to ensure Scottish learners are exposed to a balance of local, regional, national, European and World history education.  The changes to Higher History Paper 2 serve as a wonderful model achieving that equilibrium.  There must be a balance or local, global, direct input and professional autonomy, enjoyment and robust learning, breadth and depth, knowledge and skills.

Ladies and gentlemen, SATH continues to promote ongoing learning in history education.  In this new world, The Fourth Way needs to take shape, where Teacher Associations like SATH, do more than consent to change or distract and delay.  SATH are moving forward as ‘agents of change’ and as major CPD providers in education.  You will hear a short update on work in this area later today.  However we cannot do it alone.  We must therefore learn from each other and work in partnership.  This conference brings together the four major groups of primary educators, secondary educators, academics and history/heritage education providers.  Two groups deserve special mention for their partnership working to ensure that this coming together was possible:

Heritage education providers have always been strong supporters of the work of SATH.  This year it has been further cemented by the generous and very grateful received sponsorship of this conference by the Heritage Education Forum.  I have been really impressed by HEF and the work they do to act as an umbrella body both sharing and promoting the work of a range of organisations.  If you have not already done so I would strongly encourage you to visit their stall, or their website, to see the range of bodies they have in membership and the wide range of education initiatives and resources you could work with them on.

Our second major backer today is theUniversityofEdinburgh.  Since I have taken on the role of SATH President I have had many communications with academics. EdinburghUniversityin particular have stood out.  They have stood out for the commitment of all their academic staff to engage with school based education.  Many of the professors in this hall today have been regular features in schools promoting advanced higher and higher courses.  However deeper than that, I have been impressed by the strategic position of the university to not only engage with the schools as the towns university but to open up dialogue and gain a real understanding of what it is we do in schools, what our issues are and where we can work together to promote better partnership working.  Today’s conference is a product of those discussions.  By coming here together we advance and learners, and together advance the opportunities of those whose learning we are responsible for.

Before I ask Professor Alvin Jackson, Head of School here atEdinburghUniversity, to come up and formally open this conference I would urge you all to enjoy today, and learn from each other.

Neil D R McLennan

SATH President

19th November 2011


About neilsgleeeclub

Educator, writer, speaker and leader. Views are my own and not those of the organisations I work for or represent.
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