Around the UK: Scotland
In this new Leader feature, each edition will look at the diverging educational developments for colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This month, Brian Cooklin, president of School Leaders Scotland, gives a whistle stop tour of policy changes north of the border.
Scotland has always had a different education and legal system, a different relationship between church and state - and its own sports teams (even if their results are erratic).
However, since the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, particularly now with a minority Scottish Nationalist administration, the divergence seems greater. In education, the Scottish government has reached an agreement, or concordat, with local authorities which involves an increase in overall funding and the removal of ring-fencing, in most instances in return for a freeze on council tax.
There are five strategic objectives, 15 outcomes and 45 indicators to be negotiated with local authorities. This represents a shift in power from central to local government - or some might say abdication of responsibility.
At present, any inquiry to central government about a resources issue leads to the standard response: "Sorry, we have handed over all resources to local authorities - ask them."
'Efficiency savings' are already biting in some areas: cuts in staffing and in management teams as well as behaviour support reductions. At the same time, some authorities are re-investing the savings in improving the re-building programme and developing GLOW, the IT portal for schools. Nevertheless, some school closures seem inevitable in certain areas and morale has been hit badly.
As for curriculum development, the outcomes and experiences for ages 3-15 in subject areas like science, social subjects and expressive arts have been released as part of 'A Curriculum for Excellence' programme. The senior phase (15-18) and a decision on assessment and qualifications are still to come.
On one level, teachers welcome the flexibility and less prescription as well as the promise of a reduction in assessment and the new emphasis on enjoyment. On the other hand, some teachers are frightened, having never had this freedom nor experienced any meaningful cross-curricular inter-disciplinary approaches. They are awaiting the new worksheets or textbooks which are not likely to appear.
As yet the programme is not a finished article - schools need timetable models which will accommodate the different levels, a coherent assessment and qualification structure and educational leadership to sell it to the profession and all stakeholders. Will there be fast-tracking, more personalised learning, an emphasis on vocational learning, a reduction or increase in choice?
It is still difficult to tell but as we develop responsible citizens who are successful learners, being effective contributors and confident individuals (the four capacities enshrined in the programme), schools have responded imaginatively and innovatively to fill the vacuum.
Consequently, over 400 secondary schools are doing their own thing, developing courses which are substantially different. Is this responding to need or just another brick in the wall?
Brian Cooklin is president of School Leaders Scotland (SLS), as of 1 July the new name for the Headteachers' Association of Scotland (HAS).
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