Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Around the UK: Scotland

As the new term gets underway, education in Scotland faces important changes to the curriculum and exam system, as well as continuing challenges around recruitment and retention. But looming over everything is the spectre of funding cuts, says Ken Cunningham.

As the new year gets underway, Scotland's school leaders are gearing up to deal with a number of issues that have just surfaced or are about to in the near future.

There have been a few changes to senior leadership. Graham Donaldson, the long-serving head of HM Inspectorate of Education in Scotland is moving on and we await news on his successor. Graham has been a good supporter of School Leaders Scotland (SLS) and we have had many worthwhile meetings with him and his team over the years.

Philip Rycroft, who was head of the Education and Lifelong Learning Directorate in the Scottish government, has moved to Whitehall - a serious loss to us but undoubtedly a welcome figure down south. Leslie Evans takes over his post at a critical time in the development of the Curriculum for Excellence programme.

Speaking of the Curriculum for Excellence, since my last article our cabinet secretary has announced the latest development around the new examinations. It includes:

  • Confirmation of the retention, but also appropriate review, of access, higher and advanced higher qualifications.

  • Announcement of a new qualification replacing standard grade and intermediates 1 and 2 - to be called national 4 and national 5. This attempts to simplify the previous complex structure. Assessment will also change.

  • Comment about the new literacy and numeracy awards available from the third year in secondary.

The announcement is likely to be followed by a more detailed paper on the whole assessment regime.

A major report on what was affectionately known as 'Better Behaviour, Better Learning' is due out this term and updates previous research into patterns of behaviour in schools. The press will undoubtedly highlight the juicier aspects of indiscipline but there should be many positive messages emerging.

Heads and staff, supported by local authorities and government, have put a lot of effort into improving behaviour and schools are, by and large, safe places for young people to be. This research will undoubtedly say quite a bit about that.

Old stagers know, of course, that no one size fits all and what works today will not necessarily work tomorrow but at least we now have a wide range of strategies available. It will be important that revised guidance on exclusions, also due soon, allows schools the leeway and resources to address the more intractable cases.

Another report due in the near future is on recruitment and retention of senior staff, an on-going concern here as it is in the south. There are some deep-seated issues around job sizing (whereby salaries are set to reflect roles and responsibilities rather than workload) which are not going away but which are difficult to address in the current economic climate.

Nevertheless, some imaginative solutions have to be considered. There appears to be a political will to tackle it and we will be happy to work with the government to improve the current situation. We have campaigned consistently and vigorously on this issue since job sizing was introduced.

Finally, as I suspect with ASCL colleagues elsewhere, we have an enigma around funding. Arguably, there have been unprecedented levels of spending on education north of the border, yet on the ground, in individual schools and in certain local authorities, finance is at its worst for many a year.

Resources for departments, CPD and staffing have been squeezed to the extent that some schools are struggling to deliver on a range of fronts. The reasons for this are multi-fold - the usual fuel costs, capital spending, year-on-year efficiency savings and so on.

Delivery on the ground is going to be exceedingly difficult in the coming

Ken Cunningham is general secretary of School Leaders Scotland.

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