By Marc Lambert, CEO, Scottish Book Trust
AS a new school year starts, we can be sure of one thing: that the question of what to do about our state education system will remain at the top of our agendas. This is not just because, as a country, we have always prized education enough to argue productively about its purposes and parameters. It is because the landscape of how we deliver education to our children is changing, on the back of some disappointing educational results, and the determination to do better for students, especially those from poorer backgrounds.
Some changes, for example in school governance, have already been proposed, consulted on, and implemented – not without comment. Changes in our educational infrastructure are always likely to be contentious.
This was brought home to me at a recent educational conference. It assembled all those who have a responsibility for Scotland’s educational system, amongst them national and local government, the unions, Education Scotland, parent councils, and here and there the occasional bewildered head teacher, trying to read the runes. The tensions between the various parties was clear.
As educational conferences go, it wasn’t very edifying, or productive. What I had expected to find was an open-minded, self-critical and enlightened attitude towards the question of improving education in Scotland. What was served up was something that has seemed endemic for a number of years: arguments made from entrenched positions, driven by concerns about influence, power and territory, rather than by objective ideas about what could improve education itself.
This argument continues apace. Just this Monday, as reported in The Herald, Professor Lindsay Paterson, an adviser to the Conservative Party’s review of teaching in Scotland, argued that Scotland’s Curriculum for excellence is disastrous and will actually widen inequality. To my mind this is a specious argument, but it seems that, in some quarters, cutting down the tree at its very roots and starting again is a legitimate and sensible idea.
In amongst this sad stramash a simple and salient point appears to have been utterly forgotten: that great teachers produce great results in children. This isn’t a question of which system as such is best; it’s a question of properly supporting teachers to achieve excellence, and understanding that children respond when they take pleasure in learning. We can look to other educational systems for evidence for this, such as Finland. But we can also look closer to home.
Professor Sue Ellis and her colleagues from Strathclyde University have been working across 49 Renfrewshire schools to improve teaching standards. Focusing on P1-P2 pupils, they have trained primary head and class teachers in new approaches that support the teaching of reading. Unsurprisingly, the project analysis shows that as a result they have increased attainment across the 49 schools, and closed the attainment gap itself.
What also appears to have helped in Renfrewshire is accessing many of the opportunities and resources that Scottish Book Trust provides for free, to teachers and pupils, nationally. Today we open our Learning Professional Award 2018 for nominations, in recognition of the central, but often overlooked, role these professionals have in raising standards in education. Last year this was won by the amazing Susan Morton from Inverclyde Academy. If you still need convincing that people are more important than systems, have a look at what her pupils and colleagues have to say about her in the Award video on our website.