The ball's in your court

Jack McConnell

In the first of a major new series on the way forward for Scottish education, Jack McConnell, Education Minister, says the time has come for teachers to be given more professional discretion in the classroom

THE beginning of a new school year is a good time for the education community in Scotland to look ahead to the future and take stock of the previous year's developments. Much has been achieved in the past 12 months - notably by setting national priorities for education, modernising teachers' pay and contracts, establishing a new role for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education, taking steps to improve school discipline, expanding new community schools and tackling difficulties with the new National Qualifications.

Many of these measures are exploring ways to break down the barriers that have previously prevented professional excellence in the classroom helping young people reach their full potential. I believe passionately in quality and the drive to improve standards, year on year.

For teachers and schools to do their best for pupils we need stability, a stability I am striving to provide via the new partnership with teachers through the three-year pay and conditions settlement, the development of the schools improvement framework and other work in progress.

But to pursue that quality vision, it is important to build a national consensus on education in which we do not compromise on helping every individual learner to achieve the very best they can. The service can be proud of its successes but we can only build on success if we are prepared to stretch ourselves even further. We must be prepared to ask challenging questions from the outset, and to listen to a variety of views from different walks of life.

I want to see the most effective approaches to learning and teaching recognised and celebrated nationally, and to encourage others to build on this good practice, improve it and inspire people to develop ideas of their own. By creating a national framework built around the national priorities, teachers and schools can drive the changes to achieve improvement whatever the circumstances, in a climate that is neither centrally driven nor weighed down by a heavy bureaucratic load.

In preparing for the future, it is important to build on the wealth of experience and knowledge already in the classrooms. I want professionals in our schools to have the freedom and support to use their judgment to deliver a rewarding learning experience to pupils, free from the real and perceived constraints in the system.

I will be issuing guidance soon to encourage local authorities to review current approaches to flexibility and innovation. I want them to ensure that schools and teachers are in a position to take advantage of the full range of curriculum flexibility so that all young people have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

Flexibility can be used to help disaffected pupils gain high quality work-experience and college placements which could be used to continue their education outwith the school environment. A less able pupil finding difficulty coping with the full curriculum could be offered a more restricted curriculum with opportunities for additional support where needed.

A pupil who is particularly gifted in a certain area can concentrate on the subjects which they are best at and pupils can take the most appropriate examinations whether they be Standard grade or new National Qualifications at the most appropriate time for the individual.

The guidance on flexibility implements a key recommendation made by the discipline task group to enable schools to take account of local circumstances and meet individual pupil needs.

This year we will encourage teachers, schools and local authorities to develop innovative learning and teaching pilot projects, exploring new ways of learning and teaching to meet young people's needs in years to come. I also look forward to launching the action plan for modern languages in September and agreeing a strategy for better school buildings with councils backed by local and national resources.

Other priorities for the coming months include the future of the early intervention programme after the current arrangements end next year, development of national statements on improving attainment in literacy and numeracy in schools, and our response to the proposals on education for citizenship currently being developed by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

ey to all of this are the national priorities for education. They establish the priority outcomes from the school education system and they underpin improvement planning and development planning. But, most important, they focus on outcomes not inputs.

When we begin to focus on outcomes rather than inputs, and to think about the real learning and teaching benefits of our increased investment in schools, we encourage schools, education authorities and others to think creatively about the ways in which the curriculum is delivered.

Schools meet some of our communities' most important needs. In a rapidly changing society such as ours those needs will alter and schools must respond. Teachers are people with enormous influence, and good teaching is quite literally the making of us all. I want teachers and other education practitioners to be clear about the power they have to develop approaches to learning and teaching that best meet the needs of pupils in their immediate environments.

We have recognised the importance of schools and teachers to our communities across Scotland and now I look forward to giving every young person in Scotland the best possible start in life through an education service in which we can all be proud.

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Jack McConnell

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