A bold blueprint for school reforms

Expert group calls on Scotland to be more adventurous

Elizabeth Buie

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Acommission of education experts, set up to provide a blueprint for Scottish schooling in 50 years' time, has called for a radical, bold approach rather than the small incremental steps that have failed to deliver transformational change to date.

An interim report published today by the School Reform Commission, chaired by former Clackmannanshire education director Keir Bloomer, suggests that the education system in Scotland has been too conformist and a victim of its past success.

"Successive governments have been faced with a system which was experiencing sufficient success to make change risky. The worst outcome for any minister would be to bring about deterioration in standards; hence there has been a reluctance to be radical or adventurous in educational reform," states the commission, which was set up by two thinktanks, Reform Scotland and the Scottish Centre for Public Policy.

Today's report warns that "better overall educational standards in Scotland are essential if we are even to maintain - much less improve upon - our quality of life and our contribution to world development".

Scottish schools offer a good and remarkably even quality of education, but they are not "world leading", it adds. And while Curriculum for Excellence potentially contains the seeds of significant improvement, it is "not clear that it has developed the kind of change processes that will be required to deliver success."

The commission's final report, due towards the end of the year, is expected to explore how to deliver transformational change.

Technology should be harnessed better to challenge some of the accepted norms of school organisation, such as fixed hours and class units, Mr Bloomer told TESS.

He believes England has been more successful than Scotland in challenging vested interests, creating diversity and handing autonomy to schools.

"A degree of institutional freedom of action in England has produced a greater range of success and failure in schools," he said.

"The OECD report of 2007 said it doesn't matter all that much which school you go to in Scotland, although it does matter what background you come from. That is less true south of the border. So can we have the successes without the failure? That is the question - but it will be the final report which will say whether we have got an answer to that."

Today's report draws a sharp contrast with Shanghai's educational success, highlighted in the 2009 Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) results.

"Our picture of a Chinese classroom is of 70-80 kids, chanting in unison, no individuality, and learning things by heart. That now seems to be an outdated stereotype of what it's actually like," said Mr Bloomer.

"The implications of this both for Scotland's economy and its education system are momentous," the report says.



Keir Bloomer (chair), former director of education, Clackmannanshire Council

John Barnett, economist

David Cameron, former director of education, Stirling Council

Heather Dunk, principal, Kilmarnock College

Hamira Khan, chief executive, Scottish Youth Parliament

Frank Lennon, headteacher, Dunblane High

Ross Martin, director, Centre for Scottish Public Policy

Geoff Mawdsley, director, Reform Scotland

Anne Marie McGovern, headteacher, St. Benedict's Primary, Glasgow

Linda McKay, principal, Forth Valley College

Paul McLennan, SNP councillor, East Lothian Council

Alison Payne (secretary), Reform Scotland

Peter Peacock, former education minister (Labour)

Morag Pendry, Scottish Cooperative Trust

Catriona Reoch, teacher, Govan High, Glasgow

Graham Simpson, Conservative councillor, South Lanarkshire Council

Dame Joan Stringer, principal, Edinburgh Napier University

Angus Tulloch, investment manager.

Original headline: Reform group calls for more radical steps on schooling

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Elizabeth Buie

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