It’s all change at Education Scotland, insists chief executive Gayle Gorman, who says that the body is getting its “sleeves rolled up” to work more closely with teachers than ever before.
The national inspection and curriculum development body, formed from the merger of those two services in 2011, has since inception faced criticism for being an aloof and bureaucratic organisation: those concerns came to a head in 2016 when it emerged in the Scottish Parliament that it had amassed 20,000 web pages of advice on Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence.
In an interview with Tes Scotland, Ms Gorman – who is also Scotland’s chief inspector – said teachers would see big changes as the organisation gradually moves to a “regional delivery model”.
This will lead to many new posts for Education Scotland staff “who aren’t aloof because they’re based in the local area, they’re working alongside you in school, you see them at twilights, you’re working together on developing some resources, you’re looking [together] at a difficulty or a challenge that you have”.
In short, said Ms Gorman, these staff – including around 100 new jobs covering posts such as “development officer” and “education officer” – “won’t be aloof, kind of distant people – they’ll physically be alongside you, with their sleeves rolled up”.
They will “know and understand your communities” and perform “very different” roles, depending on local needs, as well as providing a conduit into Scottish and international educational research so that there is less of a burden on teachers to keep abreast of new findings.
“We’re wanting to develop a much stronger research and evidence base,” said Ms Gorman.
She added: “It’s about really focusing on our craft of education, our craft of teaching, getting back to what teaching’s all about, offering that practical peer-to-peer support, that encouragement and development.”
Ms Gorman contested the suggestion that Scottish education is in decline, arguing that “some of the narrative that’s around at the moment is not reflecting the practice we see through inspection, not reflecting the practice that I experience when I go out, when we talk to parents about the experiences of their young people, and I talk to young people”
'We need to uplift the teaching profession'
She added that “we need to help uplift the profession” and to “celebrate” its successes.
“We’re here to be the voice of the profession,” said Ms Gorman, who added that, while Education Scotland is “an agency of government”, she and her colleagues are “very clear” that their role is to provide an “independent voice”.
She said: “There has been criticism of Education Scotland ‘marking its own homework’…and perhaps some of that had a little element of truth in it.”
Inspection, said Ms Gorman, is picking up on the impact of problems with teacher recruitment: “Certainly, it used to be in pockets of the country, and now we’re seeing it sporadically spread across various communities.”
Recruitment problems are “very, very live themes” and, she added, in some parts of Scotland, “there are huge challenges”; Education Scotland will be exploring these in more detail in the months ahead and, she said, “we want to be able to help facilitate and support teachers through [what is] a bit of an unsettled time”.
Ms Gorman also responded to comments made by Ken Muir, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, who said in November that a “big mistake" at the outset of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) – which emerged from a consultation exercise in 2002 – was that not enough was done to talk to teachers and families about its philosophy and aims.
Ms Gorman said: “Are they clear about the purpose and the activities and the range and the depth of Curriculum for Excellence? No, not as much as they could be.”
There was a need to “refresh” the “narrative” around CfE, she said, which was “all about aspiration for young people” and putting learners “at the heart of Scottish education”.
Before her December 2017 appointment, Ms Gorman was Aberdeen City Council’s director of education and children services, having previously worked for many years in education in England, including spells with the Department for Education and as an Ofsted inspector with Essex County Council.
She sees a big distinction between the education systems either side of the border: “We [in Scotland] fundamentally have a different societal focus around education. We believe in equity and opportunity for all our young people, and our education system really reflects that.”