Pioneers of ideas call convention to account

Festival of new thinking proposes an end to exams and walking breaks in the working day

A host of "dangerous" ideas for Scottish education sprang up around the country last week - including scrapping exams, making school optional and a qualification akin to Advanced Higher that can be done in a month.

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas, organised by the College Development Network, took place over nine days and culminated with an event in Glasgow in which guests, mostly from the further education sector, selected their favourite ideas.

The emphasis was on "shifting the balance away from teaching people to asking, 'How do we learn?'" said Karen Lawson, curator of dangerous ideas.

Youth Scotland development worker Lois Marshall said that all education should follow the approach of youth work: young people should decide what and how they want to learn, based on their interests and experiences.

"Give people the option to go to school," she said. "Maybe they would prefer to go to a youth-work residential."

The Surefoot Effect, meanwhile, seeks to reinstate time for reflection in daily life - in the belief that digital technology has monopolised people's time - to help reduce social inequality and harm to the environment.

Senior facilitator Rachel Millsom's presentation inspired suggestions that walking breaks should be built into working days to make space for contemplation, and that there should be regular technology-free days.

So Say Scotland, which is inspired by the Icelandic assembly movement, encourages citizens to drive societal change outwith conventional political structures. In one session, the most popular suggestion among delegates was to scrap exams.

Bad Idea managing director Anthony Gerrard believes that formal education is hamstrung by fear of failure.

He challenges young people to brainstorm ideas for a product or service; they may get a chance to spend a month on their project and win #163;3,000. Mr Gerrard is in talks with the University of Glasgow to accredit the course, potentially at a level equivalent to Advanced Higher.

In a poll, the most popular presentation was by charity Sense Over Sectarianism, assisted by children from St Marnock's Primary and Crookston Castle Primary, both in Glasgow.

They dispelled myths about sectarianism: showing, for example, that most religiously aggravated arrests are not related to football; and that footballer George Livingstone played for both Celtic and Rangers more than 80 years before Maurice Johnston's epochal move to Rangers in 1989.

Runner-up was Angus College, which brings together students from different departments - including construction, beauty and social science - for cooperative learning days on themes such as Alice in Wonderland.

Even the most "dangerous" ideas may not be entirely fanciful: three festival events were put on by newly formed FE colleges, which advised that regional mergers were providing opportunities for radical new approaches.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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