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Success of any sort should be celebrated

Celebrating success. We can do it when it comes to Olympic gold medals, recognising that hard work, dedication, training and advances in knowledge and technology have contributed to improved performances. Yet the sour grapes from the French cycling team, suggesting that Team GB's success in the velodrome could only be attributed to "magic wheels", smack of the reactions from some detractors of the Scottish education system this week. The pass rate for the all-important Higher exams is up by 1.8 per cent - the sixth successive year it has risen - and Advanced Highers have seen a 1 per cent increase compared with last year. Ergo, comes the suggestion, exams are being "dumbed down" (page 5).

Could it not be that our teachers and education authorities are actually getting better at putting into practice the strategies we know work for raising attainment? They have been criticised time and again for an inability to tackle the stubborn rump of pupils who leave the system with no qualifications. Now, when figures appear to be going in the right direction, there seems to be a reluctance in certain quarters to give credit where it is due - to better teaching and greater focus from pupils.

Some of the strategies that have been employed are not rocket science. If attendance rates improve significantly - as has happened in Glasgow and Edinburgh - then pupils are going to be in a position to take in more information. Yet simply having bums on seats is no guarantee that learning will be absorbed - that depends on teachers being able to engage their classes and use their expertise in passing on that knowledge.

The current crop of pupils who have received their results have not grown up under Curriculum for Excellence, yet their teachers are the same people who teach pupils in the early secondary phase. These teachers will have been exposed over the last few years to CPD on active learning, formative assessment, individualisation of learning and other techniques to both motivate and engage learners. It would be surprising, not to say worrying, if older students were not also gaining from enhanced classroom methodologies.

We now have far greater insights into how the brain works and what aids learning. This week, we report on research suggesting that bilingualism boosts young children's cognitive abilities - not only in language but also numeracy (page 8). And engagement in sustained art projects - as opposed to one-off art lessons - boosts children's critical thinking (page 7). Exposure to outdoor learning improves young people's confidence and raises their aspirations (page 16); volunteering in a care home helps children see the relevance of what they are learning (page 20); and connecting pupils with employers makes them more employable (page 22). We know what works - let's make sure we all do more of it.

Gillian Macdonald is away.

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