The bar takes on a new meaning at the festival
When Avis Glaze last came to Scotland, she delighted teachers with her description of a transformed education system - in Ontario province, Canada - free from inspectors. "We don't believe in the big stick," said Dr Glaze, one of the keynote speakers at this year's Scottish Learning Festival in September. "We respect our professionals."
It went down well. Dr Glaze has since moved from the higher reaches of Ontario's public education to Edu-quest International, through which she continues to influence and improve education systems around the world. Equity and social justice are her goals. Education - "the ultimate tool of empowerment" - provides the means. "The true measure of equity is how students succeed in school," she says.
As co-author of Breaking Barriers: Excellence and equity for all, a study of inclusive education in practice and research, she is motivated by passions, formed as a young girl in Jamaica, that fit perfectly with the theme of this year's Scottish Learning Festival: Raising the bar in Scotland - transforming lives through learning.
"Increasing the achievement and attainment of all young people is a key priority of Scotland's new school curriculum," says Education Scotland's Joanne McLauchlan. "But Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) research suggests that disadvantage in Scotland is a larger factor in educational outcomes than in other similar countries."
Lessons can be learned from Finland, where the transformation of that country's education system demonstrated a remarkable effect, she says. A schools system redesigned to achieve equity and inclusion can lead to significant increases in attainment.
"Competition, choice, standardised testing and privatisation have become common tactics to improve schools," says festival keynote speaker Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation, and author of Finnish Lessons.
"There is an alternative way to transform education systems and boost learning for all students. It is the way of inclusion and equity, teacher professionalism, collaborative practice and trust-based responsibility."
Finland's education system, built on these foundations, now ranks consistently among the best in the world, he adds. "Transformation of the education system is possible if education policies focus on the whole child instead of academic performance, professional development instead of test-based accountability, and pedagogy instead of technology.
"What is needed is the right blend of ingenuity, time, patience and determination."
Keynote speaker Andy Hargreaves, currently professor of education at Boston College in the US and author of more than 30 books on education, brings a broad international perspective, with its origins in a northern England mill town, to his session on high-performing systems in education.
"Scotland has a distinguished legacy that places a high value on education," he says. "It is associated far and wide with high standards and professional autonomy. But the country's performance on international achievement tests has been questioned and recent reviews of Scottish education suggest that the number of change ideas is inversely related to success in implementing them. So what should the future hold for Scottish education? What can it learn from different kinds of high performers?"
Keynote speaker Petra Wend - chair of the implementation board for Teaching Scotland's Future - will report on progress with the recommendations of the Donaldson report on teacher education. "There is something in these (speeches) for all practitioners," Ms McLauchlan says.
Her keynote will take the round-table format. So too will the keynote from Education Scotland chief executive Bill Maxwell, which will offer delegates the opportunity to discuss the big ideas in Scottish education with those involved in strategy, planning and implementation.
A session from education secretary Michael Russell, on the first morning of the festival, completes the keynote programme. As always, the contents will not be revealed in advance, but food for thought, new announcements and a few surprises have featured in past speeches.
Seminars for the festival are still being finalised, so the full SLF 2013 programme will be published online in the weeks ahead. As usual, practitioners and students will deliver roughly 75 per cent of these seminars, with the balance coming from Education Scotland and local authority staff and a sprinkling of others with something new to say to the education community.
As with keynotes, the seminars have been selected to showcase perspectives and practices that support this year's theme - raising the bar for all young learners. "Having an overarching theme has proved popular," Ms McLauchlan says. "Each year the chosen theme is intelligence-led and based on dialogue with practitioners and partners."
Raising the bar is a fundamental aim of Scottish education, she adds. "The keynote speakers at the Scottish Learning Festival are internationally recognised education leaders in improving the achievement and attainment of all young learners."
DETAILS OF THE FESTIVAL
The Scottish Learning Festival wil take place on 25-26 September at the SECC in Glasgow. Attendance is free. Seminars and keynotes should be booked in advance. www.educationscotland.gov.ukslf
Keynotes will be streamed live on the festival website. They will also be available on the website soon afterwards as video recordings.