Be brave, be bold and work together

8th March 2013 at 00:00

It's not every day you read an education report that can enthuse you, that can show how our country's schools could be different - so much better than they are - and change life chances for children in Scotland. But the Commission on School Reform has produced just that (page 6).

In 125 pages, By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education paints a broad picture of where we stand in relation to our past (stuck in it), in relation to other countries (falling behind), and in relation to great ideas (slow to implement them). But it also probes down into key areas that could be tapped to turn things around.

Deprivation is a major factor that is holding back progress, it says - but it's too late to start helping children when they're 3 and going into nursery. The most rapid changes in the brain that are crucial to early learning have stopped by then. We need to start sooner - pre-birth even. And it cites projects in Glasgow, where families are benefiting from nurture classes.

Lack of courage is another barrier - in teachers who have been conditioned to perform as the guidelines tell them and as inspectors and local authorities require; teachers who have lost the passion and enthusiasm that can inspire their pupils and achieve extraordinary things.

Hierarchical political systems are partly to blame - where central government issues a policy statement, local government feeds it down to schools, and senior managers try to ensure teachers implement it. We need to do away with these layers, it argues.

Partnership is what's called for, a partnership of equals - teachers, heads, schools, local authorities, government. In a small country it shouldn't be too difficult to achieve, but history has proved otherwise.

Diversity is also what's required. There is a uniformity about schools and exam systems in Scotland, which is presented as stultifying. Not that Keir Bloomer, chair of the commission, and his fellow members wish to emulate England, but look at the Dance School of Scotland, Glasgow School of Sport, the North Lanarkshire music and sport comprehensives, the Gaelic medium schools and Schools of Ambition. There are pockets of brilliance, different ways of doing things that others could emulate, given the chance.

Only through this kind of inspiration can we reach the "highs", not through compliance. It's a journey that can be daring and exciting - and those are attributes that should be driving our education system.

It's a brave report with potentially far-reaching implications. It's not perfect, in that there are vested interests to be seen. But it shows clarity of vision.

What happens now is down to the politicians and where the education secretary takes it from here. There again, it could be down to you - or the colleague sitting next to you.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor,

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