Follow the Nordics, not the 'terrible' English, says expert

20th May 2011 at 01:00
Market-led approach to schooling used south of the border should be resisted, educationalist warns

Scotland stands at a crossroads between following the market-led education system of England and choosing the more democratic path of the Nordic nations, according to a leading education expert.

Peter Mortimore, a former director of London University's Institute of Education, said Scotland "could follow a Nordic route or ape the testing, league tables and market route chosen by English politicians".

"From what I have learnt of Curriculum for Excellence - with its trust for teachers - it would seem to point towards the Nordic route," he told Scottish teachers.

Professor Mortimore said education in England was dominated by a "terrible, retrograde, neo-liberal approach" characterised by lack of trust in teachers and loss of power to local authorities. League tables had "almost destroyed the education system south of the border", he added.

There was some "excellent" teaching in England, he said, but its education system was "founded on market principles", which meant that some pupils do well and a lot do badly. "This might have been suitable for a Victorian economy but is not sensible for a modern country."

The English approach must be "fought against" in Scotland, which had benefited from free education, a large proportion of comprehensive schools and professional agreements over working hours for teachers, he said.

Scotland should instead look to countries such as Finland, Norway and Sweden, which "make equity an important aim for their education systems" and are "very democratic" in the way they work. "There, preparation for living in a democracy is a part of everyone's schooling," he said.

Professor Mortimore, who was talking at a Tapestry Partnership conference held in Glasgow last week, said Norway and Denmark had a "more patient system", with school starting at age six.

Examinations play a relatively small part and children "do not experience much failure", he said.

"They have not been told they are bad learners and they flourish as they get older. Both countries end up with highly literate and generally well- educated populations," he said.

Walter Humes, visiting professor of education at Stirling University, predicted the election result would make it much less likely that Scottish education would follow England's example.

"The SNP will seek to take education in the direction of the Scottish democratic tradition, whereas the English tradition is much more stratified and varied," he said.

Some areas of Curriculum for Excellence had a natural link with Nordic education. "Its emphasis on responsible citizens and effective contributors does connect with what many see as the democratic nature of the Nordic countries," he said.

But he warned of "difficulties" in transplanting an educational theory or policy from one country to another.

chris.small@tes.co.uk.

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