I would like to propose ... a few more resolutions

18th January 2013 at 00:00
Education services in Scotland, listen up. We must work together to prepare youngsters for the new world

A new year sets the mind on resolutions for the months to come. This led me to consider some for education services in Scotland and to reflect upon what would inspire us to agree statements of intent that motivate us for the year ahead.

My first suggestion is that we reaffirm our shared commitment to support children and young people to be successful, notwithstanding their social or economic heritage, by creating the best learning environment for every individual - whether they are middle class and supported by ambitious parents, or looked after on supervision orders.

Central to this is the necessity to review our core moral purpose as educators. It can be easy to forget that our business actually fits the criteria of a vocation. There are 86,400 seconds in a day and they are precious. In education, when the timer runs out on these, we can be relatively confident that at least one child or young person is probably in a better place as a result of our collective actions that day. This is a precious gift and we have the responsibility to do it justice.

My first proposal for a resolution, therefore, is to remind ourselves of the privileged vocation in which we find ourselves and to ensure we use the responsibility wisely and reflectively.

Some question how education can compensate for the disadvantages created by an unequal socio-economic environment. It is certainly a challenge, but my personal experience suggests that committed, caring and ambitious teachers can make a significant difference to the lives of all young people. I am, like a number of my peers working in education in Scotland, testimony to what is possible when a young person is supported and developed by good teaching. I grew up in a single-parent household with four younger siblings in a "deprived" estate in Glasgow. I could easily have been deemed an "SIMD casualty" (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) and my life, like the proverbial fleas contained in the jar, circumscribed by my background. However, I had a supportive and ambitious mother supplemented by excellent primary and secondary teachers who did not limit their expectations of me because of a defined social and economic background.

My second resolution proposal for 2013, therefore, is for all educators to celebrate the power of education as a key determinant in the battle to reduce inequality and disadvantage. This means, inter alia, taking the lead in recognising that children and young people need to be in a place where they are "ready to learn". Nurturing and reinforcing physical, emotional and psychological health and well-being, which develop confidence and resilience - all prerequisites of effective learning - are our collective responsibilities in education. The Children and Young People's Bill recognises this, and it is incumbent on us as educators to lead and influence the final shape of the new legislation to come. We cannot assume that others will pick up the baton for us.

My final suggestion for a resolution leads us to the senior phase of education. We must continue to acknowledge our duty to all young people as part of "closing the educational opportunity gap" between those studying Highers and "the rest". A golden opportunity now presents itself to carve out a range of educational pathways that develop and enhance the abilities, interests and economic destiny of the next generation. This requires schools and their education and training partners to acknowledge collectively that the social and economic landscape is going through a paradigm shift. We must work together as partners to prepare young people for the new world.

We can manage this through a process of "reverse engineering" from the exit point of school. In other words, we use post-school destination profiles to analyse what needs to be worked back into senior phase programmes to guarantee that educational routes are progressive and appropriate for all. Such a resolution would positively improve life chances for many young people.

Unquestionably, 2013 will be a seminal year in education. The establishment of "early years collaboratives" that link the caring services through the philosophy of Girfec (Getting it Right for Every Child) is a radical and exciting approach. If the rhetoric of integrated working is shaped into reality through these collaboratives, we will indeed realise the objectives of the first and second resolutions.

We are also now at the final stage of preparing for the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence. The shape of the programme in years one and two will continue to evolve. However, there is still the temptation in some quarters to tinker around the edges and keep the core of "what has always been" - albeit with some additional opportunities for those who are not three- or five-Higher students. Such a conservative approach is understandable, but we have a rare opportunity to reshape provision fundamentally in a way that meets the needs of all young people equally. It would be tragic for this young generation if we let it slip. Adoption of my third resolution would, I suggest, help us to ensure that appropriate and equal-value provision is in place for all learners.

The year 2013 will bring its challenges, but the opportunity to help reshape education fundamentally to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world is exciting. It is a good year to be an educator in Scotland.

Andrew Sutherland is director of education in Falkirk.

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