Performance - Take a 'genuine' look at the figures, says ADES leader

10th January 2014 at 00:00
Data comparisons he proposes 'not the same' as league tables

The education system needs to undergo a revolution in the way that data is collected and used, according to the new president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES).

John Fyffe, executive director of education and children's services at Perth and Kinross Council, called for information to be used to drive improvement. This was "absolutely" in contrast to using it to collate league tables, he said.

Education Scotland published the latest set of school-by-school data on exam performance last month; it was subsequently used by some in the media to create league tables. Tables such as these are often criticised for comparing schools and local authorities without taking into account disparities in their circumstances.

Real improvement could be achieved by "genuinely looking at data that is collected locally and compared and benchmarked regionally or nationally", Mr Fyffe said.

His comments come only months after TESS revealed that the traditional system of comparing schools by their exam results would be changed this year in favour of a wider range of measures. The Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool will involve the creation of a computer-generated virtual school, taking into account student characteristics and background information. Schools will be able to judge their performance against this model to see if they are reaching appropriate standards.

The move was welcomed by School Leaders Scotland but the EIS teaching union feared that the new system would still be too exam-focused.

Mr Fyffe, who spoke to TESS at the ADES annual conference in November in his first lengthy interview since taking over as president, also welcomed the fact that there was to be a measure of flexibility over the introduction of new Highers.

He said that although he still wanted councils and schools to implement the new exams, there might be circumstances where delay would be necessary if students were not ready.

The first exams are due to be taken in 2015 at the end of the next academic year.

"We cannot stall with the implementation of the new Highers but there are circumstances and some situations where perhaps a more flexible approach should be used," Mr Fyffe said.

He acknowledged that teachers had to cope with significant workloads as they implemented Curriculum for Excellence and the new exams, but had no doubt that they would rise to the challenge. "I think teachers always deliver," he said.

As Scotland moved on with CfE, it had to "genuinely offer a different provision from what is currently on offer," he added. "And the purpose has to be to prepare (students) for further and higher education or work, and meet their needs in a more effective way."

Mr Fyffe left school at 16, completing an apprenticeship as a toolmaker with watch company Timex before returning to education for teacher training and postgraduate courses at Dundee and Abertay universities. He has been responsible for education in Perth and Kinross since 2007.

He said that education departments were becoming more focused on the whole child. "Education is becoming more integrated, and that is absolutely the right approach. Where councils think and act along these lines an integrated approach happens naturally and leads to better outcomes for children and their families," he explained.

The greatest challenge facing education directors in the coming year was leadership, Mr Fyffe said, particularly where a number of public sector agencies were working together.

In the context of community partnerships, agreeing on budgets would be another significant challenge, he added, especially as they would not increase in coming years.

"That brings its own problems," Mr Fyffe said. "People still want the same levels of service. This is where we need to adapt and change to encompass new ways of working with communities."

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