Rip up the rules - or at least the one on inspections

22nd August 2014 at 01:00

Imagine if there were no more stressful inspections, no mountains of paperwork and no bell incessantly ringing out the daily routine. You might not have to if any of these visions for the future of Scotland's schools are ever taken forward.

All three were mooted by delegates at a recent stakeholders event held by the Scottish Labour Party to debate ways of improving education (see pages 16-18). The party is not suggesting that it would introduce all - or any - of them should it come to power, but in the current climate who knows what the future will bring north of the border? When it comes to education, Scotland has already gone its own way and introduced a system that is completely independent from the rest of the UK - and that many would argue is all the better for it.

The common factor linking these very different-sounding ideas is a call to abolish traditional practices in a bid to create a school system that is better suited to changing circumstances, needs and beliefs. This process has often led to improvements that may have been resisted at the time but in hindsight are widely accepted as beneficial to all.

Few, I think, would argue now that it was a mistake to make it illegal to beat children with belts or canes for misdemeanours in class. But until relatively recently, corporal punishment was widely used and accepted by staff and students as the standard method of meting out retribution to supposedly recalcitrant youths.

It has been far longer since we moved from slates to paper, and some think an upgrade to a computers-only system is the next logical, and long overdue, step.

In Finland, where there are no inspections of the kind we use here to assess schools, pupils are said to enjoy a high and equal standard of education. Teachers there also have the same kind of standing in society as doctors do here, apparently, although given the changing attitudes to the NHS that might not be saying so much these days.

I can't help wondering if it won't be long before this mythical-sounding Scandinavian land does away with lessons and exams altogether. Some might say they already appear to be moving in that direction, with Finnish children not beginning formal education until they are 7. And when they do finally make it through the school gates, pupils rarely sit formal qualifications until they reach secondary level.

Teachers, meanwhile, use their free time to enjoy such extracurricular activities as wife-carrying and mobile phone-throwing (not simultaneously). Actually, I have no idea whether they enjoy either pursuit, but the fact that the Finns hold world championships in both activities makes me think they are well aware of the value of time off.

In the meantime, although paperless schools might be the most sensible suggestion for this country, I'd like to see what happens if time is ever called on the school bell. Are our schools ready for such radicalism?

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