Roll up, roll up! The show begins again

14th August 2015 at 01:00

The Scottish capital is currently packed with performers. Wherever you turn, you are greeted by jugglers, magicians, trapeze artists and, of course, comedians. Some in the Scottish education system will undoubtedly see parallels with their working lives.

As teachers, lecturers and students embark on the new term - which in some parts of Scotland began this week - they will need many of the skills on display in Edinburgh this month.

Juggling the ongoing implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, the needs of individual learners and the paperwork may well feel like circus act. And, sticking with the metaphor, the college sector is a great example of how much of a challenge it can be to keep all the balls in the air at once.

This week, for example, TESS reports that the percentage of candidates from further education sitting the new qualifications is much lower than it is for those taking Intermediate 2 and the old Highers (see page 10).

Although a number of issues could be contributing to this - including the fact that the old qualification simply suited some learners better - the profound change already faced by colleges has made it difficult for them to introduce new qualifications at the same time. The bedding in of regionalisation, along with cuts to staff numbers and funding, has left little breathing space. Of course, colleges can put off the changes for only so long; next year their students will have no choice but to sit the new exams.

Scottish education may not have magic at its disposal, but it will take something not significantly short of that to meet the government's targets on closing the attainment gap between young people from deprived backgrounds and their more affluent peers.

This week, Scottish Labour leadership candidate Kezia Dugdale outlined how the party would tackle that difficult feat with her at the helm. Teachers working in areas of deprivation should earn more, she said. They would also be the first to get the chance to attain a new "enhanced teacher grade". She called in addition for reform of the inspection system. Of course, how effective these measures would be is difficult to assess - they are only theoretical and part of a highly politicised debate.

However, TESS also reports today on an example of the impact that the education sector can have when it takes the plunge and confronts difficult issues (see pages 12-13). The Anthony Nolan charity has piloted its education programme in two Glasgow schools, which has already led to more than a dozen pupils signing up to be stem cell or bone marrow donors and potentially saving lives.

Like a well-choreographed performance, the next few months will involve students, teachers, lecturers and leaders moving together towards a finale that will once again include the introduction of a new exam and bid farewell to an old one.

The hope is that the result will be a roaring success, not a box-office flop.

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