Time is right for a revolution

21st March 2008 at 00:00
The oft-repeated mantra for managing change in education is "evolution, not revolution". Such a strategy takes account of the sensitivities involved whenever change is proposed and recognises the tacit (and explicit) resistance to change that can exist within any large organisation. The accepted logic is that we make change gradually by building upon good practice and, hopefully, extend this across the entire system.

Such a cascade - or "viral" approach - where new practice is supposed to create a dynamic, or critical, mass which sweeps the system into the new world, is generally accepted as good practice. Unfortunately for us, research into change strategies in education on a worldwide scale have shown the singular failure of such approaches.

Initiatives which depend upon willing volunteers, who create the perception of change within a system, disguise the majority who have learnt to ignore the initiative, safe in the knowledge that "there will be another one along later".

Yet, even a cursory glance at the history of the social and physical world tells us that evolution is not always a smooth and gradual process. Sometimes, change takes place in a relatively short period of time.

My point is that it might be time to consider whether or not we should engage in radical change to our curriculum and delivery systems. Of course, another powerful metaphor is often used to counter such a suggestion: "don't throw the baby out with the bath water". This seems to ignore the consensus within Scottish education that there is an imperative for change and that the plug does perhaps need to be pulled from the bath.

In recent discussions with headteachers and teachers throughout Scotland, I have been encouraged by their readiness to engage with a more radical agenda that will better meet the needs of young people. Translated into action, this would result in a radical change which could create a curriculum framework around which new professional practice could be developed. This could even enable Scotland to take a leading role in educational development.

So, what might such a revolution look like?

As with any such, aspects already exist in many areas. However, revolution would require a fundamental change to the landscape of Scottish education.

The following is a selection of five actions identified by a group of headteachers that might collectively make a contribution towards this change.

- Each young person will have a unique learning programme (timetable), including home and school learning in its widest sense, which would extend beyond the school day and school grounds and actively engage youngsters and their parents in designing learning experiences.

- Young people over the age of 16 may devise their own curriculum by accessing courses available at their own or another school, further education and higher education institutions and on-line; education would be perceived as something more than a school offering.

- Children and young people will be taught, from an early age, how to make the best use of virtual learning environments, reinforcing our obligation to consider how the learning process and environment has changed and will continue to change.

- Every child will have an online space in which they can keep a record of their experiences from ages 3 to 18, allowing them to reflect on their learning and development.

- Schools will build up their identity through an emphasis on wider achievements such as music, creative and performing arts, sport, community volunteering, local politics, outdoor education and community leadership. These will be referred to as "core activities", and we then build the traditional curriculum around activities which have "real" personal meaning for young people.

Let the revolution commence!

Don Ledingham is acting director of education and children's services in East Lothian.

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