Why we can't afford to let the anti-England brigade circumscribe Scottish education

19th August 2011 at 01:00
It would be arrogant and foolish to exclude one country's ideas from our own reforms

I have heard the rumbledethump of the Border Reivers' hooves in recent issues of TESS. The teaching equivalent of the UK Border Agency is now required to secure the Scottish frontier from incursion by substandard and dangerous English educators. There has been a lather of indignation around the supposed impact of English teaching reforms up here. Any suggestion of a threat to our children is panic-mongering.

While the undertone of superiority was bad enough, the whiff of protectionism is of greater concern. In Scotland, despite our successes, we fret about the new curriculum: its impact; its funding; its definition of the teacher's role. Such insecurity nourishes an unhealthy perpetuation of (mostly) false distinctions between north and south. It does not speak of faith in the robustness of our own standards, more a fear of the outsider. We will trumpet our similarities to other states and articulate our aspirations to borrow from the best in the crusade to raise our educational game. But admit to drawing inspiration from England?

This blinds us to much that is excellent from the Tyne to Tamar. The free schools programme and explosion of academies are manifestations of a strength in diversity in England from which we would do well to learn. And it works in reverse: on visiting an event in England recently, I was struck by how many exhibitors and schools were promoting their version of Curriculum for Excellence.

The exhortations in England for greater collaboration between public and private schools should resonate in Scotland too. It can be about much more than sharing facilities or joint CPD. It can be transformational. Before we decry the "deregulation" of the English teaching profession, let us heed the voices of Eton supremo Tony Little (who spoke recently of successfully employing and training unqualified staff) and Teach First.

My beef is not that we may miss out on excellent teachers coming up from England, bad though that is. I am concerned about an attitude of sanctimonious conservatism that is abroad in Scottish education. Claiming to safeguard, advocates of this outlook (or should that be "inlook") preserve the status quo by portraying tinkering or reworking as radical reform. Of course debate about change is essential, but I wonder sometimes if vested interests mount too much defence, while ostensibly supporting the consensus for transformational change.

If, as we seem to say, we seek to realise a new vision for schools and schooling through Curriculum for Excellence, then we cannot circumscribe whole tracts of the system from reform. That means remaining open to lessons from England, as elsewhere, and being prepared to redefine what it means to be, and what qualifies one to be, a teacher.

Ben Davis is depute headteacher at St Joseph's Academy, Kilmarnock.

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