School Values in Scotland

by Gary Walsh and Neil McLennan

Neil McLennan and I have been ‘speaking of values’ for a number of years now. We co-wrote a book entitled Speaking of Values with Dr Emma Fossey in 2016. The book is a series of interviews with various people in Scotland – leaders in the fields of education, business, social enterprise, the arts, youth activism, hospitality, medicine, and the Public and Third sectors – reflecting on the role of values in their lives and work.

On the back of that, we decided to try and learn some more about how values are understood and promoted in Scottish schools. The simplest way to do that seemed to be to ask teachers what their stated school values are, and to dig a little deeper to try and learn how the values had been identified and how they are defined. So we created a survey designed to do just that. It is a small-scale piece of work from which we can draw no firm conclusions: more robust research would be required to explore the issues in depth. The intention of creating the survey and sharing the results is to spark some further thought and dialogue, encouraging people in education to continue ‘speaking of values’ at a time when values couldn’t be more important. It seems entirely appropriate to be sharing the results in conjunction with World Values Day.

*The results presented here were collated up until 16th October 2017. The survey is still open and will run until 30th November 2017.*

This post does not offer a full analysis of the survey results – it presents the raw data gained so far and offers some thoughts by way of an initial conclusion. The survey responses suggest to us that there is a lot more to school values than what is written on school walls and websites. To borrow a recent quote from a Scottish teacher on Twitter, schools often try to ensure that values are “lived and not laminated”. The survey indicates that this is an attractive but ultimately extremely complex ambition.

Summary of survey results

As at 16th October 2017, approximately 45 teachers had submitted completed responses to the survey, covering a wide range of schools from across Scotland including primary, secondary, an independent school, state schools, non-denominational schools, faith schools, urban, rural, semi-rural and schools with specialist provision for additional support needs. School rolls varied from less than 10 to over 800, and schools were situated across all areas accounted for in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

94% have a list of school values, with a small number saying they need to be reviewed. The most common school value was ‘respect’. Below is a word cloud that summarises the most popular words found in school statements associated with school values (taken from a combination of school values ‘lists’ and mission statements, provided by respondents).

How were your school values identified?

26 respondents (58%) said that their school values were identified “by consulting with various groups of people”.  3 respondents (7%) said they were identified by “teachers only”, 1 respondent (2%) said they were identified “by school management only”.

Who specifically contributed to the identification of your school values?

26 respondents (57%) indicated that “all pupils” contributed to the identification of school values, 8 (17%) said a “specific group of pupils” contributed (e.g. pupil council), 20 (43%) said all staff contributed, 9 (20%) said a specific group of staff contributed (e.g. management team or working group), 18 (39%) said all parents contributed, 9 (20%) said a specific group of parents contributed (e.g. parent council) and 10 (20%) said that members of the community contributed.

Respondents also said that other people involved in the identification of school values include former school captains, partner agencies and the local business community. Values were sometimes identified using a series of consultations that were later deciphered by teachers. 5 respondents commented that they did not know how values were decided, with 2 saying that the values had been decided before they started their role in the school.

How were the final values agreed upon?

17 (39%), the largest number of respondents, said that they did not know how the values were agreed. 2 (5%) respondents said that one person decided. 3 (7%) respondents said the values were agreed by vote. 16 (36%) respondents said that the values were agreed by group discussion. 4 (9%) said that the values were agreed using a survey or questionnaire.

2 respondents further explained that the final decision was made by staff during inservice days. 1 respondent said that the headteacher had the final say. 2 respondents said that the decision was made by pupil and parent councils, and 1 respondent said it was done during school assembly.

How often are your school values reviewed?

18 (40%), the largest number of respondents, said that they did not know how often school values are reviewed. 3 (7%) said they were reviewed every year, 4 (9%) said they were reviewed every two years and 7 (16%) said they were reviewed every three years.

1 respondent further explained that it depended on the number of new staff joining the school. 3 respondents indicated that a review tends to take place over longer timescales e.g. every 4/5 years, 5-10 years. 1 respondent said the values are never reviewed. 2 respondents explained that the values were new to the school and still being embedded.

Did you use any of the following policy documents when identifying your school values?

27 (66%), the largest number of respondents, said they used How Good is Our School when identifying school values. 21 (51%) said they used Curriculum for Excellence. 10 (24%) said they used the GTCS Professional Standards. 25 (61%) said they used GIRFEC.

3 respondents said they referred to UNICEF (Rights Respecting Schools) or UN values. 1 respondent said they referred to partner schools from around the world. 1 respondent indicated that, as the school is a community campus, the school consulted with the local Leisure Centre and Community Learning and Development services. 1 respondent indicated they will be using the policy documents listed above to help inform a vote on school values. Another respondent said they used HGIOS to identify “what we are good at”, and children were invited to contribute later at an assembly. 3 respondents said that they did not use policy documents. 1 respondent said they did not know.

Did you use any research frameworks or theories when identifying your school values?

21 (50%), the majority of respondents, said they did not use any research frameworks or theories. 8 (19%) said they did use research frameworks or theories.

6 respondents explained that they did not know whether research frameworks were used. 1 respondent said they used Growth Mindset theory. 1 respondent said they used the “hierarchy of childrens’ needs”. 1 respondent said they used “ethics and values led education”. 1 respondent said they would use the values element of their Into Headship programme.

Did you use any other tools, resources or points of reference when identifying your school values? (e.g. community artefact, website, book etc.)

16 (38%), the largest number of respondents, said they did not use any other tools. 9 (21%) said they did.

5 respondents said they looked at the values of other schools. 1 respondent further explained: “we talked with partner schools from Scotland/ Africa to discuss values which were important and why to those cultures and communities to help us develop a list”.

3 respondents said they referred to community values, with one explaining “During open days members of the community could put their thoughts down on posters. Parents and families voted” and another explaining “Our values are influenced by ex pupils and members of the community who have gone on to achieve and then visit the school to talk about their experiences”.

One respondent said they used “whole school challenges” to identify values, one said they referred to “Scottish values”, one said they referred to “Catholic values” and another said they referred to “values education theories”.

Is there an underlying theory regarding your school values? (e.g. ideas/principles regarding how they work or how they are best realised)

14 (36%), the largest number of respondents, said they don’t know if there is an underlying theory regarding school values. 9 (23%) said there is an underlying theory and 8 (21%) said there was not an underlying theory. Further comments received were as follows:

“Social constructivism, learning styles, emotional intelligence.”

“Again, not really a theory, but a belief that shared values form the basis of what the school community stands for and aspires to be. It is so important for staff to model these in day to day interactions in and out of the classroom and to refer to these as part of our Rights Respecting School agenda, our Five Pillars for Successful Learning and our ethos of the PB Factor – Personal Best.”

“If everyone in our school community (pupils, parents, staff) are involved in deciding the values then there is buy-in from all. This will mean they are most effective in impacting the ethos and direction of our school and ultimately in ensuring it is the best place for the children.”

“We looked at different values that were important and people chose the ones appropriate to our school.”

“From work in Values based education”

“RRSA and Girfec”

“We have a vision that our values will help the pupils and staff can attain and achieve all they can with and in the community”

In your opinion, are your school values visible and active in the daily life of your school?

22 (56%), the majority of respondents, said that school values are visible and active. 4 (10%) said they were not and 1 (3%) said they did not know. Further comments received as follows:

“Works in line with the classroom code for success and learning and teaching statements.”

“On the wall all around the school and discussed in school assembly fortnightly.”

“I refer to the core values when setting class tasks and also when a student may be unaware that they care challenging these values.”

“behaviour system, assemblies, possible new report card format”

“Most definitely. We make regular reference to our values through assembly, school newsletters, class discussions, parent engagement. Children, parents and staff are very aware of our values.”

“Some are, some less so. Some staff make reference to them, and some of the SLT use them in their communications. There are copies displayed in all teaching areas. Some staff do not explicitly refer to them. Pupils in general do not refer to them regularly.”

“Huge banner displaying our values outside the building, glossy posters of our values displayed in every classroom, regular assemblies delivered by SMT referring to values, values referred to regularly in staff meetings and CPD sessions. Values included in all teachers planning folders as point of reference. Values highlighted in school handbook and website, values included as banner on school letterhead.”

“The Vision and Values are embedded through regular references in assemblies, posters throughout the school, inclusion in pupil planners and references during vertical tutor time. In some subjects, projects can revolve around sharing and discussion of the vision and values.”

“On boards where they are seen daily by everyone in school. Referred to at assemblies and in classes”

“visible and on display, tied into behaviour policy and restorative conversations framework.”

In your opinion, how accurate are each of these statements?

Responses indicate that values are most commonly understood as dispositions: defined in the survey as “the attitudes, beliefs or norms we promote in our school”. Values are also commonly understood as relational (“they describe how we relate to one another and how we interact”), aspirational (“they describe or relate to the aims of our school”) and cultural (“they are the values of society that we uphold in our school”). It is noticeable that values are understood in various ways, with positive results for all categories provided in the survey, with the exception of values as absolute (“they are not open to change, exception or negotiation”). It is also noticeable that values are simultaneously understood in ways that might seem incompatible e.g. motivational and aspirational; rules and relative; personal, relational and cultural; intrinsic and extrinsic.

Have you got any further comments about your school values, or about this survey?

Comments received were as follows:

“We just updated these values in March 2017 and they were finalised in May 2017”

“We ‘reimagined’ our values and redesigned sharing to make more inclusive (dyslexic friendly etc) colour coded and visually graphic.”

“Our core values have been recently introduced this term and so it may take time for the school community to absorb them into our culture. However they hint at the work of Schwartz theory of basic values where our core values are universalism, benovolence, self direction and achievement.”

“As values are constantly under review they are adaptable to the needs of the school.”

“Brand new values for this academy session due to new HT, still implementing these into school life so hard to fully comment on impacts after only one term.”

“I think our school values are an ideal. I think policy can often conflict with our school values. I think that national, top-down policy implementation can directly challenge the reality of living by our school values. School management and middle leaders have the dilemma of reconciling our school values with implementation of policy from above.”

“Our values work is one of the most important pieces of work I have completed in school.”

“Resilience is a new value in our school and this has been promoted and developed through the Bounceback programme.”

“The previous question was hard to answer as our values are not yet clearly displayed and acknowledged in the school. They are referred to frequently but as general values not as specific school values.”

“The role of vision and values could be discussed further. However as a relative newcomer to the school I have observed that the values are part of the intrinsic ethos of the whole community”

“From thinking about these questions, there is more to school values than I had realised. Will look forward to exploring this further.”

“It took a long time for the working group to develop values that could help all but I think we did a good job. They have been in place for more than five years, they are used in restorative practice, in class management, between pupils and staff.”

“We are currently reviewing our values through an extensive consultation process”

Final thoughts

There are a number of possible explanations for the results in this survey, particularly the more nuanced responses that give a glimpse into the ways in which school values are interpreted by teachers. One of the most important factors is the limitations of the survey itself and the wording of questions and categories used.

Another explanation, however, could be a lack of understanding of values theory. The respondents in this survey said that values are most commonly understood as being dispositions. This is entirely fair given that educational discourse often says that we should be equipping pupils with certain values, particularly those that relate to responsible and active citizenship. However, the Schwarz Theory of Basic Values, for instance, indicates that values differ substantially from dispositions, attitudes, beliefs or norms. Instead, dispositions are underpinned by a combination of different values, and especially the ways in which values come into conflict. Dispositional characteristics “describe what people are like” but do not necessarily describe their values, understood as “what people consider important” (Schwarz 2012: 17). Similarly, Schwarz’s framework indicates that there can be a difference between values and the results of our actions e.g. an artist may be successful but may have been motivated by something like ‘a world of beauty’ or ‘meaning in life’, rather than being motivated by success or achievement itself. This could indicate that it would be perilous to allow a situation where the values driving education are too closely associated with instrumental views of success in a competitive job market.

This leads to another consideration that is mentioned in one of the final comments in the survey. One of the respondents said “I think our school values are an ideal. I think policy can often conflict with our school values. I think that national, top-down policy implementation can directly challenge the reality of living by our school values. School management and middle leaders have the dilemma of reconciling our school values with implementation of policy from above.” Perhaps this hints at the way in which educational policy has developed in recent years and the ways in which we understand the purposes of education. Since the 1970s in particular, educational policy in Scotland and other countries has been shaped by a conflict between the values of child-centred education and education driven by economic and social goals. This can leave teachers with the challenge of working in a situation where their capacity to act in accordance with professional values is threatened, distorted or limited by the values driving educational policy.

It may be of benefit therefore to bolster teachers’ ability to traverse these issues by developing a more in depth and shared understanding of values theory, the often implicit role that values play in the development of educational policy, the conflict between evidence-based and values-based education and the various positions on values education. It also seems important to explore the dangers of having an overtly behaviouristic approach to values in schools. The paper Research into Values in Secondary Education: A Report to the Gordon Cook Foundation recommends that pupils have an opportunity for a genuine exploration of values, which would involve the opportunity to challenge the values being espoused to them through critical analysis, democratic participation and activism. Are we ready to have that conversation, if it is not already happening? Making the effort to do so could help to further inform values-based practice and leadership in schools.

When we first began ‘Speaking of Values’ we never intended to impose any set of values of beliefs about the construct on others. Instead we wanted to delve deeper to understand the concept and better understand other people’s views. Indeed in our pre-publication discussions one person pointed out that in Scotland ‘we don’t tend to wear our values on our sleeves’. With that in mind there was something to be critiqued and explored. Exploration perhaps remains a key outcome for us and those who have taken part in this survey. For values do not stand still, they change with the time, people, influences and places we live and work in. Furthermore there would appear to be lots of scope for deeper exploration.  The survey itself could be only the starting point. But also the results perhaps indicate scope for deeper thinking and exploration of the construct.

With 57% of respondents saying all pupils were involved: what about the other 43% where not all pupils were involved? Which pupils were excluded, if indeed they were excluded? Why were they not involved?

39% responded said they don’t know how the school values are agreed upon. Does this say something about communication of the formation and finalising of values in schools or more about the individual and their awareness of the processes going on? Either way, there is more to explore here.

It was interesting to see what respondents said they used to stimulate thinking in formation and identification of values. In our survey, 66% said they used How Good Is Our School (HGIOS) to form school values. How Good Is Our School 4 (HGIOS4) references “values” 23 times, however it does not offer a wide overview of what values are or references to further exploratory works, nor does the General Teaching Council for Scotland (regulatory body for teachers) in the Standards for Career Long Professional Learning. This document references “values” 21 times. At present, GTCS frameworks are being revised and a deeper exploration of values might be worth considering as part of that process. Only 25% of respondents use GTCS standards when identifying values. Even from this we can see whilst this references values and the importance of them to the profession and schooling, this might not give any frameworks, philosophy, historic overview or further readings to support a deeper analysis and understanding of values. The same might be said for HGIOS.

Exactly half said they did not use any frameworks or other theories in their identification of values. It is especially striking that respondents strongly indicated they referred to policy documents to help identify school values but they also strongly indicated that they do not refer to values theory or research. This is concerning as it may limit teachers’ capacity to critically engage with values. It seems clear that we should not rely solely on policy documents to inform our understanding of educational values, especially when policy documents offer little or no in depth analysis.

We started our publication ‘Speaking of Values’ with an introduction to how the values on the Scottish Parliament mace came about. Those values are referenced in the HGIOS document along with an image of that mace: compassion, wisdom, justice and integrity. One might ask if these are indeed values. Furthermore, there is scope to consider how they were formed. The silversmith who made the mace chose the values by himself: he was given no briefing and there was no widespread consultation on what should appear on the mace. Donald Gillies questions whether this undermines the notion that Curriculum for Excellence is based on the principle of democracy.

Most striking perhaps was that only 56% think school values are ‘visible and active’. One teacher contacted us about the survey to say: ‘It would be interesting to talk values at our school- very strange imposed values (a number of them) they’re everywhere and blithely ignored by staff and pupils alike despite enormous managerial drive on them. Corporate values vs values and character of the school body.’

Our values should be an active, evolving exploration and we would hope this survey sparks further thinking and activity on this area which is ripe for more discussion. After all, we are promoting more Speaking Of Values.

Join the conversation online using #SpeakingOfValues

Character education and social justice

by Gary Walsh

As character education continues to gain influence in educational policy in the UK and elsewhere, it becomes more and more important to ensure it receives adequate critique. Having worked in the field of character education and studied the research base for a number of years, I have concluded that the legitimacy of traditional approaches to character education should be critically examined from a social justice perspective. The purpose of this post is to explain why I think this is the case. In doing so I hope this proves a useful point of reflection for any interested practitioners or researchers.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues make the grand and enticing claim that character is “the basis for human and societal flourishing“. This is somewhat alluring because it sounds empowering and inclusive: the implicit promise is that we can all flourish no matter who we are.

However, this claim underplays the role of social, political and economic contexts and the structural forces of inequality. Proponents of character education appear to concede that social context matters, but they conclude that it is more pragmatic to change individuals than it is to change society (Arthur et al, 2017). Far from being empowering and inclusive, this approach risks disempowerment: it obscures the role of democracy and distracts from social justice issues such as tackling poverty, food insecurity and health inequalities, while concealing the pernicious roles of power, privilege and prejudice. These are some of the REAL problems that prevent human flourishing – it is not about deficiencies in the moral character of children.

At the same time, the claim of character education is presented in moral terms, which implicitly suggests that such a forensic focus on the individual can be somehow morally justifiable. The irony is that this risks perpetuating what Zygmunt Bauman called Moral Blindness: the tendency to forget about the causes and impact of everyday suffering. As Nel Noddings points out:

The courage of a warrior may, for example, be so admired that members of the society do not think (or dare) to criticize war itself.” (Noddings 2012: 167)

The question needing asked here is whether it is legitimate to examine the moral character of individuals without also examining that of social arrangements. Unfortunately, any hope that the character education movement treats this question seriously may well be misplaced. Traditional character education offers little critique of the structural inequalities that erode the very values it purports to uphold. Nor does it explicitly recognise critical political analysis, activism or tackling the structural causes of inequality as examples of virtue or citizenship. It is also important to reflect on the fact that character education tends to gain appeal at times of economic crises or social unrest, and to ask why that might be the case. For example, in the UK, character education made a sudden return to educational policy in the wake of the London riots in 2011, where the resulting recommendations concentrated largely on fixing the moral characters of young people.

Character education teaches classical virtues such as honesty, gratitude and humility. This may sound at first like a reasonable endeavour, but a critical social justice perspective quickly reveals the concerning implications of this approach. 1 in 4 children in the UK are currently living in poverty – do they really need lessons in gratitude and humility? What and whose purposes are being served? The work of Nel Noddings raises the possibility that focusing on virtues such as honesty can result in children experiencing less caring relationships in the classroom. For instance, imagine a child lies to their teacher because they feel afraid or they want to hide something. If the teacher’s attention is focused on developing the child’s virtue of honesty, they could miss what might be really happening for that child.

Character education seeks to promote compassion by encouraging ‘service’ to others. Digging deeper into this reveals that service is framed as an apolitical, charitable ‘good deed’. To help understand why this is problematic, Westheimer and Kahne (2004) provide a useful framework to help us understand different kinds of citizens that education typically tries to produce. They refer to citizens who are a) personally responsible, b) participatory, and c) justice oriented. The authors illustrate the various kinds of citizen by theorising how each might respond to a humanitarian crisis that involves victims experiencing hunger:

“…if participatory citizens are organizing the food drive and personally responsible citizens are donating food, justice oriented citizens are asking why people are hungry and acting on what they discover.” (Westheimer and Kahne 2004: 4)

They find that personally responsible citizenship, typified by a character education approach, is the most common approach pursued by schools, while justice-oriented citizenship receives the least attention.

(Incidentally, the issue of using moralistic language with reference to food banks in the UK came into sharp focus recently when Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was severely criticised for saying that charitable donations to food banks “is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are”.)

This analysis provides some possible directions for a ‘socially just’ approach to character development. Such an approach could involve calling out the immorality and social violence of political decisions that leave people destitute. It could seek to support the ways in which people, relationships and communities can be nurtured, cared for and loved. It could draw on resilience research which demonstrates that resilience is not a character trait, but a developmental process that is strengthened by reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors. It could recognise the role of positive attachments and the impact of adverse childhood experiences. It could be based on politically hard-edged concepts such as human rights, social justice and participative democracy. It could draw on social theories such as Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach, Bourdieu’s Habitus & Cultural Capital, Fromm’s Social Character, integrative views of identity or ecological understandings of agency.

In other words, ‘character’ could be re-constructed as a dynamic concept that describes the qualities of people while also describing the relationship with our social world. If we are to ask ‘what kind of people’ the world needs, is it not incumbent on us to also ask ‘what kind of world’ people need? Unfortunately, character education has yet to make any notable moves in this direction. These theoretical possibilities are ignored in favour of something altogether more esoteric: Aristotelian virtue ethics. Herein lies the ideological rub. Aristotle endorsed slavery, describing slaves as living tools. While this can be brushed off as a trite objection or simply a ‘sign of the times’ in Ancient Greece, it is important to point out that Aristotle’s theory of a flourishing society depended on oppression, elitism and authoritarianism. Oppression was required at home too: it was the (superior) man’s job to instil character in the (inferior) woman and children. 

Does one person’s flourishing require another person’s suffering? The award-winning short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, is a powerful reflection on that very question and is well worth a read. Working towards social justice, in my view, involves a commitment to the idea that human flourishing is for all of us, not just a few of us. Aristotle seemed to have particular ideas about who should flourish and who should not. 2500 years later, this remains the battleground of what we now refer to as social justice.

It seems fair to ask, therefore, what the character education movement has to say about social justice, and whether character education assumes that injustice, inequality and oppression are inevitable (and therefore acceptable), given its philosophical antecedents. In response to such challenges (see Winton 2012 for a good example), proponents of character education refuse to work WITH such criticisms, trying instead to deflect them as mere myths. Is this lack of acknowledgement an adequate response? Surely, as in all educational efforts, self-critique and a commitment to the principle of ‘do no harm’ should prevail. 

At the very least, we should be guided by the available evidence. Simply put, there is no firm evidence to establish credibility for the claim that the possession of virtues is the basis of human flourishing. Neither is there firm evidence to say that traditional character education interventions improve the life outcomes of children and young people. There is good evidence, however, showing not only that character education has ‘no significant impact’ but that it can have detrimental impacts too (Social and Character Development Research Consortium, 2010).

The legitimacy of character education can and should be questioned on the grounds of efficacy and even moreso on the grounds of ideology. Social Justice education offers a narrative that is fundamentally different to that of character education in ways that are important to understand. It suggests that the ways in which we should seek to change ourselves for the better are not to be found by aiming to ‘be’ a certain way (virtuous or otherwise). The challenge of social justice involves deciding what we refuse to become – much like the ones who walk away from Omelas. It suggests that we change ourselves by changing the world around us. Perhaps this is a more worthy starting point for our attention and efforts.

Scottish education: sleepwalking into the abyss

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by Gary Walsh

I am writing this post as a challenge to the narrative developing in Scottish education circles at the moment. I believe that we are in danger of sleepwalking into an abyss of ill-conceived reform based on an impoverished understanding of the purposes of education, confusion about the meaning of equity in that context, and a politicisation of the education system the like of which we have not seen in generations.

The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence was developed and indeed heralded as a radical programme for educational transformation. The original CfE document (published in 2004) remains the most purposeful document available to us. I would like to suggest that now would be the perfect time for the underpinning values of CfE and the Four Capacities to be reviewed and updated.

A lot has happened since 2004 and indeed the ‘National Conversation’ that preceded the CfE document. The global economic crisis of 2008 happened. The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum happened. Now Brexit and Trump have happened. All of these represent key challenges that have tested and will continue to test Scottish society. The world is going through a phase of mass disruptive change: politically, socially, ecologically, economically and culturally. We are faced with some of the greatest challenges of our times including global inequality, climate change, social conflict and lack of cohesion, a failing economic system, as well as rises in global terrorism and right-wing political agendas.

This presents many challenges for education and lifelong learning, not least in terms of uncertainties about funding, leadership and administration, but it poses fundamental questions that have a direct impact on the purpose and meaning of education and learning itself: what is worth knowing and doing? What kind of world should we be trying to create? In an age of anger, mistrust and fear, how can education and lifelong learning help to cultivate compassion, trust and collective action? If ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, what kind of village, and how can it be done? What is the vision for society that we are aspiring towards?

The values that are inscribed onto the ornamental mace at the Scottish Parliament that apparently define not only CfE but the principles of society and democracy itself –  wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity – are fine words. I am astonished however by the number of people I have spoken with in recent years who do not know where these words came from. In a 2006 paper entitled A Curriculum for Excellence: A Question of Values, Donald Gillies points out the truth which is that the values were chosen by the silversmith who designed the mace. Gillies suggests that this puts the whole basis of CfE, and the claims that it is designed around the principle of democracy, in doubt.

The slogans we call the Four Capacities – confident individuals, responsible citizens, effective contributors and successful learners – are certainly not beyond question either. Where did they come from and what do they mean? What vision of society are we expecting children and young people to confidently, responsibly, successfully and effectively contribute towards? Without a coherent vision for the kind of society we are aiming to create, the Four Capacities are meaningless.

Donald Trump arguably possesses all of the Four Capacities. He is certainly a confident individual. He is extremely effective in what he contributes. He has successfully learned how to do so. Is he a responsible citizen? A majority of the American electorate seem to think he is.

Mark Priestley and Walter Humes simply ask this of the Four Capacities: “Would it make much difference if the capacities were given as effective learners, responsible individuals, successful citizens and confident contributors?” (Priestley & Humes, 2010: 351)

It seems vital that we continue to develop and further embed CfE. The first step should be to scrutinise the Four Capacities (if not drop them completely) and re-visit the place of values by opening up a long-term dialogue about the meaning and purposes of education in Scotland.

There are many sources of inspiration that could help us to do just that. Professor Stephen Ball articulates the requirements for educative schooling and the education of democratic citizens as being “concerned with literacies for active, local and global citizenship, including a critical view of the world of work”, a “responsibility to contribute to the development of “high energy democracy” (Unger, 1994) in ways which draw upon ‘narratives of human possibility’” and a rethinking of “the relationship between education and opportunity, equity, and wellbeing”. (Ball, 2013: 26)

I would add social justice to that final list. We haven’t even begun to tap into the possibility of developing a shared understanding of these kinds of ideas. We could open up an empowering dialogue around the question of purpose, principles and values in Scottish education, and it would be especially fascinating to learn what children and young people think. Having developed a shared sense of purpose, we should then put our trust in the professional abilities of teachers, researchers, youth workers and lecturers to help us realise our ambitions, instead of allowing a situation to develop where they are completely entrapped by top-down bureaucracies. I am advocating that everybody – educators, children, young people and communities – can bring their collective knowledge, experience and expertise to the table and that together we can ignite education from the ground up.

Instead of clarifying our thinking around CfE and the purposes of education, we are currently doing the opposite. We are getting further and further away from the original intentions of CfE: so much so that its principles can scarcely be located in the National Improvement Framework. We are no longer engaged in a process of radical transformation – if indeed we ever were. Instead we are set to become entangled with a shambolic programme of standardised assessments and yet more benchmarks that will attempt to specify everything but will ultimately mean very little. 

A recent Statement for Practitioners from Education Scotland references the CfE principles and values, unchanged from the original 2004 document, in the appendix! Make no mistake about it: the bigger picture is not at the forefront of policy-makers’ minds. We have moved on from discovering and questioning the principles of education. We are now dealing in a crude game of gaps, numbers, graphs, comparisons, data and outcomes, all of which are politically driven and motivated by a desire for marginal gains designed to appease voters, in which the principles and purposes of Scottish education could be lost for a generation.

Which leads me on to the issue of equity. The narrow focus we currently have on the ‘Attainment Gap’ rather crassly presents poverty as a technical challenge to be counter-acted by increasing the effectiveness of teaching and assessment strategies. There is no doubt that effective teaching is part of the solution, but it must be understood in the overall context which is that teachers and pupils are working in the some of the most socially unjust circumstances in Western Europe.

Educational equity does not simply mean that everybody should get five Highers. If we are serious about equity being one of the core purposes of education we need to think way beyond academic attainment. Equity is about fairness, justice and inclusion. It is about ensuring that education serves to enhance the wellbeing of all of us and not just a few of us. It is about understanding and challenging the broader structures of power that serve to perpetuate various categories of inequality.

How then do we achieve equity in education? Here are some thoughts as a starter-for-ten:

  • All educators should be empowered and encouraged to actively advocate and campaign for the rights of children and young people, illuminating and challenging the unjust circumstances in which so many children and young people are living. This would involve supporting teachers, for instance, in refining their understanding of children’s rights and social justice issues, and being equipped with an in-depth understanding of the material and psychological impact of poverty on children and families. I would argue that the contents of courses such as Edinburgh University’s BA in Childhood Practice and University of Glasgow’s MSc in Youth Studies should be standard issue for all educators.
  • We need to develop a broader narrative that goes beyond issues of effectiveness in education. The pressures and disadvantages of ‘performativity’ in education are well documented. This means constantly revisiting the values, principles, purposes and meaning of education – and trusting educators to act on the basis of those principles, not just in response to targets, benchmarks and/or Key Performance Indicators.
  • Education policy should be understood as part of a broader project of social change. This means aligning education policy in concert with other policies that are designed to create equity across the system more generally and, vitally, eradicating poverty. The only way to do this is by implementing progressive policies that are designed to redistribute wealth more equally across society. In keeping with that overall mission, education policy should be developed on the basis of a social, humanistic model rather than an industrial/accountability model (these points are further argued here as part of the Common Weal Policy Lab on education and inequality).
  • During a period of politicisation of education, educators should be free to ‘get political’ in their responses. We cannot escape the fact that public state education will always be political. There are many educators in Scotland who would quietly subscribe to the theories of Critical Pedagogy and Critical Democratic Education – but I would argue that the associated practices are notably absent in Scottish education. We have a well-meaning but ultimately subservient group of professionals who are desperately trying to make things better by working within the confines of the status quo. We need more people who are willing to speak out against injustices, mis-guided political tinkering and anything else that is clearly not in the best interests of the children, young people and communities that education is supposed to serve.
  • We need a much more diverse group of professionals working in education (institutions and policy making) and a more diverse educational offer. Teachers and education policy makers tend to be people for whom education has ‘worked’. They have made such a success of it that they return to it as a profession. There is a lot to celebrate here of course, but does it not make the task of meeting the needs of young people for whom the current system does not ‘work’ much more difficult? Who is there in the system that can really understand the situation of these young people and can act convincingly on their behalf?
  • The status and role of early years practice, youth work, vocational learning, adult education as well as ‘atypical’ models of education such as Folk Schools, Place-Based Learning and Kindergarten should be examined and strengthened where necessary. Scotland has typically developed its education policy by consensus building (noting the ‘con’ in consensus). The resulting one-size-fits-all approach may have worked for us in the past but now it seems outdated and, like many education systems around the world, in need of a serious rethink.

I said at the beginning of this post that I wanted to challenge the current narrative in Scottish education. I have argued that we should get back to the basics of values, principles and purposes and I have argued that we need to get serious about the issue of equity.

Comments are very welcome below as are online responses to this post using the hashtag #ignitingeducation – let’s spark a more open and meaningful dialogue.

Thank you for reading.

About the author

Gary is the creator of the Curriculum for Equity website. He is a freelance facilitator with particular interests in values, character development, social/emotional skills and social justice. He is a founding editor of #scotedchat (a weekly chat on Twitter about Scottish education) and the co-author of Speaking of Values. You can use the contact page to contact Gary directly.

Curriculum for Equity is a collaborative blogging platform – if you wish to write a blog for the website please get in touch.

Social Engineering – part 2 of 2

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by Ed Cadwallader

In a previous post I argued that social engineering is what schools do and the specific features our school system installs are hierarchy, passivity and atomisation. I ended by asking the question ‘what sort of society should we engineer?’ In this post I argue that our schools should try to engineer equality, the belief that our fellow citizens are no more or less valuable to society than ourselves; autonomy, the ability to work and self-organise without direction from authorities; and community, the habit of forming connexions to those around us through enjoyment of shared activities.

To achieve this requires an adjustment to the curriculum but it also requires a more fundamental change to the ethos of schooling. At the moment the purpose of school is to obtain grades in qualifications and where possible academic qualifications, as vocational ones are predominantly offered to those who have not been successful academically. A clear line can be drawn from academic ability, to good grades, to higher earning potential and thus to higher social status. School in its present form connects academic ability, which strongly correlates with having educated parents, to high social status. In order to engineer an equal society this ethos must be replaced with the starting premise that although we may not be equally capable as workers or thinkers, we are equally valuable as citizens.

There is, and will always be, a wide difference between the best and worse academic performers so in order for the contention that we are equal to be credible, the curriculum must be broadened beyond academic study, for all children. Rather than a vocational component, that trains children for a specific occupation, this should be a practical one that, like its academic counterpart, provides children with knowledge and skills applicable to a broad range of future paths. For this, I propose that children should, in teams of four or five, set up and run small businesses. At primary level these would operate within school, using school issued currency then at secondary children would move on to the real world and make real money.

Running businesses would develop children’s ability to agree a shared goal and work with other people to achieve it, to organise themselves and to build strong relationships with clients, by making realistic promises and honouring them. Such a feature of the curriculum would help correct the natural inequality that bedevils school in its current form. Despite the worthy efforts of Growth Mindset advocates there is a weak relationship between effort and academic reward; a child with an IQ of 140 can, with minimal effort, outperform a herculean striver with an IQ of 70. In a practical endeavour like running a business the correlation between effort and outcome is much stronger, all children would grow up knowing that, whatever their natural gifts, they can be successful if they are prepared to work hard.

Fostering equality amongst members of a school community also requires changes to the way the academic curriculum is delivered. Not its content, all children deserve to study the best that has been thought and said, but its mode of assessment. Making grades the ultimate objective of study reduces the motivation of all who are given average or below average grades, with the strongest discouragement accompanying the lowest attainment. Grades should therefore be abolished. Exploring relationships and the mind through great works of literature, deepening our understanding of society by gaining knowledge of the past, stripping the world down to abstraction in maths and then testing abstract theory through scientific experiment, all this and more is its own reward and it is a reward we should not dare to taint with badges of inferiority.

I have heard it argued that as kids know who is bright and who is dim it makes no difference that these judgments are crystallised into letters and numbers. I disagree. Making what is implicitly understood explicit and public makes a powerful difference. Consider a football team. All the players know who the best and worst players are, yet all can enjoy playing together. However, if the coach gave each player an individual mark out of ten at the end of every game, the team would quickly fall apart, poisoned by envy and stigma that do not exist when players’ individual merits are left ambiguous.

The curriculum changes necessary to engineer equality can also be a driver for greater autonomy. Currently all work in school is set by those in authority and in the academic sphere this is, to an extent, inevitable. Students don’t know the best that has been thought and said and so cannot be expected to spontaneously choose to study it. In the practical sphere, in contrast, no such explicit direction is necessary. Students can be given a remit of deciding a shared goal, which could be to make money or launch a social enterprise, and the freedom to pursue it. The opportunity to choose what they want to achieve and to solve whatever obstacles the real world presented would show children that work does not have to be bestowed by those in authority, it is something we can define for ourselves.

Creating a student economy would also allow children direct experience of a fundamental right and responsibility of a citizen in a democracy, that of choosing a government with the power to tax and spend. Allowing students to confront in practice the questions of ‘how much of our earnings should we keep and how much should be dedicated towards a common fund?’ and ‘how can we ensure that the money we pool is spent wisely?’ would raise citizens better equipped to be full participants in our democracy by dispelling the notion, implicit in current school structure, that the world runs as it does because of the decisions of powerful others, made behind closed doors.

Many schools shy from student democracy, or permit it only in heavily constrained form, because of the antipathy of many students towards school. But that antipathy is a product of hierarchy, that tells a few they are bright and successful and most that they are average or worse. A school that treats its pupils with equal respect would face no such impediment to responsible student government.

School can engineer a sense of community by fostering connexions formed by enjoyment of shared activities. Having children work together, towards shared goals, rather than solely towards individual ones facilitates this. Schools could go further by using the arts as bridges to the wider community. Instead of using Art, Music and Drama lessons to produce work to be assessed they can be used to produce work to be displayed, played and performed. The point of the arts is not to master skills and techniques, doing so is a means to achieve a broader goal of expressing ourselves and congregating with people to experience the joy those skills allow us to create.

Student leadership in organising such arts events would develop the skills and habit of bringing members of the community together to celebrate our shared culture. The house system provides a further opportunity to develop this organisational capacity and to extend it to the sports field. Dividing students into teams (‘houses’) and organising competitions between those teams, rather than just having school ones, raises by an order of magnitude the number of opportunities to participate. More participation means more connexions, a broader set of people united by a shared pastime.

Communities are strong and harmonious to the extent that their members know and interact with each other, but such interactions do not always happen organically, especially when populations are mobile and have diverse cultures and languages. By making the development of those connexions, and the skills to carry on making them, an explicit goal of schooling we would make our society happier and more at peace with itself.

How we structure school has profound implications for the nature of the society we live in. Almost everything a child learns about the world beyond their family they learn at school. This learning encompasses what is explicitly taught in the curriculum and what is implicitly understood about our relationships with the authorities and one another. Therefore to work in Education is to be a social engineer, whether we balk at that responsibility or embrace its challenge. I believe we should engineer a society of people who respect one another as equals, who respect authority but understand it is their duty not to bow to it unquestioningly and who seek out their neighbours, knowing that the connexions they’ll form are the foundation of their security and happiness.

About the author

Ed Cadwallader is an Educational Consultant who advises schools on assessment and curriculum design. He is interested in history, economics and the dangers that lurk around the corners of modernity. You can follow Ed on Twitter @Cadwalladered and his personal blog is Kingdom of Even.

 

Social Engineering – part 1 of 2

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by Ed Cadwallader

To say that a policy is ‘social engineering’ is to say that it is bad, with no further explanation required. This strikes me as strange because social engineering is a very apt description of what schools do. The curriculum is a competition between individuals to see who’s top and who’s bottom. Children born to middle class parents are usually taught that they are at the top, their work is valuable and they can expect to have stable, well-paid employment in the future. Children born to poorer parents are far likelier to grow up with the mirror image of that experience, their academic performance denoting that they are inferior, less valuable citizens. School provides our formative understanding of how we as citizens relate to those in authority and each other. The way school is structured ensures three prominent features are embedded in these relationships: atomisation, passivity and hierarchy.

The overwhelming focus of our school system is exam results, that is the grades we receive to denote our individual achievement. Virtually all jobs involve working with other people towards shared goals, yet for the first fifteen odd years of our working lives we are taught to conceive of attainment in purely personal terms. Later on, our employers invest huge sums in making us more effective collaborators, effectively trying to unteach us the conception of work as a solo enterprise that we learned as children. Of course, schools to varying degrees engage their pupils in group work to try and foster these elusive team-working skills, but this if anything exacerbates the problem because the groups in question have no identity and their achievement no meaning. The lesson of group work is that working with other people is a means to achieve our own targets, the group is the tool of the individual rather than the other way around.

As well as raising us as atomised workers, school makes us passive ones. The tasks to be completed are defined by those in authority as is the quality of our responses. Pupils are taught in minute detail how to pass the particular exams chosen by their school. The lesson they absorb while doing so is that work means doing precisely what you’ve been to do, the way you’ve been told to do it. This passivity extends to disputes between pupils, as the correct response to any such disagreement is ‘tell a teacher’. The authorities at school assume the responsibility for all matters of student life, great and small. When problems arise in society, often problems caused by the way we as citizens behave, a cry goes up of ‘something must be done!’ This is the learned reaction of people who have formed their idea of how society works in a benign autocracy.

Atomisation and passivity weaken the fabric of society but their negative impact pales in comparison with the most damaging feature that school engineers into our relations with one another: hierarchy. It is simple to rank children based on school performance from best to worst. The language we use to describe them – ‘high ability’ ‘low attainer’ – makes this clear and it is a hierarchy of status, those we label as high achieving will gain secure, professional employment while ‘low achievers’ can expect insecure employment or none at all. A child’s position in the hierarchy determines their relationship with those in authority, as those treated with respect grow up to be respectful and those shamed with contempt become oppositional and defiant. The fact that the prison population is overwhelmingly made up of the latter group is usually explained by a deficiency of learning, lacking a good education these people turned to crime. But many people immigrate without qualifications and they don’t show the same propensity to commit crimes. Rather than what the lowest attainers didn’t learn at school we should think about what they did, the humiliating lesson they are considered the bottom of the social pile. If that was your formative experience of a society how much respect for that society and its values would you have?

Divisions of status harden into a class chasm because they not only affect how we relate to authority, but also how we relate to one another. Equality is a necessary condition for friendship and so the child who gets As is very rarely friends with her peer who gets Fs. As adults those who were successful in education and grew up to exercise control over the education system are untroubled by personal connections to those who are so ill served by it. Meanwhile, working class children who have the ability to succeed within the system are placed in the unenviable position of being asked to say to their friends and family ‘I’m going to leave you behind in poverty and go and join a separate, higher class of people’, if they are to pursue the social mobility that middle class system designers have decided they, but not their friends and family, deserve.

School engineers a divided society of citizens ill equipped to challenge established power structures, with fear and antagonism on both sides of the line that separates those who passed from those who failed. Social engineering is not an occasional threat posed by changes to university admissions procedures, it is a feature of modern society.

Though the responsibility is great and terrible the question educators must ask themselves is: what sort of society should we engineer?

About the author

Ed Cadwallader is an Educational Consultant who advises schools on assessment and curriculum design. He is interested in history, economics and the dangers that lurk around the corners of modernity. You can follow Ed on Twitter @Cadwalladered and his personal blog is Kingdom of Even.

Going up: Improving Scotland’s Attainment Levels

by Jackie Brock

Confession time. I believe fervently in the importance of attainment and achievement. I detest the way our education system marches our young people through an increasingly narrow range of options to the extent that on results day their learning journey – and its success – is judged by their grades at national and higher levels.

As a mum, my rhetorical views, have been challenged by this year’s Results Day and my child’s “disappointing” grades.

My rose-tinted assumption of a smooth journey to university was overturned. My annoyance that his school could have been more challenging and supportive clouded all the great achievements of the previous years.

Then, of course, we got moving. We explored all the options, identified a college course and life again feels full of possibilities.

But I don’t want to lose sight of how quickly my fundamental beliefs were challenged and, if I am not alone, how much we have to do to get behind the Scottish Government’s ambition to improve excellence and equity in our schools, early years settings, colleges and universities.

I have no doubt, now more than ever, that we need changes to be made in Scotland’s education system and changes in how we value and reward success among children and young people.

For me the question is who is our education system for? If it is for every child then how are we valuing the achievements and attainment of every child? Saying things like “university isn’t for everyone” or “there are some very good colleges”, is incredibly patronising and in no way demonstrates value. Beware: every young person and parent has antennae that can pick up tokenism instantly.

A critical starting point is the engagement of parents.

Recently I had the pleasure of chatting to volunteers who had been working in schools over the last year. One of those present was also the Chair of his child’s school’s parent council who said how pleased he was with his own child’s learning and the way in which teachers were monitoring and supporting progress.

I later outed myself as once being a civil servant who had been involved in the implementation of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). I told him that I had rarely heard a parent talk so positively and knowledgably and it was a great sign that progress is being made.

We always knew that once we reached a tipping point with parents buying-in to the benefits of CfE, we would have succeeded. While it’s great to have international recognition that our system is innovative – for me, nothing beats a child, young person or parent speaking passionately about the benefits of CfE for their learning.

The Scottish Government is right to focus on priority curriculum areas, such as those highlighted last year by the OECD – literacy, numeracy and the uptake of mathematics. The equity gap between most and least disadvantaged, as well as between girls and boys is also critical to address, which is why we need to retain our efforts to improve wellbeing. As well as all the other benefits, these are real, tangible improvements which parents can buy into and feel increasingly that Scotland’s education is doing right by their child.

Before the summer, the Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney published the government’s plan to deliver excellence and equity in Scottish education. Many of these ideas are reinforced in his formal Education Delivery plan. The extension of the Scottish Attainment Challenge is also underway.

Announcing the Programme for Government to Scottish Parliament yesterday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also reminded of her promises around nursery provision, and school reforms. These include the provision of a qualified teacher or childcare graduate in nurseries in deprived communities as well as plans to consult on a new funding formula for schools in 2017.

These are all welcome developments but it is crucial that we take the action needed that will take forward the practical support required to support families and schools in areas of deprivation.

In early years we need to focus on reinforcing the opportunities for our toddlers to learn through play. We need to extinguish the notion that time spent playing is time wasted. It has very real and evidenced social and developmental benefits. We need to recognise this and enhance the opportunities available for some of our youngest learners. 

We need to support parents to support their children. Helping develop parents’ confidence will enable them to better support their children’s learning. Equally, secondary schools need to work closely with parents to make sure they know about their achievements as well as their attainment and make sure that parents can feel confident in how they can support their children around their choices and, particularly on results day, play their part in responding constructively and supporting options, if the results are unexpected.

School leaders must have the very best access to evidence for improving literacy, numeracy and health and well-being. We need to emphasise whole-school approaches and share more widely what’s working on a practical level, and what’s getting the best results.

We need to build on the best of the support currently provided, such as the brilliant work and support on offer from the Scottish Book Trust and the Paired Reading programmes provided through Scottish Business in the Community.

Finally, we need to reduce the bureaucracy which can inhibit school leaders working with the third sector. There are a number of wonderful resources available through the third sector but increased bureaucracy often means partnerships can be too difficult, cumbersome or simply too time-consuming for school leaders to negotiate.

By bringing together the coalition of partners who want to support schools, communities and families, and reducing bureaucracy in education, we can start to plan practical action that will help deliver in areas of deprivation and where the attainment gap is most evident.

These should in turn improve overall attainment levels for pupils in Scotland and increase the opportunities available to them.

If we are all better at navigating the education system, valuing every stage of the learning journey and engaged meaningfully with parents, it might even bring stress levels on Results Day down a notch.

About the author

Jackie Brock is Chief Executive of Edinburgh based charity, Children in Scotland. She took up post with the charity after 12 years in the civil service, during which she led on the development of Curriculum for Excellence in her position as Deputy Director of Learning and Support. Jackie’s key priorities are improving educational attainment, tackling child poverty and improving the early years.

Follow Children in Scotland on Twitter @cisweb, and Jackie @jackiejbrock

Tackling inequity is the responsibility of us all

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by Jackie Brock

I was delighted to attend Scotland’s education summit on 15 June. What a tribute to Scotland’s commitment to children, young people and their education. How many other countries would be able to bring together the leadership of all our political parties represented in our Parliament together with key professionals, parent and third sector representatives?

It was also timely and important to hear from Andy Hargreaves of the OECD that, internationally, Scotland is “well ahead of the curve” in relation to our progressive and far-reaching reforms, principally Curriculum for Excellence and achieving outcomes.

But, he warned, if we are to maintain this, Scotland must be bold and clear in relation to developing a system, which shows how effective every aspect of the education system is in securing improved outcomes.

I suspect that there will be considerable debate and discussion before agreement on this system is achieved, and for our part, Children in Scotland will work with its members on contributing to this. However, what provided most of us present with considerable food for thought, were the reflections of the Head Teacher of Craigroyston High School, who hosted the summit.

He reminded us that his school’s successful work in raising the attainment of young people was a single-minded focus on how the school could do their best to make sure that young people left school with every opportunity to fulfil their potential –whether through work, further or higher education. Alongside this, he reminded us that his day-to-day work involved engaging with the diverse range of community groups and employers who can offer the school support and resources. The school is the first point of contact when any of the young people have experienced any problems out of school – contact from local agencies is a daily occurrence.

It made me think about what we want from our schools and how we need to support them in the challenge of reducing attainment.

We heard from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister that while the reasons for the inequality faced by children are outside the school, the school is one very important route to remove these inequalities. So how do we support them better?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that every state school in Scotland faces inequalities. One of the fantastic aspects of Scotland’s education system is our commitment to comprehensive education. So, schools reflect their communities. But no matter how affluent their community, every school should review its approach to make sure that every child gets the same opportunities, no matter what their background or home address is.

Around a quarter of Scotland’s secondary and primary schools serve communities with high concentrations of multiple deprivation. That’s around 100 secondary schools and around 500 primary schools.

The National Improvement Framework and Raising Attainment for All has recognised this in its first tranche of funding. Funding is important – but it is so much more than that and the next steps need to look at the extent to which we are supporting the school leadership in these schools.

In our experience, the school leaders who thrive in serving these schools are those who are active and passionate champions for their children and young people. They are shameless entrepreneurs (in the best possible sense) – consistently seeking out opportunities to work with those people and organisations who will support their school and will lever in additional resources. They understand about partnership working. Equally, they reject the old image of a “Fortress School”. They actively enable leadership amongst their pupils, extending opportunities to the children and young people of their school to be leaders of their learning. They welcome and encourage parental engagement in all aspects of their school.

The school leadership are genuinely not just leaders in their school but are leaders of a school which is at the heart of its community – but are we providing enough support to them?

To what extent, do our expectations of school leaders and their training and development equip them for this community role?

What systems are in place within local authorities, community planning partnerships and within the third sector to enable the school leadership to exercise their role?

Do we make it easier or harder for school leaders to navigate their way through setting up an after school activity or bringing the very best employment partnership to meet the school’s particular needs?

There is so much to learn from the thousands of successful school and community partnerships. At Children in Scotland we recognise that if we can free up as much time as possible for school leaders, such as completing the paperwork for funding applications; organizing meetings; project managing, this then gives them the time to focus on making sure the support works for children. This is often overlooked by the third sector and we need to factor it in to our support. Never underestimate the relief we can provide by reducing any bureaucracy and making more time for teachers to be with children or young people, doing what they do best.

The Scottish Government’s Delivery Plan in this area is to be published by the end of June. A key element of this has to be about focusing on how we provide practical support to school in areas of significant deprivation – only through this targeted intervention, and sharing of the load, will we make a significant contribution to reducing inequality.

About the author

Jackie Brock is Chief Executive of Edinburgh based charity, Children in Scotland. She took up post with the charity after 12 years in the civil service, during which she led on the development of Curriculum for Excellence in her position as Deputy Director of Learning and Support. Jackie’s key priorities are improving educational attainment, tackling child poverty and improving the early years.

Follow Children in Scotland on Twitter @cisweb, and Jackie @jackiejbrock.