Schools should focus on academic rigour, with options for more vocational training where appropriate. Currently, the curriculum provides insufficient challenge for the academically strong and forces the less academic to persevere with abstract study when more practical courses would be more beneficial.
There are two basic philosophies of education: progressive and traditional. The progressive approach emphasises skills, group work, exploration and creativity. The traditional focuses more on discipline, knowledge, formal teaching, and objective testing. Most would see some value in each approach, seeking a sensible balance. Education Scotland and the Scottish Government, however, are convinced that the solution to every problem is to move ever further in the progressive direction. We propose a more balanced approach.
The so-called Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) should be abandoned.
It draws on all of the worst aspects of fashionable educational ideology. It elevates subjective learner experience over teaching, undermining the intellectual authority of teachers, and uses student motivation and enjoyment as the measure of what is worth knowing. It attempts to blur the boundaries between subject disciplines and is founded upon the idea that education is to build pupils’ confidence and self-esteem, rather than their knowledge and understanding.
The CfE changed the objective of Scottish education from ‘academic education for all’ to a checklist of personal qualities. The purpose of education is now to produce; “successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.” This new curriculum was said to give children more choice, that their education could be ‘personalised’ and that they would take ownership of their learning through educational portfolios and personal-development plans. The reality is that pupils have fewer subject choices; the only personal element of the new regime relates, not to the academic programme, but to a therapeutic agenda.
A simpler curriculum specifying what to teach when, including a system of standardised tests and a definite requirement to offer a minimum range of subjects to study, should replace CfE. The internally assessed National 4 qualification system is open to widespread and systematic corruption, so it should be discontinued. Properly invigilated and externally assessed examinations should form the core of every qualification.
Objective feedback and grading that enables pupils and parents to understand their level of attainment should be available. Data should not be withheld from parents.
Scottish Qualifications Authority examinations should move from May into June, allowing fruitful study through all three terms. The inefficient system of starting new courses in June would then be unnecessary. SQA would face the challenge of marking papers with a tighter deadline, but this is not insurmountable.
While an emphasis on helping those with some educational disadvantages is justified, “closing the attainment gap” between rich and poor areas is now emphasised to the exclusion of aiming to raise attainment for all. The educational system should aim for the highest possible standards for all pupils, not an artificial equality target. Excellent students, in excellent schools in prosperous areas, are to be celebrated, encouraged and replicated, not resented for causing an “attainment
Many educationalists and politicians are seeking to use the COVID examination cancellations as a springboard to dispensing with all independent objective student assessment permanently. When teacher grading replaced examinations in 2020, grade inflation was most rampant in schools in poorer areas. In desperation, having achieved little with other schemes to close the attainment gap, the educational establishment is now seeing unreliable and over-optimistic teacher assessment as the solution. When faced with an intractable problem, politicians will always be tempted by means to obscure the real situation, but we oppose the sacrificing of the integrity of young people’s educational certification on the altar of political ideology.
Lessons in critical thinking and logic, unrelated to contemporary political and social issues, should be provided for all high school pupils. Intelligently navigating the current deluge of contradictory, unreliable, biased and superficially persuasive content will be
a vital ability if we are not to descend further into tribalism, ignorance and confusion. This teaching of how to think would contrast
with the current emphasis on telling pupils what to think.
Provision and support for children facing particular difficulties is important. This should be provided in the most appropriate context to meet their needs, avoiding excessive disruption to the education of others.
Overdiagnosis and labelling of children can lead to low expectations. A culture of personal responsibility and development should prevail where possible.
Independent schools should enjoy charitable status automatically, as educating children to a high standard is an obvious good to society. Independent schools should be free to operate according to their own principles and methods, guided by their traditions, leaders and parents. Instead of enforcing ideals that have had a dubious record in maintained schools, an attitude of sharing best practice should prevail. For example, where independent schools outperform state schools, attempts should be made to replicate the ingredients for success. And vice versa.
Catholic schools should not be squeezed into the mould of other schools by government pressure. They should be free to embody and promote their distinct values and ethos as they wish.
We support the right of parents to educate their own children outside school. Resources should be made freely available through local schools to parents who home educate. Local schools should include home educated children in assessment programmes when parents request it. We support flexi-schooling, where parents can place their children in school for a portion of the weekly programme, alongside educating them at home.
Where parents wish their children to be educated according to their values but feel that mainstream schools are failing to do this or, worse, are attacking these values, the government should be willing to fund alternative schools. These schools would follow standard academic curricula, but the state should not seek to impose its own values. Where such schools already exist on an independent basis, they should be offered state funding.