I have had a weird week.
I found myself in a very challenging meeing with Parent Councils Chairs of our secondary schools. The agenda was officially considering the Universities paper, ‘Beyond the Senior Phase’. Of course the agenda became for some, ‘how can can my child do less than 8 subjects and not be disadvantaged in applications to Universities?’. There was a diversity of view around the table but the strongest voices were where their own school had not ‘grasped the nettle’ and engaged with parents on the purposes of education and, particularly, the purpose of a broad general education.
Under heavy pressure from a small group of irate parents that repeatedly accused me of restricting choice at S4 and limiting their children’s opportunity to achieve as well as other Borders’ pupils or East Lothian pupils or English pupils, I found the answer lay firmly within the proper understanding of a truly broad and general education.
There is a tendency for secondaries to think of the BGE as three years…where it is actually 12 years. I spoke passionately to the earnest, intelligent and caring group of parents about what we want to achieve for our young people, what we want to achieve for Borders and what we need to achieve for Scotland. Not a word of overstatement on my part, not a word I do not feel passionately…but I heard my own voice within theirs…’what about Angela?’ (Daughter no 2) ‘what about Katie?’ (Daughter no 3). Yet my passion and belief is driven by the fact that I believe that a ‘proper’ CfE and broad general education would have helped my three daughters. It would have helped me. I spent so many years not feeling ‘educated’ and striving to fill the void school left for me and later discovering a world that was like a bottomless pit of imagination, ideas, theories, arguments, knowledge, skills and understandings. My greatest desire is that every one of our young people in Scotland is supported in accessing what is there for us in the rich seam of theories, understandings and mysteries that underpin our Scottish heritage and our academic legacy.
Ironically colleagues at the meeting reported back that parents listened best when the voice of belief, passion, hopefulness, ambition and aspiration for our young people trumped the instrumental information about how the curriculum would be organised.
Then I attended the Education Scotland BGE seminar in Edinburgh on Friday. Still smarting from the wounds of the previous night, I heard educators who believed or wanted to believe that change was better. Timetabling was central to the activities and this is a major barrier (or so it would seem for the majority) but if you listened, really listened to the teachers round the table, they wanted to see how to do it differently. So I asked at our table, could we start with a blank sheet and think ‘how would timetabling work in a new world order’…………yes, silence. First one of the day.
Education Scotland do not want to come across as heavy handed or critical, they want to connect to where people are and help them to move to the ‘next rung’…but what happens if they’re on the wrong ladder? Think of snakes and ladders- that snake is waiting to plummet unsuspecting folk down to the bottom again. Yes- fear of losing is high on the agenda.
There is an underlying power in educators in most ‘ecological’ layers of development and practice, recognising the rationale and worthiness of CfE. Are we all- Education Scotland, Local Authorities, Scottish Government, Teacher Unions and Headteachers guilty of ‘pussy-footing’ around in case we upset people.
This is the moment and Carpe Diem has never been more appropriate. Courage is needed. Education leaders need to lead and show their hand. This Emperor has got a magnificent set of clothing but are we in danger of agreeing with others that it is flawed, faded, faulty or non-existent to ‘stick in with the crowd’?
Broad General Education starts 9 years before it continues in secondaries. Have we truly embraced that? If not the assurances we give parents about their young people having a broad general education that enables them to make informed choices about an uncertain future, is built on sand.
But, if it works, we have cracked a system that has been built on sand, perhaps tidy sand, but sinking sand when it has been matched against the needs of the present climate.
We have to get beyond timetabling, beyond subjects (while retaining ‘forms of knowledge’), beyond artificial sectoral divides and we have to get to the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy to synthesis.
But most of all, we have to focus our attention on the reality that, if we don’t focus and invest in the teacher at the interface with the young people, we completely miss what other countries across the world are waking up to…change happens in the classroom. Not through delegated or dispersed messages. Direct engagement. Teachers matter stupid.