OECD Review of National Policies for Education: Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland – 1 Summary

This is a really important document and an essential read for anyone interested in an external perspective on how Scotland’s schools are doing.

I read it over the holidays and wanted to capture it for my learning log by doing three things: 1. Try to summarise the key points; 2. Pick out the recommendations and; 3.Try to identify what I think are the main implications for my work at LTS.

Don Ledingham and John Connell both blogged on the document in December and their posts are well worth reading.

The report was published in December 2007 and commissioned by the Scottish Government in 2006 (the previous administration – so strictly speaking by the Scottish Executive) as an in depth examination of the performance of our school system. The review group visited Scotland early in 2007 and was chaired by Professor Richard Teese from the University of Melbourne.

The report looks at:
• The Strengths of Scottish Education
• The Comparative Performance of Scottish School (against international comparators)
• The Achievement Gap in Scottish School Education
• Staying on at School, Building on School
• Reforming the Curriculum and
• Going Forward

The report is a fine piece of writing but more importantly provides a superb overview of how we are doing and what we might do to improve through 18 recommendations.

The highlights of the report for me were:
Strengths
• The recognition that Scotland is ‘a well schooled nation’ and continues to be high performing with very few countries doing consistently better in mathematics, reading and science (the usual suspects from among Finland, Korea, Netherlands, Canada and Japan). Though many others are close behind and closing in.
• Segregation by type of school (public, private) is very limited in Scotland (with the exception of Edinburgh).
• Headteachers are amongst the most positive in the OECD when it comes to how their schools are resourced
• Students are generally very positive about their schools
• Pre-school education is near universal and high quality
• We have world class primary schools – ‘the greatest strength of Scottish schooling is its primary schools’.
Weaknesses
• Our achievement gap now widens up later than before [a result of early education? LO’D] but from P5 to S2 too many of our young people get left behind
• Children in Scotland who fall behind often stay behind [see earlier post on How to Be Top] • Social & regional disparities continue to be amongst the highest in the OECD. ‘Not all schools work equally well in Scotland. But the gaps between them are far less important than differences between students. In Scotland who you are [ie your social class and ‘region’ LO’D] is far more important than what school you attend. But the fact that it does matter who you are also says that the school system as a whole is not strong enough to make this not matter.’
• Too many young people leave school with little or no qualifications especially those living in poverty [It is a national disgrace that some of our children are effectively born to fail! LO’D] • Standard Grade may have provided qualifications for all but is no longer fit for purpose in an age when the majority stay on at school beyond the minimum leaving age of 16. Worse than that Standard Grade ‘ranks all individuals and offers a guide as to whether an individual should stay or leave… Low achievement predicts failure, high achievement predicts success.’ [It’s not enough to lower the examination platform for ‘weaker learners’ the challenge of Curriculum for Excellence is to raise the raise the achievement platform for all learners. LO’D] • Our approach to vocational education is too narrow. The tendency to outsource the problem of motivation, engagement, and attainment to FE too often leaves schools untouched by the need to work with all learners.
• In secondary schools getting qualifications as the passport to university provides an extrinsic motivation for many young people and allows them to stick with a curriculum that often lacks any meaningful intrinsic motivation. For those without the ‘going to university’ motivation it is even harder to find it in and through the curriculum.
Challenges
1. How to make all schools work more inclusively by making sure that the curriculum provides challenge to all beyond serving up a diluted cognitive curriculum to those who have fallen behind, ie raise achievement and reduce gaps through breadth of content and approach (lateral differentiation) rather than through our traditional model of hierarchical and exam led curriculum (vertical differentiation)
2. How to tackle deprivation more effectively

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