After the Lockdown: the future of our Schools

After the lockdown: the future of our Schools

Scottish Labour Party  and its series After the Lockdown moved on to education and held a Zoom session on The Future of our Schools.

The meeting was chaired by Richard Leonard MSP  and included

Iain Gray MSP (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills)

Cllr Shamin Akhtar (Cabinet Spokesperson for Education & Children’s Services, East Lothian Council)

Kay Sillars (Unison)

Barrington Reeves (Black Lives Matter Scotland)

David Watt Socialist Educational Association Scotland) 

 

Enjoy! 

Rebuilding better for all

F21928F8-B938-4861-A9BF-3F6858D1FA18What next?

What are the opportunities coming out of COVID’s education crisis  to promote a more socialist agenda for Scottish education? Our what next answers.

  • Early years deschooled
  • Embed equality education throughout inclusive practices
  • End separate development
  • Localise, localise, localise
  • Education: framed in terms of social justice

 

Please do check out our blog and our Twitter feed @SocialistEdAS

After the Lockdown: what next?

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(Image from OECD reopening plans after lockdown)

We all had plans for 2020.

Yet from 30th January with the notice from the World Health Organisation of a public health emergency of international concern, plans were eliminated and our world changed. The planet entered a series of crisis. As the virus spread we experienced crisis in health, thousands dying; an economic crisis, millions furloughed.  A pandemic transmitted through processes of globalisation led to a globalised education crisis.

By end of April over 185 countries had closed schools; by start of May it was estimated that over 1.5 billion children and young people were out of school. In India alone over 1.5 million schools were closed.  With over 63 million primary and secondary teachers trying to ensure teaching and learning online, where ICT infrastructure and reliable internet connection exist, or through other ways, such as the radio, television texting and other means.

In Scotland, after 20th March, close to 1 million children and young people were not in schools or early learning centres.  National external exams were cancelled and arrangements made for awards based on teacher judgement followed by statistical adjustment.  Colleges and universities shut, quickly moving lectures and essays and exams online.  Hubs were set up for vulnerable or those at risk and the children of key workers.  Rapidly but in a piecemeal fashion learning moved from school and classroom to home and online.  Now, parents and carers always the first educators of children, were lockdowned into trying to offer schooling too.

Inequalities pre-COVID

From our perspective before discussing the effects and the new normal it is crucial to admit that pre-crisis, Scottish school education had long-standing structural and institutional inequalities, never fully engaged with.  Under COVID such inequalities are being amplified and will continue to get worse if we are only going to aim to get back to some form of pre-COVID normal!

The inequalities are in part underpinned by the view that in Scotland “it’s who you are” not which school you go to. The range of inequalities present include a lack of a positive strategy for schools in areas of greatest deprivation including declining attendance among children in greatest deprived areas. An educational system with endemic poorer outcomes for white working-class boys, care experienced youngsters.   Children and young people with disabilities segregated with their right to inclusive education opined by MSPs as laudable intentions.   That other form of separate development in education, the continued support of the state for private schools was extended.  Allowances were granted for private schools to continue to continue to employ unqualified teachers and their tax breaks were extended once more.  We oppose all state support for private schools.

Such structural inequalities play out in the curriculum too. We continue to over-value  the domination of the academic curriculum across our education system. At early years the curriculum needs to be deschooled, with teaching and learning continuing to move towards challenging and enjoyable learning rather than too overly formal schooling with rigid ability grouping, seating by rows.

Ideas reaffirmed

In the midst of crisis some socialist ideas about schools and education were reaffirmed while other processes were questioned.

Across the globe the effects of COVID reaffirmed that our schools operate as part of a state’s social services.  The example of early years of a wraparound service offering education, care and health was one mark of this. Learning hubs offered services to at risk children and children of key workers. Parents and carers value  their schools and teachers  to educate, look after and care for their children too.

Schools are about people and relationships and not just for knowledge transmission or exam factories. Everyone missed (to some degree) the sets of relationships occurring in schools even more so than the work of the classroom.

Health and wellbeing is the responsibility of all.  Our schools are to provide an environment where children (and staff too!)  make progress in their social and emotional wellbeing.   We all feel that children and young people shouldn’t be asked to socially isolate. All the recent brain research has us as social learners. We learn best together.  On returning to schools they will be placing Maslow before Bloom, even if just in terms of appropriate distancing and respect for social space. .

When schools return not all children will return straight away and not all will want to be there again.  We may well face more children less engaged with the ideas of school education – an additional COVID-cohort.

It seemed during the lockdown that some teachers were discovering that there is something called blended learning. Online learning has its place but it can only be is only supplementary.  During COVID the best practice internationally was through the use of multi-platforms – TV, radio, mobile, Whatsapp, online. Thus minimising any digital divide. For the future we need to move beyond a narrow awareness of blended learning to an understanding of the universal design approach to teaching and learning across all media – word, text, screen.

What next?

What are the opportunities coming out of COVID’s education crisis  to promote a more socialist agenda for Scottish education? Our what next answers.

  • Early years deschooled
  • Embed equality education throughout inclusive practices
  • End separate development
  • Localise, localise, localise
  • Education: framed in terms of social justice

Early years deschooled

The SEAS sees the need for the Scottish Labour Party to develop a comprehensive wraparound model of education, care and health from early childhood. Such services should be flexible, accessible, affordable and responsive to community needs with all year round provision and ensure that all children and family services support parents and carers where appropriate in identifying children’s needs and providing them with timeous and appropriate support.  We want more investment and quality teaching and learning in nurseries and early learning centres in disadvantaged areas

It would be better than too-early and too-formal approaches of schooling. (Children in rows, rigid groupings, strict timetables). The SEAS proposes greater flexibility in starting ages evaluated as part of a Curriculum for Excellence review. We need to make schools more ready for children not get children ready for schooling.

Embed equality education throughout inclusive practices

SEAS is supportive of reviewing Curriculum for Excellence to secure continued improvement in a curriculum that is focused on children and young people.  Curriculum for Excellence should seek to embed global citizenship education as well as equality education.  Diversity needs to be valued as part of an inclusive curriculum.  SEAS sees the need extensively develop equality education throughout Curriculum for Excellence. There have been only a few developments here with some LGBTI curricular inserts, some work in gender stereotyping regarding STEM subjects and a nod towards considering Scotland’s history regarding slavery and colonisation.  More can be done by considering all aspects of equality and engaging with decolonisation of the curriculum.  SNP have failed to take forward the embedding of equality education in the curriculum. It is even unlikely to feature in the OECD review.

At the later stages of secondary more needs to be done to broaden senior phase, by continuing to develop technical and vocational aspects for all in a way that values a wider range of learning beyond the exam factory. Such an approach complements building capacity in communities on a shared education agenda.

End separate development

As well the curriculum being more inclusive of difference our schools need to be accessible to all. Inclusive education has never yet been planned for resourced to ensure children’s rights to inclusive education are delivered.  SEAS calls for repeal of Section 15 of 2000 Act and instead legislation brought to ensure those with disabilities and other differences are successfully included. Such an approach needs to be planned for and resourced nationally, locally, in communities and across schools and classrooms.  Special schools and centres should be redesigned to support placements in inclusive schools.

SEAS welcomes Scottish Labour Party’s policy on ending all support and subsidy direct and indirect to private schools.

Localise, localise, localise

Finally the contribution of the SNP centralising policies such as the International Council of Education Advisers and Regional Improvement Collaboratives has been at very best close to zero. Our support staff, teachers, schools and councils delivered during lockdown. It would be a quiet night if people were asked to clap for the international advisers!

Education needs to rebalanced towards councils, schools and communities – all forms of collaboration should be led at more localised levels.  Building capacity at a local level will mean more tailored curriculum in schools formed locally with community participation. And why not end high stakes externally imposed inspections and ask a community to co-investigate, evaluate and improve their schools. Something proposed by Paolo Freire back in the day.

Councils and local communities including schools and broadly in terms of education should held more accountable for social justice outcomes. Accountability can be framed in terms of social justice and schools co-evaluate provision with council, community and schools teachers and pupils. End high stakes inspections.

Education: framed in terms of social justice

In short we see schools as places and agents of social change; as part of education as a socialised service, a more localised service which has a global outlook but community-based framed in terms of social justice and seeking to build more inclusive communities and society in Scotland.

After the Lockdown: The Future of Our Schools

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Join in the discussion on Monday 29th June at 6pm on the education crisis in Scottish education. Speakers include Richard Leonard and Iain Gray. Hear  a great panel discuss  the impact of COVID in Scottish schools and the mismanagement by the SNP before and during the pandemic. Views also about how we  don’t just aim for a new normal but build back better given the stagnation in education under SNP.

Sign up here https://t.co/G5zQvgBv6z?amp=1

 

 

SEAS warned in March 2019, SNP wriggling out of legislation to end tax relief for private schools?

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SEAS was quoted in the national media about the SNP stepping back from ending charitable status of private schools. So while they get tax relief the private sector will also be getting further taxpayers’ support in this time of COVID crisis. In March 2019, at Scottish Labour ‘s national conference Bill Butler, SEAS convenor (see excerpt from Bill’s speech above), warned that SNP may well wriggle out of this scheme. We need to ensure this delay isn’t another attempt to kick the can down the road!

A New Normal

Niamh DonaldWhen will we get back to normal?  A question asked as we face the global pandemic and its unfolding nightmares.  Across our public sector and other key services, the value of essential workers has been celebrated by weekly clapping and for some a true understanding of their worth.

In education the essential elements have been highlighted in the response of governments across the globe.  UNESCO considered the need for facts and emphasised “what is really important at the time of an existential crisis, are qualities of our human connections. Things like solidarity, empathy, and kindness.”

The OECD collated actions from 330 responses across 98 education jurisdictions among its members. They added the views of unexpected positive educational results from the responses.  The top five positives were

  • Introduction of technologies and other innovative solutions
  • Increased autonomy of students to manage their own learning
  • Strengthened involvement and cooperation of parents
  • Improvement in multi-sectorial coordination (Education-health etc)
  • Increased pedagogical autonomy of teachers

For the SEAS these unexpected positives may well be clues to a new normal.  As we have seen schools become centres for ensuring the wellbeing of children of essential workers and then finding new ways to promote learning at home.

In the journal of the British Educational Researcher Association researchers have proposed that five educational myths shattered by the virus. These elements of the old normal include

  • Teacher and leader efficacy can provide the solutions to children’s academic failure
  • School leaders matter more than teachers and support staff
  • Schools and those who work in them must be continuously surveilled
  • Transferring power from the local authority towards autonomous “leaders” makes a positive difference to children’s learning
  • Education ought to be understood structured and delivered around the interests of the individual

So, what might a new normal look like in Scotland. It would seem to mean significant changes to Scottish Government approaches.  Moves towards local solutions are a key feature of responses within education to COVID-19.  Scottish Government and Education Scotland did not go to Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RIC) to deliver what was necessary in times of crisis.  Of course, neither did they convene their panel of international advisers.

“Education Scotland has changed how it is working to provide tailored support to local authorities, schools, children and young people in response to the closure of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic. This collective approach, drawing on the wide-ranging skills and expertise available in the agency, allows Education Scotland to provide national advice and support. This will have greatest effect when done in close partnership with schools and local authorities.”

Support for a local response is best.  Something that is being taken forward with a much more grounded approach through the potential of Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland.   The new normal needs to see concerted action across council services at community level with a focus on the achievement of children.  Such approaches need to have a focus on promoting social justice rather than the faltering one-dimensional attainment gap approach.

The SEAS sees the need for this model of local collective action rather than the siloed RICs.  All of those agencies working for children and young people in collaboration can deliver more than the sum of their parts.  Schools have their place as shared social spaces for children and their friends beyond what online learning offers.

The nature of learning may well move away from schools being exam factories and teachers working to push young people through the high-stakes hurdle of external examinations. In our view the advice from the SQA for assessment, moderation and quality assurance is a starting point for the teachers and students to engage in dialogue and feedback about assessment of their work.  Implicit in this approach is a high degree of trust in the teaching profession to deliver fair, reliable assessments of the young people they work with.  In our view the relationship between teacher and learner may continue to change towards a partnership of equals in achieving effective teaching learning rather than continuing to exacerbate the mental well-being of both through the pressurised timetable of high-stakes external examinations.

And what about the classroom, the lecture hall, the school or schooling? Online learning will be a common mode across Higher, Further and school education over the next months/terms/years. What will a new normal look like then? Might it be a Senior Phase with fewer lessons in the school building? A greater sense of teacher responsibility for resources with a similar level of student responsibility for their learning and its assessment?

The upcoming review of Curriculum for Excellence will have the opportunity to consider necessary improvements to the curriculum.  Is it a chance to rename it – A Curriculum for the New Normal?

Sources

BERA five education myths that COVID-19 shatters https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/five-education-myths-that-covid-19-shatters

Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland https://childrensneighbourhoods.scot

OECD A frame work to guide an education response to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020   https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/view/?ref=126_126988-t63lxosohs&title=A-framework-to-guide-an-education-response-to-the-Covid-19-Pandemic-of-2020

Scottish Government Coronavirus (COVID-19): supporting pupils, parents and teachers – learning during term 4

https://www.gov.scot/publications/supporting-pupils-parents-teachers-learning-during-term-4/pages/introduction/

SQA National Courses – Delivering Results in 2020

https://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/93920.html

UNESCO https://en.unesco.org/news/interview-azra-aksamija-what-matters-most-time-crisis-are-qualities-our-human-connections

https://en.unesco.org/covid19/communicationinformationresponse/visualresources

 

 

Improving Social Justice in Scottish education II

As is widely recognised, secondary education in its current form does not suit all young people and in some cases is not the best way for a young person to achieve their future aspirations.

I was one of those young people.

Throughout my time in mainstream education I struggled in the large educational setting and with all the distractions that came with it. If by the end of a school day I had managed to remain in all my classes, it had been a good day regardless of the amount of work I had or hadn’t completed.

It wasn’t until I left mainstream education to attend Newlands Junior College (NJC) that I understood just how much I struggled in areas such as maintaining concentration, motor skills and what teachers perceived to be a lack of willingness and interest to learn. I would agree that for most young people, secondary schools get it right, however there are still far too many young people who slip through the cracks.

Personally I never aspired to go to university, however if I had remained at school I wouldn’t have even had the choice. The chances are I would have left with little or no qualifications and would have went through life with no hope of ever having a successful future. This was also the case for a majority of the 108 other pupils who attended Newlands Junior College over the four full years it was open, 92% of whom that either left once they turned 16 or remained at NJC until their graduation went onto a “positive destination”. Every one of these young people were disengaged with their education and in many cases had stopped attending school all together.

Take, for example, my friend John.

John was suspended from school multiple times and in the end gave up attending school completely, for a period of around 16 months.   John started his time at NJC at the same time as I did. He achieved 100% attendance in the two years he spent there, achieving qualifications from college in Engineering, Construction, Light Vehicle Mechanics and Business administration as well as in his academic subjects.  Now John has just begun an apprenticeship as an electrical engineer.

Upon reflection of my time in the conventional senior phase of education I realise that this setting was exasperating the issues that I previously mentioned I was experiencing on a daily basis. My parents had raised concern to every primary and most secondary teachers however no additional support was put in place nor was I ever referred to an educational psychologist.  Whilst teachers agreed that I was fidgeting and getting distracted very easily, not one ever highlighted the fact I was showing signs of having additional support needs.

When my new teachers did raise these concerns with myself and my parents everything began to make sense.

The first two or three months of my time in this different model of education had a massive effect on me, my self-confidence grew rapidly, and my academic abilities flourished. I began to contribute to society outside of education. I joined a political party and began to get involved with youth organisations and groups which eventually led to me being elected as a member of both the Scottish and UK Youth Parliaments. It didn’t take long in our transition before the new pupils including myself became eager about our learning and began to enjoy our education, whereas before it felt like an uphill battle or an impossible chore.

So, what actually was Newlands Junior College?

In this model of education teachers had the freedom to personalise lessons to suit each pupils needs and abilities. It also allowed young people who were not pursuing a university place to focus on vocational subjects alongside their academic studies that would benefit their future careers. These additional vocational subjects were provided by working in partnership with the cities established Further Education facilities and training centres such as City of Glasgow College, Arnold Clarks GTG Training and regular work experience.

This way of learning shows how young people who do not enjoy the academic subjects at school can flourish when given the choice to study subjects suited to their interests and ones they believe will actually prepare them for the careers they were perusing

Had most of these young people maintained their course through the conventional education system they would never have gained access to Further Education courses or have had the chance to gain experience in trades before applying for apprenticeships or continuing their further educational courses.

Schools were asked to nominate students just about to finish their 2ndor 3rdyear in their senior phase of education who did not seem to be getting the best out of their education however still showed signs of potential. The college was designed to help those furthest from employment, young people lost from the education system, destined to end up unemployed at 16, without hope for a positive future. Students were more likely to end up in the care of the justice system than at college, university, or in an apprenticeship.

Newlands prepared them for jobs and college through a vocationally focused educational experience, aimed at developing their confidence, skills and talents.Whilst NJC did not positively discriminate towards any key characteristics, each year around 70% of students came from homes within SIMD1 highlighting the direct correlation between attainment and social class. Additionally a significant number of students were care experienced.
If local authorities across Scotland were to create their own junior colleges, similar to the model of NJC not only would they be an outstanding resource for young people across Scotland but it would also save money in other areas such as social work, criminal justice and other interventions currently in place that are not having the desired impact on the young people they were setup to support.

Two years ago this month, I was just about to start my journey in a new learning environment, I had no belief in myself or my future. My future prospects did not look great. I had become disenfranchised from my education, peers and even my family.

Two years later having completed my time in this innovative style of education I’m a completely different person, In employment on the career path to the job of my dreams and whilst no, I did not achieve the coveted five Highers, NJC was not designed for that and nor was I.

Just because this model of education does not top some journalist’s school league table it does not mean this form of education should be disregarded. Without fresh bold ideas a significant number of young people will continue to fall through the cracks for years to come.

Ross McArthur was speaking in personal capacity about his successful experience following an innovative personalised curriculum at Newlands Junior College. NJC closed its doors at the start of 2019. It existed in a partnership model with direct Scottish Government funding, funding from Glasgow City council and private money. HMI inspected the College not long after it opened. 

Click to access newlandsjnrcollegeins271015.pdf

News reports https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-47094231

SEAS is supportive of innovative personalised Senior Phase with schools and authorities working across communities. Like Ross we think that  schools, employers and colleges working together can offer better Senior Phase provision.  

 

Improving Social Justice in Scottish education I

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It was a pleasure to be asked to speak at the SEAS Improving Social Justice in Scottish Education event on Saturday 17th August. Thanks to all who came along and spent their Saturday morning listening and engaging with some of my research into subject choice. Thanks particularly to Bill Butler, SEAS Convenor,  for having me along and to Ross McArthur, who gave a fantastic presentation on his experience within a ‘different kind of senior phase’.
My presentation focused upon senior phase subject choices and how these have changed under the Curriculum for Excellence, why the number of subject choices available has narrowed and some of the opportunities that have also arisen as a result of the reforms.
The subject choices process is incredibly important for a plethora of reasons. Firstly, it begins to streamline the opportunities that will be available to young people upon leaving school. They allow specialisation in pursuit of a certain pathway for young people – whether that be an apprenticeship, a certain job or career or a course in further or higher education. Further, each stage of choices also potentially limits the next set, which means that each stage of subject selection carries profound importance to the person making their learning decisions. Perhaps most importantly, the choices process should allow for a young person to have a balanced curriculum with adequate breadth and depth to allow them to fulfil their potential and become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors as the Curriculum for Excellence succinctly describes.
There is a decent literature concerning choices and what influences young people going through the process. Broadly these are –
  • Social Influence of teachers, peers and parents
  • Motivations – the balance between what subjects young people find useful, enjoyable and  difficult
  • Perceptions of the self, and the schools’ perception of the pupils
  • Governance and Policy – what actual choices are available is dictated by policy at all levels
Though it is important to note that all four themes are heavily influenced by socio-economic background of the individual pupil and the school that they attend. My presentation at the event focused primarily upon governance and policy in Scotland. I thought I would take the opportunity to share the presentation, which can be accessed here – http://www.tiny.cc/bbseas.
Perhaps of particular interest is new research which shows the correlation
between average entries to SQA qualifications and Free School Meals in the Greater Glasgow region.
I have written about the other influences here – www.tinyurl.com/BBTESSC.
Thanks again to SEAS for having me along and I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on anything mentioned. You can get me by email at b.black.1@research.gla.ac.uk or on Twitter @BarryBlackNE.