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Scottish Independence and Scotland's Future
Scottish Innovation Party (SIP) Education

Here I am exploring our education system as Scotland once had the best education system in the world but now we're only average and England is doing better than we are.

I have a very good page on Scottish Education in our History where this was a time when Scotland was ranked number one in the world.

Education in Scotland

Scottish education system records worst ever rating for maths, reading and science

The Current Revolution in Education

Introduction Pre Birth to Three

Pre-Birth to Three: Doctor Suzanne Zeedyk - Brain development

How Canada became an education superpower
Canada has climbed into the top tier of international rankings.

Scottish Education a year on: Good strategic goals, little understanding how to achieve them
Posted on 21st September 2015 By Professor Sally Brown

Schools and colleges in Scotland have always been a devolved responsibility, so the issue of further devolution following the referendum and unexpected Tory election success has not been a significant concern. Many changes have been underway, of course, in the Scottish school and college sectors, but these have generally been part of long term processes.

In some contrast, the universities have been closely associated with the rest of that sector across the UK, but now are moving further apart following, for example, the split of the funding councils into separate organisations for England, Scotland and Wales. There have been differences in priorities among these councils; for example, for England there has been Government action, funding council planning and much public debate on the need for a Teaching Excellence Framework to complement the Research Excellence Framework in assessing the quality of higher education. Little public airing of this has appeared in Scotland.

One change following the referendum that has had an impact on education, however, is the replacement of the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education. In this new women’s world, the focus has shifted from Cabinet Secretary to FM with the suggestion that the new FM might be slightly more willing to admit that all is not well with Scottish education, and possibly more open to ideas from elsewhere? Interestingly, preoccupation with the Curriculum for Excellence is much less evident now than in previous administration.

FM accepts responsibility for future education shortcomings with a priority for a National Improvement Framework that aims to (a) improve education standards for all, and (b) close the attainment gap between poorest and more affluent children (a problem that is experienced and ill-understood worldwide). Both these aims are important, but very challenging. Furthermore, achieving the first can make achieving the second more difficult: higher achievers are likely to raise their performance more than others, compete better internationally, and so make closing the gap more difficult

Not much has actually been done as yet beyond announcements about national assessment. Unfortunately, many have interpreted “national assessments” as old-style, and disliked, “national testing”. The assessment should be seen as evaluating the Government’s practical strategy for reducing the attainment gap, but there is no strategy plan nor any indication of the need to commission independent developmental research and evaluation to enable us to understand how and why things turn out as they do. The FM may be ready to look for lessons from elsewhere, but a visit to a New York school and to the notably successful London Challenge, while helping to reduce Scotland’s tendency for self-congratulation and admit a need for improvement, has to recognise that achievements comparable with London Challenge need a demanding and complex development strategy underpinned by research that moves forward our knowledge of how to change the attainment gap. Unfortunately, £25m per year is not enough. The initial focus will be on literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing, but what about rest of the curriculum? And is there a danger of the broader innovative objectives of the Curriculum for Excellence being lost?

Emphasis has also been placed on implementing the Young Workforce strategy following from the Wood Commission’s report and the debate about vocational education. Although still early days, this strand could be seen as going better than previous efforts in this field. There are new curriculum patterns coming into the final three years of secondary school, Foundation Apprenticeship courses are coming on and government support for the establishment of Newlands Junior College is evident.

But progress will require more investment in colleges, which were seriously damaged in the period starting before referendum. Finance cuts resulted in: contraction of staffing and courses; significantly reduced opportunities and services for students; and full-time courses for young students being prioritised at the expense of lifelong learning for older people. The Public Audit Committee’s report ‘Scotland’s Colleges 2015’ concluded “The reforms to date have had minimal negative impact on students.” This claim evoked strong challenges from the sector. Compared with 5 years ago 2014-15 funding had a real terms cut of around 20%, reductions of 48 % in part-time students and 41 % in students aged 25 or more. Over last 3 years student numbers fell by more than 100,000 and staff by almost 7,000.

Implementing the Wood Group recommendations remains the most important driver of change in colleges’ curricula and it seems to be going well although it remains to be seen how the creation of vocational facilities in schools will duplicate what colleges have. The introduction by the funding body of Outcome Agreements seems to have settled, but there are still outstanding issues such as widening access. The benefits of college mergers have yet to be fully realised and the effectiveness of different mergers appear as a mixed bag.

Accountability: Performance of young people

The Government is keen to bolster the image of Scottish performance levels and has drawn attention to a case from the last PISA international test results which looked as if an attainment gap had reduced, and also to overall increases in numbers of Higher entrants and passes. Unfortunately, the reduction in this PISA attainment gap was caused by a reduction of achievement at the top end rather than improvement among the disadvantaged.

Turning to Highers, the FM has acknowledged the importance of a grounding in STEM subjects, a particular priority for girls. However, the Scottish Qualifications Authority record for 2014-15 is not good. Apart from biology, there has been drop in presentations and passes in all STEM subjects, particularly computing science. Computing entrants dropped by 15.4% and passes by 18.1%; for chemistry the figures were 4.6% and 7.3%; for physics 4.2% and 5.1% and for mathematics 3.6% and 3.7%. Unfortunately, girls’ participation over last 8 years is also down, especially in maths and computing. Problems are not restricted to STEM subjects. Modern languages comparisons from 2007, when the current political administration took over, show an increase of enrolments in Spanish and Chinese of about 2,700, but decreases in the other 6 languages (including Gaelic) totalling 16,800.

Without any independent evaluation, there are severe limits to our understanding of why things turn out the way they do and no proper analysis of the causes of reduced enrolments and attainments. Is it a lack of primary teachers’ science background, limited choice of subjects on transition from basic education to senior phase, inexperience of the “new” Curriculum for Excellence courses and procedures, or a lack of effective support and teaching materials?

Evidence of Government efforts to increase ministerial control: two examples

First, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) as a Non-Departmental Public Body is expected to operate at arms-length from the Government and be responsible for funding teaching and learning provision, research and other activities in Scotland’s 25 colleges and 19 universities. There is concern about increasing intervention from Government eroding this arms-length relationship. Annual Ministerial Letters of Guidance to the SFC are now seen as more prescriptive and directive than those of earlier years. This engenders risk to the vitality and creative autonomy of Scotland’s universities from overly prescriptive, short-term targets that are set for institutions where timeframes are inevitably much longer than those of governments. The most successful universities in world are those that are at arms’ length with their governments.

Secondly, there is the Higher Education (HE) Governance Bill. The Government’s claim that the university sector is ‘autonomous’ is being seen by many in HE and the business community as a convenient fiction. The Bill is regarded as eroding university independence, and expected to lead to a reclassification of institutions by the UK Office for National Statistics from “non-profit” to “public bodies”. The implication of this would be they would no longer be able to hold surpluses or borrow from private sources (banks/investment companies). There are fears of a loss of investments and philanthropy up to £500 million. The charitable status would be under threat unless there is legislation to avoid this. The Government says this is not the case. It appears convinced that universities should be governed better, claims that too little attention is given to staff and students, and is discontented with executive salaries. But no evidence of these problems is provided.

In general, the proposals set out for an HE Governance Bill are seen by HE as inappropriate, unnecessary, potentially counter to good governance and carrying a risk of undermining the current good relations between Scottish Government and the HE sector.

Sally Brown is chair of the Education Committee of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. This speech was given to the joint David Hume Institute and International Public Policy Institute seminar at Strathclyde University on 17 Sept 2015.

PISA Scores 2016

Scotland trails behind England and Northern Ireland - recording its worst results in these Pisa rankings. Singapore came in first across the board.

The small Asian country Singapore focused relentlessly on education as a way of developing its economy and raising living standards.

And from being among the world's poorest, with a mix of ethnicities, religions and languages, Singapore has overtaken the wealthiest countries in Europe, North America and Asia to become the number one in education.

Prof Sing Kong Lee, vice-president of Nanyang Technological University, which houses Singapore's National Institute of Education, said a key factor had been the standard of teaching.

"Singapore invested heavily in a quality teaching force - to raise up the prestige and status of teaching and to attract the best graduates," said Prof Lee.

The country recruits its teachers from the top 5% of graduates in a system that is highly centralised.

All teachers are trained at the National Institute of Education, and Prof Lee said this single route ensured quality control and that all new teachers could "confidently go through to the classroom".

This had to be a consistent, long-term approach, sustained over decades, said Prof Lee.

There is an article this week about Scottish Education in the Scottish Review which you can read at:

Scotland's scores for maths, reading and science all declined in the latest set of Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) figures

Bet your house on the teachers. The OECD's education guru Andreas Schleicher has a catchphrase: "No education system can be better than the quality of its teachers". And this week's TIMSS rankings have the same message - success is inseparably linked to the supply of good quality teachers. Whatever headline-grabbing wheezes might be deployed by education ministers, it all comes down to investing in teachers.

Long-term planning in a short-term world. It might take 10 years before changes in an education system make any positive difference in global rankings. That's not much of an incentive for the fleeting life-span of ministerial office. A recent reforming education minister in Argentina's capital Buenos Aires entered office as the third minister in 12 days. But the big message from global rankings is that what is needed is consistency and continuity.

It's not a knockout competition. Education league tables are based on the proportion of young people reaching some benchmark of ability. The winners will be those who assume that everyone should cross that finishing line, including the poorest - and that is a distinguishing feature of the top Asian systems. They put the best teachers with the weakest pupils to make sure everyone gets to a basic standard. In contrast, much of the western approach to education is more like the Grand National, with the expectation that very few of the horses starting the race will still be there at the finish. And the rankings reflect this fundamental difference.

Life Chances are set by the age of 3

New research, which suggests brain tests at the age of three can predict a child’s life chances, highlights the value of early intervention.

Scientists from Kings College London, Duke University in the US and the University of Otago in New Zealand, found that children with low cognitive test scores at the age of three are more likely as adults to become dependent on welfare services or to end up in jail.

The research, which is published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, followed more than 1,000 children from the age of three until they were 38, living in New Zealand. At the age of three, each child in the study had participated in a 45-minute examination of neurological signs including intelligence, language and motor skills. The children were also rated on factors such as frustration tolerance, restlessness and impulsivity.

Using publicly held data on health, welfare and criminal justice, scientists were able to identify how much the children as adults accessed health and social services and the cost to society.

Researchers found that at the age of 38 one-fifth of the study population accounted for 81 percent of criminal convictions and 77 percent of fatherless children. This fifth of the group also consumed three-quarters of drug prescriptions, two-thirds of welfare benefits and more than half of nights spent in hsopital and cigarettes smoked.

However, the scientists claim that children’s outcomes are not set at the age of three as their life chances could be altered through intervention.

They go on to stress the importance of intervening early and say the findings should act as an ‘invitation to intervene’.

Although the research followed people in New Zealand, the scientists believe that the results could apply to other countries.

Professor Terrie Moffitt from Duke University in North California said, ‘Being able to predict which children will struggle is an opportunity to intervene in their lives very early to attempt to change their trajectories.

'This study really gives a pretty clear picture of what happens if you don’t intervene.'

Professor Avshalom Caspi from Kings College London added, ‘There is a really powerful connection from children’s early beginnings to where they end up. The purpose of this study is to say these children - all children - need a lot of resources, and helping them could yield a remarkable return on investment when they grow up.'

Should all countries use the Shanghai maths method?

Parents as Teachers
An interview with Mildred Winter the creator of this system can be downloaded at: Parents as Teachers

A child's brain develops rapidly during the first five years of life, especially the first three years.

It is a time of rapid cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional and motor development. For example, a child learns many words starting at around 15–18 months. Rapid language learning continues into the preschool years.

The child's brain grows as she or he sees, feels, tastes, smells and hears. Each time the child uses one of the senses, a neural connection is made in the child's brain. New experiences repeated many times help make new connections, which shape the way the child thinks, feels, behaves and learns now and in the future.

A close relationship between the child and the caregiver is the best way to nourish the child's growing brain. When a caregiver plays with and sings, speaks, reads or tells a story to the child and nurtures her or him with healthy food, love and affection, the child's brain grows. Being healthy, interacting with caregivers and living in a safe and clean environment can make a big difference in a child's growth, development and future potential.

Babies need lots of care and affection in the early years. Holding, cuddling and talking to the child stimulate brain growth and promote emotional development. Being kept close to the mother and breastfed on demand provide the infant with a sense of emotional security. The baby suckles for both nutrition and comfort.

For young children, crying is a way of communicating. Responding to the child's cry by holding and/or talking soothingly to her or him will help establish a sense of trust and security.

This kind of early bonding and attachment to the mother, father or other close caregiver helps a child develop a broad range of abilities to use and build upon throughout life. These include the ability to:

- learn
- be self-confident and have high self-esteem
- have positive social skills
- have successful relationships at later ages
- develop a sense of empathy.

As children's brains develop, so do their emotions, which are real and powerful. Children may become frustrated if they are unable to do something or have something they want. They are often frightened of strangers, new situations or the dark. Children whose reactions are laughed at, punished or ignored may grow up shy and unable to express emotions normally. If caregivers are patient and sympathetic when a child expresses strong emotions, the child is more likely to grow up happy, secure and well balanced.

Boys and girls have the same physical, mental, emotional and social needs. Both have the same capacity for learning. Both have the same need for affection, attention and approval.

Young children can experience excessive stress if they are physically or emotionally punished, are exposed to violence, are neglected or abused, or live in families with mental illness, such as depression or substance abuse. These stresses interfere with the developing brain and can lead to cognitive, social and emotional delays and behaviour problems in childhood and later in life.

Children who are physically or mentally punished in anger are more likely to become violent themselves.

More positive and effective ways to address children's behaviour can include:

- providing a child with clear explanations about what to do and what not to do
- responding consistently to certain behaviours
- praising good behaviour.

These responses by parents and other caregivers encourage children so they become well-adjusted and productive members of the family and community.

Both parents, as well as other family members, need to be involved in caring and nurturing the growth, learning and development of children. They should make both girls and boys feel equally valued as they encourage them to learn and explore – this is important preparation for school.

Mothers around the world generally take on the primary role of addressing their children's rights and needs. They love, feed, console, teach, play with and care for their children.

A father's role is as vital as the mother's in nurturing and caring for their children and protecting their rights. A father should make daughters and sons feel they are equally important. Just like the mother, the father can help meet their child's needs for love, affection, approval, encouragement and stimulation. Together, the mother and father can ensure that the child receives a quality education and good nutrition and health care.

Born to Learn

How to implement the Born to Learn Model

Why do boys do less well in education than girls
And what can we do about it?

Are we rearing children fit for the future?
It’s a scary world out there. Climate change, renewed fears of war in the Middle East, growing political instability across Europe one can’t help but wonder what the future holds for our children (28th June 2019)

Pisa rankings: Why Estonian pupils shine in global tests
It outperforms the major European economies, including the UK, in influential global education tests. (BBC report) (2nd Dec 2019)

Folk Schools
Focus is on enlightenment, ethics, morality and democracy although they are not taught explicitly.

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