All Learners in Scotland Matter - national discussion on education: final report

Final report of the National Discussion on Education.

8.0 Human-Centred Educational Improvement

What we heard

8.1 The National Discussion was intentionally called "Our National Discussion" to signal that this process needed to be inclusive of, and listen to, the voices and views of people across Scotland, particularly children and young people and those whose voices are often marginalized or unheard. The major message that we heard throughout the National Discussion was that valuing people and positive relationships must be the essential features of Scottish education.

8.2 While the future of Scottish education may be more digital, it absolutely must be more human too. It may seem obvious that educational improvement is – and should be – human-centred, but we heard of concerns about an overfocus on structures, systems, data, and documents. Respondents' vision for Scottish education is one where people are listened to, heard, respected, represented, engaged, and valued in decisions and actions.

8.3 Consistent with the Muir Review's title of Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education, the National Discussion deliberately places the discussion about education into a bold new future, which ensures that children and young people are at the centre of the education system, carefully and expertly supported by professionals, parents/carers, and the wider community. We heard from children and young people who wanted decision-makers to remember that their education was about them.

8.4 Relationships mattered to the children and young people we heard from. They wanted to have friends, to like their teacher and to be liked by them, to have trusting relationships with adults who could help them, to learn lots of subjects and skills, to have fun, to play, to be listened to and be heard, and for their individual characteristics, needs, interests and ambitions to be respected, recognised, and supported. In many respects the adults that we spoke to want the same for children and young people, and indeed a version of this for themselves too.

8.5 We also heard concerns that a truly human-centred approach focused on building strong relationships was challenging in the current conditions, requiring attention to adequate staffing and appropriate class sizes.

“It is impossible to build strong relationships with every student in the current system. And I strongly feel this is what students need for ALL to be successful in Scottish Education.” (Teacher)

8.6 Human-centred educational improvement requires engaging and listening to all people. Most importantly, children and young people must be at the heart of the Scottish education. The importance of UNCRC Article 12 which calls for respecting the views of the child and initiatives such as UNICEF's Rights Respecting Schools Awards were identified as important examples of why listening to children and young people matters.

8.7 We heard that the meaningful engagement of children and young people required attention to how best to connect and communicate with them, for example the use of child and youth friendly approaches. The need to ensure all learners were listened to, not just those who were most able or most dominant in speaking up, was stressed, including attention to children and young people with neurodiversity, disabilities, and long-term conditions and ensuring gender equality in listening to girls and young women. Individuals and organisations that can support the engagement and representation of vulnerable or marginalised groups have an important role, for example youth workers providing safe spaces for discussion.

8.8 Importantly, we heard that consultation alone is insufficient. Children and young people need to be listened to and they need to know how their views have been informed decisions and actions.

“We like to be asked what’s important.” – (Barrhill Primary School, children and young people group)

“Listen!! Come into schools and talk to young people” (Learner)

“Ask them. let everyone have a voice and let them say what they need to about Scottish education as everyone has their own believes / opinions. Let students have their say! You ask them what they want.” – (Inverness High School, children and young people group)

Article 12 in action means decision-makers listening to the views of young people and acting to incorporate those views into all decisions that impact young people. This applies at all levels of decision-making including both the collective voice of young people as a group and the individual views of each young person in the education system. An education system based on the views of children and young people not only respects their article 12 right, but also better addresses the needs of the learners it aims to serve. This is because young people are able to identify the problems in their education and input into developing solutions, they are more likely to support and invest in.” (Scottish Youth Parliament)

“Participation must be meaningful with children and young people knowing where their input has gone and whether it has made a difference. Decision makers must commit to not just ‘listening’ to what is said but to responding back to the people who have said it.” (Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland)

8.9 Human-centred educational improvement also involves serious engagement with parents, carers, families, and communities. The importance of schools and local authorities communicating with and listening to parents/carers was stressed. Improvements in the quantity and quality of communication were called for to ensure parents and carers knew about their child's rights, learning, support, and progress, and to ensure that teachers and other staff knew more about the child and their family. The use of parents' councils, parents' evenings, in-person meetings, and online/digital communications were all proposed. We heard about the importance of holding local authorities to account for their responsibility to ensure parents and carers were aware of their rights and their child's rights, for example in decisions about school starting age.

8.10 Providing support to parents and families was also noted, for example parenting education workshops and supporting parents to know about their child's education and support for needs such as mental health. The role of parents and carers in their child's learning and development is important and requires support.

8.11 More broadly, respondents noted the importance of schools within their communities and developing community relationships. As well as schools contributing to their communities, drawing on community resources to support schools and their learners is also important.

8.12 Meaningfully and appropriately engaging with a wide range of people requires thoughtful attention in the design of communications, consultation, engagements, and other opportunities for people to contribute, add their voice, and be listened to. This is particularly the case for people and groups who are disadvantaged, marginalised, or less frequently heard. The need to build trust, to work with trusted intermediaries, to be culturally response, to use community languages, and to ensure accessibility for engaging were all highlighted. Addressing barriers to engagement and valuing all voices was stressed as essential.

“Don’t be dismissive of parents, we need to be included as have knowledge and ideas about how to get the best from our children” (Lead Scotland, parents’ group).

"Bringing together the different elements of the educational landscape that young people experience to work in partnership to deliver effective learning, choice, and support. This recognises education as a shared responsibility. Harness the skills and expertise of youth work, and indeed of employers, alongside that of schools in supporting young people's learning, ensuring that the outcomes and achievements that young people gain through their totality of learning experiences are captured and celebrated.” (Awards Network)

“Create culturally-responsive approaches to engagement and involvement with those that have lived experience and expertise. Empower these groups with adequate mechanisms for their voices to be heard in future review and reform processes in Scottish Education” (Race Equality and Anti-Racism in Education: Curriculum Reform Sub-Group)

“Enabling Deaf people involved in education in Scotland to have a say in future decisions and actions requires adherence to one central principle: ‘Nothing about us without us’. In other words, decisions about the education of Deaf people simply cannot be considered legitimate unless Deaf people of all ages are able to bring their lived experiences and participate in making them.” (British Deaf Association Scotland)

“It is essential that active steps are taken to ensure that Gaelic-medium Education (GME) is included in any developments and that appropriate consultation with the GME sector and national organisations supporting GME, is undertaken to ensure developments impact positively.” (Comann nam Pàrant (Nàiseanta))

8.13 Vitally, human-centred educational improvement must also place the people who work in education, especially those such as teachers who are directly responsible for teaching and supporting children and young people, at the centre of informing and leading educational improvement. The people working on the frontlines of Scottish education know the reality of conditions, contexts, and needs. We heard a concern that education professionals should be involved in all educational decisions and that policy development and educational reform would be inauthentic, inappropriate, and ineffective without the genuine and sustained involvement of education professionals. We heard that education professionals should not be viewed as merely the implementers of policies and curricular decided centrally, rather education professionals should be leading and informing the design and development of educational changes as well as using their professional judgement and expertise to support adaptation and implementation.

8.14 The use of expert and advisory groups with relevant professional expertise was also noted as important for informed educational improvement, although we also heard that such groups must not be comprised of the "usual suspects" and include a broad range of membership.

8.15 In addition to including professional expertise and engagement of all stakeholders involved, we also heard about the importance of future educational changes being research-informed. The need to research and evaluate the implementation and outcomes of policies and practices, including current and future reforms, was noted.

“Listen to those delivering the curriculum as much/more than those in offices. Allow secondments for current teachers to write and create curriculum. For a new curriculum to work, teachers need to feel like they’re at the helm and this isn’t another change being done to them with no consultation. Those outwith the classroom are not best placed to make these decisions.” (Teacher)

“It is through their knowledge of the subjects and how they can be introduced to our pupils that teachers have authority. Any change to education must have teachers playing a central role, drawing on that authority. Anything else is unsound.” (@MiracleUbik via Twitter)

“We must have the lived experience of everyone involved in education taken into account. #TeacherWorkingConditionsArePupilLearningConditions” (@robfmac via Twitter)

“The Scottish Government needs to grasp this opportunity to develop a genuinely collegiate approach going forwards, ensuring these reforms are not a cosmetic exercise and that the perspective of classroom teachers is placed at the heart of any reform.” (NASWUT)

“teacher voice should also be at the heart of decision making in the education system. In addition to making professional judgements about learning and teaching, shaping the curriculum and determining the appropriate forms of assessment, teachers should also influence decisions in relation to education reform.” (EIS)

“teachers are not merely policy implementers; they create, enact and leverage policy in their settings for their learners and communities. Teachers are curriculum makers. The potential of the profession to do this needs to be unlocked. The professional and social capital they bring to their work is integral to successful and effective teaching and learning and, through this, positive outcomes for learners.” (GTCS)

8.16 The Muir Review proposed major structural and culture changes for Scottish education, including three new national agencies. We heard few comments specifically about structural change, but there was a recognition that roles and responsibilities throughout the education system needed consideration, including in taking forward the National Discussion. There was a general view that while national direction, strategy and resources are necessary, top-down change being driven onto the education profession is inappropriate and there needs to be a genuine move to let the education profession lead the way forward, in collaboration with all staff, learners, parents, and families. The concept of subsidiarity where powers and responsibilities are devolved to the most relevant people and place was suggested – this must not be devolving mandated changes but enabling professional agency and judgement. While Scotland has committed to empowering the education workforce, we heard from teachers and school leaders that they did not feel this had been achieved in reality. Headteachers, teachers, early years practitioners, and other staff wanted more involvement in educational decisions that affected their day-to-day work. The importance of local authorities and Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICS) in leading educational improvement, supporting the education profession and developing educational provision appropriate to their context and communities was also discussed.

8.17 It was suggested that engagement approaches such as the National Discussion demonstrated the importance to listening to and valuing all voices, including the education profession, and this must continue to be a hallmark of the way of working in Scottish education. We heard from participants that they had appreciated the opportunity to engage in discussions in-person and online across Scotland as part of the National Discussion. They wanted this to be a continued feature of Scottish education where collaboration and networks would be facilitated to share ideas, expertise and practices beyond schools and local authorities, for example teacher-research networks. With the pace of change in the world and the urgency of needs for learners, we heard that the future Scottish education system needs to be proactive and dynamic requiring professional agency and local flexibility.

8.18 The new national agencies require careful consideration and design within this context – there are structural considerations of not centralising control and resources but rather working collaboratively with professionals throughout the education system who have responsibility and expertise for leading educational improvement. However, these are not simply structural issues, this requires unleashing deep cultural change and leadership for human-centred educational improvement placing learners at the heart, valuing professional expertise and judgement, and engaging parents/carers, families, communities, employers, and all relevant partners and stakeholders.

8.19 Our future education requires human-centred educational improvement that cares deeply and profoundly for all children and young people in Scotland, and for the adults who care for, work with, and support them. The future education system needs to be courageous and compassionate.

8.20 In summary, the features of human-centred educational improvement valuing and listing to people involved in the Scottish education system needs to a central feature of all decisions and actions.

Human-Centred Educational Improvement – Call to Action:

Human-centred educational improvement requires listening to children and young people’s views and putting their needs at the heart of the Scottish education system, engaging parents/carers, families, and communities, and the education profession leading the way forward with professional expertise and judgement informing decisions and actions.



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