2. Overview of the National Discussion
2.1 The National Discussion on Education in Scotland was a generational opportunity for children, young people, and those who support them to have their voices heard concerning the future direction of Scottish Education. The central aim of the National Discussion was to produce a compelling and consensual vision for Scottish education accompanied by a Call to Action (C2A) that outlined the strategic steps to achieving that vision in practice.
2.2 As independent facilitators, we worked with a broad coalition of early years organisations, schools, other education organisations, community groups, third sector organisations, youth workers, parents’ groups, education professional organisations, local authorities, and policy makers to engage all those involved in Scottish education. In designing the questions and engagement plans for the National Discussion, we consulted with more than a hundred organisations dedicated to supporting and representing children and young people, as well as education partners and parent stakeholder groups. We kept in touch with these organisations throughout the National Discussion, offering the opportunity for further feedback and commentary.
2.3 The National Discussion was launched by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and COSLA Children and Young Spokesperson on the 21st of September 2022. This launch was followed by an intensive engagement phase that ran until the 5th of December 2022. In keeping with the recommendations of the Muir Review we ensured that the views of children and young people were at the heart of the National Discussion, not exclusively but primarily. We also sought the input of the adults who care for, represent, and support children and young people, including parents and carers, school leaders, teachers, other education practitioners and support staff (Appendix A).
2.4 Guiding the National Discussion was the central question: “What kind of education will be needed by children and young people in Scotland in the future and how do we make that a reality?” We made every effort to ensure that the voices of children and young people who are not usually forthcoming in discussions or debates like this were included through specialist support groups or through their parents, carers, and teachers.
2.5 The depth and breadth of engagement in the National Discussion far exceeded our expectations. Over 38,000 people took part in the National Discussion (see Appendix B for an infographic of engagement statistics). In collaboration with the Scottish Government, an online survey was launched with ten key questions available in multiple community languages, in accessible formats and in an easy read version. A range of age-appropriate tailored discussion guides with further adapted National Discussion questions were produced by Education Scotland to help teachers, parents/carers and youth workers engage children and young people directly and for adults to also engage in facilitated discussions. A total of 5,671 responses were submitted to the National Discussion, including survey responses and open submissions in a range of formats. Of these, 232 group responses were received.
2.6 As Independent Facilitators, we participated in as many on-line and face to face sessions as possible. In total, there were 102 National Discussion events. We adopted an invitational, grassroots engagement approach to help ensure that the National Discussion was as inclusive as possible. We hosted public engagement events and participated in meetings hosted by organisations nationally, regionally, and locally. We met face to face with key groups to extend our reach and to gather as much first-hand evidence as we could. A highly successful social media campaign resulted in 10 million unique social media users seeing the hashtag #TalkScottishEducation. There were 6,000 Twitter posts about the National Discussion.
2.7 All schools in Scotland were invited to take part in the National Discussion, using the age-appropriate facilitation guides. Online National Discussion assemblies and classes were provided by e-Sgoil for primary and secondary age pupils. Over 26,000 pupils and students participated in these online events which ensured that views of children and young people, throughout Scotland, were provided as part of the National Discussion.
2.8 Discussions with seldom-heard groups of children and young people were organised and we reached out in ways that reduced as many barriers to participation as possible. We facilitated focus groups for advocates who were able to represent the views, interests, and learning needs of those less likely to disclose their experiences within a public engagement meeting. Some of these sessions were emotionally charged and we heard some moving accounts from children and young people that were both insightful and powerful. We strove to build trust and safe spaces for engaging, and we constantly reinforced to participants that we were independent facilitators who were keen to hear all viewpoints.
2.9 We also engaged children and young people in the places that they use, in ways that work for them, in areas of familiarity, including through social media. We also worked through trusted networks such as the safe spaces created by youth workers, and we connected extensively with parents and carers.
2.10 We wrote letters to parents in collaboration with Connect and the National Parent Forum of Scotland that were distributed through schools. National and local parent organisations led their own National Discussion engagement activities and invited us to participate in meetings and focus groups. Parents of vulnerable and marginalised groups were invited to participate or be represented in discussions with relevant organisations.
2.11 We collaborated with professional organisations to engage with the education workforce at all stages, from early years through to university. For example, the GTCS, EIS and the University of Glasgow hosted National Discussion events that we attended. We also met with the NASUWT Black Network, and we facilitated sessions during AHDS and ADES conferences and many school leader events hosted by local authorities. We visited schools and met with staff and learners. Many education organisations also facilitated their own discussions and submitted key points raised to contribute to the National Discussion datasets.
2.12 Local Authorities and Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) facilitated local events and/or invited us to join meetings to discuss the National Discussion. We had opportunities to engage with members of SOLACE, ADES and COSLA and had invitations to participate in their conferences and meetings.
2.13 In summary, we had an incredible response to our invitation to ‘Let’s Talk Scottish Education.’ The National Discussion is the biggest public engagement exercise on education to have been undertaken nationally in Scottish education. To put this in context, the previous National Debate conducted twenty years ago had 1,517 responses . We received 5,671 formal responses for the current National Discussion. We wish to acknowledge and thank everyone who supported us and contributed their views and voices to shape the future of Scottish education.
2.14 An independent research company undertook an analysis of every National Discussion response received. This work has considered all the evidence gathered to ensure that all the voices that we heard, and all those who contributed, are included in the analysis. A separate analytical report is available.
2.15 A secondary-source review of various consultations undertaken with children and young people within the Scottish education system was also provided for us. It included a summary of existing vision statements (within various reports located within the education system) and a consideration of many longer national discussion responses submitted by key institutions and influential bodies (including those sent by education professional organisations, third sector advocates, and membership organisations).
2.16 To prepare this summary report, we have drawn upon the analytical report produced by an independent company. We have also systematically reviewed the data and undertaken a comparative analysis to inform the vision, values, and Call to Action. Some testing of the initial vision and values was conducted, and revisions were made to take account of feedback received. Inevitably, each response to the testing phase was accompanied by suggestions to revise the vision, and values in some way. On balance, however, the overall response to the vision and values was positive in terms of substance, tone, and positioning.
The testing phase was also useful to ensure the wording, of the vision and values, resonates with key partners and stakeholders, while ensuring we stay true to our commitment that the substance of vision and values would be directly informed and shaped by responses to the National Discussion. Ultimately, our central purpose is to reflect, authentically and clearly, what we heard within the National Discussion.
2.17 We acknowledge that major reviews are underway, and we have stayed in touch with the leaders of the Skills Review and the Qualifications and Assessment Review but have retained our independence. We are also aware that there are many policy documents, previous reviews, and position papers that inevitably touch on the key areas that are reflected in our Call to Action. This work is not cited in his summary report as our intention is only to represent and reflect what we heard within the National Discussion.
2.18 It important to reinforce that we have based the vision, values, and Call to Action solely on the National Discussion data analysis. Our role as facilitators is to faithfully represent the voices and views that we heard while remaining independent.
2.19 Clearly, given the scale of the responses received, we cannot include everything we heard in the National Discussion in this summary report or in the final report. Consequently, we have sought to represent the strongest and most consistent themes emerging from the analysis, cross-checked by a constant comparison of what we heard individually and collectively from September to December 2022. We have no vested interest in that we bring to this report. Our aim is to reflect upon the potential for the Scottish Education system, now and in the future, using the National Discussion data alone as the basis for what we say and conclude.
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