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

A summary of the final report of the National Discussion on Education.

4. A Call to Action

4.1 A Call to Action (C2A) has been formulated based on the strongest themes and views arising from the National Discussion data. Inevitably, there were differences of opinion in what we heard and sometimes strong, opposing views. Hence, we tried to establish points of synergy, consolidation, and connection within and across the data sets, supported by the data analysis undertaken independently. We undertook a constant comparative approach across the data, testing, evaluating, and revisiting the evidence to ensure that we had a firm basis for the C2A that was grounded. We also considered what we had heard in the many online and in-person discussions we had engaged in, along with re-reading many of the written submissions.

4.2 While the vision, values, and C2A are intended to be future-focused, a great deal of what we heard within the National Discussion was about contemporary issues, challenges, and areas of strength within the Scottish Education system. Consequently, this C2A aims to reflect both realism and pragmatism while also signalling what will be needed now and in the future to safeguard the learning and life-chances of all children and young people in Scotland.

4.3 As this is a summary report, we can only present the high-level elements of the C2A. The final report offers much greater detail accompanied by a commentary on the big ideas and a clear statement of intent for each component of the C2A. The C2A is intended to inspire action rather than to be seen as a prescription or mandate.

4.4 The high-level summary of the C2A outlined below reflects the strongest messages that emerged from the data. Overall, the most powerful message emanating from the National Discussion is the need to educate all learners in Scotland for an uncertain and unpredictable future. Hence our big, overarching theme in the C2A is Educating Our Future supported by four inter-related components: Learners and Learning, A Learning System, Digital Futures and Human-Centred Educational Improvement.

4.5 A brief overview of the elements that comprise the high-level summary of the C2A will follow. It is noted, however, that the final report gives detailed commentary on important issues that feature underneath these broad themes, such as: curriculum, assessment and qualifications, and the education workforce.

C2A High Level Summary

Educating Our Future

  • Learners and Learning
  • A Learning System
  • Digital Futures
  • Human-Centred Educational Improvement

4.6 The overarching theme within the C2A is Educating Our Future which reinforces how children and young people in Scotland will actively shape a future society, a future economy, a future nation, a future planet, and a future world. Educating Our Future implies that the core purpose of education must be to enable children and young people to navigate the future with confidence, meaning, and kindness. This is why we have used the phrase ‘educating our future’ in this summary report, as the children and young people of Scotland will own that future and will ultimately create it.

4.7 It is recognised that to deliver an education system in Scotland that is fit to be proactive and flexible enough for a changing future requires looking at the present system and building upon its many strengths. The challenge, however, is to put in place a change or reform process that will move the education system in Scotland forward, both steadily and comprehensively involving central and local agencies. The responses within the National Discussion highlighted the need for bold changes within the education system and an urgent need for a future-focused reform process accompanied by quality implementation.

4.8 It is difficult to imagine a future education system in Scotland without children’s rights being at the front and centre. We heard a great deal about how a future Scottish education system must uphold children’s rights so that they feel safe to learn and empowered to positively shape their lives. Within the National Discussion, we heard many times how important it was for pupils of all ages to feel safe, secure, valued and listened to in their learning. An appreciation of diversity and equity to promote their well-being was also a consistent theme. Attention to developing and supporting the education workforce, reforming curriculum, qualifications, and assessments and integrating digital technologies and literacies were discussed. We also heard a great deal about the importance of valuing, listening to, and collaborating with the adults who work with children, especially teachers and all members of the wider education workforce, and parents/carers, families, and community members.

4.9 Overall, we heard the importance of ensuring that all learners in Scotland matter both now and in the future. The action point related to Educating Our Future is as follows:

Educating Our Future requires a Scottish education system that is proactive, flexible, integrated, and upholds the rights of all children and young people. A future Scottish Education system will offer high-quality teaching and learning, different learner pathways, alternative routes to success, and a range of appropriate assessments that reflect the unique talents of each learner, supports their ambitions, and meet the needs of a changing world.

4.10 Education is fundamentally about learning and teaching. It is, therefore, not a surprise that the most frequently mentioned topic in the National Discussion responses concerned learning, including the curriculum. The second most frequently mentioned topic was about the importance of teachers and staff to support students’ needs and learning. In the theme of Learners and Learning, we have identified three main topics in the responses concerning: learning; inclusivity and diversity; and health and wellbeing.

4.11 In terms of learning, we heard that literacy and numeracy remain fundamentally important. In addition, we heard about the importance of Scotland continuing to have a broad-based education with all learners having access to subject choices and skills development that reflect their interests, talents, and personal ambitions to equip them in their lives, work, and world. In the context of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), we also heard about the importance of all children and young people learning about their rights and respecting the rights of all people, appreciating diversity, and learning for sustainability to protect the environment.

4.12 Importantly, it was felt that there was a need to re-ignite the joy of learning, including more opportunities to play and learn outdoors. This suggests that learning should be recognised in a variety of ways that accommodate different learning pathways and options that learners choose. It suggests a shift from progression based on age and stage of schooling to flexible pathways and supported transitions to meet the developmental needs and interests of children and young people throughout their early years and school experiences.

4.13 In regard to Inclusivity and Diversity, we heard about the importance of ensuring a Scottish education system that advances human rights, equity, inclusivity, and appreciation of diversity to recognise, respect, and represent the unique talents, characteristics, needs, interests, and potential of all learners. This includes the need for awareness raising and learning about all forms of diversity, discrimination, and disadvantage for children and young people and for education workers and support staff.

4.14 We heard about the need for safe and inclusive schools, including attention to accessibility of buildings, classrooms and resources, and respectful relationships and proactive anti-bullying approaches. To fully achieve inclusivity requires ensuring dedicated and sustainable funding to provide adequate and appropriate staffing and specialist resources to be able to achieve the commitment to meet the individual needs of each learner; this is especially urgent for children and young people identified as having as having Additional Support Needs (ASN). We also heard about the importance of educational opportunities and communities in a range of languages, including Gaelic Medium Education and accessible communication in community languages. For equitable access to educational experiences and opportunities, we heard that education must not include upfront, hidden, or voluntary costs for parents/learners. The importance of community connections, multi-agency working, and third sector partnership were identified as important to meet the needs of all children and young people.

4.15 We heard that to fully value, respect, and represent the diversity of people in Scotland, it was important that this is reflected in the diversity of the education workforce, as well as reflected in the curriculum and all teaching and learning resources. Principles and practices such as anti-racist education and gender equity were identified as being paramount. Attention to equitable educational opportunities and experiences across the diversity of places and contexts in Scotland is also important, for example for rural, remote and island communities.

4.16 The continued importance of Health and Wellbeing as part of education was also proposed. We heard about the need for a range of pastoral care and whole-school approaches to nurture, and the development of positive, respectful, and healthy relationships, including dealing with incidences of bullying and harassment quickly and effectively. We also heard about the continued importance of addressing mental health of pupils and staff, and attention to children and young people’s physical health. The need for ease of timely availability and access to specialist resources and expert supports to promote children and young people’s wellbeing was highlighted.

4.17 The action points relating to Learners and Learning are:

All learners should have equitable access to high-quality learning opportunities and experiences and flexible pathways linked to each learner’s interests, needs, development, and ambitions. Cultivating joy and a love for lifelong learning is important. The expertise and judgement of the education profession, including deep curricular knowledge and access to curriculum-linked resources, working with support staff and specialists is vital to achieving high-quality learning.

There is a need to ensure adequate sustained funding to provide staffing and specialist resources to be able to achieve the commitment to inclusivity and meeting the individual needs of each learner, with a particular urgency for children and young people identified as having Additional Support Needs (ASN). Learning about and appreciating the diversity of people and places is important and needs to be reflected in curriculum, teaching and learning resources, and represented in the education workforce. Safe and inclusive cultures that nurture respectful relationships and address discrimination and harassment are imperative.

There is a continued need to proactively learn about and support mental, emotional, and physical health and healthy relationships, and to provide whole-school approaches to nurture, safe learning spaces, and anti-bullying practices.

4.18 Moving on to The Learning System, within the Call to Action, we heard a great deal about curriculum, assessment, qualifications, and teaching. Yet, many of the comments we heard seemed to suggest that they were separate not integrated parts of the system. Respondents readily talked about the curriculum or assessment or teaching but rarely did they talk about these as a holistic, system-wide approach to realising better educational performance in Scotland.

4.19 From what we heard, therefore, it is suggested that a future education system in Scotland would benefit from greater system synergy where the structural, cultural, and practical realisation of these key components reflect a coherent, co-ordinated, and interdependent system, involving all key players in an integrated but not overly bureaucratic way. We also heard the need for the Scottish education system to be much more of a learning system that is able to take risks and to embark upon significant, bold and ambitious reform.

4.20 If the Scottish education system is to meet the needs of all learners in the near and distant future, then some bold structural and cultural changes are needed to ensure that all parts of the system pull in the same direction.

4.21 We heard frequently about the education workforce, the curriculum, plus assessment and qualifications. In terms of the education workforce, we heard about the importance of having stable staffing within a school environment, in terms of continuity and sustainability of high-quality teaching. Issues of teacher recruitment and retention were raised as potential fault lines in the system now and, potentially, in the future. The need for clear career paths, flexible training options, better salaries and benefits, and reduced administrative responsibilities to improve teacher recruitment were raised in many of the focus group sessions. On balance, the value of the professional workforce was clearly acknowledged within the National Discussion and the centrality of retaining great teachers in the profession in the future was strongly supported.

4.22 Turning next to the curriculum, the views we heard were very supportive of a more joined-up approach to the curriculum between different educational phases and smoother transitions throughout the learner journey, including the senior phase. Many of the group discussions echoed this position emphasising the need for greater clarity and coherence for the learners on the curriculum journey. In terms of the future, it was felt by many that we spoke to that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) would benefit from a continual review process to ensure that it remained relevant, up to date and fit for purpose to meet the needs of a changing world.

4.23 Finally, in terms of assessment and qualifications, young people of all ages were very vocal about the need for a wider range of assessment options and pathways that afforded them a broader range of qualification options that underlined what they could do instead of what they could not do. It was clear from what we heard that the narrative about and approaches to assessment and qualifications needs to change to provide a better balance of learning options and learning pathways for young people that offer them parity of esteem, the opportunity to be recognised and qualifications that will be accepted by all and give them access to the career path they choose.

4.24 The actions related to the learning system are as follows:

The education workforce should be viewed holistically as a system-wide resource. The recognition, and reward, for the important work undertaken by all in the workforce needs to be established and reflected in career opportunities, and high-quality professional learning, to support high-quality practice as a common entitlement for all. Attention to diversifying the workforce and to supporting staff wellbeing is needed.

A regular curriculum review process should be established to ensure that the curriculum remains fit for purpose, reflects contemporary learner needs, and can be effectively delivered in ways to ensure that all learners in Scotland have high quality curricular-linked learning experiences.

A future education system should capitalise upon and harness the abilities, skills, and talents of all children and young people in Scotland. It should break down the academic/vocational divide, offer a broader set of assessment and qualification options, and formally recognise and reward the achievements of all learners.

4.25 While technology and digital resources did not feature in the National Discussion data as prominently as we expected, there were some strong views from employers, parents, and teachers of the need to recognise that digital technology has to be a central aspect of any education system that is future-focused.

4.26 Among learners, we heard a strong appetite for more opportunities to gain information and knowledge. A prevalent theme among learners was for education to help develop their digital literacy and skills to help prepare for work. Learners highlighted the need for more freedom of choice in terms of the types of digital engagement. One thing is clear; the digital world will open immense opportunities for the children and young people in Scotland who are prepared for it. Consequently, it is important that learners throughout Scotland are fully prepared for the digital future and that education in Scotland equips them in ways that allows them to fully participate and to thrive digitally.

4.27 The action related to Digital Futures is as follows:

Digital upskilling and digital transformation across the Scottish education system, at all levels, is an urgent priority for all learners in a future digital world. Attention to maximising the existing skills and infrastructure available to further build digital capacity is essential.

4.28 The final major theme in the responses to the National Discussion concerns what we are terming Human-Centred Educational Improvement. 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 marginalised 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. While the future of Scottish education may be more digital, it absolutely must be more human too.

4.29 We heard from children and young people who wanted decision-makers to remember that their education was about them. Children and young people wanted to have friends, to like their teacher and to be liked by them, to have trusting relationships with adults who cared and could help them, to be safe, 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 wanted the same for children and young people, and indeed a version of this for themselves too.

4.30 We heard about the centrality of children and young people’s voices being listened to within Scottish education, the importance of the professionals working in education leading and informing educational decisions and actions with their expertise and experiences, and the need to engage and communicate with parents, carers, and communities.

4.31 The action point for realising Human-Centred Educational Improvement is:

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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