National discussion on education: consultation analysis

This report outlines the key findings from the ‘listening phase’ of the National Discussion on Scottish Education which took place between September and December 2022.

Executive Summary

A National Discussion on Education (the National Discussion) is being conducted by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), co-facilitated by Professor Carol Campbell and Professor Alma Harris. The listening phase of the National Discussion took place between September and December 2022 and received 5,671 responses representing the views of at least 12,323 people. Learners, parents, teaching staff and many other stakeholders with detailed knowledge shared their views about Scotland's future education system.

Overarching priorities

Comments on curriculum structure and content was the most common theme across responses to the National Discussion. Participants expressed clear support for a broad curriculum focusing on literacy and numeracy, but many felt Curriculum for Excellence should be streamlined and decluttered.

There were repeated calls to recruit and retain more teachers and pupil support staff, and for better teacher training. Many felt these improvements would drive greater capacity, stability and quality in education and underpin better learner experiences and outcomes.

Participants advocated for the focus on health and wellbeing in schools to continue as a core feature of Curriculum for Excellence. It was widely felt that schools should provide a safe and secure environment, have a positive and supportive ethos, build positive relationships between teachers and pupils, and deliver support through pastoral care teams, counsellors, mentors and youth work. The most prevalent theme in comments on mental health was for funding and better access to specialist or professional mental health support in schools.

Multiple participants highlighted the value of alternative teaching and learning approaches, advocating for outdoor learning, out-of-classroom learning and extra-curricular activities, play-based learning and fun, creative and innovative approaches.

Comments on inclusion and supporting children and young people with Additional Support Needs in mainstream schools centred on three areas. Several participants called for training and improved knowledge and understanding of a range of support needs. Several others recommended adaptations to teaching styles or environments for pupils with disabilities or long-term conditions and for neurodiverse young people. Some, however, raised concerns about inclusion, stating it does not meet the requirements of young people with additional support needs or the rest of their class.

Calls to adequately fund these and other priorities was another prevalent theme.

Recurring themes

The value of engaging with parents and families was raised in responses to most questions, with participants calling for better communication with parents and assistance for families who need more support. Other recurring themes included the importance of collaborating with external stakeholders to safeguard young people and the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship between schools and local communities.

Participants often advocated for the education system to offer young people clear, flexible and practical learning pathways depending on their needs, abilities and interests. They argued a one-size-fits-all approach and focus on academic success is no longer appropriate. Instead, participants suggested that children should be provided with a range of academic, practical and vocational routes, including work-based learning, with parity of esteem for all learning options. Participants often argued that the education system should teach life skills; financial education, household management, digital literacy and skills for work were frequently mentioned.

Another recurring theme was for education to meet each young person's needs by responding to learners' passions and interests, offering tailored choices, letting young people develop at their own pace, and adapting teaching and learning to their abilities. Some highlighted the value of positive pupil/teacher relationships, and some advocated for a rights-based education which embeds and prioritises young peoples' rights and needs.

Some participants commented on equity, inclusion and diversity, stressing the need for the education system to have sufficient funding and staff to support all young people to learn and succeed, including those from different backgrounds and marginalised groups. Other themes included calls for the education system to reflect and promote the diversity of Scotland's population in the workforce and curriculum, to accept and celebrate different perspectives, to remove financial barriers, and to deliver equitable funding and opportunities regardless of geography.

There was little consensus on the future role of exams, testing and assessment. While some expressed support for exams and assessment, several participants want Scotland to reduce or end exams and standardised testing. They described other types of assessment they believed would produce a fairer and more effective qualification system.

As well as a recurring call to listen to teaching staff, participants argued that teaching staff should feel empowered in their job, have a more manageable workload and be rewarded at a level that reflects the profession's value.

Less commonly mentioned themes

Other overarching issues highlighted by a small proportion of participants at multiple questions, from most to least frequently mentioned, included: fostering creative and critical thinking; work-based learning; developing confident young people and citizens and an education system which adapts to the modern world; the quality of school infrastructure; physical health and the importance of PE; the value of early years education and the introduction of a kindergarten stage; tackling poor discipline and bullying; the structure of the school day; school meals; effective transitions; opportunities to learn from other countries; and the need for strong leadership in schools.

Equalities considerations

Several participants noted that education should be respectful and equitable for people with protected characteristics. They highlighted ways to embed equality through a diverse workforce, improved teacher training, and whole-school approaches to gender equality, LGBTI+ inclusive education and anti-racism, which challenge stereotypes and prevent prejudice and discrimination based on protected characteristics.



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