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.

6. Sub-group analysis

This chapter outlines where the views expressed in the National Discussion varied by respondent type. The first section focuses on differences between three core audiences – learners, parents and teaching staff. The second section details young learners' views.

Differences between learners, parents and teaching staff

While there was a large degree of consistency in the themes raised by learners, parents and teaching staff, some themes were of more importance to one audience than others. The most notable differences are summarised below and detailed sub-group analysis for each question is available in Appendices C to L (see supporting documents).


Comments about specific subjects were typically more likely to be made by learners. As well as being more likely to advocate both for and against specific subjects, learners were more likely to suggest physical activity and PE, and literacy and numeracy should remain key parts of education. When considering future learning needs, a prevalent theme was for help to develop their digital literacy, followed by skills to help prepare for work. There were also calls to improve their understanding of further education and career options. In relation to learning about the changing world, the most common theme among learners was to be given opportunities to gain information and knowledge, followed by teaching topical issues as part of the curriculum.

The structure of the school day and week was another common theme for learners. As noted earlier, this included a range of views about breaks and play time, the current length of the school day and week, study leave and holidays. Freedom of choice was important, from choosing subjects to being allowed a phone in school and going to the toilet at a time of their choosing. In relation to wellbeing, comments about pastoral care, access to mental health support in school, being taught mental health tools and strategies, and the need for an appropriate and safe learning environment were more commonly mentioned by this audience.

Listening to young people's views and involving them in decision-making was a prevalent theme for learners, who were also slightly more likely to note the importance of positive relationships with teachers. Despite this, learners were often less likely to call for a focus on individual young people and to have flexible learning pathways. Learners were also more likely than parents or teachers to mention keeping exams, particularly prelims.

"Lunches and break are a vital activity that needs to stay in the education system as even teachers enjoy a lunch break after working hard and educating the future" – Learner

"I think people should still be able to have prelims as an opportunity to see what exams would be like." – Learner

"Exams and tests to show that everyday hard-work will pay off when tested on knowledge." - Learner


As the largest audience in the sample, the views of parents usually aligned with the prevalent themes in the Discussion. However, a few areas of greater importance were noted; parents were more likely than learners or teachers to comment negatively about the state of education and the scale of improvement required.

Calls to listen to parents and have better communication between schools and families were more prevalent among this audience. This was often alongside acknowledging the need to listen to young people, with parents keen to see education focus on the needs of individual young people, to create confident and well-rounded young people, and more likely to comment on the importance of flexible learning pathways and ASN support.

Comments about specific subjects and curriculum content were also common among parents, particularly the importance of literacy and numeracy, financial life skills and pastoral care and wellbeing.

Teaching staff

Across the discussion, teaching staff were more likely than parents and learners to raise a variety of issues related to the profession. As well as calls for more funding, this covered both working conditions and specific features of the education system and learning approaches. Staff were more likely to call for more teachers, support staff and specialist teachers, for better pay and working conditions, and for more and better training and guidance. Calls for more ASN support were prevalent among teachers who also frequently highlighted the challenges of making inclusion work in practice. Teachers commonly argued that their views should be sought, listened to and acted on, but were also more likely than other groups to note the importance of speaking to other school staff.

Teaching staff were also more likely to highlight the importance of early years education, flexible learning pathways, and pastoral care and wellbeing. While more likely than learners or parents to mention fostering creative and critical thinking and skills-based learning, they were less likely to specifically mention life skills than learners or parents.

Other themes frequently raised more by teachers than other groups included working with parents and families, access to external mental health support, and more partnership working with other external agencies. However, at a few questions teachers were notably less likely than learners or parents to mention the need to listen to young people.

Young children's (aged 3 to 7) views on learning

Many group discussions covered engagements with younger children aged three to seven. Conversations with this cohort were guided by a bespoke set of simple, direct questions which were specifically designed to facilitate discussions with this age range. The questions invited younger children to share their views on what they should be learning, and where, how and with whom they should be learning. This section presents the analysis of each of the four questions. Many of the themes evident in responses aligned closely with the rest of the National Discussion. While young people were asked to give reasons for their answer, many did not elaborate.

Q1. What should children be learning - and why?

Most responses focused on subjects that children were most interested in. These included, from most to least mentioned: maths and English, spelling and handwriting, as these skills are needed for jobs; science and science topics including space, robots, germs and dinosaurs; languages as they will help speak to other people when on holiday; skills for life and work, including cooking, money, gardening and survival skills; nature and animals; fitness and sport to be strong and healthy; social skills, such as patience, honesty, kindness and caring for others; world issues, to help the environment and save the planet; arts; technology, including computers and coding; health and wellbeing, to help understand and control emotions and ask for help; history, geography and RME; safety, particularly road, cycling, swimming and internet safety; and a very small number of comments about having choice in learning, as well as outdoor learning and having fun.

"Science and maths because if you want to be an astronaut you will need these subjects" – Anonymous childrens group

"I think we should learn maths so you know how to count. It is important when l grow up and want to be a doctor. I will need to count my patients so l know how many l need to see in a day or the amount of medicine to give to help people feel better…" - Peel Primary School, Health and Wellbeing Mini Champs

Q2. Where are the best places children can learn - and why?

The three most prevalent themes in responses to Q2 were at school, outside and at home. Most of these groups stated that school or in the classroom was one of the best places to learn. Young people felt being in the classroom means they learn more, teachers can help, there are toys and books to have fun with, and it is a safe space. Learning outside was also commonly mentioned. Only a few specifically mentioned outdoor education settings; most comments described learning in parks, playgrounds, forests and the beach. Outdoor learning was seen as exciting and adventurous, allowing children to explore and discover things, as well as relaxing and letting them get fresh air.

Home was also seen as a good place to learn, because children feel comfortable and have parents and family on hand to help. Experiential learning was also mentioned. Children described museums, science centres, the zoo and nature reserves, visiting other cities and countries and visiting places like the Coastguard station, building sites and farms. Other ways to learn included playing sports and attending clubs, online and at church and in the library, as having a quiet space to concentrate was mentioned by a few children, though not all thought this needed to be a library.

"I like to learn outside because I get a good breeze like learning at the park with my friends / I like learning at the park with my friends / I like to learn outside. We can learn and play / I like learning at the pond, we can count and learn about the creatures there / I like learning outside because there are lots of fun activities to do / I like learning in the woods because it's fun / I like to learn outside because it's busy / I like learning at the community garden." – Anonymous childrens group

Q3. How (in which ways) should children be learning and why?

Various ways to learn were suggested by the groups of three to seven year olds. These included, from most to least mentioned: using computer and iPads, and apps and websites which can provide information; through creative games and activities which are fun and get children moving; using books, including paper worksheets and jotter work; with a partner or in groups to learn together and learn from others; with teachers or other adults who can help; through play, to help learn how things work; learning outside, including trips; practical activities like experiments, building things, and gardening; independent learning to help think for yourself and not rely on others; and using resources like number lines.

A variety of ways to learn were mentioned including: listening and watching, having things explained to you, taking notes, asking questions, sharing learning and through homework and projects. A few mentioned learning in other languages, including Sign Language.

"One girl came up with the idea of mix and match learning that she explained to the class. "It's like doing some things in jotters and then making things and then going outside so that we get to do lots of different things each day"." - Port Ellen Primary School P3

"I prefer to learn by doing practical things. Using real objects makes things stick in my memory for longer. I love Science because it's very practical and fun." – Anonymous childrens group

Q4. Who do children learn best with - and why?

Children were most likely to say they learn best with teaching staff and with their parents and family, but the overarching emphasis of responses was the need for trusted adults who can offer help. The types of people mentioned, from most to least prevalent, were: teachers and classroom assistants; parents; friends; wider family including siblings and grandparents; the rest of a class, groups or partners with a few suggestions they should learn with other classes, and with older children, to learn more; professional experts visiting a class, such as builders, emergency services doctors, head teacher, fire service, lumberjack, driving instructor, lifeguards and scientists; a coach, tutor or club leader; and from technology, online or TV and videos.

"Our friends because we know each other well and like each other. Our teachers because they are smart and work at school. Our parents because they live with us and can help us. Our grandparents because they can teach you about history." – Barr Primary School

"Teacher and kids because you learn to be kind to them. Mum and Dad because they help you learn at home - they can help you learn the alphabet and learn my numbers. Family - because they have homework books. With your brother because you have fun - he helps me because he is teaching me to be a ninja. Mum because she teaches me French. Teachers - because they help you learn new things. Classmates - because you can tell them and help them. Experts (palaeontologists) because they help you learn about dinosaurs, because they dig up dinosaur bones. Animal experts like vets because they know a lot about animals." - Westfield Primary School, P1/2 class

Examples of responses to young learners' questions

P1/2 Westfield Primary School
A mind map provided by a school showing young people's answers to four consultation questions about how young people should be learning.
P1-3 Peel Primary School
A mind map provided by a school showing young people's answers to four consultation questions about what, where, how and with whom young people should be learning.
Forgandenny Primary School
A mind map provided by a school showing young people's answers to four consultation questions about where young people should be learning.
P1-4 Canisbay Primary
A drawing by a young person showing young people's answers to four consultation questions about what, where, how and with whom young people should be learning.
The National Discussion - Broxburn Primary School
A graphic provided by a school showing young people's answers to four consultation questions about what, where, how and with whom young people should be learning.



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