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A matter of timing….

March 18, 2010

Lots of pronouncements on education these days – must be an election due.  Even when politicians have the best interests of the education system at heart – and frequently, I believe, they do, there is an awfully big gap between political ambitions for our schools and the conditions necessary to achieve them.

A Curriculum  for Excellence, so close to activation that come August we must know it as simply ‘The Curriculum’, is attracting the kind of headlines I’ve experienced throughout my career, spanning more than three decades of acronyms and report writers’ surnames: ROSLA, CSE, Munn, Dunning, Clegg, TVEI, Higher Still and McCrone. It goes like this: a new idea arrives, it is pored over and pronounced good, fresh and just what the doctor ordered. Committees and working parties are appointed, course outlines and learning outcomes are promulgated,  and dates for implementation are set. So far so good, and everyone is agreed it’s the best way forward.

Then, inevitably, some section or group in the profession, the media or the political scene decides it’s too much too soon and there should be  a delay. The enthusiasts cry boo, the cynics shake their heads knowingly, and parents and children wonder what’s going on. Meanwhile, in the classroom, teachers get on, as they always do, with the job of teaching the class and preparing them for whatever academic hurdle they need to leap next. Whether implementation is too soon, or timed just right, the classroom teachers will ensure that the pupils do not suffer – even if they have to work even longer hours to ensue success.  Twas ever thus!

This morning, Tavish Scott and Mike Russell were all over the radio, enthusiastic over their discoveries on a trip to Scandinavia. The highlights were that  teachers were given time to meet each pupil, one to one, for fifteen minutes a week, to discuss progress and set weekly targets.  Parents, in their turn, had access to all these targets, and progress figures, through a  specially dedicated website. As a result, teacher, pupil and parent were all singing from the same hymn sheet, tracking and monitoring was highly effective, and more pupils fulfilled their academic potential.

Both politicians were roughly in agreement, and, as I drove to work, despite some misgivings about the time implications of such a system, I could see the appeal of this kind of  development.

Then came the next news item. The Scottish Parliament had changed the Government’s mind over whether local authorities should be told to advertise vacancies only online, rather than use local newspapers. In the course of the coverage, we learned that only 40% of Scots had internet access.

When I got to school, I discovered that the information management system used by the vast majority of schools  across the country was down, as it seemed to be in many areas. We couldn’t electronically access any of our information about pupils.

Suddenly, the bright new ideas in the morning’s broadcast, came face to face with the reality of the  world in which we do the job.

I hope we never stop having the vision to keep on improving the education we offer the children of Scotland, but I hope we hold on to an understanding of the world in which we have to put that vision into practice.

And as for the delays? Well, it’s always too soon, and it’s always too late. We must do what we can when we can do it – it’s the least they deserve.

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