Lets grade potential, not performance. By Diverse Means….
Posted March 7, 2013on:
I was on the radio yesterday. BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Call Kaye’ discussion programme. Host Kaye Adams focusses on a topical subject, has a few guests speak to it, then opens up the phones to Mr and Mrs Scottish Public.Yesterday, it was all about education and school reform. Keir Bloomer and the Commission on School reform have just published a weighty tome ( By Diverse Means ) on what they think we should do to improve Scottish Education and stop other countries going up past us in the ‘international rankings’. Michael Russell was on the show defending the honour of his cabinet brief, and, overall, he made a pretty good fist of it. He graded Scottish Education at a 6 to 8 out of 10. Now, I think that’s actually searingly honest, particularly for a politician who has been in this particular ministerial seat for several years now.
For those who don’t know him, Keir is described as a leading Scottish educationalist, member of the ACfE Review Group and chair of the Higher Order Skill Excellence Group. The only other member of the group who produced this report who I’d heard of is David Cameron, and I suspect that might be the same for most teachers. I’m going to admit to a little more ignorance here as I’ve also never heard of the Commission on School reform, either its original inception or its work. Yesterday’s publication and the torrent of publicity took me totally by surprise.
And so poor old Michael Russell has now been given another shed-load of paperwork to consider. They’ve lumped him with thirty seven recommendations and ten preconditions to try and work his way though. As if he didn’t have enough to do running Scottish Education! The report looks at change management. In the executive summary it says..
The focus is, therefore, on change – how it is brought about and why it is often not as successful as intended.
And you know, when you read through the report in detail, you start to see how much sense it actually makes. Because in addressing the issue of change management, it hits the nail squarely on the head. But resistance to change permeates the entire Scottish Education system, from national management organisations, through Local Authorities, school management teams and teachers, pupils and parents. This is my executive summary of factors resisting change…
Parents want to know where their child is in the class rankings and what their test scores have been. Pupils want to know what questions will be in the tests and exams. Teachers want to teach what’s in the exam or test syllabus. School leaders want to rise up the STACS. Local Authorities want their Standard grade and Higher results to push them up past East Renfrewshire, Education Scotland want to be able to manage their various work streams for just a little while without the goalposts changing, and the inspectors want to complete their quota of inspections without any controversy, helping schools rather than hindering their work, and the learning directorate want it all to fit together without anything rocking the boat.
Only the SQA and Mr Russell really want change. Oh, and and a growing number of classroom teachers and school leaders (but not enough yet). The SQA would really love to go to assessment on line and on demand. The fantastic developments with continuous assessment in the FE sector is down to a vision and purpose demonstrated by the real partnership between them and the SQA driving forward a change agenda in assessment which, I’m afraid to say, doesn’t yet exist in the same way with the school sector, which is bogged down with promulgating a system of do or die exams which provide the comfort blanket for parents, pupils, teachers, school leaders, LA’s and a government perhaps a little too focussed on rising up rankings as well.
Mr Russell and his ministers have a very good track record on change initiatives designed to improve the real chances of Scotland’s young people. A scan of the Engage for Education site (itself a great example of an improved focus on communication and on line presence) throws up posts on GIRFEC, Post 16 education, early years interventions, ICT in education, and more. Issues at every stage have been examined and addressed. Problems such as social inequality remain a running sore and probably always will in a society which is fundamentally unfair to far to many people and families. But these initiatives and policies are making and will make a difference in time. The real problem which Keir Bloomer’s report highlights is the management of this change, and the channels of communication, which are related to traditional and possibly outdated hierarchies. I particularly liked the following passage ..
It is clear that new technology offers huge possibilities. It provides readier access to information than has previously been possible and in ways that many people find motivating. Education could learn much from the computer gaming industry with its capacity to handle multiple pathways and provide instant feedback in sophisticated ways. New technology has organisational possibilities that could finally render traditional timetabling and class organisation obsolete. Furthermore, it offers the opportunity to open up new dimensions of choice. Yet its impact in the classroom has as yet been relatively limited.
But hang on a minute…many of us already know this. Those of us who are connected through professional learning networks talk about this all the time. These networks are increasing, bringing in more and more teachers who might not have otherwise been connected in these ways. This connectivity happens from the bottom up, bypassing traditional hierarchies and going a long way to flattening them. I know that back in 2007/8/9 this was very uncomfortable for many near to or at the top of these hierarchies ( I was made more aware of this still being the case at a recent GLOW key contacts meeting) but now, things are much better. Grass-roots movements like the absolutely amazing Pedagoo are spreading out nationally and organically connecting more and more educators together. And speak to any of these connected people and we’ll tell you that we’ve been saying the same as this report for many years to each other, as well as blogging and tweeting about it.
But the communication has to be better, and the focus of everyone needs to address this issue of improving the management of change. The report makes this point on communication..
The Scottish Government (possibly through Education Scotland) should see horizon scanning and information gathering and dissemination as an important function.
I agree. Education Scotland desperately needs someone, who will get out and about across the country sharing, discussing, debating , disseminating and above all, being honest about the shortcomings and even failures, but showing teachers and schools what’s happening, and talking honestly about the pace of change and improvements, especially with GLOW and technology in the classroom. Its difficult at the moment for an organisation which needs to focus on technical issues like managing the migration of data and artifacts from one system to another to rebuild the capacity to evangelise a little…If we could just have this honest communication, I’m pretty sure many more teachers would open up to the possibilities offered to them by all of these changes, be they Curriculum for Excellence or Glow and Technology in their classrooms. Just showing people one little thing they can do well can be incredibly motivating and this extrinsic driver allows other intrinsic motivating factors to kick in, and so more things change because an individual opens up to possibilities they start to see themselves. And they spread and share this change with colleagues, and so change spreads (that’s the Psychology teacher in me talking now! ).
I’m not confident that enough teachers in Scotland will read this report, probably down to the communication issues I’ve alluded to. I’d encourage everyone to read this report. But don’t use it as a big stick with which to beat Michael Russell up with (as some were doing on the radio yesterday) rather, see it as a series of maps signposting the routes to better and improved change management processes, such as communication, evaluation, risk analysis, and project management ( and that’s the project manager in me talking now!) in our Scottish Education system.
And Michael, whilst you graded performance, I’d rather grade potential. And my score for this would be much higher than the one you gave yesterday…