Dr Judith McClure
We three arrived early on a beautiful Spring afternoon for our meeting with AngelaConstance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning. The meeting had been set up by Dr Judith McClure who has a CV rich in leadership experiences. Currently she is the Chair of the Advisory Board of SCSSA, and is the architect and convenor of SCEN (The Scotland China Education Network). Each of us had given notice of an area of leadership that we hoped to discuss with Ms Constance. Judith’s centred on the role of headteachers in relation to the local authorities, and how they can be empowered to be innovative and freed up from central control and bureaucracy. Our conversation strayed into a wider discussion of the difficulties that local authorities are currently facing, as budget cuts begin to really bite and the capacity for officers to support schools decreases. Judith argued that change was needed urgently and referred to the recommendations made in the By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education report. I was next up and had very cleverly (well I thought so) combined two related issues. I wanted to talk about our continuing failure to close the attainment gap, an issue which Sir John Jones suggested should be causing us “righteous indignation”. A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation “Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Scotland 2015” acknowledged that progress had been made, but that on current projections it will take a further 30 years before the gap is closed. This is a clear concern of the Scottish Government and we welcomed the setting up of “The Attainment Challenge” and the allocation of a £100 million fund to improve educational outcomes. I argued that innovative and committed leadership of this initiative was needed in order to ensure success from this investment. I suggested that we should seek a charismatic and inspirational leader to create a clear vision, and ensure coherence and consistency. There were some interesting international comparisons which could inform the project, and the leaders of these, such as Avis Glaze who led the transformation of the Ontario education system, or Sir Tim Brighouse who did so much to bring success to the schools involved in the London Challenge could act as consultants for us. I further suggested that the usual model of a central group of experts deciding what needed to be done, the production of “support materials” and a website, launched by a national event, with the implementation then monitored by the experts, was no longer viable and did not reflect research evidence of what makes for effective change management. We needed locally‐driven, bottom‐up, flexible developments which acknowledged local teachers, parents, community members and pupils as the experts.
My second (related) issue was the need to address support for schools in implementing Scotland’s Young Workforce. Again the theme of locally‐owned change seemed relevant. The third member of our group was Simon Macaulay who led the Scottish Government’s Working Group on Languages 2012, and is an honorary teaching fellow at the university of Aberdeen. Simon has become particularly concerned with the development of the teaching of Mandarin in our schools. He asked that the Scottish Government gave a message to secondary headteachers that Curriculum for Excellence does not aim to a narrowing of the curriculum in S4 and that languages, especially Chinese, should be an entitlement for all young people in the Senior Phase. Simon reflected on the good progress that was being made in the 1 + 2 Languages Plan, particularly in the primary sector, but argued he was concerned that the learning of languages in our high schools seemed to be in decline.
The Cabinet Secretary engaged positively with the points that we made, but said she believed that many of our suggestions were concerns for the local authorities rather than for Scottish Government. She was unwilling to become too engaged in pointing fingers or making judgements on local issues. She reiterated the absolute commitment of the Government to the 1+2 Plan, and acknowledged the importance of learning languages to the development of young people. However the balance between empowering headteachers to be more innovative, and offering central direction was a difficult one to maintain. She had been very impressed with the ambition, methodology and scope of the “Raising Attainment for All Programme”which had been launched in June of last year. Twelve local authorities and over 100 schools across Scotland have committed to becoming part of this learning community which will support the implementation of improvement methodology and enable shared learning across the country. The focus in this programme is very much on collaboration in the service of improvements for children.
Finally the Cabinet Secretary also reminded us that there were many positive developments, such as the launch of SCEL (the Scottish College for Education Leadership), the new and developing partnerships between local authorities and universities, and the allocation of significant funds through the Attainment Challenge. The progress made since the publication of Teaching Scotland’s Future in 2010 would be reviewed in a series of legacy events over the next few months.