As part of a panel at Research-ed Scotland in September I made a plea for us to avoid fixating on the obvious problems we have in Scottish Education and recognise and celebrate the great things that are happening out there. It got one of those rather pleasingly muted rounds of applause that an umpire would get at Wimbledon for shushing the crowd but it was nice all the same. However, my point was as much about dealing with the good and the bad rather than cheer-leading. I recall it now as I reflect on what has been a rather frustrating year: frustration at a lack of change; frustration at the often toxic atmosphere in Education at the moment; frustration that we often fail to value what’s important.
I’m in my twentieth year of teaching and in that time I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some of the most astonishingly good teachers you may ever see: patient, knowledgable, constantly looking to improve. Unfortunately it seems that those people are not the ones who get noticed. The Scottish Government’s seemingly endless conveyor belt of new programmes – PEF, Attainment Challenge, First Minster’s Reading Challenge – are all noble gestures in their own way. But I worry that when the time comes to asses impact, I’m not sure what we actually expect to see. What does the success of this new investment in education look like? What happens to the young and keen, pushed to the forefront with their energy and opportunism? Can it be that great people are being sacrificed at the altar of so-called progress?
There are loads of issues linked to the poverty gap, health and well-being issues and attainment, but I’m not convinced that school is always the place to solve them. We have rightly become more concerned with the well-being of the children who enter our schools but we have a superbly well-trained teaching staff with talents in Teaching and Learning. It occurs to me that , and this is merely an opinion, we need to solve the poverty problem through strong and sustained pedagogy; teaching kids well and creating the conditions for them to learn. As a teacher, the more that gets in the way of my ability to do what I do best is not in the best interest of the children I teach.
So, we sideline good old-fashioned Learning and Teaching at our peril. The support teams in our schools who do amazing jobs are heroes to our young people and rightly so. They provide services hitherto unavailable to them and support the needs of thousands of kids previously left to struggle. But schools should be about learning; learning very often needs to be work; work can be hard. Building up the resilience to deal with that might be the greatest gift we provide for our most vulnerable, lowest achieving groups. When we begin to believe that what we are doing is genuinely the best thing for our young people then the Curriculum for Excellence – if it’s still called that – may be seen as a success. We’re not there yet.
I suppose my main point is this: as we move into 2019 we must endeavour to keep great teachers in the classroom. We must do everything we can to remove any obstacle in their way to allow them to do what they do best. We must celebrate the best work of our best teachers, no matter their age or experience. And we need to find a balance between thinking that Scottish Education is going to hell in a handcart and those who refuse to acknowledge that and believe that all is a shiny brochure and a Twitter feed. I love teaching. I just want us to tackle the real problems; the ones which will help every young person in Scotland.