Tackling bureaucracy in schools

This article by Education Scotland Chief Executive Bill Maxwell was published in The Herald on 4 November 2014.

As anyone with an interest in education will know, this past year has been hugely significant in the re-shaping of learning experiences for our young people as we continue to implement Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).  Teachers should be proud of the successes achieved in delivering the new National Qualifications whilst simultaneously delivering the highest number of Higher passes ever awarded. The scale of change has certainly been challenging, but I think we can all take heart that we are now seeing learners benefitting increasingly from a curriculum that will equip them better than ever before with the skills and knowledge they need in the modern world.

As we chart our way through the next stages of this journey, it will be vitally important that we keep our intended destination in focus. That means keeping the big picture of the overall aims of the CfE at the forefront of our plans. We have seen issues arise where there has been a tension between a natural desire for structure and reassurance through a period of change and the need to realise some of the key aims of CfE. This has been crystallised, for example, in instances of over-complex planning or assessment practices, standing in clear contrast with the core aim of CfE to create a learning environment in which teachers have more time to teach more flexibly, and pupils have more time to deepen their learning.

Two reports published by the government in the past year have set out recommendations for addressing this issue. We were able to respond quickly to these reports with a range of enhancements to the programme of national support being provided by the key national bodies. These were set out fully in an updated national implementation support plan, provided to all local authorities last month.  We all know, however, that action at local level, drawing on national support, is absolutely key to ensuring success. We know that the quality of support which local authorities and their headteachers provide to their schools has a huge influence on the experience of teachers, pupils and parents and so the national implementation plan also highlights a range of expected local actions. Further research into this issue will be considered by the Tackling Bureaucracy Working Group in the coming weeks.

I am determined Education Scotland will play our part in promoting effective implementation to the full.  It is extremely important that our inspectors are consistently challenging overly-bureaucratic approaches whenever they see them in schools. Where we do find them, we are offering practical assistance to schools and local authorities to help them revise their approaches. We have a growing range of good examples on our website to help schools learn from their counterparts elsewhere.

On the key issue of assessment, our assessment team, working closely with the SQA, has provided advice to support teachers’ understanding and confidence in the new process of assessment. We intend to continue to do this until every school in the country has a clear, simple, effective process in place matched to their curriculum model.

One of the challenges in any major change process can be navigating the increasing range of guidance and support which tends to accrue over time. That is why one of our priority actions over the last year has been the creation of an easily accessible online portal for advice and support materials, which guarantees easy and comprehensive access to the latest support available.

In the year ahead, we are continuing on a journey which will no doubt have its own challenges but I am confident that all the partners involved in this transformational reform programme are committed to ensuring its success. Teachers, parents, young people and the public at large can rest assured that if we stick to the task these changes have the potential to move our education system from being good to being truly great.